Tenkara Fishing: A Guide for Backpackers

Ever found an ideal fishing spot on a backpacking trip, and wished you’d had space to bring all your fishing gear along? Tenkara fishing might be the answer to your problem! A minimalist fly fishing technique originating in mainland Japan over 200 years ago, tenkara fishing is becoming all the rage across the US and Europe.

Tenkara fishing combines perfectly with backpacking, as it’s accessible, affordable, and involves minimal equipment! With a focus on simplicity and getting back to nature, backpackers are beginning to catch onto the tenkara trend. Here’s why you should give tenkara fishing a go, brought to you by Fly Fisher Pro.

tenkara fishing

What Exactly is it?

Tenkara fishing is a Japanese fishing technique using only a simple rod, leader, and a fly. It’s all about paring things back and relying on a natural presentation with little drag, which is guaranteed to tempt any nearby fish.

Tenkara was developed on smaller mountains streams and creeks and is best suited to catching fish under 10”. There’s no reel, line guides, fly line, or any other gear to complicate things. This makes it perfect for backpackers who like to indulge in a spot of fishing from time to time.

Let’s be clear on one thing: Tenkara fishing is not for catching huge fish or for fishing on big water. But for fly fishing on a remote mountain stream and catching smaller trout or baitfish, tenkara excels. It’s a tranquil experience of immersing yourself in the natural world as generations have done before us – just you, a rod, and a fly dancing across the water’s surface.

What Do You Need

You’ll be pleased to hear that you don’t need much gear for tenkara fishing (that’s kind of the point!). Getting kitted out can be pretty affordable, too. All you need to buy is a tenkara rod, leader, tippet, and a few flies, and you’re ready to go. It’s as simple as that, and that’s why tenkara fishing is perfect for backpackers!

Tenkara rods can range from as short as 8 foot right up to around 15 foot – some are adjustable, allowing you to decide the right length depending on where you’re fishing. Almost all tenkara rods that you can buy now are telescopic, collapsing in on themselves into a tiny tube which can easily fit into your backpack.

Once you’ve chosen your rod, you just need to grab some leader and a handful of fly patterns, and you’ll be all set. As to leader, you can choose between a level line or a tapered line. We prefer a level line in almost all situations, as you can achieve the best presentation with minimal drag.

The final element in your tenkara setup is your fly patterns. When choosing your flies, go for smaller, eye-catching, lifelike patterns – movement in the water is more important than imitating any particular insect.

Why it is Ideal for Backpackers:

So, you have more of an idea of what tenkara fishing is now. But why is tenkara fishing recommended for backpackers in particular? Here are some of the top reasons why you should give tenkara fishing a go if you’re an enthusiastic backpacker:

Low Start-up Cost

Not only do you have less gear to buy, but you can snag a complete tenkara fishing combo with everything you need for around $200. This makes it relatively cheap and accessible for anyone to give tenkara fishing a try and see if you enjoy it.

Compact and Lightweight Gear

As tenkara rods are telescopic, the whole thing collapses down to around 15” in total – perfect for popping in your backpack the next time you set out. You won’t lose any valuable space or have to leave behind any essentials, and you’ll love how lightweight tenkara gear is, too. An average rod weighs around 3oz, and there’s no reel or other supplies to weigh you down, either!

You can also save on space by leaving your waders and wading boots behind, too. When you’re fishing smaller streams with a longer rod, you can easily fish from shore.

It’s also possible to hop from rocks and boulders so you can access those spots that are harder to reach. You can have an epic day fishing without getting wet or being weighed down by bulky waders – something that most backpackers will be pleased to hear!

Small Learning Curve

Unlike traditional fly fishing, tenkara fishing is not difficult to get the hang of. Anyone from complete beginners to pro anglers can enjoy tenkara. You just need to master your cast, and you’ll be landing fish within a day. You don’t have to learn lots of different, complicated techniques.

The best way to get started is to head out on the water with an experienced tenkara fisher.
(If you don’t have any fishing experts on hand, you can watch a few YouTube videos instead to get a good idea of what you should be doing). Then, with a few hours of practice out on the water, you’ll have nailed your cast and presentation – and that’s pretty much all there is to it!

Excellent for Both Alpine Lakes and Smaller Streams

Tenkara fishing goes hand in hand with backpacking, as the best tenkara spots are also amazing destinations for hardy backpackers.

You’re not just limited to fishing with your tenkara rod on small streams, although they are a lot of fun. You can also fish tenkara-style in alpine lakes, where the forage is scarcer, and the fish are always on the hunt for the next tasty bite.

The crystal-clear water in alpine lakes lends itself to sight fishing, making it an exciting prospect. You can fish easily fish from shore, or wade if you prefer. What better way to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and take in the serene tranquility of a mountain lake than by fishing in this simple but effective way?

Quick Set-Up

Setting up your tenkara rod is so quick and simple, you can do it in seconds. All you need to do is take off the end plug, attach your level line to the lillian, and then fully extend your rod. It’s as straightforward as that! Just tie on a fly, and you’re ready to go.

You can either have your rod prepped with line and fly attached before setting off, or just set it up when you come upon a perfect deep pool filled with trout. In less than a minute, you’ll be casting out.

This quick, effortless setup is another reason that tenkara fishing is a great choice for backpackers. You can spontaneously stop and fish if you chance upon a promising location. There’s no need to plan everything out in advance, and you won’t lose time fiddling around with your gear.

No Tricky Techniques to Master

If you’re reel fishing, you need to have a good understanding of the drag, when to strike, and how to haul a fish in without losing it. But with tenkara fishing, you don’t need to worry about a fly reel, setting the right drag, or hauling the fish in.

When you do catch a fish, it’s as simple as letting it wiggle and flap around until it’s worn out. Then, just lift your rod higher to pull the fish out of the water towards you. If you’re following catch-and-release regulations, you can pop it back in the water. Otherwise, you can cook yourself some dinner! Which leads us to our next benefit…

what is tenkara fishing

Carry Fewer Food Supplies and Catch Yourself Some Dinner Instead!

If you’re traveling light and you’re an avid angler, you can cut down on the food supplies you need to carry on your backpacking trip. Instead, whatever you catch will be on the menu tonight! There’s nothing quite like getting back to nature and enjoying a freshly-cooked fish that you caught earlier that day.

The Wrap Up

If you’re into both fly fishing and backpacking, tenkara fishing is the perfect way to combine your two hobbies. The tenkara rod setup is so light, minimal, and simple that it won’t weigh you down or take up precious space, and we know how important that is for the weight-conscious backpacker. Tenkara fishing was designed for those remote mountain streams that also make fantastic backpacking destinations, and the gear is compact enough that it won’t get in your way as you hike through bushy undergrowth!

You’ll get even more out of your next backpacking trip when you can fit in a spot of fishing, too. Tenkara fishing is an excellent accompaniment to your backpacking hobby, taking your enjoyment to the next level. You can whip out your tenkara rod within seconds if you stumble across an idyllic little fishing spot, teeming with trout.

Tempted to find out more about tenkara fishing, including the top techniques for easier and more effective fishing? Head on over to Fly Fisher Pro to read the complete guide!

tenkara fly fishing

Posted by Nolan Osborne