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Confessions of a CHEAP Tenkara Newbie

by Andy May
(Roanoke, Virginia)

Many years ago I fished small streams in upstate NY with egg sacs on a fly rod. Nice browns and brookies. FUN! But then my wife came along, kids, etc. Not that family isn't fun it just crowded out lots of other fun stuff like fishing.

The kids are grown now with their own little delights so we're happy empty-nesters.

Last spring I read an article in Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine about Tenkara... BOING! I was hooked. Since then I've read virtually everything I can about Tenkara: TenkaraBum, TenkaraUSA, TenkaraTimes, etc., and Kevin Kelleher's masterpiece. (It's on my Kindle and I've read it over and over!) I even drove up to Mossy Creek in Harrisonburg and bugged the proprietors about Tenkara until closing!

BUT here's the rub: I'm cheap. Spending $200 on a rod not knowing if I'll actually enjoy it is not in my nature. So I bought a 14' Gone Fishin' fiberglass telescoping rod for $15, removed a section so that it was about 12', tied on a level line and tippet and headed out. To the backyard. I couldn't cast past the end of the lillian. It was really ugly.

Okay, so I'm cheap but I am also persistent. After trying various combinations of line (even my own furled!) with no improvement I pony-ed up and bought a floating, tapered tip hi-vis fly line. Eureka! I could cast like Dr. Ishigaki. (NOT...but better!)

If you've read this far you either a) need a life or b) are thinking "Where's he going with this?"

So... here comes option b):
Is it really all about the rod? If I shell out the $200 and practice, practice, practice will I ultimately be able to cast an ultralight line?

In conclusion: I'm cheap, persistent AND I have a thick skin, so please reply with brutal honesty. Tenkara seems like the absolutely perfect passion for a guy living in and preparing to retire in the mountains of southwest Virginia so I don't want to give up on something when it feels like I'm on the cusp of something magical!

Thanks in advance for your pithy replies.

PS If you think the rod's the thing, I'll trade all the following:

-a set of old Ping irons in a nice Ping stand bag,
-a pair of nice men's size 12 Callaway golf shoes,
-a complete set of virtually new ladies Tru-Tech clubs
-a pair of ladies size 8 Foot Joy golf shoes
-a host of gloves, towels, balls, etc.

for a nice quality 12' rod. New or lightly used.

Comments for Confessions of a CHEAP Tenkara Newbie

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Dec 06, 2013
Brutal Honesty
by: TenkaraBum

OK, brutal honesty: You pay for what you get.

Pings are not cheap clubs, so I'm confident you understand, and at least to some extent, agree with that statement.

I suspect Tenkara no Oni could cast a $15 fiberglass rod and make it look effortless. I'm not sure many others could. There really is a difference between a dirt cheap rod from Gone Fishin', an inexpensive rod from Fountainhead, a good rod from Nissin and a great rod from Daiwa.

At the very least, get a tenkara rod from Fountainhead or for a few bucks more a Shimotsuke Tenkara 3.3 from me. Go fishing - really use it. If you don't like it I am sure you could sell it without losing too much. If you buy cheap, though, the money you spend may be completely wasted if you have to then replace it because it doesn't do what you want it to do.

With a heavy enough line, I suspect you can learn to cast the rod you have. With a better rod, you can surely cast a lighter line. The essence of tenkara is not the lack of a reel, it is the very light line than you can keep off the water (unless you are fishing lakes or ponds, where drag is not an issue).

Given that you had a "Boing!" moment, and could immediately visualize how and where you would use a tenkara rod, I think you owe it to yourself to get a rod that will help you rather than fight you. You don't have to spend $200.

I don't take golf clubs in trade, though. I already have a perfectly good set (gathering dust).

Dec 06, 2013
Try this...
by: Timmy!

Andy, good article and i totally understand your situation (been there, done that!)Chris is one of THE BEST resources on all-things tenkara! Try this, small investment, good rod... Shimotsuke Kosasa.

