Tenkara: Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing

Tenkara: Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing

by Kevin Kelleher, Misako Ishimura

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With Tenkara, there is no reel and the line hitched directly to the end of the long rod, imparting an element of highly functional simplicity. At the same time, the Tenkara rig can turn over a cast of such grace that it nearly guarantees a light and effective presentation. Casting is so simple it is nearly intuitive, and can be learned in minutes.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780762767700
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 03/01/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 468,886
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Kevin C. Kelleher, MD, is a family physician, an adjunct professor of medicine, the author of a monthly medical advice column, and an award-winning painter. He is also a backpacker, canoeist, and tenkara devotee. 


Misako Ishimura, a top international fly-fishing competitor, was the charter director of the International Women Fly Fishers and the founder of World Fly Fishing of Japan. 

Read an Excerpt

The Tenkara Rod

Modern tenkara rods are technological wonders. Carbon-reinforced polymers have revolutionized tenkara. These rods are amazingly light, have a high strength-to-weight ratio, and have a telescoping package that allows for compact storage. Modern tenkara rods typically weigh two to four ounces, and are generally nine to fifteen feet long, with as many as eleven sections. The handle or grip contains the telescoping sections, allowing for easy transport. The remarkable collapsed package is only fourteen to twenty-four inches long, perfect for carry-on luggage or an ultralight backpack.

There are a surprising number of telescoping rods in Japan, each aimed at a specific type of fishing. However, a tenkara rod by definition has a grip, and its length is effectively limited to fifteen feet or less. The grip and length limitation are necessary to provide a light, balanced rod, which is comfortable for the repeated casting needed for all day fly presentation. Great care is taken to properly balance a tenkara rod.

Since tenkara rods have no reels, the line is attached at the tip. This may remind you of a cane pole, and, in many ways, a tenkara rod does reflect the cane pole's simplicity. The grace and delicate presentation of the tenkara rod, however, supplied by its smooth application of power, far exceeds the cane pole or its poor cousins, the crappie pole and loop rod. The hollow, refined carbon modular components allow a transfer of force through the rod's long lever arm, resulting in an almost effortless turning over of the line and fly. The rod actually becomes part of the flexing compound curve that turns over the line. Its tip, in the range of three hundredths of an inch (0.03"), is so flexible it becomes part of the cast. Indeed I have often said that the tenkara rod simply “launches a leader,” rather than a line.

Tenkara rods are rated by a ratio based on the number of stiff to supple sections. For instance, a 6:4 rod has six stiffer sections combined with four more flexible ones: the larger the ratio, the stiffer, or “faster,” the rod. When you “shake test” a tenkara rod, this ratio will predict the point of maximum flex. But keep in mind that the tenkara rod, particularly because of its length, is slower than traditional fly rods. This makes it ideal for short and delicate presentations.

A standardized method of describing a fly rod's action in its entirety has not yet been devised. The “Common Cents System” [1] is perhaps the most useful. When you choose your rod, remember that tenkara rods do not describe the same kind of compound curve as do fly rods. The so-called “action angle” is of little use in describing their speed. More useful, the ERN values (Effective Rod Number) that correspond to the weight of line in the western system roughly correlate with the “stiffness” of the tenkara rod. Measurements of a sampling of tenkara rods correspond with western rods, from a one-weight all the way to a six-weight rod. I prefer rods at the softer (lower) end for their ease in casting. A stiffer (higher) rod has the ability to manage larger fish but tends to need a bit more muscle in casting. For now, test casting a tenkara rod is the best way to match your particular sensibilities and style.

