Tenkara Rods

Tenkara rods did not get to be the way they are by accident. Over hundreds of years they have evolved from simple bamboo poles to the modern ultralight high-tech carbon fiber telescopic rods we use today. They are designed specifically for fishing unweighted wet flies in small streams.

Because the line is tied to the rod tip, the rods have no guides and no reel seats. People might think cane pole or crappie rod but tenkara rods can cast an unweighted fly with a very light line and protect a very light tippet, something neither a cane pole nor a crappie rod could do. And if that wasn't difference enough, they weigh just a few ounces and collapse to a very compact length.

Similarly, they are on a completely different level than the telescopic crappie poles that they vaguely resemble. Before I could buy a real tenkara rod (back in 2007), I bought quite a few crappie poles trying to find a good substitute. They just aren't the same. The action is different, and the quality is in another league.

Actually, they are quite a bit different from fly rods as well. Beyond the lack of guides and reel seat, the most obvious difference is that the rods are telescopic rather than having ferrules like a fly rod. This allows the rod to collapse down to between 15 and 28 inches, depending on the model. The small size and light weight makes them a great choice for backpackers, for whom every ounce counts.

More significant, though, is that tenkara rods are designed to cast a much lighter line than fly rods, and most tenkara rods are longer than fly rods. The longer rod and lighter line allow tenkara anglers to keep their line off the surface, minimizing drag, and to manipulate their flies in ways that are difficult with a shorter rod and heavier line stuck in the water's grip.

A Tenkara Rod or ...

There has been an ongoing controversy in the US - ever since I imported the first Soyokaze - about what exactly is a tenkara rod. Personally, I think that is the wrong question to ask. Rather than ask what is a tenkara rod, a better question is what rod is best suited to the type of fishing you want to do. It might very well be a tenkara rod, but then again, depending on the type of fishing you want to do either a seiryu rod or a keiryu rod might be a better choice.

Seiryu rods are designed for smaller fish in streams with modest current. The Japanese use them for chubs and dace. Most Americans use them for smaller trout - and they are wonderful light, sensitive rods for fishing smaller streams.

Keiryu rods are designed for fishing with weight - split shot and bait in Japan, but generally bead head flies in the US. Most keiryu rods have firmer midsections than tenkara rods, allowing them to get good hook sets with fishing deeper in the water column. Most are also quite a bit longer than tenkara rods. In general, most keiryu rods are better than most tenkara rods at fishing weighted nymphs.

Carp rods, not surprisingly, are designed for catching carp. People have used tenkara rods for carp. Carp have broken tenkara rods. I would urge people who want to target larger fish, whether carp, channel cats, or schoolie stripers to use rods actually designed for larger fish.

Go to the Source

Over the last few years, a lot of small companies have sprung up and are offering tenkara rods - in some cases the very same rod with a different name and paint job. Some I've fished with and some I haven't, but I can assure you that there is a big difference between a rod designed and built by a Japanese company with a long history of making tenkara rods and a rod bought by a startup company over the internet from an outfit in China that has been making tenkara rods for only a few years. Even the best known US company has only been making rods (in China) for a few years. Tenkara is a traditional Japanese fishing style, it only makes sense to buy from companies that grew up with that tradition.

If you want the best, follow the tradition. Go to the source.

Please click on the links or the photos to go to pages with detailed write-ups and Add to Cart buttons for the rods.

TenkaraBum Rods

The Suntech TenkaraBum 36 is the first tenkara rod designed by an American tenkara angler in collaboration with a Japanese rod company. It is made in Japan by Suntech and is sold in Japan as well as in the US. Designed to be better at fishing weighted nymphs than the average tenkara rod, it handles dries and unweighted wets just as well.

The TenkaraBum 40 is a bit longer, not quite as tip flex as the 36, and has proven to be an excellent rod for Tactical Nymphing, which is a blending of tenkara and European nymphing styles. As with the TenkaraBum 36, the 40 will fish kebari and dries very well, but if you want to fish bead heads on anything larger than a small stream, this is your rod.

The TenkaraBum 33 is a bit shorter and a bit stiffer. It is a great choice for anglers fishing heavier nymphs with a tight line or tenkara anglers who prefer furled lines.

Suntech TenkaraBum 40


Headwaters Rods

Headwaters rods are designed for very small streams, perhaps brushy or very overgrown, and for the smaller fish you will find there. Not all are tenkara rods but all are light, sensitive rods very well suited to fishing the headwaters.

The shorter seiryu rods and tenkara rods will work fine for headwaters fishing.

Telescopic Rods

Tenkara rods are telescopic because they have to be. If you catch an unexpectedly large fish and it heads for the next county, you don't want your rod to come apart and the tip section to follow the fish. Also, eventually you will snag your fly at the extreme end of your cast or back cast, at a point where you cannot even reach the line to pull on. In that case, all you can do is pull straight back on the rod. If the rod had ferrules and one of them came apart, you could lose your rod tip.

