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Published Sep 27, 2023 11:06 AM
Tenkara rods are a modern take on a traditional form of Japanese fly fishing. The entire system consists of a long rod, a leader, tippet, and a fly. In many aspects, it embodies the purest form of fishing. Just a rod, a line, and, if you’re lucky, a fish. The combination of convenience and simplicity has driven an influx of anglers toward this style of fly fishing. Tenkara is especially popular amongst backpackers, hikers, and adventurers, where the extra weight of a full-length rod and reel is too much.
But make no mistake, tenkara rods can be used on everyday fishing trips to the river or pond. You just need to figure out which design is best suited for you. With minimal setup time, an ultra-compact design, and affordable price points, tenkara is the perfect option for those looking to minimalize their fishing adventures. These are the best tenkara rods for all types of fishing.
How We Picked the Best Tenkara Rods
We’ve tested a number of tenkara rods in mountain streams, rivers, and lakes. The ones that made our top picks combine materials, action, and length in a complete tenkara setup. Whether for a specific scenario or as an all-around rod, we’ve fished with many of these sticks in a variety of situations. When evaluating each rod, these are the criteria we looked for:
- Rod Length: How long is the rod, and what type of fishing is it best suited for?
- Weight: How heavy is the rod, especially for packing on backpacking trips?
- Collapsed Length: How small does the rod fold down?
- Action: What is the rod action, and how does it pair with the rod length for casting?
- Fishability: What fishing scenarios is the rod best designed for?
- Price Point: Is the rod budget-friendly for what it offers?
Best Tenkara Rods: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Tenkara Rod Co. Sawtooth
- Length: 12 feet
- Weight: 3.2 ounces
- Collapsed Length: 20 inches
- Rod action is great for a variety of fish
- Easy setup
- Swivel tip keeps line from tangling
Tenkara rods are typically associated with small streams and tiny trout. And while the Tenkara Rod Co Sawtooth is a great choice for small water, it is also capable of much more. The rod is designed as an all-around tenkara setup, and it excelled at everything we threw at it. The 12-foot length allows anglers to make long casts on bigger rivers. It’s easy to target riffles and seams where larger trout are lurking. Big browns in fast water are tough on gear, but the Sawtooth’s combination of length and backbone have plenty of power to turn fish. The added length also helps maximize drifts. Keeping the rod tip high minimizes line drag for a more natural presentation. At 20 inches in length, this all-around rod can be thrown in a pack and is ready at a moment’s notice. The Sawtooth is available as just a rod or a kit for anglers looking for all the essentials.
Best for Beginners: Wetfly Kodomo Creek Tenkara Kit
- Length: 8 feet
- Weight: N/A
- Collapsed Length: 23 inches
- Good length and action for learning
- The complete kit has everything to start
- The 8-foot length is best for small streams
The beauty of tenkara fishing is the minimalist approach and easy accessibility. The Wetfly Komodo Creek Tenkara Kit has everything needed to hit the water. The 8-foot length is plenty manageable for new anglers and excels on small water where casting distance is limited. It is sold as a kit with a leader, tippet, and flies. The setup is straightforward, taking just minutes to be ready to fish. For anglers looking to try fly fishing without wanting to invest in a full combo, this is a great starting point. While it’s not truly fly fishing, the casting stroke and flies are similar before diving fully into a new hobby. The 8-foot length can be limiting on larger water, so take your specific needs into consideration.
Best Castability: Tenkara USA Amago
- Length: 13 feet, 6 inches
- Weight: 3.5 ounces
- Collapsed Length: 21 1/8 inches
- Excellent castability
- Collapses to a small size for its length
- Comfortable handle grip
Fishing larger water bodies requires the right gear, and tenkara is no exception. The Tenkara USA Amago is designed specifically for larger trout rivers. The 13-foot, 6-inch rod length offers plenty of reach for long drifts and more than enough fighting power for bigger fish. The Amago is designed with long and accurate casts in mind. Paired with a flared grip for extra control and a smooth casting stroke, anglers can place accurate and repeatable casts. This rod comes with a premium price but is worth it for dedicated tenkara anglers looking to find new water and bigger fish.
Best Budget: Aventik IM12 Nano
- Length: 11 feet, 10 inches
- Weight: 2.6 ounces
- Collapsed Length: 18.4 inches
- Simple casting stroke
- Extra tip section
- Lacks sensitivity of premium rods
For those looking to try tenkara fishing, an all-around budget-friendly rod is a good starting point. The Aventik IM12 meets all the criteria for a well-rounded tenkara stick at a reasonable price. At 11 feet, 10 inches, it falls in the middle of a typical tenkara rod length. The IM12 excels at small to medium-sized creeks and can handle fish up to 20 inches. It isn’t the most sensitive rod, but its casting stroke is straightforward and can deliver casts where you need them. For those worried about durability, this setup comes with an extra tip section to get back on the water with minimal hassle in case you snap the tip.
