Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Rods Tenkara

I Want to Try Tenkara, What Rod Should I Buy?

An Introductory Tenkara Rod Buying Guide

The Question of a Thousand Answers

It’s not uncommon to see this “first rod” question posted in social media. Often, it’s a Facebook group or Instagram post. Somebody wants to try tenkara out for the first time so they ask an innocent question about rod preference. What usually follows is chaos. Opinions come from all directions, and I’m not certain the would be tenkara angler ends up any better informed for their efforts.

In the spirit of helping out aspiring tenkara and fixed line anglers, I’ve created a short list of rods (and scenarios in which to use them). Again, this tenkara rod buying guide is just my opinion. And it’s free to you. So take it for what it’s worth. 🙂

The Simple Answer is Often the Most Obvious

If I knew nothing else about you as an angler, I’d probably tell you that you could pick any tenkara rod and be able to catch fish. Why? Because it’s true; it’s the technique that catches fish, not the rod. Plus, if you haven’t fished a tenkara rod before, or perhaps only borrowed your buddy’s for an afternoon, you’ll have little to no frame of reference or preference bias.

However more realistically, I would suggest considering the Rule of 12s, as outlined by Jason Sparks. (A great article to read to get your bearings on tenkara gear). The 12 foot tenkara rod is sort of the equivalent of the 9-foot, 5-weight fly rod. It’s the widely recommended “all-around” model. Long enough to fish large rivers and ponds, short enough to fish tight mountain headwaters. This makes it a great place to start for a first rod. Just get on the water and worry about specialization later.

Tenkara Rod Buying Guide - Tenkara Angler - Rule of 12s

Don’t Sleep on Customer Service

The second consideration I’d toss out there is to make sure you buy a rod from a reputable manufacturer that offers solid customer service. There are a lot of “cheap” rods that are tempting to use as you wet your feet in tenkara… but what happens when you break the tip being little too rough while collapsing your rod the first day? Is that random company you found on Alibaba or Amazon going to be able to send you replacement parts? Probably not.

Tenkara Rod Buying Guide - Tenkara Angler - Broken Rod

While tenkara rods are very durable during the process of fishing, a lot of newbie breakage takes place due to user error while setting up or breaking down. The narrow tip section is very fragile if handled inappropriately. Don’t let lack of customer service or difficult-to-source replacement parts put a damper on your experience.

As such, when I actually list a few models to consider, I’m going to stick to the U.S. tenkara rod companies that seem to be universally well known for speedy customer service. To some this may sound scandalous… as we tout the performance of Japanese rods here regularly, but since the parts for those rods can either be costly or take additional time to obtain, I don’t typically recommend those for an angler’s first rod. (Sorry TenkaraBum Nation…)

Finally, What Do You Want to Catch?

If you don’t want to go the route of just choosing a 12 foot all around rod, it’s probably best to understand what and where you’re fishing and how you’d like to fish. Big fish or small fish? Small streams or rivers? Unweighted or weighted flies? Coldwater or warmwater? Without going down too much of a rabbit hole, you’d probably want to use a different rod for a 20 inch brown trout than you would a 5 inch brook trout. With anglers using tenkara rods for all sorts of things these days, (even in saltwater!), it helps to have a frame of reference.

Tenkara Rod Buying Guide - Tenkara Angler - Pink Salmon on Tenkara Rod
Brad Trumbo with a Pink Salmon!

Okay, I’ve Rambled Enough, on to Some Suggestions

Note, in this guide I’ll be trying to keep price points friendly near $150 or preferably less; definitely under $200. Remember it’s hard to get a new starter fly rod and reel for less. Tenkara is no different.

All-Around Rods

These are your “do-it-all” 12-foot (360cm) rods that will handle virtually any situation on the water you may encounter. I tried to note some rods around the friendly $100 price point, but would be remiss if I didn’t include the Tenkara USA Iwana. Informally, I would guess that at one time, more people used the Iwana as their first “real” tenkara rod than any other model. It was my first.

Small Stream Rods

Want to fish for average to small sized trout in mountain streams, possibly in a place where tight overhead canopy could obstruct your casting from time to time? Then perhaps an 8 to 11 foot rod might work best for you. These are three great value options for small streams and the fish that call those places home.

Big Trout & Warm Water Fixed-Line Rods

Perhaps you don’t plan on fishing for small fish at all. You want to chuck meat at monster trout, or possibly toss a popper at some bass? If you want to stray from traditional tenkara toward fixed-line fly fishing (there’s a difference, and eventually you’ll learn what I’m talking about) and target big trout, bruiser bass, or even species of carp, these are some rods to consider.

In Conclusion

Now there are many other rods you could consider besides the nine listed above. Rods from different manufacturers, rods with different features (including the versatility of zoom lengths or that collapse down really small), and rods that sell for much less or much more. I’m sure we’ll even get some comments in response to this post noting brands and models I didn’t name.

My goal of this first tenkara rod buying guide was to keep this list short and generally inexpensive, with the idea of getting you off on the right foot of your tenkara journey. If you want to do your own research, feel free to check out our Tenkara Gear Shop for a more extensive listing of rods, or perhaps even our Tenkara Rod Madness “brackets” from earlier this year. However, beware of information overload and paralysis by analysis. It is real! If the primary draw of tenkara to you is simplicity, one of the nine rods listed above should certainly meet that need.


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4 comments

  1. I struggled between purchasing a dragontail hellbender or nirvana for my first rod. I enjoy fishing for panfish because of their feistiness but also hit the occasional large or small mouth bass. I would hate to be overpowered and underwhelmed moreso than underpowered and overwhelmed. Ultimately, I believe the best teacher is experience and the best rod is the one in your hand. Hopefully, I’ve made the right decision and if not there’s always another day for another rod.

  2. Honestly I think your anti-TenkarBum comment is offbase – at least for TenkaraBum rods. (Please elaborate if you think I am wrong.)

    Get a TenkaraBum rod. They are made in Japan by SunTech (which is a plus), and Chris has replacement parts and ships them out quickly.

    1. Sure, I’ll elaborate. The premise of the post was to note a short list of rods mostly under $150, definitely under $200. I believe all of the Suntech TBUM rods are over $200 except for maybe the Traveler which is over $150.

      If I was going to recommend a sub $200 rod on TenkaraBum, I’d ask that people look into the Nissin Royal Stage family of rods. I have a 320 6:4 and it’s a dream.

      I will vouch for Chris’s customer service though, it’s always been top notch! He got me a replacement rod tip for a Shimano in short order.

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