Both of those scenarios also illustrate why you must use a light tippet. Do not fish with tippet stronger than 5 lb breaking strength (4x or 5x depending on the brand of tippet). The rods are very good at protecting light tippets, and light tippets are necessary to protect the rods. In the case of the snag described above, pulling back on the rod will tend to jam the rod segments together, and a light tippet will help prevent them from getting so tight that you can't collapse the rod. Collapsing the rod is the cause of most broken tenkara rods, as the last few segments are delicate. That's why I feel so strongly that all tenkara anglers should have a Tip Grip - so strongly that I am giving them away.

Some rods have been broken when an angler gets the fly snagged and then tries to jerk it out (or does an aggressive hook set on what ends up being a snag). The quick jerk (as opposed to the steady pull of a fish) puts a strain on the rod for which it wasn't designed. Treated with care, the rods are quite durable, and the breakage rate has been much lower than I had anticipated.

Please read the Short Course on Telescopic Rods. It could save your rod - or your life for that matter.

Tenkara Action Index

Tenkara rods are not grouped by line weight like fly rods. Instead most are given a rating such as 5:5, 6:4 and 7:3. Although all tenkara rods have soft tip sections and much stiffer butt sections, the ratings give an idea of where the softer sections transition into the stiffer sections. It is not specifically 6 sections are stiff and 4 are soft, because most tenkara rods don't actually have 10 sections. It's more of a percentage split, like 50/50, or 60/40 (60 percent of the rod is stiffer and 40 percent is softer). It is a trap to think that a 7:3 rod is stiffer than a 5:5 rod. The rating is a measure of where the rod bends, not how much force is require to bend the rod.

If you've ever taken a rod and just wiggled it, you've seen the butt section move to the left while the tip moves to the right, then the butt moves to the right and the tip moves to the left. There is a point on the rod that is stationary, the point where the tip section goes one way and the butt section goes the other. On a 7:3 rod, that point is closer to the rod tip than on a 6:4 rod, and it's closer to the tip on a 6:4 rod than on a 5:5 rod.

Unfortunately, the rating system is of little use to rod buyers. Not all tenkara rod manufacturers use it, and among those that do there is no standard so a 7:3 rod from one manufacturer can be very, very different from a 7:3 produced by another manufacturer. It is a guideline at best. I have tried to further the discussion of tenkara rod ratings with the Common Cents Database and my "What is a 7:3?" essay.

Other Tenkara Rod Essays

Aggressive Hooksets

Rethinking Rod Choice

Rethinking Rod Choice II - A Softer Rod for Bass

Rethinking Rod Choice III - Many

Why I sell Rods That Aren't Tenkara Rods

Picking Pockets

Tenkara with a "tanago rod?"

It's all about the fishing

Lillian Knot - To Knot or Not to Knot

Seiryu-Tenkara-Keiryu Continuum

Seiryu-Tenkara-Keiryu Continuum II

Common Cents Database

What is a 7:3?

Keeping it Simple

Short Course on Telescopic Rods

Go Long!

Strike Detection

TenkaraBum Home > Tenkara Rods

“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

As age slows my pace, I will become more like the heron.


The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.

Beware of the Dogma

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On many of the rod pages you will see testimonials. Not one was solicited. Not one was written by a blogger who was given a rod in return for a writing a testimonial.

To be sure, some were written by bloggers, but at TenkaraBum, bloggers are customers just like you. They aren't considered part of the marketing department, and they pay the same price for a rod that you do.

The testimonials are not about creating marketing "buzz" but to allow actual buyers who liked the rods to share their views.

Chris Stewart, Tenkara Bum

I must say I love it when the manager of a fly shop that carries competing tenkara rods buys a Japanese made rod from me. I'm sure he could get a big discount if he bought what his shop sells. He knows their products inside and out, and buys mine instead (at full price). To me that says a lot.

Chris Stewart, Tenkara Bum

Thanks Chris.  You have the best rods in the US.

Fred L, New Jersey

Unbelievable service.  I ordered a rod Friday night, Sunday was Easter. The rod  arrived Monday morning with a hand written note.  

Phil E, Arizona

Wow!  Thank you so much for the quick turn-around. I never thought the rod and materials would be here sooooo soon...two days! The other rod from the other place took over a week...now I have an excuse to go fishing THIS weekend...hahahaha!

The rod is beautiful and I can't wait to use it. I also really like the "Read Me First" instructions: nice blend of humor and very practical advice I had not heard about...until you. I love your personal touch in number 5...thanks and noted!!
John B, Georgia