Getting the right gear does matter if you want to get your feet wet with Tenkara Fly Fishing. You still have a lot to learn, but you can focus on learning about wild trout behavior and habitat without being held back by bad gear.
Here’s a Tenkara fly fishing starter kit with the bare essentials to get you going. I’ve purchased and own every single item listed below, although I’ve refined my fly selection by tying my own.
- Tenkara USA Iwana 12′ Telescoping Carbon Fiber Rod
- Sunline Fluorescent Orange Fluorocarbon Tenkara Line #4
- 4X Tippet
- Tippet rings 2mm
- Beginner Flies (see suggestions below)
- Dr. Slick Nippers
- Dr. Slick Hemostats
- Small Fishing Net
- Tenkara by Daniel Galhardo (get it on kindle so you can refer to it on your smartphone)
- Fly Fishing Small Streams by Tom Rosenbauer
Tenkara USA Iwana 12′
Tenkara Rods are telescoping carbon fiber fishing rods that usually weigh 3 ounces or less. While there are a million rods to choose from, there’s one I consistently recommend for first-timers and that’s the Tenkara USA Iwana. This is a 12′ rod that can span everything from big water down to moderately sized streams. While you can land bigger trout with it, you can still detect quite subtle strikes by smaller fish with it. If there’s a downside to the Iwana, it’s that it’s longer when collapsed than other rods and less packable in a backpack. The Tenkara USA Hane (10’10”) is a good alternative that does collapse quite small, although I still prefer the Iwana. I own both. If you like Tenkara fishing, you’ll end up owning a few different rods. I rotate between four for different circumstances.
The Iwana and the Hane both come with protective rod tubes that are a little on the heavy side but are very rigid and provide good protection if you plan to hike or backpack with them. I carry them on trips myself for that reason. These cases don’t have drain holes though, so it’s important for you to remove your rod when you get home and let it dry. Otherwise, the rod will become harder to collapse and may break if you try to force it closed.
If you choose a different rod, I’d get one that’s between 10-12 feet long when expanded. I don’t particularly like zoom rods which can be adjusted at different lengths, because they introduce too many variables to keep track of, especially for a beginner. Keep it simple and get a fixed-length rod to start.
Strike detection is an essential Tenkara skill that you want to develop and the lines I recommend below to outfit the rod will make it much easier to pick up that skill. Part of the skill is visual and part of it is by feel.
You attach two lines to a Tenkara Rod. The top line has a higher breaking strength than the bottom line, which is designed to break away in order to protect the rod tip from snapping if you get your hook caught in a tree (which is likely) or you catch a fish that is too big and powerful for your rod (which is rare on small rivers and streams).
I recommend getting a high visibility level line, so you can see your line when you’re fishing. This is the line you’ll attach to the tip of your rod. I use Sunline Fluorescent Orange Fluorocarbon Tenkara Line #4 which is sold by Chris Stewart on the TenkaraBum website. A 30-meter spool will last for years. Chris is very well known in the Tenkara community and his website is a treasure trove of information.
The lower line is called a tippet, it’s transparent so the fish can’t see it, and it’s what you tie your flies to. I like Frog Hair 4X Mono Tippet but I use other brands too, as long as it’s 4X.
There are two ways to attach the upper line and the lower line. You can simply connect them using a simple figure 8 knot. Another way is to tie the upper line and the tippet to a tiny metal loop called a tippet ring (2mm). This lets you replace the tippet when it breaks (which happens often) without having to shorten your upper line. I just use an improved clinch knot or a double davy to tie the lines to the tippet ring.
When fishing, you should be able to see the tippet ring or the knot that you used to connect the upper and lower lines. If you can’t feel the tug of a fish on your line, you may still be able to see your line tighten or the tippet ring “bounce” when a fish hits the fly, so you can pull up to set the hook.
Fly tying is a fun hobby to explore, but there’s no need to tie your own flies when you get started. This is a time for experimentation, so I’d recommend buying a lot of different flies in Tenkara and more traditional trout patterns. As a beginner, you will lose a lot of flies that get snagged in trees and bushes or get caught on wood in streams and rivers. Buy them cheap at a retailer like Big Y Fly, which sells most of their flies for less than a dollar each. They’re still quite good flies. I recommend using both Tenkara Flies and more traditional fly fishing patterns, but that’s my preference.
I’d recommend buying 8 dozen to get started so you can experiment with using them. I’d buy them in sizes #12, #14, and #16. Here are the patterns that should produce good results anywhere. You’ll find that they have a better selection of barbed flies than barbless ones. Just mash the barbs with needle-nose pliers if you want to fish catch and release. Why so many? You’ll lose a lot when they get stuck in trees or get caught on wood in rivers.
- Blue Wing Olive
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Griffith Gnat
- Red Wulf
- Trout Crack
- San Juan Worm (Red)
- Beadhead Woolly Bugger
- Euro Zebra Midge Tungsten
Nippers and Hemostats
The nippers are essential for cutting lines and tippets. The hemostats come in handy for removing deeply embedded hooks that don’t slip out of fish mouths or for mashing barbed hooks flat if you forget to do it at home. They also make a passable roach clip or so I’m told. Dr. Slick makes the best.
Small Fishing Net
A fishing net is useful to help land fish that you catch and helps minimize their stress by keeping them in the water while you remove the hook if you’re fishing catch and release. You don’t need a fancy net to get started and you certainly don’t need an expensive Tenkara-style net. Fish are fish. Look for something lightweight with a rubberized net that will protect that natural slime on a trout’s skin. I can’t remember the make and model of mine, but it looks like this one, which is inexpensive and sold under many different brand names. Using a net isn’t always practical on small streams full of boulders, but it is good for the fish if you can use it.
There are a couple of reference books that I highly recommend reading or at least browsing to shorten the Tenkara learning curve.
- Tenkara by Daniel Galhardo
- The Orvis Guide to Small Stream Fly Fishing by Tom Rosenbauer (not Tenkara-specific, but has good photos that teach you how to find trout in a stream, which is the key to success)
You can watch all the Youtube videos you want but there is no substitute for time on the water, so get out there. Make sure to buy a fishing license if one is required and find out when the fishing season ends in your locale. Ours ends in mid-October so the trout can breed, but starts up again on January 1.
Questions? Advice? Ask away. I learned this stuff the hard way, but I’m happy to help get you “hooked”.Editor's note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed or recommend on SectionHiker, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we may (but not always) receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!