Tenkara Fly Fishing Starter Kit

Tenkara Fly Fishing Starter Kit
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.

  1. Tenkara USA Iwana 12′ Telescoping Carbon Fiber Rod
  2. Sunline Fluorescent Orange Fluorocarbon Tenkara Line #4
  3. 4X Tippet
  4. Tippet rings 2mm
  5. Beginner Flies (see suggestions below)
  6. Dr. Slick Nippers
  7. Dr. Slick Hemostats
  8. Small Fishing Net
  9. Tenkara by Daniel Galhardo (get it on kindle so you can refer to it on your smartphone)
  10. 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.

Tenkara fly fishing complements hiking and backpacking if you like to fish streams that you have to hike to to reach.
Tenkara fly fishing complements hiking and backpacking if you like to fish streams that you have to walk to, to reach.

Lines

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.

Sunline High Visibility Flourocarbin Line
Sunline High Visibility Fluorocarbon Line (I use #4)

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.

RIO 2mm Tippet Rings
RIO 2mm Tippet Rings

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.

Tippet Ring between flourocarbon line and mono tippet
Tippet Ring between flourocarbon line and mono tippet

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.

A selection of trout flies.
A selection of trout flies.

Beginner Flies

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.

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.

Orvis Guide to Small Stream Fishing

Books

There are a couple of reference books that I highly recommend reading or at least browsing to shorten the Tenkara learning curve.

Wrap Up

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”.

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3 comments

  1. JJ has been asking about fishing the streams and ponds we find on our hiking trips but I have never fly fished before. Grew up in Texas fishing for Bass so fly fishing was never on the menu. Can you recommend a Tenkara rob length for a 8 so to be 9 yr? I will have to watch some YouTube to learn the Tenkara fishing method but sound simple enough. JJ likes to hike but I think he likes fishing even more. He does have a Birthday coming up next month.

    What the general length of the Upper and lower line?

    • David – I suggest the Tenkara USA Hane mentioned above or if you want to spend a half as much money, the Dragontail Shadowfire 365.

      https://dragontailtenkara.com/collections/rods/products/dt-shadowfire365

      I haven’t used the Shadowfire 365, but I have used other fine rods by that company and my guess is that it’s pretty good. It’s their beginner rod and it collapses reasonably short which makes it easier to carry.

      (With both of these rods, you have to be very aware of overhead branches so you don’t snag the rod or the line when you jerk it up. )

      If you choose something else, you want to make sure that replacement parts (the top 2 sections) are easily obtainable, because you will break the top sooner or later. The tops of these rods are fragile and they weigh less than 3 ounces even though they are 12′ long.

      The upper line should be the length of the rod. So 12′ for a 12′ foot rod. The lower line should be 3-4 feet long, although you can go even shorter if you’re fishing shallow water. If you keep the upper line out of the water, you will catch a lot more fish.

      Just so you know, people do fish for all species (not pike) with Tenkara. You just need to make sure your rod can handle the weight. The ones above are too fragile. People also use live bait and even spoons. You can read up about this on the TenkaraBum.com website.

      The season ends on Oct 15 in nh and Sept 30 in Maine. Something to consider.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thanks Philip, lots of good information to start. This summer is winding down fast so I will look to set us up for next spring.

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