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Official NGTO Tenkara (gear) Thread

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  • Official NGTO Tenkara (gear) Thread

    Been seeing more than the usual amount of Tenkara related questions lately, though maybe this would be a good idea to just start a general discussion here.

    I'll see what kind of general information I can compile right here.

    There are three main branches of fixed-line (no reel) fishing in Japan, and they typically coincide with three different kinds of fishing conditions- Tenkara, Seiryu, and Keiryu.

    Tenkara is typically for medium to large streams or what we would consider smaller rivers. Basically the bigger stuff you would encounter in GSMNP, or the medium to small stuff in N GA. Maybe your biggest blue line would fit into this category. Tenkara rods usually have a cork or foam grip, a collapsed size ranging from 18 to 24 inches, extended lengths of 2.7m to 4.5m (8'10" to 14'8"), and they'll generally weigh anywhere from just under 2oz up to ~4oz.
    Your average and most common size in Japan is 3.6m.
    The tip of the rod has a small string epoxied to it, this is called a Lilian (Lillian, spelled both ways). They are usually red or orange, for better visibility. You attach the line to the rod by twisting the lilian through a loop on the line and cinching it tight. That is it. No knot required in the lilian unless you really want to.

    Speaking of lines- Most Japanese fishermen these days use Flourocarbon Level Line, measured on a simple # scale ranging from 1 to I believe, 5. I've never seen higher than 4.5 or lower than 1 haha. Level Line, or LL, is basically a high-test FC, and it's usually brightly colored to assist in visibility. Your average 3.6m rod will balance best with a line somewhere in the middle, from 2.5 to 3.5. Softer rods benefit from a lighter line and can give you very delicate presentation, and stiffer rods will throw bigger/heavier flies with a heavier line.
    The line does not load the rod, that is accomplished almost completely with the casting stroke. Most lighter rods can be cast almost completely with a wrist action, you don't need to use your forearm at all. A quick, brisk flick of the wrist will load the rod and send your line and fly forward.
    There are also furled lines, which I and many other tenkara anglers don't bother with (LL is just easier), and tapered mono lines.
    I just started using some tapered lines, and they are pretty awesome. I have a white tapered 3m line for my short rods, and an orange 3.6m for my longer rods. These are basically a really long tapered leader, with a small loop of string on the butt end. This string is attached to the rod's lilian with a girth hitch.

    Seiryu, which is currently my favorite method and rod type, is for smaller streams, usually with a more placid current, or those small slower-moving pools you find on a blue line. Seiryu rods have no cork/foam handle, instead the bottom section of the rod is flared out into a grip, and there is some sort of non-skid finish applied. These rods are usually VERY dainty, weighing almost nothing, and VERY soft. They achieve this by having incredibly thin section walls- so they usually have to be used with very small tippets, 6.5x or smaller. Don't worry about breaking off and losing that monster brookie, the rod will protect the tippet so long as you do your part!
    Seiryu rods are typically anywhere from 1.9m to 4m (6' to 13'), the average rod will be 2.4 to 3.4m. The nicer seiryu rods in those ranges will weigh a very svelt 20 to 35g, or 0.5 to 1.2oz! You can hold and cast these rods using just your fingertips. They are a joy to use, and make those small wild fish just a ton of fun. These rods will be used with a very light level line, like a 1 to 2.5, but you can still use a heavier if you like- it just won't be as slow, soft, and precise. Obviously, these are not for windy streams out in the open.

    Keiryu literally means mountain stream. Keiryu fishing in Japan often involves sawanoboori, or shower-climbing, basically some extreme blue lining. Climbing waterfalls to get to super remote, boulder-strewn, high-gradient streams.
    Keiryu rods have no cork grip, and are usually on the stiff side- although there are soft Keiryu rods. Keiryu is typically done with live/natural bait (from the stream- ultimate "match the hatch") and split shot.
    Whereas in Tenkara or Seiryu, a line-length or longer line is often used, in Keiryu the opposite is true. Oftentimes the situation calls for much different methods, involving much shorter lines. Since the rod is really stiff, you can reach out really far over different currents, in hard to access spots where wading would be difficult or unsafe, and just drop your short line straight in.

