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Tenkara for the Masses

Mike G

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Here’s an easy affordable way to try Tenkara.


Normally I would be doing more fishing this time of year. However, a Gallbladder attack and surgery sidelined me for a while. Fishing with a drain bottle bouncing against my side was too awkward. It did give me a chance to put together some notes I had on Tenkara fishing. If I can’t do it I can write about it.


When I first saw the light of the fishing day in the 50s and 60s, I appreciated knockoffs. A premium lure cost $2.00 which including tip was what I earned caddying nine holes. Knockoffs were less than half of that. We relied on Japanese manufacturers to keep us in lures. Through Herter’s Inc. we were able to get all kinds like Red and White Spoons (Dardevles), Lazy Dabners (Lazy Ikes), Thinfish (Flatfish), and Dying Minnows (Heddon Dying Flutters) along with rods, reels, lines, and other stuff. A funny thing happened on the way to the 21st Century. Japanese manufacturers went from imitating the standard to being the standard. Consider Shimano, Toyota, and Lucky Craft.


My first encounter with Tenkara was in the 21st Century. OK, I gulped to see the rods going for around $200. They telescoped. There were no guides. They didn’t even have reel seats. At least the lines and flies were more reasonable though $20 for a 10 ft. line was still a challenge. Here the Chinese came to the rescue, and my story begins.


April 8 2013

It is dangerous to read posts on the internet. I got that urge to give it a try. So I headed for my emerging favorite tackle shop for bargains, Amazon, and found a $22 Tenkara by Como. Who's that?





I will report on the experience.


April 11

The rod is a Chinese made "Tenkara." I picked it based on price and then length since it would do as a crappie pole if it failed or if I failed at Tenkara. It measures 14 feet which is short of its stated 4.5 meters by about 8 inches. I was surprised to see a Tenkara pigtail on the tip. The grip is just an embossed section on the butt section. I wrapped the grip with a tennis grip cover ($1.00) for practice. BTW for the price those tennis wraps are a good alternative to the pricier rod grip wraps which are harder to find anyway.


April 19

The story is not over; here are some more chapters in my adventure.


The Line

So I extended the rod and tried it with some improvised lines. Visibility is an issue. White 20# dacron backing seems to work. Some old Fused Spider Line was good casting but was too hard to see. I thought I might have to break down and buy the real thing.


The Butt


Though I lost 2 feet in length from 14 feet to 12 feet, I found that the rod casts better without the butt section. It is also lighter by a full two ounces. It went from 4.5 oz to 2.5 oz.


April 26

Someone suggested hockey tape for the grip. It’s cheap, durable, and does not shrink and become sticky. Once applied it will be difficult to remove. Will feel great in the hand.


I need to explain.. I should have said tennis grip overwrap. They are very similar to the grip overwraps sold for fishing rods. They are thin EVA wraps that give a non-slip feel. Hands wet from perspiration might cause problems in tennis just as wet hands could be a problem in fishing. Having used both on rod grips, I can say that there is very little difference in how they work. Rod grip wraps are harder to find and are more expensive. So I went with the tennis product and get the same effect. And a more competitive market keeps the price down.


On my first go round I used the tennis overwrap on the existing Como butt section grip. It helped though as noted the casting was marginal with the butt in place. When I removed the butt section to get a better casting action, I was left with a thin raw blank to hold. So I added a new twist, bicycle handlebar tape which is thicker and has the same non-slip feel. A bonus was that I could get it in a cork grain that fits the fishing rod theme.



May 8

The Grip

The "grip" on the old butt section was just an embossed pattern. Wrapping with a tennis racquet grip wrap gave a better sense of feel but did nothing for the casting. The butt section had to go. To get a bulkier grip, I decided to try a bicycle handle bar wrap. I was lucky to find one in a faux cork finish for $3.00.





I hope I do not have to build a cork grip. The cost of cork rings has skyrocketed since the wine craze hit Yuppidom.




May 12




It worked. I was at the lake and noticed Crappies in the shallows. So I switched to my economy Tenkara. I forgot to bring my 20 # backing line so I went with 4# mono and a tiny jig and plastic. I caught some Crappies and this Bluegill. The Bluegills hang around bedding Crappies hoping to steal some spawn. I was surprised how compact the outfit is until you extend it.


June 19

More on Line

Here's the latest chapter. I went back to the great tackle shop in the clouds, Amazon. A search for Tenkara line led to Amnesia leader where a reviewer said that 15# hi-vis red made a good Tenkara line. I got some, 200 ft for about $3 plus shipping.





It worked. Using a small soft plastic,June 18,I hooked and landed a 12" Largemouth for a real fight on the light rod.



There is a good local source for traditional furled lines if I ever break down and want the real thing. http://streamsideleaders.com/





So I am on the way with a new outfit. It is so easy to transport and set up that I may be using it a lot. I still have to consider wrapping the joints so they do not splint under a heavy load. Would this work for Smallmouths? The max cast with this outfit is about 30 feet since the rods average 12 feet and the line tippet combination is about 15 ft. (Arm reach adds the other three feet.) It is a perfect incarnation of Bob Long Junior’s third rule of fly fishing for Smallmouth Bass, “Make short casts, 30 feet or less.” The short line also fits a popular technique called Dabbling.


Finally, no matter who makes the tackle, Tenkara is Japanese. It would not be Japanese if there wasn’t a B movie with subtitles. Enjoy.






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  • 2 weeks later...



The stuff hittin' the fan has nothing to do with the surgery. For starts, the Honey Do went neglected for 2 full weeks. Then I realized that my Daddy Do was full because I was not keeping up. Then we have relatives comin' to visit. Etc., etc., etc. ... What was that movie where the guy Xeroxed copies of himself so he could go g@#&ing whenever he wanted?


PS It was "Multiplicity."

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  • 4 weeks later...

It just got more affordable like a rod for less than $10.




Quick review. This one is the Tenkara Bass rod. It is a lot heavier at 4.5 oz. And though still limber it is stiffer than the first one I tried. And you cannot lighten it by removing the butt section since this would leave a 9 ft pole. I figure to use it for larger flies, light jigs, and soft plastics though this gets away from the narrow definition of Tenkara. Please don't tell Dr. Ishigaki.

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