Tenkara Fishing: Completed Guide About Japanese Fly Fishing

Tenkara Fishing - Completed Guide About Japanese Fly Fishing

Tenkara fishing is a popular Japanese fly fishing method. This fishing method has been gaining popularity in the US because it’s simpler to set up and use. The technique works best for anglers fishing in freshwater mountain streams and other inland streams.

So, are you fond of fishing and want to try something new? This tenkara fishing for beginners guide will explain everything you need to know about tenkara fly fishing. We will also explain what this fishing technique involves, how to set up your tenkara rod, and the pros and cons of using this fishing method.

Ernest Grey

I love to test new fishing gadgets and share my opinion.

Table of Contents

What Is Tenkara Fishing?

Tenkara fishing is a fly fishing technique that involves fishing with a nylon rod and a fly. So, tenkara anglers use a long rod and fix a casting line at the rod’s tip. Next, they set a fly at the tippet to act as bait. They ensure the tenkara rods have flexible tips to absorb any shock they might get from a fighting fish.

This fishing technique originated from a Japanese mountain-dwelling community that used this method to catch char and trout in rivers. Although there are numerous steelhead fly rods in the market, some anglers still prefer using tenkara rods to catch these trout species.

Unlike the Western fly fishing technique, this method lacks a reel and utilizes a long rod to increase the casting distance. It also allows your catch to drift without drag, thus increasing its effectiveness.

Most tenkara anglers prefer using this method because they can keep the line in the water without the current dragging it. The line is also tight, so hooking and catching trout is easier. If you like sport fishing, you can do tenkara finishing for bass, especially smallmouth bass.

How Do You Set Up a Tenkara Rod?

Setting your tenkara gear is quite easy. All you need is a tenkara fly fishing rod, a fly line, and some flies. Before setting up a tenkara rod, you must ensure you’ve picked the right size.

Choosing a Tenkara Rod

Choose longer rods because they work best when fishing in wider rivers, streams, and ponds. However, you can still consider shorter tenkara fly fishing rods, as they can also be useful. They come in handy, especially when fishing in small, tighter streams.

To avoid the hassle of changing the rod now and then, choose one that’s adjustable so you can switch it to the size that meets your requirements.

Besides checking the rod’s length, your rod should be lightweight and have a progressive taper. The tip should also be flexible. Most tenkara rods come with a flexible fiber part that absorbs the shock when fighting with a fish.

Anglers targeting larger fish should choose tenkara fishing rods with bigger backbones because they are more sturdy.

Unlike western fly rods, tenkara rods don’t break in sections and instead collapse at the rear section.

Choosing a Tenkara Line

After buying a rod from a reputable tenkara rod company, the next thing to choose is a tenkara line. Tenkara lines are made to cast a weightless fly.

Unlike western fly, a tenkara line doesn’t have a leader and instead uses a tippet. A tippet is a thin line that separates the main tenkara line and the fly.

The line you choose depends on your personal preferences. Although these lines come with different levels, their lengths are fixed, but you can choose a shorter one when necessary.

Choosing a Tenkara Fly

The best thing about this fishing method is you can use any fly as bait. However, you should choose a wet fly or one with a reversed hackle because they create a realistic presentation.

Choose size 12 flies if you’re fishing in a normal stream. If fishing in fast-flowing or unclear waters, you can get a bigger fly to increase visibility.

Now that you know what to look for when choosing a rod, line, and fly, the next thing is to understand how to set up a tenkara rod. Follow the steps below.

Step 1: Assemble the Rod

Start by assembling the rod. You can remove the end plug and pull it straight while holding the rod down. Ensure the tip is facing up.

Step 2: Attach the Line

Attach the line and slowly drop your rod’s tip to the ground until the line is attached at the area popularly known as Lilian. Ensure the tip protrudes from the section by pulling it gently. You can either attach the fly line or use the tenkara level line.

Step 3: Tie on Tippet

Tie a knot on the tippet and ensure you leave about half an inch tag. Next, clinch the knot over the tippet and use a tag to remove it after fishing. Tightening the slipknot prevents your line from slipping over the tippet.

