The Trouble With Tenkara — And Why You Don’t Need It

by | May 30, 2018 | 90 comments

The advantages of a Tenkara presentation are not exclusive or unique to Tenkara itself, and in fact, the same benefits are achieved just as well — and often better — with a long fly rod and (gasp) a reel.

I bought a Tenkara rod for my young boys a few years ago, because the longer a rod is, the more control the boys have over a drift. And the lighter a rod is, the easier it is for their small arms to cast. Long and light Tenkara rods flex easily, allowing them to load with minimal effort. That’s great for both kids and adults.

I’ve used the boys’ Tenkara rod extensively — long enough to understand exactly what I don’t like about Tenkara and to understand that a fisherman can achieve the same things with a standard, long leader (long Mono Rig) setup.

Update, May 2018: The introductory paragraphs above go straight to the heart of this article — that Tenkara-style presentations can be achieved effectively with a standard fly rod. Two years later, my boys and I still pull out the Tenkara rod on occasion. I like the extra length without the weight. This article simply attempts to highlight the similarities between a Tenkara style and a modern tight line style. Options are a good thing.

Present the fly, not the line . . .

The main asset of Tenkara is the ability to present the fly and only the fly — there’s no fly line or leader laying on the water complicating or destroying a good drift. But is that exclusively a Tenkara advantage? Certainly not. Long leader tactics and all-mono rigs are now commonly seen on many streams, and not just in fly fishing competitions. I fish with a system that keeps all fly line completely out of the equation while fishing wets, nymphs and streamers, and I usually incorporate fly line only when I’m casting dry flies at a distance.

My primary rod is a four weight, 9’6” Sage Z-Axis, and the only advantage that the Tenkara rod gives me over the Sage is length. Make no mistake, the extra length of the Tenkara rod is significant, but to me, it’s not worth the trade-offs and the shortcomings of Tenkara (which I’ll address below). I use the Z-Axis because it’s what I have, but I’ve also spent time with longer rods that get closer to the Tenkara length and flex. A 10′ or 10.5′ three weight rod come closer, and many of the competition rods available make it easy to cast even light flies on an all-mono system.

Precision control over the fly . . .

For many fly fishermen, Tenkara is their first experience with a true tightline presentation. The precision with which you can drift a fly through current seams while tightlining is a satisfying, startling shock when you first see it. After dealing with the weight and mass of fly line for years, many anglers are giddy about gaining true direct contact with their flies, and they quickly learn to enjoy the benefits of directly guiding their flies and having greater control over the outcome. (They catch more fish.)

But remember, tightlining with monofilament is not a Tenkara exclusive. I concede that the softer action and longer rod make the tightline delivery easier to learn at first, especially with light flies. But the same presentation can easily be accomplished with a five weight fly rod. I do it all the time. In fact, I prefer stiffer and faster rods for tightlining (4 and 5 weights),because they are more versatile than their softer counterparts.

The bottom line? I’ve tried taking the leader off my Tenkara rod, attached it to the line on my four weight Sage Z-Axis and had identical results — all with the added benefits of a fly reel. Wets, nymphs, streamers and dries: If you can cast them on a Tenkara rod, they can be cast the same way on a long fly rod with the Mono Rig.

— — — — — —

There are strong opinion in this piece. And I don’t mean to disparage Tenkara fishing or fishermen. Fly fishing has a lot of opinions though — and ever so many options. It’s all fun to explore. I’ve received my fair share of negative comments for using the long Mono Rig, or because I sometimes use Thingamabobbers and Squirmy Wormies. “None of that is fly fishing either.” Right?

I’m not trying to say anything like that here. My intention is to argue that what makes Tenkara a deadly method of fishing can be done just as well, and perhaps better, with a long fly rod and a Mono Rig.

Some argue that Tenkara’s limitations are a strength.

One example is often sited: It forces you to fish close. But the argument is weak. Because with some general self-discipline while fishing a standard fly rod, you can teach yourself to wade closer to your target instead of pulling more line from the reel.

We’re also told that Tenkara is great because it’s so simple. But is it really?

Is Tenkara simple?

In my experience with a Tenkara rod, the elements that make it simple also make it more complicated.

My Tenkara rod telescopes into a light, eleven-foot fishing tool. And it packs away easily for transport. The sections fold into themselves like an old-school radio antenna. That’s excellent. I have carried a Tenkara rod to places where I could not conveniently carry a fly rod, even if it was broken down into four pieces. And the lack of a reel makes Tenkara even more compact.

However, that same design is also the root of Tenkara’s multiple troubles.

Before walking through the brush to a new stream location, I can’t just put the fly on a hook keeper and reel up the extra line. No. Instead, I need to either wrap the line on a plastic Tenkara spool made for the job,  or I figure-eight wrap the line (by hand) around an add-on hook keeper system. It’s time consuming and not very simple.

Granted, threading up or breaking down a fly rod is also a time investment, but I keep my fly rods rigged and broken into two sections that I hold together with a rubber band. I can remove that rubber band, put the two sections together and be fishing much quicker than I can with the Tenkara system. In this case, using a reel actually makes things simpler.

Perhaps the most irritating thing about a Tenkara rod is how it collects a small amount of water inside the sections while fishing (even when not submerged), and if I don’t want corrosion or nastiness inside the rod, I must disassemble the rod after every fishing trip (as per the manufacturer’s instructions), let the sections dry, and then reassemble. I fish too much for all that.

By far, my biggest issue with Tenkara is the lack of a reel. Yes, I do understand that’s supposed to be the whole beauty of it — the simplicity, right? While I can recognize and appreciate the aesthetic of fishing with no reel, I just can’t get around the inefficiency.

Picture the following: I’m standing in water up to my knees, with a Tenkara rod, fishing a pocket behind a large boulder twenty feet away. I’ve caught two trout. I now want to fish the other side of the pocket, an extra seven feet away. But because of the fixed line and no reel, I can’t reach the extra length. The Tenkara angler will tell me to wade seven feet closer. In fact, that likely is the best solution (I always prefer to fish as close as possible to my target). But as I take two steps forward, I start down a ledge and I’m quickly waist deep in the water. I simply cannot wade the extra five feet to reach my target. So now what to do? I can either give up on the far seam, or I can pull in my line, cut a new length of material, add it to the existing line, reattach the fly and then cast to the far side of the pocket. When I’m done fishing that far-off spot, I probably don’t want the extra length of leader, so I’ll clip out the extra line and tie more knots. Lots of downtime there.

By contrast, with a rod and reel, I strip off seven more feet of line and fish it. Then I reel it up when I’m done. That’s simplicity.

Realistically, if I’m fishing the Tenkara rod in the above scenario, I’ll probably ignore the far side of the pocket and move on, deciding it’s not worth the trouble and maybe passing up the best fish in that section.

But that’s the beauty of Tenkara, right? The limitations of the system just presented me with a new challenge, because now I have to adjust and find a new way to approach the pocket and that far seam — perhaps from the other side of the river where there’s no ledge?  Fair enough, but I personally don’t enjoy the self-imposed handicap.

We choose our own handicaps while fishing. If I wanted to catch the most fish, I’d throw chum and a baited hook. In truth, I fish a fly rod and flies because I honestly believe it’s the most efficient tool for the job of catching wild trout in my home waters. With the fly rod, I can meet the trout on their terms — at whatever stage of feeding they are in. I can effectively imitate all life-cycle phases of any insect or baitfish in the river. With Tenkara, I have a hard time doing that as efficiently.

The long leader, Mono Rig approach is extremely effective for nymphs, wets and streamers. Even dry flies can be comfortably cast at distances approaching thirty-five feet. All of it can be done with either a fly rod or a Tenkara rod. To me, the extra length of a Tenkara rod is the only significant advantage for fishing a tightline method, and it’s not worth the trade off.

