Tenkara: The Simple Art of Angling
This month marks the 25th anniversary of what fly fishers call “The Movie.”
Brad Pitt and the rest of the cast of A River Runs Through It brought the simple artistry of fly fishing to the American masses. As a result, the sport experienced huge growth in participation levels, with numbers remaining high today.
But while that artistic nature of fly fishing attracted many new anglers over the last two decades, it is an even simpler form of the sport that draws new enthusiasts to the angling art today. The practice of tenkara fishing began in Japan more than two centuries ago, and it has lured in a host of new practitioners for one simple reason: It’s the easiest possible way to get a line on the water.
Tenkara involves just a rod, line, and a fly. A long, telescoping rod tapers down to a thin tip affixed with a small piece of cord. A fixed-length casting line is then attached to that cord, and a small nylon leader connects the fly line to the fly itself. Tenkara casting employs much the same motions as western fly casting. The length of the rod — typically 10 to 12 feet — aids in controlling the line during casting and through the on-water drift.
The simplicity of the gear and its use allows tenkara to be picked up quickly by novices, yet many skilled fly casters are also drawn to it because it is a pure form of fly fishing that can be enjoyed just about anywhere without much effort. With this in mind, tenkara gear makers have created products suitable for a range of anglers, from beginners, to ultralight enthusiasts, to advanced anglers targeting specific species.
The Beginner’s Kit
Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, has been a fly fisher for decades, and has enjoyed tenkara for some 25-plus years. Chouinard said he first experienced tenkara when he was given a rod in Japan. He soon embraced the unique, ancient craft and a few years ago, not only started selling tenkara gear through his brand, but he also co-authored a book to help get new anglers out on the water with their tenkara rods. Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel, co-authored by Chouinard, Craig Matthews and Mauro Mazzo, provides a basic primer on the sport.
The book is part of Patagonia’s Simple Fly Fishing kit, that also includes a dozen flies, a tapered leader, and three lines — a 20-footer suitable for wet flies, a 14-footer for dry flies, and a 6-foot extension that can be paired with either of the other two for versatility.
Patagonia’s tenkara rods — a collaborative venture with fly rod maker Temple Fork Outfitters — are available in three lengths, with the Patagonia Tenkara Fly Rod 10’6” being the most versatile for general use. The Fishing Kit sells for $75 while the 10’6” Rod runs $225.
The Travel/Backpacking Kit
While many fly anglers would never consider giving up their regular fly fishing gear, most appreciate the chance to carry a fishing kit virtually anywhere. It may not be a replacement for fly fishing for every angler, but it is a great supplement for those who travel, especially to remote, hard-to-reach waters. The Tenkara Rod Company’s Sawtooth Package includes a 12-foot Sawtooth Rod, as well as 10.5 foot line, a line-storage spool, a spool of tippet/leader material and 3 tenkara soft-hackle flies.
The Sawtooth Rod measures just 20-inches long when collapsed and the other kit items can slip easily into a pocket or small storage pouch. With a total weight of just 6 ounces for everything, this kit can easily be added to any backpack, travel bag or even briefcase for instant access to simple fishing at any time. $179.