One particularly ingenious innovation of the modern tenkara rod is in its telescoping grip storage. This compact storage makes for one of the smallest packages in fishing even while creating one of the longest reaches. With a simple unscrewing of the butt cap, all the pieces can be removed for cleaning and easily and inexpensively replaced if damaged. When extending or collapsing your tenkara rod, be sure to push and pull in-line with the long axis; most damage occurs when collapsing the rod. Make sure the sections are snug, ensuring a smooth action, but don't over tighten. Cleaning your rod from time to time with a soft cloth and drying it after a day on the stream is always a good idea, and can make for a nice, mindful conclusion to a fishing excursion. Gear readiness also makes your next spontaneous outing more likely. Lightly waxing the joining sections can aid the fit, making telescoping in freezing weather easier.

[1] Hanneman, William, http://www.common-cents.info/.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Gear Simplicity

Ultra-light, radically simple, and inexpensive, in an increasingly complicated world tenkara provides a number of advantages. The gear and technique retain the grace of fly-fishing even while providing on-stream ease and a direct, uncluttered, natural experience.

Chapter 2: Rigging Easily

With a tenkara rods and a few gear essentials, you can be fishing in minutes.

Chapter 3: Roots of Tenkara

Tenkara is rooted in the mountain streams of Japan and in the pragmatism of the subsistence fisherman. It has evolved over the years, and has benefited from recent American innovation.

Chapter 4: Dance of the Dry Fly

To fish dry flies with a tenkara rod, there are only three basic principles needed.

Chapter 5: Underwater Rooms

It's easy to fish nymphs with tenkara. This chapter covers the major techniques of subsurface fishing, as well as the vivid visualizing of underwater hide-outs.

Chapter 6: Simplest Cast in Fly-Fishing

Complete casting instruction can be communicated in minutes not days, including the fine points for the experienced caster.

Chapter 7: Small Streams

Tenkara is perfect for fishing small trout streams. This chapter will discuss how to read the water and present your fly in restricted environs, as well as the advantages of tenkara over western fly-fishing.

Chapter 8: Large Water

Even with a shorter cast, tenkara is surprisingly adaptable to larger waters.

Chapter 9: Hook to Hand

This chapter discusses playing, landing, and fish handling with a tenkara rod, and why tenkara actually enhances fish survival.

Chapter 10: Bugs 101

There are a few basic, aquatic insects any fisherman who wants to take tenkara to the next level should know about.

Chapter 11: Kebari and Western Flies

Simplified, situational fly recommendations can streamline your fly box, accented by the traditional Japanese reverse-hackle. The basics of fly tying is covered, as well as brief instruction on how you can make sensible, on-stream fly choices.

Chapter 12: Making Tenkara Leaders

This is a discussion of how to build level and tapered monofilament leaders as well the easy winding of traditional tenkara furled leaders.

Chapter 13: Tenkara Backpacking

Backpacking and tenkara fly-fishing are perfectly matched. Packing, storage, camp use, and camp cookery are covered as well as bonus recipes.

Chapter 14: Tenkara Women

Tenkara is being discovered and explored by women. World class angler Misako discusses the beauty and sensibility of tenkara for women, friendships, family, and treasured memories.

Chapter 15: Final Word

A final world about how tenkara expands the fly-fishing experience and renews us.

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Tenkara: Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
co_coyote on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Over the past several years, I have been radically reducing the amount of weight I carry backpacking. I generally carry on the order of 18-20 pounds these days, fully loaded for a long weekend trip. But, I have pretty much eliminated any extraneous gear and, yet, one of the things I still envy about my heavily loaded friends is their fishing gear. Tenkara may well be the answer. You can put together an entire fishing outfit for about 6 ounces. The Zen-like simplicity of Tenkara really appeals to me. I haven't bought my rod yet, but I have a feeling its going to be my next major purchase.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Covers all of the basics in easy to understand terms. If you are looking for an advanced text on the subject this is not your book. Perhaps the book is not complicated because tenkara is not complicated.
JohnRFischer More than 1 year ago
Highly recommended reading. I'm not completely sold on an illustrated book on the Nook. The illustrations were a little hard to make out on my basic Nook. Maybe with a color Nook it would be better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Subject well covered