Step 4: Attach Fly

Attaching the fly is quite straightforward because you just need to add your preferred fly. Ensure the size of the fly matches the size of your targeted fish. A small fish will require a small fly, and vice versa.

Step 5: Adjust the Line Length

Although most people are comfortable with the line length, you can adjust yours to suit your fishing preferences. You can change the size by fixing it to be the same as the length of the rod.

Step 6: Test Cast

After fixing the fly, the next thing is to cast your bait into the stream. If you’re a beginner, you should test your tenkara setup before fishing to ensure you’ve set it correctly.

Tenkara Fishing Techniques

Tenkara Fishing Techniques

Unlike western style fly fishing, you can use different tenkara fishing techniques to present flies. Generally, tenkara anglers present only one or two flies to lure the fish. The most popular methods include the following.

1. Dead Drifting

This is the simplest presentation, where you present the fly while ensuring it’s as natural as possible. Here, you cast the fly at an angle in the upstream area and gently follow it with the rod until the drifting ends.

Ensure there is no drag on the fly for you to increase the chances of catching a tenkara fish. To figure out whether there is any drag, check the fly closely to see if it is unnaturally pulling across the waters.

This is the recommended fishing style for beginners and anglers fishing in new spots.

2. Drag and Action

This fishing technique involves adding drag to spice up your presentation. You add some drag by pausing the fly by stopping the rod for a while and then lifting it upstream. This motion creates a drag for a while and mimics the movement of a struggling fly.

3. Cast Downstream

Although not as popular as casting upstream, this method is equally effective, especially if you’re targeting fish that don’t bite easily.

For this technique to work effectively, combine it with the pausing method. Additionally, ensure the current takes the fly downstream and lets it sit for a few seconds before trying it again.

4. The Leisenring Lift

This method involves variation, moving it up and down the stream. Although some anglers prefer weighted flies, you can modify the presentation by combining this method with other techniques.

To increase the chances of catching a fish, position yourself like you’re swinging and cast the bait across the stream. Ensure you allow the fly to sink by keeping your rod as high as possible.

Lower your rod immediately after the line drifts past you to ensure your presentation looks like a dead drift. Keep the rod horizontally to make the sunken fly come to the surface while the current will create a drag on the fishing line.

5. The Blowline Technique

Though not common, this Japanese tenkara technique involves using the wind to carry the bait into position instead of casting it in the water yourself.

In the past, anglers would use reel spooled with dental floss and a conventional fly rod, but for this method to work effectively, ensure your line is light enough.

If you land a big fish, the best thing you can do is act smart. Start by keeping calm so you won’t scare the fish away. Let the fish swing until it gets tired, then ramp the pressure up.

Next, point the butt of your rod at the fish to help you handle the rapid movement of your fish. Keep your rod low, ensure it is facing the opposite direction, and pull the fish out. If the fish is too heavy, wade in the river and ensure you assume a 90-degree connection.

Pros of Tenkara Fishing

A Simple Structure

One benefit of this fishing technique is its simple structure that you can twerk to suit your fishing needs. You can change how you present the fly to increase the chances of catching fish.

Ease of Learning

Tenkara fishing is beginner friendly as it’s easier to learn. Although many anglers prefer using other fly fishing rods for trout fishing, this technique involves using a simple tackle that includes a rod, line, and a fly.


The Tenkara fishing gear is portable and ideal for people fond of hiking and camping and who want to bring their fishing gear. Consider carrying this gear because it’s portable, and the rod is telescopic and lightweight.

Cons of Tenkara Fishing


The major drawback of this fishing technique is it has a limited application. They only work best if you’re fishing in small streams. However, you should use Japanese fishing reels to fish in big waters like lakes and oceans. This is because tenkara rods can’t withstand the weight of big saltwater fish while doing tenkara fishing in lakes.

Learning Curve & Simplicity

Although simple, this fishing technique can get complicated when presenting the fly. Unlike other western fly fishing techniques, you need to know how to increase the chances of catching trout. For example, trout are sensitive to movements in the water, and a slight mistake will push them away.

Finding a Mentor or Guide

Many guides are willing to teach you western fly fishing techniques, but only a few can teach you tenkara fishing. However, if you already know how to use Western Flies, you can use tutorials widely available on many online platforms.