Dec 06, 2013
Maybe not Kosasa
by: TenkaraBum

Thanks Timmy!

I think the Kosasa is a bit specialized and too short for a first, all around rod. The Shimotsuke Tenkara 3.3 or 3.6 would probably be a better choice. Send me an email. chris at tenkarabum dot com I have a used rod that would meet your needs.

Dec 06, 2013
Tenkara Newbie?
by: Anonymous

Well okay, so in all brutal honesty. You haven't actually tried Tenkara yet.

It was us, we failed you! How could you read everything that you have about tenkara and also harass the Mossy Creek dealer till closing, and not have extrapolated from us the most important thing? Buy actual Tenkara gear! We wouldn’t tell you to use a hockey stick to play golf, so how could we steer you into believing a fiberglass crappy rod would work for tenkara? I feel like a putz! I’m sorry we mislead you.

Okay so here’s the rub…Yes it is all about the rod. And come on! After all your research and interest, do you really think you wont like it? It doesn’t have to be a $200.00 rod, but it should be a Tenkara rod. Even with an inexpensive tenkara rod, you wont have to “practice, practice, practice” to cast an ultra-light line. It will happen within minutes! I promise you this! You will immediately realize the difference and also the things that make Tenkara unique and so effective. I see a bridge, are you going to jump?

Dec 06, 2013
by: Timmy!

WHO is this gutless anonymous?! MAN UP! Come out! : ) The rod IS important, and i would strongly suggest you follow Chris's recommendations. Go for it, stay " thirsty my friend"!

Dec 06, 2013
Not who wrote it but what he wrote
by: TenkaraBum

Oh, I can think of a couple people off the top of my head who might have written it, and another dozen who might have thought it without actually writing it.

The point, though, is not who wrote it but what he wrote. To some extent I have to agree with him. Somehow we as a community and especially I as a merchant/blogger have not been sufficiently clear about the necessity of having appropriate equipment.

Early on, a there were a lot of questions on various fly fishing forums about whether you could use a crappie pole from Wal*Mart instead of buying a tenkara rod. A number of us early adapters actually did start with crappie poles, and universally found that real tenkara rods worked so much better. It turned out that buying a cheap rod didn't save money, it actually wasted money. We ended up getting tenkara rods anyway and the crappie rods never got used again.

Maybe I've inadvertently misled people because a lot of the rods I sell are not tenkara rods, but they are all rods I've tried and tested and I know they work (and many work better than the more popular tenkara rods). None are $15 rods, only one is fiberglass and it is a specialty kid's/microfishing rod (but it works, too, or I wouldn't carry it).

For someone just starting out, who wants to spend the absolute minimum to see if he'll like it, I would recommend getting a Fountainhead or a Shimotsuke. They aren't fancy rods, but they will cast a line properly. I would also recommend getting a fluorocarbon tenkara line. It will cast much better than mono, and it will fish much better than a furled line (because it is so much easier to hold off the water).

Even if you are not certain you will like tenkara, you owe it to yourself to get decent equipment. That is the only way you can know if you like tenkara. With a poorly designed rod and a mismatched line, you are unlikely to ever experience what tenkara is really like. I mean, if the rod won't cast the line beyond the rod tip, who could possibly like it? Or, if the only way it will cast is with a line too heavy to hold off the water's surface, you will have the same drag as if you used a fly rod and fly line, in which case you'll have to wonder what's the big deal about tenkara anyway?

Dec 07, 2013
The rod's the thing
by: Clyde Olson

Andy: I'm outrageously self-promoting here, but you really need to read my "First Time Out" piece here on the site. Since writing it, I've chucked using furled leaders and now mostly use the # 4 fluoro line Chris included in the Shimotsuke 3.6 Starer Kit I bought from him. I suspect 1-2% of Tenkara fisherman out there could use a hockey stick and be successful, but the other 98% coming to Tenkara de novo couldn't, so for heaven's sake give yourself a break and buy a good rod for 1/4 the cost were you having to start out with a Sage or GLoomis.

