If you’re interested in trying Tenkara Fly Fishing and have never fished before, I recommend that you get a Tenkara Package like the Tenkara Rod Company Sawtooth Kit (rod, line, flies, and accessories) which includes all of the basic components you need to get started and is backed up with some good instructional videos on the web. I wish it had been available when I learned Tenkara fly fishing because and it took me a long time to assemble all of the pieces of a Tenkara setup.
Don’t underestimate the learning curve for Tenkara if you’ve never fly fished before. Most of the information you find online about Tenkara is written by people who can’t remember what being a beginner fisherman is like. Tenkara and its accessories are also sufficiently different from mainstream fly fishing that you’ll get horribly confused by trying to make sense of the babel of terminology, technology, techniques offered up by the pundits.
If you already fly fish with a rod and reel, I’d recommend you skip the Sawtooth Package but consider buying the Sawtooth Rod ($128) and 13’5 feet of line by themselves. Chances are you already have everything else offered in the package and don’t need the other accessories.
The Sawtooth Package
Tenkara Rod Company’s (TRC) Sawtooth Package includes the following:
- 12 ft Sawtooth rod
- Protective rod sleeve and plastic case
- 13.5′ of high visibility orange tapered line
- Circular line holder
- 3 Tenkara flies
Unfortunately, it is missing one very important component called tippet that you need to buy before you can start fly fishing. Tippet is a near-invisible monofilament line that you tie to the end of the high visibility tapered line at one end and your fly on the other. It breaks often, so you to replace it peridocially. TRC sells their own branded tippet for $5. I also recommend Rio Powerflex Tippet 4X, which is ideal for trout.
Besides that, the Sawtooth package is a good value for beginners. There are still a number of ways to tweak it but that’s knowledge and know-how that you don’t need at the beginning and you won’t be able to appreciate until you’ve gone fishing a half dozen times.
The Sawtooth Rod
The Sawtooth is a twelve-foot rod that weighs 3.2 ounces with nine collapsible sections and a 20 inch collapsed length. Twelve feet is a good rod length for mountain streams and small rivers that don’t have a lot of overhead vegetation.
The base of the rod is covered with a 11.25″ cork handle with a bronze-colored screw-on butt cap. The cap has come unscrewed on my rod a few times, so I check to make sure it’s tight whenever I remove the Sawtooth from its protective case. The danger is that the collapsible sections will fall through the rod handle if the cap comes undone and potentially break. It’s pretty easy to reassemble the rod afterwards, but annoying to do in the field. Still knowing how to do it is useful if you ever break the rod tip and need to substitute a broken section for a new one.
When you extend the Sawtooth rod, it’s important to give each segment a little tug to make sure that it’s firmly inserted into its neighbor: there’s a little play between the segments that can result in the rod collapsing unexpectedly or the lillian can get caught between the uppermost segments and break. A little precaution goes a long way to avoiding this though.
Despite this, the Sawtooth is a fun rod to fish with and very easy to cast with a simple movement of your wrist and forearm. There’s good sensitivity when fish hit the hook, even with the furled line included in the Sawtooth package. The manufacturer rates the action at 5:5 although it feels softer. Casting accuracy is very good and the rod handles nicely when hauling in small to medium-sized trout under one foot in length. It’s a excellent value for the money and I enjoy fishing with it.
Protective Carrying Sleeve and Hard Case
The Sawtooth is long enough that you’re going to want to carry it around with its protective plastic hard case. The protective plastic case weighs 4.5 ounces and holds one rod. It has a screw-on cap at the end. You can also use it interchangeably with other Tenkara rods. I consider a protective case a must have for longer rods, although you can often dispense with one if you get a very short 8′ rod for small stream fishing. I never carry the protective sleeve that comes with the Sawtooth because I don’t see a need for it. The sleeve also inhibits drying when your rod gets wet.
High Visibility Orange Tapered Line
The Sawtooth comes with 13.5′ feet of high visibility orange tapered line with a tippet ring at the end. While less sensitive than flourocarbon line, it’s easier to cast for a beginner since the line is denser and heavier and less prone to the wind. The line length is too long if fishing narrow mountain streams, but good for reaching both sides of whitewater sections on smaller rivers, like the Miller’s River shown in the video above. While TRC sells a 10.5′ high visibility line, I’d recommend going down to 8′ or 9′, but this is something you’ll need to experiment with. It can be good to carry multiple lines with different lengths with you if you’re uncertain what fishing conditions will be like.
The tippet ring is a great addition to the line and helps preserve it. As far as I know, TRC is the only company to sell a high visibility tapered line with a tippet ring spliced on, although it’s easy enough to add your own.
Circular line holder
When fishing with a long line, a circular line holder like the one included in the Sawtooth Package is a convenient way to store your line when not in use. While you can run your rod through the center hole so you can wind up excess line as you move from spot to spot on a river, you can’t store a pre-attached line on your rod in the protective case, so it’s ready to go at a moments notice.
I prefer to use EZ Keepers to wind up my line looping it around the end posts in a figure 8 pattern to prevent tangles, and stick the hook into the cork handle to secure it. That way, I can slide everything into my rod case and pull it out when I want to fish without any setup. It’s a matter of preference. I move around a lot on rivers and prefer to store my rod in its case as I bushwhack from one spot to the next. They’re something I’ve added to the Sawtooth myself but TRC also sells them as an accessory.
Three Tenkara Flies
The three Tenkara flies that TRC includes in the Sawtooth package are unremarkable reverse hackle flies. Nice to have, but you’re going to want to buy several dozen inexpensive flies from a less expensive source. Most fisherman go through a bunch of flies every time they go fishing. They fall off, get caught in trees overhead, get caught on pieces of wood in the river, or fish run off with them. I usually carry a few dozen every time I go fishing.
The flies that most Tenkara specialists sell like TRC, Patagonia, or Tenkara USA sell are too expensive and simply not worth it. I recommend buying Tenkara flies from the Big Fly Company instead, at just $0.65 a pop. They also sell a wide variety of traditional fly fishing patterns which you can also fish on a Tenkara rod. Or you can learn to tie your own flies. It’s easy enough.
The TRC has a number of handy videos that will get you started and that add a lot of value to Sawtooth Package. They’re also good to give you a taste of what’s involved in a Tenkara setup if you’re interested in learning more about this highly portable form of fly fishing. They would have saved me a lot of time when I had to teach myself these techniques.
- Extending a Tenkara Rod
- Fastening Line to your Tenkara Rod
- Attaching a Tippet to your Tenkara Line
- Attaching a Fly to a Tippet on a Tenkara Rod
- Tenkara Casting
- Catching a Fish on a Tenkara Rod
The Tenkara Rod Company Sawtooth Package ($159) is a good Tenkara starter kit for beginners who want to try out Tenkara fly fishing without having to assemble a lot of disparate gear from multiple sources. Buying a kit will help get you started much faster and with a lot less frustration even if you have to replace elements as you gain more experience and angling skill improves. If you’re already an experienced fly fisherman, I’d recommend purchasing the Sawtooth Rod alone. It’s excellent for catching trout up to a foot in length on small rivers and mountain streams and at 12′ is a good all round rod for fishing many types of water from riffles to runs and everything in between.
Disclosure: Tenkara Rod Company and Garage Grown Gear provided Philip Werner with a sample Sawtooth Package for this review.
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