    What about rod bend profiles? You will often see rods described as 7:3, 6:4, 5:5, and such. What does that mean?
    Well picture a rod divided up into 10 segments. On a 7:3 rod, the midpoint of the flex would be 7/10ths of the way up the rod, towards the tip. That or an 8:2 would be considered a "tip-flex" rod. These are usually faster action.
    6:4 and 5:5 are more full-flex, with the midpoint of their bend being around the midpoint of the rod. Some makers also have a "LL" rating, which stands for Level Line. These rods are basically a 5:5 with an even slower action.
    These ratings are generally only given on Tenkara rods, not Keiryu or Seiryu. Those are given ratings like Hard, Medium-Hard, Extra-Stiff. This is all difficult to explain, and it is impossible to give a blanket description comparing different rods on these scales haha.

    Some American distributors and bloggers came up with a "Penny" rating, or "Common Cents", that involves fixing the base of the rod at a certain angle, then seeing how many pennies (placed in a bag tied to end of rod) it takes to bend it a certain amount. The penny rating of a rod, combined with its flex profile, can give you an indication of it's static bend characteristics, and at least a vague idea of how it will cast and fight a fish.

    For 3.6m 7:3 rods, 18 pennies is probably about the industry average.

    OK so that is the basics on rods, and a little on lines.
    Flies? Tenkara and Seiryu usually use similar flies, which are soft-hackle wets, fished in the first 6-12" of the water column from the surface. Often, the hackles will be reversed, facing towards the hook's eye. When you are drifting the fly, you can pulse it, which gives the fly "life", looking more like some kind of swimming bug. Most tenkara flies really don't look much like one specific hatch, instead they are generic patterns.
    One of the common practices in Tenkara is "One Fly". This is just like it sounds- using one fly, or at least one fly pattern, for everything. The whole point is that to many anglers, presentation is far more important than what fly you've got tied on. I don't practice this, but I can appreciate it. Many people who do this have lots of success, and it allows them to focus more on other aspects of their fishing.
    I use all sorts of flies- tenkara kebari (kebari = fly), but mostly American/western styles that we all know. Stimulators and small terrestrials are a favorite of mine.
    With stiffer rods and heavier lines, you can even chuck streamers, and "swim" them around. I have had some success with this technique.

    Now onto the commercial side-
    Currently, every American tenkara company but one is selling rods that are made 100% in China and then shipped over here. Tenkara Tanuki is a small operation in California that is doing things very differently, and making interesting rods. He gets his components from all over the world, and carefully engineers his rods, then assembles them locally, by hand. They are pricey (for tenkara), but supposed to be very nice. He is about to release a new rod designed specifically with Southern Appalachian blue lines taken into the design. It is 2.75m.
    Most, but not all, of these Chinese-American rods, are much heavier than their Japanese counterparts, often by a factor of 2. The fit and finish on them usually isn't anywhere close.

    The big names:
    Tenkara USA. T-USA was founded by Daniel Gallhardo, who travelled to Japan and literally studied with some of the masters, then came back over and started his company. He is very passionate about tenkara, and his rods are supposed to be the best American rods. They are pricey, and heavy (compared to Japanese), but they offer excellent warranty support.
    Tenakara Rod Co. From what I've read, not a single rod they sell is worth buying. They LOOK good, and they put a lot into their ad campaigns, but every writeup from serious anglers just slams these rods. Always too stiff, bad feel, the only good thing you'll read is "but it looks good!".
    Patagonia and TFO sell a rod that is overpriced and stiff, but some people like it. Most likely it's their only tenkara rod haha.
    Badger Tenkara. Badger is a small group of guys in the Midwest, selling some (IMO) ugly rods haha. BUT- they are reasonably priced, and apparently a great value, and again- outstanding support. Badger has an active presence on social media (FB and Reddit at least). Their "UNC" (unnamed creek) rod is a perfect way to get into blue line tenkara for cheap. It's small and kinda soft, and not very expensive.

    Japanese rods: There are two different kinds of rods you'll get from Japan. There are Japanese rods made outside of Japan (often Vietnam), then there are those that are designed and produced in Japan. The 100% Japanese rods are as good as you're going to find.
    Nissin is my favorite. I think they've been in the game the longest. They make so many different rods, it is insane. I have 4 Nissin rods now, all made in Japan. I think most Nissins are made in Japan, actually.
    Nissin rods are typically going to be of just incredible fit and finish, unbelievably light, and a wonderful feel.
    Daiwa, Shimano, and Suntech are some of the other Japanese rod makers, and they are all making fantastic stuff. I have limited experience with a Daiwa rod that was my first, and it was nice but not what I was looking for.
    Shimotsuke is an interesting Japanese company that makes some nice rods. Their Kiyotaki is a short (collapsed) keiryu rod that is great for backpacking. It is a little on the stiff side, but they are not expensive, and they are well-made. Very excellent value. I have a Kiyotaki 24 that gets lots of use on small streams. This is a great kids' rod.