Now give me back my reel!

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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90 Comments

  1. For medium sized rivers I prefer 13 to 15 foot long Tenkara rods and nymphing rigs so the arguement is elementary until manufacturers begin making longer nymphing rods with guides and a reel seat for tight line nymphing at greater distances (and longer nyphing drifts). I le tmy clients try both and about half prefer nymphing with a tenkara rod.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the input. 15 feet sure is long. If my guide handed me a 15 foot rod, I’d likely use it too. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Dom, Great write-up. I have to admit, I got a good chuckle over this. I too purchased a Tenkara rod mostly to try and relive the nostalgia of when I used to fish as a kid for bluegill with a long bamboo pole and line directly attached. When I recieved the Tankara rod in the mail and started the assembly, the memories of what I hated about that bamboo pole started to filter back in my mind. The line storage issue was my biggest dislike of the bamboo pole as I would just wrap the line tightly aroung the pole only to have a memory coiled spring made out of mono the next time I would try to fish with. However, now that I had the Tenkara rod, I was determined to recreate my youth, but instead of bluegill being my target, I was after trout. After about an hour with this rod, I thought to myself, “What in the hell am I doing?” I walked back to the car, collapsed the Tekara rod and pulled out my fly rod and reel (I loved your last line of “Now give me back my reel). There was a reason I progressed on from that bamboo pole and a reason I never fished that Tenkara rod again and your article just put all those reasons into a very enjoyable read. Thanks!

    PS I think the best part of the whole article is the fact you use a Sage Z-Axis. Classic Rod!

    Reply
    • I too feel you are limiting yourself with a ten foot Tenkara rod. I own a 9′ and a 13.5′ rod and only use the 9′ rod for smaller streams and overgrown areas. Both rods are easy to carry in a sling pack.

      Reply
  3. Well Domenick, your last line is my argument. When you have 30 different fly reels and 30 different rods to chose from why would I need to add another rod, etc. I have no problem with people who enjoy Tenkara…I enjoy my reels!

    Reply
  4. Thanks for putting the Tenkara and traditional Western style fly-fishing in perspective. I agree with your assessments here, and Howard’s comment, too. Well done!

    Reply
  5. Suppose you compared a 10′ tenkara rod to a 10′ 3wt western rod using mono and fairly light flies. I would think the tenkara rod would cast better since it has a much softer tip and is designed to cast light lines. A 3wt rod casts 3wt line better than a 7wt rod and for the same reason a tenkara rod casts “00000” wt line better than a 3wt rod.

    Reply
    • I think “cast better” is too subjective. I cast the Mono Rig on 4 and 5 weight rods all the time. In fact, it’s my preference. Just yesterday I fished dry flies on a Mono Rig at thirty feet on a Mono Rig and a five weight. It cast wonderfully. If by “casts better” you mean flexes more, then sure. But there are some downsides to that as well.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  6. I have fished with a 14 ft. Tenkara (Keiryu) rod a lot, but I’ve gone back to my ESN for two reasons o.besides the ones discussed by Dom above.

    1. Tenkara rods are more brittle than graphite or glass fly rods. A lot more brittle. They break quite easily (I don’t mean while playing fish; I mean if they fall on a rock or something else that’s hard).

    2. If you get stuck in a tree or in an underwater rock or log in water that is too deep to wade to, you’re in trouble. Since you can’t let out line and pull, you have to pull with the rod. The result is that either the rod or the lillian breaks. Either way, you’re done fishing for a while.

    Reply
  7. I bought my (then 8 year old) son a tenkara rod because he was having trouble controlling excess line in his casts. He used the tenkara rod 4-5 time practicing and sorted out his issues. The first time he used the rod fishing, he decided it was too difficult to bring fish to hand and hasn’t used it since. Fortunately we had his traditional fly rod with us.

    Reply
    • . . . and that’s not very simple either.

      Reply
  8. With all due respect, I was very surprised to read the following comment in your article. Taking my rod apart chews up less than 3 minutes and it forces me to examine it for wear and tear.

    “Perhaps the most irritating thing about a Tenkara rod is how it collects a small amount of water inside the sections while fishing (even when not submerged), and if I don’t want corrosion or nastiness inside the rod, I must disassemble the rod after every fishing trip (as per the manufacturer’s instructions), let the sections dry, and then reassemble.”

    …You wouldn’t like bird hunting! 😉

    Happy Holidays,

    Charlie

    Reply
    • Yeah, my thing is that if you fish every day, the last thing I want to do is take it all apart. Sure, 3 minutes, but then another 3 to reassemble after it dries. It’s just another not-so-simple thing about Tenkara that I don’t care for. And I don’t have any need to check my fly rods for wear and tear after every trip. I really don’t.

      I know the article rubs some people the wrong way because they love their Tenkara rods. No problem. They just aren’t for me, man.

      Reply
      • I know this is old but god forbid you ever go saltwater fishing

        Reply
  9. I enjoy some of your writing, but was struck by the hypocrasy of you writing this:

    “I’m to the point where I enjoy the transition between styles. I remember streamside moments, years ago, when I felt like every fly change, every knot and leader adjustment, came with wasted time. But I don’t believe that anymore. I now think that I waste more time by not adapting, and so I’ve made peace with the expiring minutes as I clip monofilament, and I wrap and twist and pull to form the knots and make the adjustments.”

    here: https://troutbitten.com/2017/11/19/fifty-fly-fishing-tips-17-pick-one-water-type/

    And you writing the following above:

    “When I’m done fishing that far-off spot, I probably don’t want the extra length of leader, so I’ll clip out the extra line and tie more knots. Lots of downtime there.”

    It seems that clipping line is acceptable downtime when using a reel, but not so when fishing with a Tenkara rod.

    Am I overlooking something?

    Thank you!

    P.S. I fish with a both a ‘western’ fly rod and a Tenkara rod. I love fishing with a Tenkara rod for smaller trout. Whether feeling takes or bringing in a fish, I enjoy the sensitivity of my Tenkara rod and all of the feel it provides. I don’t get that from my rod and reel setups.

    Reply
    • Hey Charlie,

      You said:

      “It seems that clipping line is acceptable downtime when using a reel, but not so when fishing with a Tenkara rod.

      Am I overlooking something?”

      I don’t think there’s any hypocrisy or any conflict in the two passages. And I think you are overlooking something:

      I don’t mind changing the tippet section of my rig. As I said, I’ll tie the knots and add a dropper. I’ll add an indicator, change flies, or go to a pair of streamers. I don’t mind that. But I do mind having to adjust butt section length every time I want to fish longer or shorter. Now, I know I can walk closer or further away to adapt, but sometimes that’s not possible, and it’s always easier to just reel up or pull some more line off the spool.

      As I said above, the biggest limitation is the lack of a reel. I mentioned all the troubles that follow in the article. To me, it’s very inefficient and inconvenient.

      You also mentioned, ” I enjoy the sensitivity of my Tenkara rod and all of the feel it provides. I don’t get that from my rod and reel setups.”

      But have you used the Mono Rig on your fly rods? Have you swapped your Tenkara line over to the Western rods to see what they can do? That’s really the thrust of the article — that you can get the same performance, the same benefits of Tenkara, with a Mono Rig and a Western Rod. The only thing missing, really, is the foot or so of length. But again, we can walk closer or strip some line off the reel.

      Reply
  10. I mainly fish a 10’ 4 wt. I can see how a Tenkara would be good in some circumstances. I would not like a Tenkara rod when going after 20”+ fish. The rod can take a lot of stress off your 6x if held properly, a guide told me about 40% less stress on the line. With Tenkara you can not get that kind of relief. My 10’ 4 wt can handle 20+ fish with 6x, I have done it many times. The same rod does great catching small fish.

