Fly Fishing Fun in a Tiny, Easy Package

Patagonia’s little tenkara rod simplifies the heck out of backcountry fly-fishing


“I’ve been fishing in Ontario with my tenkara rod in small streams. What great fun! Thank you for putting me on to this.”

Got this in an email the other day. Few weeks before, I’d been talking with the sender about fishing, mentioned how much I’d been enjoying using a tenkara rod in small streams and ponds. He’d been fishing for decades and had seen tenkara rods in stores, but weren’t sure what they were about and had never tried one.

I told him how practical the rods are: collapsible, extremely lightweight, no reel, just simple rod and fly line—perfect for the backcountry. I’m by no means an expert fly-fisherman, but I’ve found using the tenkara to be both a huge challenge AND a pleasant simplification of the fishing experience. He liked what he heard so much, he bought one himself, I guess.

I’ve been using the 8’6″ Patagonia tenkara setup ($200). You can also get the rod in lengths of 10’6″ and 11’6″. The rod is made for Patagonia by Temple Fork Outfitters, and if you spring for the whole “Simple Fly Fishing Kit” ($78) you get a box of flies, two sets of line and leaders, and a beautiful book with tips, techniques, and a little bit of education about insects and trout species.

The 8’6″ rod collapses down to only 20 inches. It includes a line holder—you just wrap the line around and around from a holder at the butt of the rod and one at the base of the cork handle. It’s the perfect rod for bringing on a backpacking trip in an area with small streams. Rather than having to unpack a broken-down rod from a tube, putting it together, stringing it, then finally tying on a fly, you just slip it from your pack, unwrap the line, and start casting.

The carbon fiber rod is sensitive and strong despite being whisper thin at the tip. Of course, I did manage to break the tip of the rod the second time I used it, but that was only because I was trying to free a snag in the dumbest way possible. The rod comes with a backup tip, and replacing it was easy peasy.

Casting is extraordinarily accurate, simple, and feels more natural than casting with a traditional rod and reel. Landing fish took a little bit of getting used to, not being able to actually reel the fish in and all. Basically, you just raise the rod high over your head and point the tip as vertical as you can while still keeping tension on the line. When it gets close, you reach out and grab it. I lost the first three fish I’d hooked until I started to get a feel for quickly drawing the line toward me in a smooth motion.

I have no idea what would happen if I hooked a fish over a couple pounds. Probably a lot of running along a stream bank, hoping to tire out the trout before it breaks me off. I’ve heard stories of people just dropping their rod and following it until the fish gets tired of running. I don’t think I’d do that with a $200 rod, but if it happens, I’ll get back to you.

Very good, experienced anglers have told me they think tenkara is only for people so talented at traditional fly fishing they need some other difficult thrill to test themselves. Sure, that’s a good reason to try it. But tenkara rods are great for beginners too, for the sheer simplicity. And for backpacking—unless you’re planning to fly fish a lake, or big rivers, I don’t know why you’d bring a rod with a reel over a collapsible, and so quick and easy to use, tenkara rod.

$200 • BUY

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