Best for Travel: Tiny Tenkara Tiny Ten
- Length: 5 feet
- Weight: 1.6 ounces
- Collapsed Length: 8 inches
- The lightest rod we tested
- Folds down to an extremely packable size
- Swivel rod tip to prevent line tangles
- Best for small streams and short casts
The only thing worse than traveling is traveling with fishing rods. I’ve found the best way to minimize stress is to have fishing equipment be as out of the way as possible. The Tiny Tenkara Tiny Ten meets these criteria better than any other tenkara rod we tested. Sure, most tenkara rods collapse to a reasonable size, but the Tiny Ten is almost unnoticeable in a pack. At 8 inches collapsed, it can be stowed just about anywhere. The rod extends to 5 feet in length. And while this is short for bigger water, it’s perfect for mountain streams and alpine lakes. The rod itself has a respectable action that excels at finessing casts in hard-to-reach places. A well-placed bow and arrow cast under an overgrown bank often will result in an aggressive strike and a fish to the net.
Best for Situational Angling: Dragontail Tenkara Kaida zx320
- Length: 9.4 feet or 10.6 feet
- Weight: 2.5 ounces
- Collapsed Length: 18 inches
- Multiple rod lengths are great for different water bodies
- Soft action with integrated fiberglass for added feel
- Easy to switch between length
My biggest issue with Tenkara fishing is getting to a body of water to realize the rod you brought is not suited for the conditions. Whether too long or too short, there’s nothing worse than making do with what you have. The Dragontail Tenkara Kaida solves this with a simple but effective twist mechanism to zoom down the bottom section, gaining or subtracting a foot of rod length. On small creeks, the 9.4-foot rod length excels at making tight casts for wary fish. While the 10.6-foot rod is perfect for longer casts on bigger water where distance is the deciding factor. Versatility is key in fishing, and the Kaida is ready for all scenarios with a subtle feel that’s quick to learn and delivers accurate, repeatable casts.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Tenkara Rod
Tenkara rods may seem simple, but there is a lot more to them than it seems. You think to think about your style of fishing, rod size, target species, and more. Consider these factors to get the most out of your investment.
Tenkara rods vary in action description depending on the manufacturer. Japanese in origin, a lot of companies stick to the Japanese rating system. This system is number-based, with the most common being 5:5, 6:4, 7:3, and 8:2. It essentially breaks down to how much of the rod flexes. A 5:5 will flex halfway up the blank, while an 8:2 will flex 80 percent up the blank, closer to the tip section. The higher the rating, the closer to the tip the rod will flex. Other companies prefer to use medium, medium fast, and fast to describe the action. This system is more comparable to conventional tackle and traditional fly rods.
Without the addition of a reel, anglers are limited to the length of the line for the distance of the cast. This means longer rods can make further casts. On bigger rivers, rods ranging from the 11 to 13-foot range are standard to reach further holes. For small mountain streams, shorter rods in the 8 to 10-foot range help place accurate casts to tight pockets. Choose the rod length according to the water body you plan on fishing.
The beauty of tenkara rods is the ability to fold down and pack it wherever you go. That said, some pack better than others. Finding a rod that collapses into a size that is easy to carry is a must to get the most use of your investment. I prefer a rod that collapses to under 20 inches to maximize convenience.
Q: Are tenkara rods good for beginners?
Tenkara rods are great rods for beginners. Their simplicity is easy to learn, and the minimal amount of line makes casting a breeze. Once you get the casting stroke down, this can easily be transitioned to a fly rod to open up more styles of fishing.
Q: What size tenkara rod should I get?
Tenkara rod length varies depending on the type of water you plan on fishing. Rods in the 11 to 13-foot range are best for bigger rivers and longer casts. For small streams, rods 8 to 10 feet in length offer the best in terms of accuracy and being able to get under tree branches.
Q: Are tenkara rods only for small fish?
Tenkara rods can land surprisingly big fish. They don’t have a reel to manage line, but soft tip sections protect fine tippets. You may have to move after larger fish, but with proper technique and a little patience, fish up to 20 inches are not a problem.
Q: How far can I cast a tenkara rod?
Tenkara fishing is limited to the length of the line attached to the end of the rod. Generally, a tenkara leader setup and tippet is about the length of the rod and a little more. The longer the rod, the further you will be able to cast. That is why anglers on bigger rivers prefer the longest rod they can get away with.
Best Tenkara Rods: Final Thoughts
Tenkara is not fly fishing, but it has its place where it thrives. On your next adventure, the right tenkara rod is a simple and effective way to catch a few fish. Not all rods are made equal, so choose one that fits your fishing style best. The Tenkara Ro Co Sawtooth is a great choice for all-around fishing and will excel in the backcountry and on larger rivers.
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