    Go ahead, fish Tenkara, it is not for me. When I am buying tippet, do not try to tell me how Tenkara is so much better or you will see an eye roll and my back walking away.

    Reply
  11. A Point on Fly-Casting with the Tenkara Rod (Hand-Lining your catch left to a future post): There is certain elegance in the (proper) casting of a Tenkara rod. The necessary tight, short arc stroke is all you need for the tangental multiplier of the long rod to take over and give you a twenty foot to thirty foot, tight-loop cast with barely a whisper of exertion. And a super delicate fly presentation, that bodes well for fooling selective, challenging trout. It can be a thing of “Zen-like” beauty. That is, if you are casting the Tenkara rod properly.

    But almost to the tee, the anglers I’ve watch online and that I have observed (I live on a popular Wisconsin trout stream west of the state capitol) are NOT casting these rods correctly. That’s because they are using the ubiquitous Push-Pull Fly-casting Stroke that 9 of 10 “Western” flyfishers use. Namely, the most popular fly-casting style taught in the United States over the last 40 years. First taught by Doug Swisher & Carl Richard in “Fly-Fishing Strategy” (1976), and by Lefty Kreh, and also friend Ed Jaworkski, in a slew of books and videos over the same 40-year period.

    The proper stroke is the (Short)Tournament Stroke as taught by Joan Wullff in (her) slew of books and videos, by Art Lee in his “Lore of Trout Fishing” (1999), and most recently and completely by Jason Borger in his 2017 “Single-Hand Fly-Casting (1st edition “Nature of Fly Casting”, 2001).

    This is in fact the very casting stroke taught by Japanese Tenkara guru, Masami Sakakiabara (see his many short videos on YouTube). But this stroke, squeezed into only a 6 to 12-inch required path, requires study maybe instruction and most certainly practice. And dedication, as Sensei Sakakiabara is always lecturing on. However, this seems to be just what Western anglers taking up Tenkara methods seem to trying to get away from (as they themselves report in Blogs about “simplifying” their fly-fishing by eliminating a reel and using only one fly, or maybe only one box of flies). Proper casting with a Tenkara rod is simply NOT easy. Making Tenkara-fishing, NOT easy. Or at the least, no easy to do well.

    Pushing the 12 to 14 foot Tenkara rod through the typical 2-foot straight-line path, is anything but elegant. As observed in the plethora of Tenkara anglers – their casting is energy consuming yet inefficient, it introduces excess energy into the system, said energy sent “rippling” down the (most recommended) level line and attached tippet, opening up the line loop, and causing the spaghetti-like line-puddle so common amongst Tenkara anglers (and untrained Western casters too!). Restricting their already limited casting distance and resulting in poor presentations. Which presentations said Tenkara anglers say is the method’s supreme advantage over the typically, shorter Western fly-rod

    As long-time Penn State fly-fishing Professor, Joe Humprehys (now retired) teaches in his video, “A Casting Approach to Nymphing Tactics” (1992), looking the viewer straight in the eye with the determination of the bull-dog boxer of his pugilist past: “Fly-casting is fundamental. If you can’t cast – you can’t catch fish”!

    I bet, if asked, Professor Humprehys would say this very basic precept applies to every flyrod, in the hand of every angler – Western or Tenkara. And rightfully so.

    Reply
    • That’s right. Keep it tight.

      Reply
  12. Ah, but one benefit of Tenkara you’re not going to get with a standard fly rod: The joy of hearing someone say “look at the size of that guy’s rod!”

    (For a few years I went after everything from trout to bass and carp with Tenkara. I now fish mostly a 10’ 2wt for trout and an 5/8wt for everything else. Too many situations where the fish are more than 2’ deep and where Tenkara is no fun)

    Reply
  13. Hello,

    I agree for the most part on your article and it was a great write up! I just have a minor question. I feel like I get a better dead drift with a tenkara in most situations as the line attachment at the end of the rod eliminates a lot more of the “line-sag” than a traditional flyrod with a reel (even with a mono rig). It might not be a lot but the fact that you have the mass of 10ft of 20 lb chameleon through the guides does drag the flies a bit towards your rod. Interested to know your thoughts and I appreciate all the info you provide!

    Reply
    • I don’t believe the 20 pound butt section in the guides adds any relevant sag. It’s light. and it sticks slightly to each guide, too. Fly line in the guides, yes. Competition fly line in the guides, yes. They each sag in the guides. But not the Mono Rig. Not in any common circumstance, anyway.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  14. I have never fished the Tenkara system, but I have watched people do it. Landing a fish seemed odd to me – hand over hand on the line with the rod tucked away somewhere out of the way. And I wondered what one does with a larger fish that may require a bit more line to avoid a break off, especially when following the fish down stream isn’t possible. I won’t give up my rod and reel either. Dave B

    Reply
  15. Not sure why this even needed to be written. Tenkara sucks! hehe

    Reply
  16. I love tenkara for the weight savings when backpacking, I love seiryu rods for small brook trout streams. I really want to hate your article, unfortunately I have came to the exact same conclusions. My Redington classic trout 3 weight strung up with 2 weight line gets the nod more times than not. It will do everything my tenkara rods do except be lighter. 😉 Love the article and the blog.

    Reply
  17. Thoreau would have been an advocate for Tenkara. “Simplify, dammit!” And while I like reading his writing I don’t want to emulate his life. I am not a follower of Tenkara and I have no desire to try it; though I like to read about it in pieces like yours. Anything that sparks discussion abut the various differences in our chosen fly fishing disciplines is good. I like the fact that you can stir up shite without going all Halfordian on the subject and making it about the people who do love the method. Nicely done. I like the fly rod. I like the weight and feel of the line. I like the quiet moments before I step into the stream when I’m rigging up. (I like rigging up, it invites quiet moments of anticipation) You’ve convinced me through the persuasiveness of your mono argument to try it. I’m still getting used to it but I can see the benefits. To all those who love Tenkara, wave your flag high and carry on; our differences are what make us a great fraternity.

    Reply
    • Thanks Mike. And thanks for getting it — it’s not about the people who like Tenkara, it’s just a discussion of why Tenkara works and how it can be duplicate with a regular fly rod and more options.

      Thoreau would definitely like Tenkara. Nice.

      Reply
  18. I rarely fish tenkara but there are several sitauations where it really shines. I like to hike in for miles up to the headwaters of remote mountain streams, I can pack 3-4 different tenkara rods with different lengths and different leaders (I’ll have a nymphing set up, a dry fly set up, a wet fly/kebari set up) for minimal weight. The delicacy of presentation with a light furled mono leader with tenkara when dry fly fishing also cannot be understated….you could do that with a mono rig (and i have) but the cast/delivery is not as easy/effortless.

    I fully agree about versatility, I fish a conventional fly rod with mono rig set up 95% of the time. But tenkara fishing small mountain streams with dries is a pleasure when I am in a “dry fly” mood.

    Reply
  19. I think you are not very good at tenkara

    Reply
    • Mono Rig on a fly rod. Same thing, with far more flexibility.

      Reply
  20. I’m relatively new to fishing (3 seasons now), picking it up after retiring. I started fishing for trout with a 5wt western fly rod/reel. It was a big learning curve to start fishing this way, but I had a blast and eventually saw some success. This past season, I added a Tenkara rod as well as a 4 pc finesse spin rod/reel. I find that each has it’s sweet spot. Here in Missouri, I fish mostly spring fed-Ozark streams or tail waters. The combination of my 5wt, Tenkara rod, and finesse spin rod is perfect for my local waters. The Tenkara and spin rods break down to less than 20″ (my spin rod breaks down to 16″!) and weigh 2 oz each. I carry both in a sling pack and can hike in with my hands free. I wade with both rods in my pack and cover a lot of water. I throw traditional flies (wet and dry) with my Tenkara rod, and small 2.5g spoons (single hook) with the spin rod. When I fish a tail water and can make longer casts, the 5wt is my go-to weapon. To me, it’s all fishing, and I use whatever best matches my conditions. I love mixing it up between the three rods!

