Learning Tenkara

Are you interested in learning Tenkara and not sure where to start, what to buy, or what all the technical jargon means? Well this page is for you (if you don’t know what Tenkara is please refer to my page “What is Tenkara“)!

Below, I will outline everything you need to know to start Tenkara fly fishing today.

Step 1

First you need to pick your first Tenkara rod (if you want you can refer to my page “My Tenkara Rods” to see what I use when I’m fishing). There are many great Tenkara rod companies out there such as – Badger Tenkara, Dragontail Tenkara, Patagonia, Tenkara Bum, Tenkara Rod Co., Tenkara Tanuki, and Tenkara USA to name just a few of the American Tenkara companies. When you start looking at Japanese Tenkara rods the list gets even longer.

Here are a few things that I considered when purchasing my first rod.

  1. Softness – There is also a lot out there about the softness of a Tenkara rod. I’ve created my own scale, which you can check out here other companies/blogs do it differently with pennies – again this all technical jargon that you shouldn’t worry about too much at first. As people get more into Tenkara they find that they prefer a Tenkara rod with a stiff feel or maybe a really soft feel, like a noodle. There is no way to tell which category you’ll fall in until you’ve been Tenkara fly fishing for awhile.
  2. Action – There is a lot of forum posts about the action of the rod (e.g. 7:3, 6:4, 5:1, etc…) if you’re starting out don’t worry too much about this, unless you already have a background in fly fishing the numbers aren’t going to matter much to you while you’re learning Tenkara.
  3. Price – I didn’t want to break the bank on my first rod. As I got more into Tenkara and figured out what kind of action, length, weight, and even color I wanted and liked I started spending more on my Tenkara rods.
  4. Length – Tenkara rod lengths vary anywhere from 9′ to 15’+ long, which length should you pick!? Well it depends on where you’ll be fishing. Typically shorter rods are used for tight streams (aka small) with lots of overhead cover (aka tree branches) that you can get your line snagged on. The longer rods are for big rivers. As a rule of thumb a good length to start with for your first rod is around 12′. This length will work well for just about any size body of water you’ll be learning Tenkara on.

Here is a really great PDF that the good folks at Discover Tenkara put together on how to select a good quality Tenkara Rod. I highly recommend you take a look at it.

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Step 2

So you’ve settled on a rod that you like but you still need to get a line, some flies, and some tippet. For those with a fly fishing background this decision process will be fairly simple. However, if you are like me three years ago and you’ve never really fished before this decision can be quite daunting. To make it as simple as possible I recommend that you start with one or two different types of fly fishing line designed specifically for Tenkara.

  • Level Line

Level Line is called level line because it is the same thickness through the entire length of the line (aka it isn’t fatter on the end or in the middle like some fly fishing line). Level line also tends to have a very delicate presentation. You typically get a spool of 30m for $10. The weight of the line varies, to start with I would go with a 3.5 or 4 weight level line.

  • Furled Line

Furled line tends to be heavier and therefore imparts a unique action to your casting and fly presentation (aka the way the fly lands on the water). One thing to keep in mind is that if your fly gets hung up in a tree branch and you have to snap the tippet to get your line down the tension on the furled line when you the tippets snaps will create a rats nest of your furled line.

I prefer level line over furled line but some people are the opposite. Buy both and experiment and see what you prefer. There are other great types of line out there so don’t just limit yourself to these two types of line. Personally, I think that level line and furled line are the easiest to learn Tenkara with and therefore a good place to start.

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5x and 6x tippet is a good place to start (any manufacturer is fine – you’ll be going through a lot of tippet as you learn so go for cheap tippet). Once you’ve gotten the bugs sorted out you can splurge and get the ultra-shwank tippet that everyone is talking about and that costs $10 for a 15m spool. In the meantime the 5 pack that is on-sale on Amazon is the place to start – while you’re learning Tenkara.


Companies like Dragontail, Patagonia, and Tenkara USA sell a good selection of flies to get you started. Also Postfly Box (check out my review of their service here) and Dragontail both offer a subscription service where flies are delivered monthly to your mailbox. I find this service to be very helpful because you don’t have to worry about losing flies in tree branches, underwater snags, or the mouths of big fish because you’ll be getting new flies in a few weeks.

Step 3

Now you’ve got all the equipment – rod, line, tippet, and flies. How do you put it all together!?

Here are several videos that answer that question pretty thoroughly I think

Skip to the 2:15 mark on the above video “Tenkara Level Lines and Level Line Knot” for the tutorial section.

To attach your tippet to your level line first tie a stopper knot in the end of the level line (a figure-8 knot will work great). Next tie a clinch knot (aka speed knot – see video below on how to tie the Speed Knot”) in your tippet around the level line – the tippet should slide up and down the level line but stop at the stopper knot. Make sure you lubricate the “speed knot” with saliva or water or else it might break.

I like to use the “Speed Knot” to attach my flies to my tippet. It is very fast (hence the name) and a very secure knot (I have yet to lose any fish to this knot breaking).

Typically you want either your level line or your furled line to be about the length of your rod and you want your tippet to be about 1 meter long. If you have a 12′ long rod this means that your lines total length (main line and tippet) will be 15′ or so. 

Step 4

Casting your Tenkara rod for the first time can be a bit bewildering but thankfully Daniel with Tenkara USA has put together these great videos to help you out on your first few times on the water.

Step 5

So you’ve got your line all put together, you’ve got the casting technique pretty well mastered, and then a fish actually eats your fly! Now what do you do? How do you bring the fish to hand (or into your net)? Watch these two videos below to get a good idea on how to successfully catch your first fish with a Tenkara rod!

Did I miss something? Do you still have a few questions? Did I get something wrong? If so you can contact me directly here