    Resources: is Chris Stewart. He is the largest importer/distributor of quality Japanese rods in America. His website has an overwhelming amount of information. is Jason Klass. He's a good dude, out in AZ or Nevada or something. Great blog with lots of information, reviews, and ideas. is Tom Davis. He's.... out West near the Tetons I would assume haha. Tom has really well-written reviews of nice rods on awesome-looking streams. is a great forum ran by a nice guy, Adam Trahan. Adam has been fishing Tenkara for several years in AZ, and is good friends with Adam Gallhardo of Tenkara-USA. Adam has made a few trips to Japan as well, and is good friends with several Japanese tenkara anglers.

    Tenkara pictures:

    IMG_20160811_164736-01 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
    soft little rod (Nissin Air Stage 290, a soft Seiryu) lots of fun with small bass in a small stream.

    IMG_20160707_164246 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
    kiyotaki 24, great small rod for sunfish in a small stream (or in this case, ditch).

    IMG_20160714_100702 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
    Nissin Pro Spec 320 7:3 2-way. This is a moderately soft rod that can be fished two ways, at either 2.7m or 3.15m. Awesome on small streams.

    Cohutta Wilderness by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
    Nissin Royal Stage Tuzumi 290. This was a strange tip-flex stiff seiryu rod that I didn't like and sold. Looks awesome though!

    Brook Trout by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
    Me with my first Brookie, a pellet-head I pulled out of the Nantahala with a Nissin Pro Spec 320 6:4 2-way. That rod was really really soft, but had no problem pulling that strong brookie out of hard current.

    N GA Camping trip - 1 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
    My wife demonstrating how easy it is to chase bluegills with a beer in your hand.

    DSC01905-01 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
    My son demonstrating how chill tenkara can be. You can see the high-vis orange level line hanging off the rod.

    IMG_20160312_102517 by Chris Lynch, on Flickr
    Nice bluegill my son caught (his first fish all on his own) with a stiff 2.4m rod.
    Last edited by iso1600; 08-19-16, 01:10 PM.
    Resident Tenkara Nerd

  • #2
    This was super informative Chris! Always had an interest in Tenkara and you broke it down and explained it very well! Maybe I'll get around to saving up for one later after I get back from school. Anyways, thanks for the post!

    Also, that is one hell of a Brookie!


    • #3
      Originally posted by iso1600 View Post
      On a 7:3 rod, the midpoint of the flex would be 7/3'rds of the way up the rod, towards the tip.
      Great information. But, I can't seem to follow the statement above. 7/3rds? 1/3 would be 33% up the rod. 2/3 would be 66% and 3/3 would be the end. How is 7/3rds even possible?

      Again, I am sure I am missing something but can you clarify whether this is a fraction or whether 7 stands for one measurement and 3 stands for another? 10 foot rod, flexes at the 7' point? Meaning it flexes at the #7 spot out of possible 10 spots?

      Thanks in advance as this is very informative!


      • #4
        Originally posted by Pondjumpr View Post
        Great information. But, I can't seem to follow the statement above. 7/3rds? 1/3 would be 33% up the rod. 2/3 would be 66% and 3/3 would be the end. How is 7/3rds even possible?
        haha good catch Pondjumpr!
        I don't know where my math was. Bottom 7/3's of the rod should read bottom 7/10th's, or bottom 70%.
        Example- my newest rod, Nissin Pro Spec 360 6:4, when fully extended lets say it is 10 sections (it's prob 8 or 9). The 4 sections towards the tip are going to have the most flex, and the "midpoint" of the rod's overall flex will be just below them, with 6 stiffer sections forming the rod's backbone/butt.
        Realistically, this is a pretty soft rod, and with a strong midsized fish in current, it'll prob bend all the way to the grip.
        Nissin's rods are typically a little softer than their flex profiles indicate.
        Resident Tenkara Nerd


        • #5
          Tenkara and fish sizes:
          FYI, pretty much every rod coming out of Japan is designed with Japanese fish and Japanese streams in mind. In most parts of Japan, an 18" wild trout is a trophy, and most anglers will not encounter fish that big.
          They do have specific rods designed for bigger fish and bigger waters, a good example will be Honryu, or "Mainstream" rods. Many Honryu rods are much longer when collapsed, like 40" or more(!), which gives them less sections/joints, and a smoother action.
          There are also Carp and Salmon rods. Most of these are massive and get very expensive (relative to other tenkara rods), like $400-$600.
          Your average quality Japanese rod will run $150-$250, and that's buying through a distributor like Chris Stewart @ Tenkarabum.
          If you do a little legwork yourself, and are comfortable with translations (Google Chrome is great!), you can buy them straight from Japan yourself. I have been getting most of my rods this way, either from or Rakuten Global. This can save you a LOT, but it is a bit of a hassle for sure.