    Reply
  21. Hi Domenick. I use both. I would not think to use tenkara in water where I can use my “regular” fly rods. But after many trips into tight mountain areas where a reel and actual fly line casting don’t do the job, tenkara has been a great solution for me. I think too many people are trying to use tenkara beyond its “natural range” in tight places; your comments certainly fit that situation. So maybe your title should end with “why I don’t need it”?????

    Reply
    • Thanks, Paul. I know this article seems a little abrasive to some people. I understand that.

      But I think a lot of readers miss the overall point of this article. And I think you may have as well.

      I’m saying that nearly everything that you can do on a Tenkara rod, you can do with a long fly rod and a Mono Rig, but also have the great benefit of adjusting for length with a reel.

      So, I know you may still not agree with that, but it is the point. You mentioned a reel and “actual fly line,” but that’s not what the article is about. It’s about using the Mono Rig to enjoy the benefits of Tenkara.

      That said, here’s a different point that addresses your experience, and how it’s different than my own: I’ve never found a mountain stream where a fly rod, a short leader (not a mono rig) and good fly line casting ever failed. Ever. And I’ve fished some tight stuff. I love throwing tight loops and short, punchy casts with dries. It’s a good challenge. Fun stuff.

      Thanks for the discussion.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
      • “…nearly everything that you can do on a Tenkara rod, you can do with a long fly rod and a Mono Rig…”

        Hmmm. I don’t own a 13′ fly rod, do you? 🙂

        Reply
        • Nearly everything you can do with a Tenkara setup, you can do with a long fly rod and a Mono Rig. That’s an accurate statement. Nope, I don’t own or want a 13 foot rod. Even eleven footers lack the power I require to tuck cast and get ultimate tippet placement. So sure, your 13 footer can keep more line off the water. Good stuff. My 10 footer can do NEARLY the same. The concepts are transferable. That’s the point of the article. The specifics are, of course, variable.

          Reply
  22. I say to each his own. I have completely switched to fixed line fly fishing but that’s my individual taste. The author makes his argument based on his fishing needs and desires and I think it’s completely fair. All these people arguing over what’s superior are wasting their time. Do you what you like and be comfortable with it. Fly fishing should be enjoying, not stressful. Relax and enjoy the ride.

    Reply
  23. I just tied up a mono rig to use on my Tenkara rod for small stream fishing. mwahahahahahaha

    Reply
  24. You have completely left out the manipulation techniques of Tenkara and how deadly they can be to lure unwilling trout to bite. I fly fish with western outfits and Tenkara. The benefits are manifold here in Colorado, I can tell you from experience. There are several techniques that are completely impossible with a western fly rod and reel setup. You would do well to seek out someone who practices true Japanese Tenkara and have them show you the benefits of manipulation techniques to double and triple your catch ratio. DiscoverTenkara.com is the first place to start. Feel free to email me with questions. Would love to point you in the right direction.

    Reply
    • Hi Jonathan,

      I feel like you may not have read the article.

      My writing was not designed to unfold the manipulations and techniques of Tenkara. The article’s message is contained in the title. You don’t NEED a Tenkara setup to perform the manipulations and techniques you are referring to. Those same techniques are available to all anglers with a fly rod in their hand (especially long rods). The angler need only use a Mono Rig.

      https://troutbitten.com/the-mono-rig/

      I would challenge you to find one Tenkara technique that cannot be duplicated with a fly rod and a Mono Rig.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
      • Because the rod is not directly connected to the rod tip in a mono rig, I would venture a guess that ashtapazuri, or Pon Pon as it is known in Japan would be harder to accomplish. I will admit that I have never used a mono rig because it looks alot like Tenkara with a fly rod. Tenkara pretty much handles all of my high gradient trout stream needs so it seems redundant and heavier to also carry a reel. I realize there are uses for both, and I am aware of the situations where you might want a reel. I don’t fish those situations often, so naturally, my gear of choice is Tenkara. I think the mistake most westerners make is thinking that Tenkara is just a rod, but the rod evolved with the flies and with the manipulations for those flies and with the rod, etc. It’s a whole package. Have fun with whatever your doing should be the bottom line.

        Reply
        • Well, we certainly agree on your last part. Do what makes you happy.

          You said: “Because the rod is not directly connected to the rod tip in a mono rig.”

          If you meant that the line is not connected, it indeed IS connected. The line in a Mono Rig is connected to the rod. You can feel the nymph scratching rocks through the rod tip. It is certainly connected. Is it tied on? No, because that would limit our versatility in length, as it does with Tenkara. I am just as much as in control and in touch with the flies on a Mono Rig as you might be with your leader tied to a lilian. Actually, that lilian introduces more slop into the system, if you think about it. I believe the Mono Rig puts us in an even more direct connection. In fact, because I also have the line in my hand, I can feel the line as well as the rod. And I can make MUCH more subtle motions by manipulating the line with my line hand than you can on an extra long Tenkara rod. See my point there? It’s significant.

          You say you haven’t fished a Mono Rig. But I have spent considerable time with Tenkara. I understand the limitations, and I believe there are no worthwhile advantages to Tenkara vs a Mono Rig on a long fly rod.

          Dom

          Reply
  25. Tenkara for small rivers and sbirulino-spinnig method for everything else.

    Reply
  26. Loved this article.

    55 years ago I was taught to fish for trout in the streams of the Eastern Sierra by using a cheap, long, fiberglass fly rod and a cheap reel loaded with backing and a long top shot of straight mono, 2-4lbs depending on the stream, tied to a Alcock single egg hook and as many split shot as needed to get the bait, 0il pack salmon eggs, down to the fish. We used that rig to dead drift every part of a river, and had “limits“ almost every time.

    In my late teens, a friend took me “fly fishing” with a standard outfit (sink tip line, strike indicator and nymphs). It was not a bad experience, but I could never get the drifts I could with my mono technique. So, I tried my rig tied to a nymph (no indicator). I never fished “bait”again.

    Flash forward to 1990s. I was an early Tenkara advocate because it felt natural given how I’d been nymphing with a fly rod, and I liked the added rod length and the convenience of the telescope feature.

    I ultimately went back to my fly rod (but longer and lighter, like the Echo Shadow X). I just like the feel of the mono in my left hand, and I can alter casting length easily (I can actually do a version of the “double haul”) without changing position. With enough weight, I can probably cast a fly 30 or 40 feet easily with incredible accuracy and then play the out line for a perfect drift, or pump the fly back upstream at the end of the drift. Can even pull steamers up cut banks that way.

    Bottom line, for me, the mono rig technique is vastly superior to both a traditional fly rig or Tenkara because of its combination of simplicity and versatility. Is it “fly fishing”? I don’t really know, or care.

    Cheers!

    Reply
  27. Try out the Sunray Zero weight rod with 2 tip options (longer solid carbon fiber tip makes it an 11+foot Tenkara-ish rod) and Tom Bell’s micro-thin fly line. Best of both worlds for even up to 20 inch trout.

    I learn a lot from all your articles. Keep it up.

    Reply
  28. I appreciate your wading into this . . . and I’m extremely late to the party, but . .

    I fish both ways and love them both. I am exclusive to neither, but I do think Tenkara has a couple of upsides.

