May 162010

Tenkara is a traditional form of Japanese fly fishing with origins dating back over 2000 years.  This style is a very simple method using using only a rod, line, and a fly.    A section of line is tied to the rod tip, and there is no reel, reel seat, or fly line used.  

Modern commercial Tenkara Fly Rods are made using a telescoping style rod which collapse to around 20 inches in length or so depending on the exact model.  The main idea behind these rods is not only simplicity, but for use on smaller streams where traditional fly casting can be a bit difficult.

This article shouldn’t be considered a review of the Tenkara USA fly rods.  The purpose of this rod build was to determine if I could make something reasonably comparable based on a few criteria of my own.  Tenkara rods come in lengths ranging from 11’ to 13’ which seemed a little long for what I consider to be a small stream.  I set out to build a 7’ rod that I felt would suit my fishing requirements better. 

I chose a 7’, 3 weight, 3 piece fly rod blank for this build, which breaks down to about 28.5 inches in length.  Below you will see the rod components I used which included:

  1. American Tackle Co. Matrix Rod Blank
  2. American Tackle Co. Grip with Wood Inserts
  3. Stainless Rod Butt Cap
  4. Stainless Tip Top
Fly Rod Components

Fly Rod Components

The build was fairly simple, and the grip only required a small amount of reaming to fit the rod blank.  This rod has no hook keeper, no stripper guides, and no line guides.  Doesn’t get much simpler than that.  Once the rod spine was located, all that was left to do was correctly install the tip top, do the thread wrap, and apply the rod finish to the thread.

Locating The Rod Spine

Locating The Rod Spine

The rod spine is located by placing the rod at about a 45 degree angle, depressing the blank in the center, and allowing it to rollover naturally. The spine will generally rollover facing downward. On a fly rod or spinning rod, the line guides and tip top would be placed opposite the spine on the inside of the arc or the side of the rod blank facing up in the picture above. The opposite would be true for casting rods.

Completed Grip Assembly

Completed Grip Assembly

This fly rod build cost me $98 and change including the shipping costs, and an official Tenkara rod will cost from around $135 and up depending on model.  The actual Tenkara rod still offers a few more advantages like the smaller collapsed size and a few extra feet of reach if needed.  I placed a 7.5’ 6x tapered leader with about 18” of 6x tippet on mine for a reach of about 16’.  The 11’ Tenkara USA Iwana Fly Rod would give you about 21’ of reach. I should add that I already had epoxy, rod finish, and thread, which could add about $35 to the rod build, making the difference in cost between that and the Iwana model fairly negligible.

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  6 Responses to “Building a Tenkara Style Fly Rod”

  1. Mark, thanks for posting this – I just ordered an Iwana 11′ rod and then wondered the same thing – could you make a short tenkara rod that would be better suited for our small spec water. Your post was very informative.

  2. Hey Owl. Hope you enjoy that new Tenkara rod. I feel sure you will. I’ve used my 7′ homemade one quite a bit. Coincidentally, I was just looking at some 9′ 4 piece blanks. Thinking about building another one soon that’s just a little longer. The 9′ ought to split the difference just right.

  3. This is a great post. I’ve having a custom Tenkara rod build to my specs that is also shorter than the commercially-available ones for small streams. Sometimes even the 11 ft. rods are a little too long.

  4. Jason, I think its all about perspective. The term small stream may mean something entirely different to you and me than it does someone. A small stream to me would be one that is around 5′ in width. Possibly smaller. To somebody else, a small stream might be 30′ wide. What length rod are you having built?

  5. Hi. I’ve enjoyed reading about your rod building. Please tell me how and where you attached the line to your short Tenkara style rod. Thank-you much. Dave

  6. Hey Dave. I put a normal stainless rod tip on this rod and tied on a short section of old fly line. About 6 inches or so, with a loop on the end. I attached my leader just like you would with any no-knot setup.

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