          Also, bear in mind, almost none of the Japanese rods have any warranty at all. This is normal in Japanese culture, as the anglers feel like if the rod is fished the way its intended, there will be no problems (and there shouldn't be).

          So if you take a soft nissin, put a big weighted streamer and 3X and go after big 'Hooch browns... you're prob going to have a broken rod pretty quick. This is why it's important to stick to suggested tippet ranges! You want the tippet to break before the rod does!

          So- how do you land that fish you just hooked?
          When you hook into a fish that's big enough to put up a fight, you bend the rod back over your shoulder (or low and to the side if you want to steer the fish), and point the base of the handle out in front of you.
          Instead of a drag to fight the fish, you use the bend of the rod. If you keep it in the proper range, the rod will both soften the tension on the tippet, protecting it, and it will also put pressure on the fish.
          If you bend the rod too much (closing the loop), that's when things break.
          If you let the fish run (taking backing, lol) and it straightens the rod out, you'll either pop a line, lose your lilian, jam rod sections together, or lose the rod.
          Resident Tenkara Nerd


          • #6
            Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I didn't read the whole thing because Tenkara is not my jam (at least not right now). I do like the flexibility of fishing and beer drinking. Efficiency is commendable.

            I said the same thing about building my own rod and I am now in the process of building a custom rod. I suspect there will be a time in the future when I put a Tenkara rod in my future and I will appreciate this thread even more.
            Whale Oil Beef Hooked
            - what you say to an Irishman when they buy you a pint


            • #7
              Found something interesting- Honda Japan has a tenkara section on their site haha. There are some excellent photos and lots of info (that I can't read w/o translation), but there are also lots of nice illustrations that you don't really need translation to understand.

              Resident Tenkara Nerd


              • #8

                Resident Tenkara Nerd


                • #9
                  This is awesome! I've been itching to get a tenkara setups for bluelining!

                  Thanks for breaking it all down so well!
                  I like em big fat and sloppy.


                  • #10
                    I want to see somebody take a 4.5 to 6m Keiryu rod out on the hooch to chuck streamers for big browns haha.
                    Resident Tenkara Nerd


                    • #11
                      Good stuff Chris. I'm graduating from bream to bass to trout any day now.
                      "Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after."
                      -Henry David Thoreau


                      • #12
                        Dang.....I was fishing "tenkara" style over 55 years ago with a cane pole and red wigglers. Just goes to show.....ain't nothing new under the sun
                        BE DIFFERENT AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE! <

                        Exodus 29:18
                        Then burn the entire ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the LORD, a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the LORD. God loves BBQ!


                        • #13
                          Me too Preacher, but switched to fly fishing 62 years ago. Now it appears that I've come full circle. Still love to cast a dry fly with my bamboo and graphite rods, but somehow the idea of catching fish on a Tenkara outfit is very appealing.
                          "Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after."
                          -Henry David Thoreau


                          • #14
                            I am a little late to this party but from my limited research (and it is limited) is this somewhat similar to using something like a Crappie Buster or something? It is an interesting idea but trying to see if my thought process is on track.....


                            • #15
                              Banker, yes, you're on the right track. Differences are (but not limited to)- crappie pole will feel like a 2x4 compared to even the stiffest tenkara rods... With tenkara you generally start with a line the same length as the rod, and go up from there. Some guys use lines 10m (~30ft) long on a 12' rod. Might not seem like much compared to normal fly fishing, but this is with no reel.

                              I started fly fishing with a pretty average modern medium-fast carbon 4wt fly rod. About the same time, I bought a cheap tenkara rod to try out. While I like throwing long casts (who doesn't?) and working different currents (sometimes!), I kept finding myself using the tenkara setup more frequently. It is far simpler, quicker to get on and off the water, and just less gear to fiddle with. I like simplicity.
                              Later on, as I got more tenkara rods, I also got a 2wt glass (Cabelas CGR)... I don't think I'll ever buy another carbon/graphite fly rod. If I'm going to use a reel, it'll be on glass. I think your average glass rod feels a lot more like a nice tenkara rod- lots of flex, lots of feel for the fish on the end of your line.
                              Resident Tenkara Nerd