    On the McCloud River, there is a section called “Fowler’s Camp, in which the river cascades through a canyon, and is dotted with volcanic boulders and ferns. It’s like a Jurassic park section, and is nigh un-fishable. The Tenkara rod allows me to drop my line on the other side of boulders from a decent spot, and since the fish don’t see much action, I inevitably nail them over and over. It’s fun to have a line go tight when my view of the spot is completely blocked–it’s almost like the fishing game at carnivals–and feels the same way because they use similar equipment:)

    The other is backpacking. I took my Iwana rod to the top of Half Dome, and was able to break it out in minutes on the Merced Rover coming back. For me, get-ready/breakdown ratios are WAY reduced here, and I popped golden trout on dry flies within minutes.

    Anyway, I appreciate the post.

    Reply
  29. The recent rise in popularity of the tenkara rod is partly due to the rise in popularity of ultralight backpacking. There is nothing lighter, more compact, and easy to carry than a tenkara rod. If you are hiking all day and want to throw your line out for 30 minutes before sunset, tenkara is the logical choice. Even for day hikes where weight isn’t important, being able to slide your tiny tenkara in your day pack is nice. The only problem is they really struggle in a lot of lake situations. Some of the best backpacking destinations are alpine areas that naturally have lots of lake basins.

    Reply
  30. I know this is old but i coulent help commenting. Do fishermen actually “need” any piece of equipment? If it’s just about catching a trout a spin rod and a piece of earth worm will get the job done 90% of the time. Fly fishing is inherently about the act of fly fishing itself so i found the whole tone if this article weird and more in line with someone who fishes worms under a bobber.

    Reply
    • Typos aside from this dang tablet, I feel like you could do well with slooooowing down and appreciating the things around you instead of trying to do everything as efficiently as possible.

      Reply
      • Hi Jamie,

        Okay, thanks. I’m pretty good at appreciating the woods and water around me.

        Respectfully, I think you may not have read the article. The point (written pretty clearly above) is that almost all of the things you can do with Tenkara can be done with a Mono Rig and a long fly rod, along with the added (and yes, efficient) benefit of having a reel on the rod.

        And I do like fishing worms under a bobber sometimes. I think it’s fun. And relaxing.

        Dom

        Reply
  31. Dom.. long running discussion eh…. Tenkara is just another variation on the theme. Variety is the spice of life…I’m glad I don’t have to do the same thing everyday, the same way, all the time. I was thrilled to discover your blog and the benefits of the mono rig. Yesterday it saved the day. After a frustrating two hours of my favorite method, swinging wet flies and soft hackles, i picked up my 10’6″ 3wt Euro rod with your 10# mono rig, 6x tippet and proceeded to catch 6 browns in an hour. I view Tenkara the same way. Its something to do that’s a little different from the every day method and will carry my Tenkara as the second rod many times. As usual your points are well made and well written and I learn from every article you share with us.

    Reply
  32. I use or have used both traditional and tenkara. In my opinion articles can be written with pros and cons for both. From my point of view it’s about preference. Use what works best for you and always be open to try new things.

    Reply
    • Point of the article above is not to say which is better. Point is that a Mono Rig achieves nearly the same thing, with the added benefit of versatility and a reel.
      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  33. Due to an injury to my elbow, I decided to switch to Tenkara that would give it some rest (switching from my right arm for cast to my left).

    This has been such a great experience I’m not sure if I will go back to a traditional rod/reel once my elbow is better for the majority of my trips.

    Here is why:

    * The longer rod (13.5′) gives me superior control in leading the flies through the drift. Unless you have fished with a long rod like this you will never know how pleasurable this is.

    * It has forced me to develop better skills for fighting fish – using side pressure, etc. I can land almost any fish I encounter (so far this year up to 17 inches). I actually find it easier to land fish with Tenkara and I also seem to land them faster. I believe the longer rod helps with this as well.

    * Not having to deal with the line and the reel – adjusting drag etc – is nice.

    * When traveling between spots the compactness of the Tenkara is great – I can tuck it into the top of waders and use both hands while climbing up a bank, etc.

    * If I break the rod I can get a replacement part for about 10 bucks. Much cheaper than replacing parts from a traditional rod. Cheap enough to even keep replacement parts on hand.

    * It is easier to change lines with Tenkara. I can switch between a longer line that I use for tight line nymphing and a tapered dry fly line fairly quickly.

    As others have said – it is not for everything. Stripping streamers or dry flies at a distance are not possible but for 90% of my fishing I’m not doing that anyway.

    I hope this encourages others to try out Tenkara too.

    Thanks

    Reply
  34. Thank you Dom for everything you do on this site. This blog is a treasure trove of knowledge.

    I am in my first season fly fishing and started out on tenkara, fishing dries, soft hackle wet flies and nymphs with my 12’ tenkara rod with some success, but have decided to expand my set up to include a 9’6” 5wt to increase versatility/range on the river. Having cut my teeth (and having been spoilt) on a tight line method with tenkara, the mono rig felt like a good entry point into a western/modern outfit and techniques.

    I have been fishing the mono rig for the last two months but I am finding that I have not been able to get quite as precise casting double nymph rigs as I can on my fixed line (13’ #3.5 – 0.012” – level fluoro line plus tippet) set up on the tenkara rod. I’ve also not been able to hook up (or keep fish hooked) as consistently. With my mono rigged 5wt I am finding that my flies are landing to the left or right of my forward stroke and I often have to aim off to get them where I need them and that hurts the entry angle some.

    I am willing to put in the work to grasp your methods and would appreciate any pointers you might be able to offer to help with my (lack of) precision with the mono rig.

    Reply
    • Hi there.

      I’m sure that you can get the accuracy you need. I teach these tactics every day and see the same issues. There’s a TON of info here for you to sift through, and you will find answers to questions that you didn’t know you had. 🙂 But if you want to build accuracy on the Mono Rig, then start with the Standard Mono Rig. It will be more difficult to be accurate with the leader that you describe. And what I write about here is not so easily accomplished with some leader that is pulled from another article or video. Leader formulas do matter. And here’s a very detailed breakdown of the leader I would recommend.

      https://troutbitten.com/2021/03/14/design-and-function-of-the-troutbitten-standard-mono-rig/

      In that article, there are probably 20-30 link to other articles, and they will lead you to other articles. Also find the Mono Rig page: Menu > Articles > Series > Mono Rig.

      Let me know if you need more help.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
      • Thank you Dom. Lemme go re-read that post again this time following the links.

        I have actually been using your standard mono rig formula with no modifications (am taking your advice of sticking with it. I figured if I kept making adjustments to my casting stroke with the formula held constant I’ll crack it at some point). I do hope I crack this accuracy thing before the fall.

        The mono rig has been productive for me, it’s just that at this point it’s not quite as productive than with the tenkara setup i described for short range work. It’s definitely something I am not doing right.

        Reply
        • Right on. So without spending time with you, it’s just a guess, but I see this trouble all the time. And most often, people just don’t have enough speed in the cast. You want to make that leader work. Try taking the fly off, and learn to cast just the Mono Rig. That will teach speed and crisp stops, for sure.

          https://troutbitten.com/2018/11/25/quick-tips-put-more-juice-in-the-cast/

          Hope that helps. I’m sure you’ll get it.

          Dom

          Reply
          • Thank you for the prompt reply. I took the weight off the practice rig and that definitely helped get the line rolling straight to my casting stroke within an 8” wide band at the end at about 25’ from me.

            This is beginning to feel more and more like my tenkara overhead cast, just crisper power (also much tighter grip) to account for the difference in rod action and weight. The difference in amount of applied strength needed between the Radian and my 2.1oz 12’ Nissin Zerosum (7:3) is quite substantial.