And Chris: Tenkarabum is the most informative Tenkara site I've come across. You have been absolutely a straight shooter in all the advice given on Tenkarabum---over-touting nothing you sell and always seeming to give all the plus 'n minus of anything your reviewing or recommending.

Dec 07, 2013
$200 rod
by: Jimi Fly

I have 6 tenkara and or tenago rods. The most expensive one was $150. You don't need a $200 rod. Buy the Shimotsuke Kiyotaki and you will be casting like a pro in no time. You've almost spent more trying different lines as you would have spent on the Kiyotaki. Out of all my rods the Kiyotaki is my favorite and best rod I have in my opinion. Here's the link, they are $90 that's a steal if you ask me.

Dec 07, 2013
It was me
by: JDSmith

Oops. It was me, but I wasn't trying to hide behind the anonymous title. Just an oversight on my part.

Timmy I'm in full agreement with you and Chris that the proper rods and lines do matter. Chris knows that I own way more than just a few.

My first big paragraph was my lame attempt at comedy and satire, and I wasn't actually trying to imply that it's everybody's fault except Andy. Ultimately I place the responsibility of rod choice with the buyer.

I've always respected what Chris does for us in the tenkara community and have told him so, many, many times. Anyone outside of Japan would be hard pressed to find a better and more reliable source on all things tenkara and fixed line fly fishing.

Dec 07, 2013
Feel the Love
by: Andy May

Wow! If anyone wondered about the sense of community with Tenkara folks, this post puts that question to rest forever! Suppose anyone at my country club or yacht club would respond with the kind of love and passion y'all did? (But some of you may EST training or something: I sense a lot of latent guilt!) Trust me, YOU did not fail me! My skinflint ways failed me!

So, to your wonderful replies... first, THANK YOU all! Next, in all my analytic research I missed a couple things: 1. GO FISHING! 2. Just because professional Japanese tenkara fishermen could fish with a bamboo rod 200 years ago doesn't mean I need to grow a bamboo grove and put on a pointy hat to save money. 3. GO FISHING!

Not sure what'll happen next with the next months travel schedule to grandkids, Florida, a couple seminars, oh, and work! Maybe I'll drop a hint to Mrs. May about Fountainhead for Christmas!

PS Any thoughts on waders? (I heard that groan!)

Dec 07, 2013
No reel, a buck worth of line and a simple fly
by: Dan H.

The rod is pretty much everything in this game, so I find the original post to be kind of silly. Considering the gas burned driving to that shop, the value attributed to dozens of hours online and the dough spent on that cheap dapping pole - a reasonably good T rod could have been had. Kosasa no, it is just a really fun, keep-in-the-truck, poke around stick. Truly bro - get a bro, Shimotsuke Brother from Chris. A genuine JDM Tenkara wonder. Man, it is not much more than you shell-out for green fees, a burger and brews every time you "ping" that little white ball around the grass. And I sort of feel bad for the shop - brain picking and chit-chat with no purchase. Hope you find it in your heart to at least give your tenkara business to Chris. Both he and his customers here (many of whom are stone cold tenkara gurus in their own right) have given you a hundred bucks worth of information already. Reach into them deep pockets, I know it is tough for you. . . .and go for it.

Dec 07, 2013
I don't believe it
by: Dan H.

I am shocked. How can you afford travel, golf, "seminars" et al, moreover solicit information and advice from the finest, most reliable, tolerant and patient dealer of tenkara gear outside Japan and then plan to buy a Fountainhead knock-off special from someone else to save 20 bucks. Ya, I am not showing much love here. Having been a part of the fly fishing industry at all levels you would think I had developed a thicker skin over 40 years - however the behavior and outright gall of some consumers still amazes me.

