Fly fishing, as simple as it seems, can quickly become a whirlwind of gear buying and ever-spiraling levels of complexity. Different rod sizes and materials, reels of sometimes staggering price and sophistication, floating lines, sinking lines, tippet strengths, knot-tying tools, indicator rigs, nymphs, emergers, dry flies, hats, vests, hooks, floatants, and on and on. It’s near endless. All of that gear is, as fly anglers know, expensive, too.
Which is where tenkara fishing comes in. Doesn’t get a whole lot more simple. A telescoping rod, a fly line attached to the tip, and a fly at the end of the line. That’s it. No reel, very little fuss. Lately, my tenkara rods have gone from being a fun novelty to the kit I end up using most of the time.
That’s helped by the massive Ito rod from Tenkara USA, which I’ve been testing all summer.
The Ito is the longest tenkara rod I’ve ever seen and is a nod to the very long rods traditionally used in tenkara fishing in Japan. It extends to 14 feet 7 inches, but can also be fished at a slightly shorter 13 feet because of an ingenious joint near the base. The length means I’ve been able to fish the rod in larger streams and even lakes on windless days. Normally, with a tenkara, you’re fishing with at most 15-20 feet of line, and you’re relatively limited by how far you can cast. But because the Ito is so long, you can reach far across streams that might be 15 yards across. At only 4 ounces in weight, the rod is lively, and light, especially at the 13-foot length.
The extreme length took a bit of time getting used to as it can feel quite slow at first—my first few dozen casts ended with the line coiling impotently a few feet in front of me. But once I shortened my motion a little, ending my backcast at about 12:00 o’clock rather than the 2:00 o’clock I use with a reeled 9-foot rod, and after adding a longer pause to let the rod load, I began sending a nice loop of line out pretty much exactly where I wanted it. Let the length of the rod do the work and it’s easy to cast. Try to muscle the big rod through your casting motion and it won’t have it.
I’ve been fishing the Ito with about 15 feet of line, and a 4-foot tippet tied to the end, usually 5x, though that can change depending on where I’m fishing. On a recent trip to Montana, I fished everything from tiny backcountry streams, to the rushing St Mary River, to high elevation lakes, and the Ito was the perfect choice in every situation.
Catching fish on a rod that long with no reel also has a serious learning curve. Rather than immediately lifting your arm above your head to add tension to the line once a fish takes the fly, with the tenkara you keep your elbow down and tilt the rod tip up, bringing the line closer to your body. Then, eventually, you can reach out and pull the line toward you, landing the fish. While you should always land fish in nets, you’ll really want one with a tenkara rod as it’s much easier to bring a feisty trout to a net without a reel to draw in the fish.
Just because the rod is very long, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to land smaller fish. I’ve caught everything from 4” bluegill to 16” brown trout with the Ito and every fish has been a joy to land.
When collapsed, the Ito is still pretty long at 21”, but still short enough to bring on any backcountry trip, or have under the seat of your car for impromptu sessions.
The little details are well thought-out. The Ito feels every bit like a premium rod, with a beautiful cork handle, and lovely gold markings indicating length on the rod’s dark blue base. The wood cap that keeps the line segments in the rod fits with a satisfying snug feeling. My rod shipped in a stout hard case too, that I slide in the water bottle holder on my backpack on multi-day trips.
Tenkara USA also makes a brilliant line holder that spools line around itself, then slips over the collapsed rod. It also has a little compartment that can hold a handful of flies. You can have a complete day fishing with just that rod and lineholder in your pocket, a pair of nippers and forceps too. When you’re finished fishing one spot, spool the line, collapse the rod, and hike down the stream bank.
A rod this long takes some practice to get right, but once you do, it’s addictive. I haven’t used a regular rod with a reel in months since I’ve received the Ito. It’s that fun and that simple.
$245 • BUY