            That article is very helpful….I somehow missed that gem. I will try out the prescriptions tomorrow with the weighted practice rig. I am also wondering if 1) weighted rig **plus** my pickup angle into backcast (I.e I am picking up and backcasting too late in drift so angle of pickup is skewing the delivery angle on the forward stroke).

            More fine tuning before the weekend outing!!! Thank you so very much for this valuable exchange and again for everything you do on this site. I will keep at it.

  35. I do both. Just got back from a mountain brookie stream. Six-foot five weight for dries and dry-dropper, 10 ft 10 inch Tenkara for heavier nymphs and wets. The Tenkara rides in the pack when not in use.

    Biggest advantage of fixed-line: It forced me to fish with my feet. I can’t compensate for a lousy position with a longer cast or a tricky mend. Found myself planning three moves ahead, like a golfer.

    Biggest disadvantage: Not an issue today, but hand-lining a squirming, panicking fish is neither easy nor particularly fun. Maybe I need a telescoping net (?!).

    Other disadvantage: The rod I was using today packs down small enough to fit entirely within the Umpqua pack. The others don’t, and inevitably get snagged in trees as I scramble around.

    Reply
  36. Everyone should fish the way they want, but I can think of one situation where tenkara might have a slight advantage and one where it cannot succeed.
    1) where you need to extend a nymph or wet fly drift repeatedly a short distance down stream by extending your arm. The heavier weight of a typical outfit might be slightly more tiring.
    2) Where it fails is if you need an extremely long, repeated dry fly drift. You can extend it somewhere, but if the fish is still following it and hasn’t moved back to his original position it’s likely that he will be spooked by the pickup, where with traditional western tackle the drift can be extended far enough so you can be fairly sure that you are far enough away to make the pickup and recast without disturbing the fish.

    Reply
  37. Tenwhatka? Fortunately the marketing fad of Tenkara is dead and buried. Now if people wouldn’t fall for the marketing of Euro, Czech or Spanish Nymphing products. Tight line nymphing has been independently developed and modified countless times over the past few centuries before these buzz word were used to sell products not always suited to the U.S. market. Hint 2 flies are for hacks on 99% of U.S. waters. Anyway how to appropriately utilize tight line nymphing for local water is a whole separate article

    Reply
  38. I think you’re missing the BIGGEST advantage of tenkara method.

    If you’re veteran I wouldn’t even bother with it. I’m sure I wouldn’t.

    It’s for people like me. Go to the woods once in a while (looooong while), and don’t care what you’ll catch, and how, and about all of those bollocks. You just want to be there and enjoy nature. I’m far too simple man to care about reels, different bites, and that stuff. I don’t have time to research it, try it, etc. I just want to go fishing. That’s all.

    I have few hours for that every few months. Do you get me? That’s why this is the best method FOR ME:)

    Reply
    • Hi Luke. I’m glad that works for you. But I don’t understand when people say this. Because you can keep fly fishing just as simple. Choose one fly and keep one leader length. Hell, don’t even use the reel — never turn it, if that seems too complicated. Fact is, there’s nothing intrinsically complicated about fly fishing. We make it so. And if you want to keep it simple, you can make it so.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  39. I think the appeal of Tenkara, at least on the surface, is the promise of simplicity. When I first learned to fly fish with a guide in West Yellowstone around 2000, he mainly taught me and my family dry fly fishing. I was struck by both the artistry and the simplicity of a rod, reel, fly line, tippet and a fly- one fly. I loved it! But, with a business and not living very close to decent fly waters, I was only fishing once a year. When I retired several years ago, I wanted to get back to the fly. I joined a casting club. But everyone seemed more interested in the catching part than the learning to be a better caster part. It seemed the sport had gone much too much sub-surface. And, with that came multi-fly setups. I had fished dry-droppers (honestly somewhat reluctantly). I understand you can catch more fish with more flies. But, at what cost? As I’m now older, I hate tying knots and I hate complicated setups. One fly appeals to me. I enjoy the challenge of catching fish with a very minimal setup. And honestly, I think I can catch more water the more my fly is being correctly presented to fish than I can if I’m constantly fiddling with changing flies on a 2 or 3 fly rig. And if I get the rig tangled while changing flies, oh my goodness. I could waste so much time setting up a new 3 fly rig.

    So, when I started investigating Tenkara recently I have to admit it looked promising. But then it dawned on me. Is this really fly fishing? Why is the fly fishing community being forced to address this as an alternative? Could you fish y Tenkara with a jig? After all, they seem to be selling it as a dry fly, nymph, wet fly and streamer method. What if someone took a Tenkara rod and attached a jig? Would the spin fishing community be forced to address Tenkara as an alternative to traditional spin fishing? In the end, after watching a fair amount of YouTube videos, I have come to the conclusion that, for now, I will pass on Tenkara (even with the allure of simplicity). If I’m going to cast one fly-whether that fly is a dry or a nymph- its actually more simple to cast it and fish it with my fly rod. The retrieval of a fixed line seems, well clunky. And I want simple these days.

    Reply
  40. I am fairly new to fly fishing and love my 9 ft 5wt set-up.

    My only thought on the Tenkara rod is that I think it would be good for airline travel (fits in carry-on) where my final destination may have a stream or river nearby for a quick line or two. The same would be true of backpacking or cycling.

    In this context do you feel this would be a solution? I know others may see it as a preferred method over rod & reel, but I would see it as a travel solution more than anything.

    Reply
  41. First things first, I understand the article and the intent behind it. Over the last couple of years I’ll go through a phase of fishing tenkara, then go back to the 10′ 4wt.

    The suitability and stated drawbacks of tenkara really depend on the water being fished. I always fish new water with a fly rod first, then come back to it with tenkara if I think it’ll work. The only thing that puts me off not having a reel is when I think I may have to do a lot of long drifts with in indicator to properly fish an area. A mono rig (with a micro-leader) is hands down the best tool for this (except maybe a spin rod), which can then immediately resume other tightline functions. For rivers where I know I won’t be able to reach the otherside, I just save that bank for the hike back downstream; I do this regardless of whether I’m fishing a fly rod or tenkara, except with a reel I may try and extend my range with an indi for a few drifts, but it’ll still get tightlined on the way back down.

    Wind is also less fun with tenkara. You can still use an indi to help lead the flies down the seam, but I’d rather use a reel outfit in the wind.

    I also don’t find it difficult to pack down tenkara or change lines. It takes about the same time as conventional gear, and doesn’t need to be done very often while fishing.

    A big advantage with tenkara is not having line between bottom of the rod and the tip (and sagging line getting caught in your zippers or other accessories). Some rivers we have here are lined by trees, shrubs and grasses that grab mono and hold on, even with the slightest contact, leading to anything from lost flies to ever building levels of frustration.

    While I’ll concede that feel from most quality rods is pretty good, I still think I feel more through the tenkara rod, especially using a fluorocarbon level line.

    My takeaway is to try a few different tenkara rods, of different lengths and characters, and pick your rivers to fish them with, and tenkara is just as good (and sometimes better) as other tightline methods.

    Reply
    • Right on. I’m glad you know what works for you. I still don’t see where Tenkara is better than a Mono Rig. You mentioned wind. Yeah, a fixed like it’s a bad idea even in a breeze. Also, in tight quarters ( I mean really right), I am far more accurate when I can retrieve and shoot line.
      Options and versatility. That’s what it comes down to.

