Efficient and simple, the traditional tenkara fly fishing system consists of rod, line, and single fly.

The Rod.

 Anatomy: Tenkara rods range between 10-15′ (3-4.5m) in length. They have no reel. Moving tip to butt, here is the basic anatomy of a modern Tenkara rod:
  • Plug. Wood, plastic, or foam, the plug keeps the sections secure when collapsed. 
  • Lillian. Spectra braid glued to the tip section, used for attachment of the line. 
  • Sections. A series of telescoping, graphite composite tubes forming the body of the rod. 
  • Handle. Made of cork or hardwood, handles average 11″ in length. 
  • Cap. A threaded metal piece that screws into the handle butt. Also keeps sections secure. 

Action Index: Developed by Daniel Gallhardo, founder of Tenkara USA, the action index is a useful measurement of rod flexion. Simply put, it is the ratio of rigid to flexible sections. For example, a 6:4 rod will be relatively rigid in the first 6 sections, and relatively flexible in the last 4 sections. The majority of its flexion will be toward the tip. Note that, despite the use of the terms “stiffer” and “softer” in Tenkara USA’s graphic, the action index should be thought of as separate from a rod’s stiffness. A  5:5 rod, for example, can be made very stiff. A 7:3 rod can be made very soft. This is especially evident when comparing rods from different manufacturers. In general, we’ve found the following to be true when interpreting action index:



  • subtle, less powerful casting motion
  • casts with more wrists
  • more forgiving for those with a strong Western fly background
  •  crisper, more powerful casting motion
  • casts with more albow
  • more forgiving for the most beginners

The Line.

Tenkara uses a fixed length of line attached to the tip section of the rod. The line is equivalent to a leader in Western fly fishing. There is no true fly line in Tenkara.
Tenkara lines are divided into two basic categories: furled and level. Both come in a variety of subtypes, but in general, here are the pros and cons of each:

 Furled line

 Level line

 Construct    Tapered multifilament weaver
                         (nylon, fluoro, thred, kevlar, ets.)

 Single polymer monofilament

 PROS         - exellent turnover
                      - delicate presentation
                      - suppleness allows easy strike
                      - zero memory
                      - some can be make to float
 - easier to cust in wind
 - repels water
 - cheaper
 - canbe cut to any lengh
 - will not twist
 - durable
 CONS        - some material twist, when streched
                        (ie. freeing a snag)
                    - can become water logged
                    - costs more
                    - fixed lenth
                    - will freeze, loosing supplness
                    - large sihluette/shadow
 - more memory
 - less supple
 - harder turnover

Furled or level, here are a few basic recommendations when picking a line:

  • Pick the lightest line you can cast effectively in a given set of conditions.
  • Suppleness and high visibility improve strike detection.
  • High visibility line is best when working on casting, presentation, and other aspects of technique.
  • Low visibility line is best used by more experienced Tenkara anglers and on the spookiest of trout.
  • Go with a level line in the coldest conditions.

Hopelessly confused? The manufacturers’ recommendations for line and rod pairing are always a good place to start.


Tippet is a thin, clear polymer monofilament for attaching the fly to the line. Tippet comes in different diameters or gauges, where the larger number indicates a smaller diameter/gauge. The range useful for Tenkara is 7X-4X. We recommend 5X as an all-purpose tippet diameter. Note that a 5lb breaking strength (about 5X), is the strongest tippet currently recommended by Tenkara USA for use on their rods.

There are two types of tippet commonly available. The first is nylon/copolymer (commonly referred to as “mono“). The second is fluorocarbon (commonly referred to as “fluoro“). Here is a comparison of the two:

 Nylon/Copolomer ("mono")

 Fluorocarbon ("fluoro")

 - lower density
 - floats easier
 - weaker in a given X
 - wore visible in water
 - cheaper
 - useful for dry flies
 - higher density
 - sinks faster
 - stronger in a given X
 - less visible in a water
 - more expensive
 - useful for wet flies, nymphs

You may hear some more ecologically minded anglers say they avoid fluoro due to its environmental impact. Bottom line is that, while fluoro sticks around a little longer, both mono and fluoro don’t degrade for thousands of years. At Tenkara Guides, our rule is simple. No matter what you use, never leave anything on the water.

The Fly.

The Tenkara fly is known as the kebari. The most recognized style of kebari is a forward hackled fly with a simple thread body. However, this is not the most common style of kebari in Japan. In fact, there are likely an infinite variety of kebari. Individual prefectures, regions, or villages frequently adopted a particular style. Each individual Tenkara angler also adopts a specific style. Following the One Fly Philosophy, traditional Tenkara anglers carry one kebari pattern in their fly box, allowing for small variances in size and color only. The Tenkara angler also fishes one fly at a time.

Putting It All Together.

The fundamentals of rigging are covered in detail under Tenkara USA’s About Tenkara tab, including graphics of all knots required. In addition, Daniel Gallhardo, founder of Tenkara USA, has recently published an excellent video tutorial to illustrate some basic knots and rigging on Tenkara USA’s YouTube channel.

YouTube Video

In addition to these fundamentals, here are a few basic tips and tricks we’ve found particularly useful:

  • Protect the Tip Section.  Tenkara rods are very strong.  We routinely land fish longer than 20″ with a Tenkara rod. The only real chance for breaking a Tenkara rod in the course of regular fishing is during rigging. Be sure to protect that delicate tip section by keeping it stowed inside the rod. When attaching your line, only the lillian should be exposed.
  • Remove Memory from Level Lines. Off the spool, your level line will have coils of memory in it. These coils will hinder casting, presentation, and strike detection. Remove memory by running the level line between your fingers. Start at the lillian and move toward the line end. Generate just a little friction heat between your fingers. Pull to stretch the line between your hands. Release the pull slowly.
  • The Davy Knot. It’s quick, easy, strong, and our favorite. Try using the Davy Knot or one of it’s variants (Davy Twist, Double Davy) for level line to tippet connections as well as tippet to fly connections.  If you’ve got One Fly, why not have One Knot.
  • Take Care of Your Rod. Sure it didn’t cost $1000. But it’s a nice piece of gear. Take care of it. After each day or two of fishing, take the sections apart, wipe free of any grit, and lay them out to dry. Go ahead. Ignore me if you want. The first time you have a permanently stuck section, you’ll learn.