Dec 07, 2013
Let's not beat up on the new guy
by: TenkaraBum

I think we all need to cut Andy some slack. A lot of us spent a lot of time and a fair amount of gas money shopping around - and asked a lot of questions. Of course, I hope he does decide on one of the Shimotsuke rods but if a Fountainhead is all that fits the budget, that's OK. I'm pretty sure he'll like tenkara (most people do) and that there will be a second rod in the quiver at some point, and it could be a Nissin or a Shimano. Besides there's still line and line holders, and maybe some fly tying materials along the way.

So Andy, welcome to tenkara. Pull up a chair, swap lies and swap flies.

P.S. The new guy makes the coffee.

Dec 07, 2013
Sorry Chris
by: Dan H.

Of course you are right. I gave him too much flak. A fountainhead is better than a telescoping pan fish pole. And a budget is a budget. I just simply could not stop my fingers from typing. Delete my posts if you wish. No worries.

Dec 07, 2013
The post stays
by: TenkaraBum

I deleted the duplicate post, but the others stay - if only to keep us all humble.

Dec 07, 2013
last 0.02
by: Clyde Olson

Delightful thread, but I fear we're nearing the slippery slope of creating some angst here. One last thought on the matter and this holds true for Tenkara as the advice given me 25 years ago when I left golf for fly fish'n. Don't sweat your first rod purchase save that it should be a reasonably good one. If the sport grabs you, you'll have a closet full of rods in a short time; if you go on to something else, put the starter rod on e-bay and you'll probably be out 75 bucks for the experience.

Dec 07, 2013
Slippery Angst
by: Anonymous

Dan H said what many of us are thinking. He apologized for being rough on the guy. End of story. No angst or slipperyness. Hey Chris, don't count on Starbucks for that coffee!

Dec 08, 2013
I'm out.
by: Andy May

I'm going fishing. Bye.

Jan 31, 2017
Everyone tries
by: Carl

So, I, like so many before me also purchased a auction site $10.00 telescopic rod to use as a tenkara rod. Will it work? The answer is yes, and no!

Can you fish with it? Yes, but you have to use bigger diameter line or a heavy weighted fly to cast the rod. But then......that's not how tenkara rods are fished. The whole idea is to use as light a line as possible to get a drag free presentation.

Otherwise you're just fly fishing without the benefits of quickly changing line length, and the reel to play fish one caught.

Jul 03, 2017
Where to buy without spending too much
by: Dave Boettcher

Ok, I would like too try Tankara. But, I can't afford to buy a rod which costs $175.00 and end up not liking it or not getting the swing of it.

I have been fly fishing for over 20 years in steep gradient small streams/creeks which are very bushy and covered With trees.

I would need to teach my self this new technique.

Is there any where I can buy a reasonable good Tankara rod and the other gear for under $100?

This is a difficult question to answer, I think. But I will give it a try as it goes to the heart of why I don't want to spend a lot, especially at first, on a Tankara kit.

I have had for 10 years Parkinson's disease And it only gets worse. I have vowed I would rather die sitting by a stream with a rod in hand, then die in a recliner with a remote in hand.

It is becoming more difficult to continue fly fishing with rig I use now. Since I refuse stop going the steam, I trying to find an easier way of fly fishing.

Does anyone know if Tankara fly fishing would be easier or more difficult then western style fly fishing?

Thanks for any info.

Jul 03, 2017
Dave, read the other comments!
by: Chris Stewart

If you had read the other comments, you would have seen several references to Fountainhead Tenkara rods. They are under $100. Google knows where to find them.

Mar 28, 2019
Shimotsuke kyoidai 2nd gen
by: Fikree

Honestly, i feel amazed even the cheap tenkara rod like shimotsuke kyoudai 2nd-gen i can cast sunline buttobi level line #3 in 7m length... this rod is amazing to try...

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“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” – Benjamin Franklin

"Be sure in casting, that your fly fall first into the water, for if the line fall first, it scares or frightens the fish..." Col. Robert Venables 1662

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