      Reply
  42. Interesting article. I’ve fished the mono rig on a ten foot 3 weight and have also fished with several tenkara rods. Both methods do indeed enable excellent tight line drifts and have upped my catch rate significantly compared to laying heavy fly line in the water. There are three points about tenkara that aren’t mentioned in your piece that I see as adding significant advantages to a rod and reel setup (some more significant than others): 1) The first is using a micro thin leader (3X-5X indicator mono). You can obviously do this on both a western/euro nymphing rod and a tenkara rod, but I find the lack of having to handle such thin line in a line hand while using a long tenkara rod a big plus. You can run 4X micro leaders on a fly rod and reel all the way from tippet ring to your fly line but you then either have to handle the thin line directly (which is tricky owing to its exceptional thinness and stickiness if your hands are wet or if it’s raining and the guides and blanks are wet), have some fly line out in your guides which definitely will cause noticeable sag given the huge difference in weights, or attach some transition mono between your fly line and the micro-leader and handle that through your guides which requires a knot that will catch, even if just a little bit, as you retrieve line. All of this ends up impacting the amazing sensitivity one gets from a micro leader. A tenkara rod without guides or a line hand removes these barriers and makes drifting and sensing subtle takes with a micro leader significantly more simplified. 2) All tenkara rods are telescoping, but some are also “zoom rods”: that is, they can actually be fishing at different lengths. The Dragontail Mizuchi is a good example of a triple zoom rod It can be fished at 8 feet, 9.5 feet, or 11 feet and all with a simple slide of the butt pieces. The ability to change the length of your rod on demand is a significant benefit in some situations. One benefit of a zoom rod related to your point of breaking down the rod when moving spots, is that rather than breaking down your whole tenkara rod, you can simply convert it from an 11 foot rod to an 8 foot rod, and just hold a few feet of tippet and line wrapped loosely in your hand with the rest tight to the end of the rod. I find this to be a bit faster and easier than your splitting the rod technique. 3) Fishing in sub-freezing weather. Again, you can do so with both a western fly rod and reel and tenkara but tenkara has a big advantage here. No need for a line hand (that keeps going numb from the cold) to handle slack line, so you can keep your fingers completely covered the entire time you fish. Your tips on keeping your hands dry and warm on cold days are really helpful, but in terms of efficiency, keeping your hands completely covered in water proof gloves while casting, drifting, and fighting fish, means spending far less time with rags and hand warmers to keep you in the game. Also, there are no guides to collect ice. Again, people definitely fish effectively in freezing weather with a fly rod and reel, but I think tenkara has a significant edge in that situation.

    Reply
    • Hi Dustin,

      Thanks for the thoughts.

      Most of your points are predicated on the idea that just because we have a reel, we have to use it. I guess that is my main point here — The fact that you can’t reel in or let line out is not an advantage of Tenkara. It never is. If you think it’s an advantage in the winter, the answer is to just not use the reel on a regular rod — simply have the discipline not to use it. Same with the line handling stuff — just don’t use the reel. Use a fixed line approach on a standard setup. BUT THEN — once in a while, if you want it, it’s great to have that versatility too.

      That’s my point. That’s why a fixed line is never an inherent advantage of Tenkara — because anyone, at any moment, can do the same thing with the fly rod already in their hand. Don’t use the reel. There . . . fixed line.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  43. I fish a very small stream in Vermont. The best way to get to the fishing spot is to ride my mountain bike. Using a traditional system made it much more time-consuming to get my rod out, thread the line through the guides and start fishing. With a small tenkara rod, I can be fishing in just a few minutes since I have the line already loaded with flies, usually a dry fly and dropper below. Then if I want to move to a different spot by getting on my bike again, I can collapse the rod, wrap the line around a spool and ride. When I used a reel, I was always worried about what I would do with the rod and reel while riding my bike. The stream is so small that there is never a time when I can’t reach a spot. I certainly get your point about the reel being an advantage because you can either fish a tight line or let more line out to get to a spot that would otherwise be too far with the tenkara. On these really tiny streams, there just aren’t any spots you can’t get to. So maybe this is the ideal way to use a tenkara.

    Reply
  44. I have been a longtime reader of troutbitten and listener of the podcast so as a person whose gateway into fly fishing and preferred small stream method was tenkara, I was disappointed to read such a dismissive and reductionist article. I thought to myself” Really Dom? nobody *needs tenkara or a mono rig or a fly rod to catch fish obviously that’s not why we use these tools.” So I had to fish the mono rig for myself to understand why you are selling the system short.

    Six months of using a mono rig on a 10 foot 4wt I found the following:

    The subtle manipulations like pon pon and ashtapa-zuri on stiff hackle flies fished wet that grip the current like a grappling hook. These actions that I would perform with a tenkara rod were actually more difficult to do with mono line in hand and I just ended up hoisting the mono rig to the rod base with my index finger for control and it felt like temporarily “fixing” the line. Seems redundant, and just so I can have a reel? more weight on my arm all day, more gear, less joy. There was a lot less feel in the vibrations these actions make on 20lb mono vs the 2.5 level line I use with tenkara.

    I noticed the maxima chameleon mono tracking back to me a LOT more and and distances I am used to getting one lane drag free drifts with very little sag were now out of reach for me. I normally use long rods like the Nissin Oni Honryu 395. I had effectively cut off my range of drag free drifts while nymphing and dry fly fishing substantially with the 10′ 4 wt. but at least I have the reel right? I rarely used it even when hooking 18-20 inch rainbows my skillset of playing fish with the curve of the rod on light tippet is a habit I developed out of using tenkara rods that translated to the 4 wt. I guess old habits die hard.

    I think the light 2.5 level lines I used on my tenkara rods sag a lot less than 20 lb maxima. The maxima just felt heavy and less sensitive by comparison. The technique is virtually the same in terms of using the sighter over feel to detect strikes however I felt like some of my nuanced bottom detection was lacking. The Maxima also held just a wee bit more memory which I didn’t like having to stretch out of the system when using it after storage for a while.

    The turning point for me was a day on the south platte in Colorado in September. The water was low and clear and I just needed more reach than the 4wt could offer me and a more subtle approach for the highly pressured fish. I put size 2.5 level line on my oni 395 and proceeded to demonstrate why this rod is from outer space. 20 inch rainbows sipping tiny 22 bwo dries were no problem, played to hand quickly, which I realized wet fingers and a proper grip functions as a primitive caveman “drag” system. Yes some threw the small hook but I was getting stealth, drag free drifts from distances I could not with a 10 foot rod. The icing on the cake was a 24 inch brown that I caught tight lining a run near a cliff by sneaking around the base, and from a position hugging the wall casting to the top of the run and a taking long slow drift with a micro bugger. The Oni elegantly absorbed the shock of the run of this large hen, stopping it in its tracks to turn its head protecting the 6x tippet. The fight was less than 2 minutes to net. I didn’t need a reel after all.

    I think your experience of an american brand cheap tenkara rod and saggy furled or large line you are using for your kids does not really give you an accurate understanding of the potentiality of what tenkara can offer. You are doing a disservice to yourself and your readers by not more deeply exploring the system. If my only judgement of fly fishing was from using a cheap rod and a sub par line it would be missing a ton of nuance, much like your assessment of tenkara is missing in this article. You study under Joe Humphreys maybe you need to spend some time with Masami Sakakibara. I find it surprising that such a half-cocked approach is forming the basis of your opinion since you are so meticulous in your assessments otherwise. Perhaps some sort of biases have colored your perception of this system that many of us love and enjoy and fish IN ADDITION to the mono rig and fly line.

    I have since decided that on western rivers and blue lining high alpine streams tenkara is it for me. I have however found the perfect use for the mono rig almost exclusively on our stocked streams here in the south with large slow pools and very deep runs. These runs are too deep and the water too slow to fish with tenkara effectively so I do appreciate a mono rig and indicator system in these waters and its versatility to switch to dries or streamers so I thank you for many a happy stocker caught on it.

