Tenkara as a guide's magic wand

The trick every guide should have up his or her sleeve
Tenkara Fly Fishing
Wave 'em if you've got 'em (photo: Tenkara USA).

We all have them, those days when the fish are rising but the client just can’t seem to get the fly to the target. Usually, it is someone new to fly-fishing but sometimes it is an old hand who just seems to be one step behind in the process. You would really love to have them dead drift a dry to those risers but they just can’t get the mend right or they keep lining the fish. You want them to hook up but they just can’t put it together.

Guides are known for their fish catching wizardry and most of us have a trick or two up our sleeves that helps get our clients into fish.

Let me suggest another tool for the toolbox: tenkara.

There is plenty of info about tenkara in these pages —what it is, how it works, what you need to help you get started. But let me see if I can convince you to add using a tenkara rod to your guide repertoire of fish catching tricks.

Consider this

The tenkara rod is lightweight and easy to rig up. You can carry a rod and a line in your vest and hardly know it is there. It takes about a minute and a half to rig up.

The tenkara rod is easy to use. Five minutes with a client and they will be adept at the casting stroke. Also, explaining how to use one is very basic; “cast the fly over there, keep the fly in the water and the line off the water…” Its as simple as that. Your client is tasked with the same fish catching requirements as they are with a traditional rod, reel and line — but executing is dramatically simpler with a tenkara rod, creating a quicker path to success and potentially building the foundation for a lifetime of fly-fishing.

The tenkara rod is fun to catch fish with. My good friend and colleague Dusty Wissmath says, “the size of the smile is directly proportional to the bend in the rod.” And if you don't already know, let me tell you, a tenkara rod bends a lot; even an eight inch brook trout will put big smile on the clients face, hook up on a fast moving rainbow or brown in the 16-18 range and they will never forget it.

What are you waiting for?

To the skeptics and doubters out there, there are no hard feelings. If you think tenkara is a passing fancy, so be it. But in the last few years I have seen a seachange in the attitude in the industry about tenkara. In a recent AFFTA board meeting, Steve Bendzak of Simms remarked “tenkara has been the savior of the industry. Many people want a new A River Runs Through It. Well now, if the industry embraces tenkara, we will experience new comers to sport at a level that trumps that.”

Mark Harbaugh of Patagonia noted, “we have introduced approximately 6,000 people to fly fishing with tenkara. We feel that by getting women and kids introduced to the sport in an easy, simplified way, we can develop new stewards for the resources and environment that we have not been able to do through the fishing industry.”

We all enjoyed the “Lefty no tenkara” stickers floating around but Lefty’s thinking has evolved. “I think it has the potential to add a lot of fly fisherman to the sport,” he recently told me at IFTD.

And while many fly rod makers, other than Temple Fork Outfitters, have yet to embrace it, other industry brands seem to be taking notice. Umpqua is bringing more than a dozen tenkara specific flies to market. “it’s not going away, it’s a legitimate fishing application.” Said Brian Schmidt, Umpqua’s Fly Manager.

Schmidt is right, tenkara is not going away. And, if it helps gets more people fly-fishing and your clients catching fish — isn’t it worth a second look?

Go pick up a tenkara rod, spend sometime on the water with it and see for yourself how well it works. Not sure how to get started? Leave a comment or drop me a line, tom at fishtenkara dot com and I’ll be happy to help.

Let’s face it happy clients mean happy guides and repeat business. That’s the bottom line.


"...sometimes it is an old hand who just seems to be one step behind in the process. "

Dang. We haven't fished together yet and you already have me pegged. I'm impressed.


Right on! I've been introducing Tenkara rods and techniques to clients since last season. The results are hard to ignore. Caught fish. Novice to seasoned vet all have come away with a positive experience. Good guiding is about teaching and Tenkara simplifies the lessons.

Have a great summer season.


Advanced cane pole fly fishing!!! I have also guided and fished extensively with tenkara since they came out in the USA, and even experimented with those telescopic fiberglass panfish poles to 20' for nymphing rivers in the 90's, so I guess I got an early start. I grew up in Hawaii fishing cane poles so no surprise that tenkara felt natural to me. I, however, am far from a traditionalist. I use any rig or fly that I think will work with tenkara rods. I find the extra reach and ability to get natural drifts in tricky situations to be key to it's success, not necessarily a zen simplicity or kebari magic. It shortens the learning curve and fishing success with clients, both beginner and experienced. I kept track this year and clients got 30%-100% more fish with tenkara rods (mostly nymphing) than clients with traditional tackle. I made a point of letting them use the same rig on both types of rods and 75% preferred the tenkara rod to learn on. Many told me they bought a tenkara rod soon after the trip. I even used tenkara in Alaska for rainbows, dollies and salmon. FYI-Longer tenkara rods handle big fish better.