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Tenkara: Fly Fishing’s Japanese Roots


Fly fishing has been popular in the western world for hundreds of years with some sources pointing to origins in the second century. But, Japan has its own form called tenkara.

Tenkara, a traditional type of fly fishing in Japan, was almost completely unknown outside of the Land of the Rising Sun until recently. The form has been practiced for nearly 200 years.

The word tenkara translates as “from heaven” or “from the skies.” It is similar to the form of fly fishing we are familiar with, except the rod lacks a reel. Tenkara was developed by professional ancient anglers as well as inn-keepers who found the form an easy way to collect fish for their patrons.

TFO rod
Bass Pro Shops

The rods used in tenkara are made of non-manufactured, or not split and reassembled, bamboo. Tenkara rods are exceptionally light and, as a result, are generally much longer. This allows the angler to have greater reach, greater precision and control, and removes the necessity of a reel.

The equipment set-up is similar to western fly fishing, sans the reel. It consists of the rod, a tapered furled line that is generally the same length as the rod, 30 centimeters to a meter long tippet (or “hea” in Japanese, “hair” in English), and of course the fly (or “kebari” in Japanese).

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If you are looking for a way to change up your fly fishing experience, consider a tenkara setup. It can be challenging, but (as all anglers know with fly fishing) an incredibly rewarding way to snag a fish. Or, if you plan on doing a little world travel, don’t think you have to leave your passion for a fish and a fly behind; head to Japan and try tenkara out where it was born.

Bass Pro Shops even sells this traditional Japanese rod.

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Tenkara: Fly Fishing’s Japanese Roots