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Tenkara Getting Started Guide

Tenkara Getting Started Guide

If you want to get your feet wet with Tenkara Fly Fishing, it helps to get the right gear out of the starting gate. Here’s a Tenkara fly fishing starter kit with the basic essentials to get you going.

  1. Tenkara USA Iwana 12′ Telescoping Carbon Fiber Rod
  2. Fluorescent Orange Fluorocarbon Tenkara Line #4
  3. 5X Tippet
  4. Tippet rings
  5. Beginner Flies (see suggestions below)
  6. Dr. Slick Nippers
  7. Dr. Slick Hemostats
  8. Small Fishing Net

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 DragonTail ShadowFire 12′ rod is a good alternative. I own both. If you like Tenkara fishing, you’ll end up owning a few different rods. I rotate between four for different size streams.

The Iwana and the ShadowFire 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 you need 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 hike to reach.


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 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 Fluorescent Orange Fluorocarbon Tenkara Line #4  A 30-meter spool will last for years.

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 5X Mono Tippet.

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.

Trout flies 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


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.

Questions? Advice? Ask away. I learned this stuff the hard way, but I’m happy to help get you “hooked”.

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