    When I head to western trout waters this summer I will be leaving my conventional fly rod and reels behind. I simply don’t need them and they aren’t as fun to me.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the account of your experience. No other article on Troutbitten brings out frustration from anglers like this one. I can tell from the length of the replies, and some of the hateful texts in other comments that I simply delete.

      I’ve not been dismissive of Tenkara, and I don’t care to convince you.

      You do NOT WANT to move away from your Tenkara rod, so you shouldn’t. You are having fun with it, and it suits what you like best about fishing. That sentiment is also in the article above.

      Your comparison of a 20 lb standard Mono Rig with a 2.5 level Tenkara line is not at all a fair test.

      “I think the light 2.5 level lines I used on my tenkara rods sag a lot less than 20 lb maxima.”

      Of course it does!! It’s half the diameter!!

      For a fair comparison, you should build a Mono Rig from .010 Chameleon. That’s about 8 lb. But again, no you shouldn’t because you don’t want to move away from Tenkara. You like it! That’s great!

      There are undeniable facts regarding the limitations of Tenkara. The article above highlights those limitations. A fixed line is a major handicap. Having no ability to strip line cuts your available presentations and fishing situations in half. Again, just a fact.

      I’m glad you’ve landed big fish on the fly rod. It’s easier and more efficient with a reel for line recovery. I also find it to be a lot more fun. You don’t. That’s cool.

      I don’t need to spend time with Masami Sakakibara to understand the inherent limitations of Tenkara. They are undeniable and fact based.

      You can do the same things with a Mono Rig that you can with a Tenkara rod. That’s a fact too. Use a thinner leader build if you want less sag. I’ll be sure to include that in the article above on the rewrite, so I thank you for bringing that up.

      But I do not accept your characterization of my opinion here as “half-cocked,” uninformed, dismissive or biased. That is unfair and untrue.

      A fly rod and a Mono Rig cannot match the Tenkara rod in weight and the resulting feel of such a light setup on a long rod. Advantage Tenkara. That is also undeniably true. But for me, that one advantage is not worth the sacrifice of all other presentations, options and advantages of a fly rod and Mono Rig. Add in the option to switch over to a fly line by just changing leaders, and the range of versatility is widened further.

      The bottom line is that you enjoy fishing Tenkara. That’s excellent, and I’m happy to hear it.

      I do not enjoy Tenkara because of the limitations. My preference is based on fact and experience.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  45. Dom,

    I appreciate your thoughtful response I will try the mono rig with 8lb, and then maybe even 6lb maxima. I’m not by any means fixated on one system or method I like to experiment I just have particular situations I prefer tenkara for.

    The inability to strip is an obvious limitation but I just jig streamers and still catch fish.

    I wouldn’t spend time with a teacher like Masami Sakakibara to learn the limitations of a system but rather the possibility inherent in it. You are overlooking something here by not exploring the subject beyond a superficial level is all I’m saying.

    I have no desire to forgo one method over another I’ll still fish fly line, mono rig, and tenkara in the contexts I feel they shine in.

    Thank you for your hard work and dedication to sharing knowledge and your strong opinions to challenge our conceptualizations. I appreciate what you do and how you do it.

    Reply
    • Good stuff. Thanks for your reply:

      “You are overlooking something here by not exploring the subject beyond a superficial level is all I’m saying.”

      You might be surprised to hear that I fished Tenkara a half dozen times this fall. My experience with Tenkara rods is not superficial. The stated limitations will never change. Regardless of who holds the rod, the subtraction of a reel is a limitation with big consequences. The advantages can be equaled with a Mono Rig.

      I don’t publish opinions anywhere across the Troutbitten platforms without having experience and understanding of the topic. That’s why there is no content here about stillwater, saltwater, spey tacics, etc.

      Cheers, and thanks for your comments.

      Dom

      Reply
      • Dom,

        On the smaller tenkara rods to not have a reel may be an unacceptable drawback for many. I can understand avoiding them for this reason. For modern large tenkara rod like the Oni Honryu 395 that was designed for fishing to sea-run cherry salmon, meh, it’s less consequential in my opinion and experience. I watched a video of Rim Chung playing a namer on his 3 wt. He said he fought the fish for 10 minutes. That’s ridiculous considering I could play a similar class fish in a fifth of the time on the Oni. At this point to me it’s a preference thing not even a limitation. If you get your kicks from “fly Reel go brrrr!” I can’t say I can blame you it’s a beautiful sound.

        Tight lines, and happy fishing the way that you find best.

        Reply
        • Thanks. I like that you’re not mad at me for disagreeing. 🙂

          You are focused on the reel (or lack a reel) for fish fighting. I don’t care much about that. I said that I enjoy having a reel in a big fish fight, but I never claimed that you need it. And I have no doubt you can land large fish in a short time. Honestly, I think that’s kind of a neat challenge in Tenkara.

          When I say the lack of a reel is a major handicap, I’m focused on the limitations of a fixed line. As I work a stream, up and down the river, I constantly adjust my line length, even though I also prefer to wade a lot and get in great positions. I let more line off the reel or I reel it back on. But I also strip line in during my presentations. And I’m not talking about just stripping streamers. I’m talking about recovering slack. If all slack recovery is done with the rod tip, we are too often in a poor position for the next cast or even a hook set. Likewise, if I’m locked into one length of line, I may be able to punch that line under an overhanging branch, but I cannot lift my rod because I’ll hit that branch. So I NEED the line hand for slack recovery.

          I’ve walked through all this in a couple resources, showing the necessity of using our line hand in fly fishing. With Tenkara, we can’t do any of this. And THAT, is the big disadvantage.

          https://troutbitten.com/2018/05/27/fifty-fly-fishing-tips-43-two-ways-to-recover-slack/

          https://troutbitten.com/2022/01/31/podcast-recovering-slack-tight-line-skills-series-4/

          Cheers.
          Dom

          Reply
          • Dom,
            I know this article gave people some “big feelings” myself included, but in a more objective assessment you have points with merit, some debatable, but they are worthy of examination. I can understand that some of these drawbacks of the system with slack recovery are absolutely unacceptable for you. I also understand that tenkara promotion for someone with a platform like yourself could be a liability to sponsors who cater to the gear and accoutrements of western fly fishing. You however have proven you’re not afraid to take risks with your “blasphemous”;) fly line article and stand on your own principles. I highly respect that.
            I believe that this fixed line category will continue to be a niche in the industry regardless of how many gearheads take a crap on it. I also believe the fixed line limitation for tenkara rods that you mentioned about line slack may someday be overcome by technology other than a reel. I envision some kind of retracting system without a drag but a locking mechanism that feeds the line through the tip instead of lashing it to the lilian and retracts into the base of the rod itself or extends from it, with the push of a button. I could totally see this technology being available within the next 10 to 20 years. what the other line hand is doing with the western setup could be done on one hand with a thumb pushing a button.

            The rods will get lighter and stronger, the lines thinner, and then maybe even, something so innovate will come along to change the game completely.

            I hope we are both around to see it. Thanks again and tight lines.

  46. I remember reading this article a few years ago and I’m surprised to see the comments still coming in. I personally love to fish Tenkara. I tried Western fly fishing years ago and didn’t enjoy it. I fully understand that western style can and does everything Tenkara does and much much more. The frustration for me is everyone telling me that I’m not fly fishing or that it’s good for small creeks and nothing else. If people took the time to actually try and learn they would see a now American Tenkara style that cast 20-30 ft lines, uses streamers, and all sort of traditional flies and lines. It’s definitely not for everyone and that’s ok. I do appreciate the way you approached the subject and I don’t think you are wrong or bashing the style. I should probably just stay away from comment sections lol.

    Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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