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We woke up on day 2 of our 22 mile hike along the Manistee River. We were deep within Michigan’s Manistee National Forest on one of the first warm weekends in May.
Clouds covered the sky, but within a few minutes of starting our hike, we were sweating. After a few miles, we turned off the North Country Trail and got our first view of the actual river itself.
We were on top of a bluff overlooking a gorgeous bend in the river. I knew the water was freezing, but it looked as inviting as ever. A few minutes later, our trail took us right along the grassy riverbank. Perfect time for a break.
The river was shallow and rocky where we dropped our packs. I knew if I was going to find trout this weekend, this would be the spot.
I pulled out my tenkara rod, took a few quick moments to extend the rod from 16 inches to 12 feet and waded in. I’ve never fished this river before.
But on my second cast, an immediate bite. Third cast? First trout of the year for me.
Over the next 45 minutes, I brought in 8 small but beautiful trout (and lost even more). I could’ve sat there all day. But we still had miles to cover. About 60 seconds later, my rod was packed up.
The trail never took us close enough to the river to fish again. I took my only chance and it paid off.
What Is Tenkara Fishing And Why Should You Try It
Tenkara is a traditional Japanese fly fishing technique. The rods used are simpler than fly rods we use here in the west.
They don’t use a reel. Instead, your line is tied to the rod tip. So your line is “fixed.” As a result, the rods don’t have guides. This is what makes tenkara perfect for travel, backpacking, and bringing everywhere.
Tenkara rods can collapse down into themselves. Most tenkara rods in the US can collapse down between 20 and 24 inches.
But a few, such as the 2 that I have, collapse down to 13 and 16 inches. This lets me carry them in any type of backpack or waist bag without using up very much space at all.
And the total package including rod, line, and flies, only weighs a few ounces. For someone like me, who prioritizes a lightweight pack when backpacking, this is a big deal. Bringing a full fishing rig doesn’t weigh me down.
Benefits of Tenkara
Tenkara is simplified fly fishing. The small package, and the speed at which you can set up your rig (only about a minute once you are streamside) makes this ideal for bringing with you.
As mentioned earlier, I take my tenkara rod on backpacking trips. Most of the trips I go on, other than those in the Southwest, take me along beautiful lakes and rivers. And since it’s in the backcountry, there are no other anglers around.
I also take my rod with me when I go on short hikes with my kids. Or when I take them to a local park with a pond, which happens to be filled with Bluegill and Bass. I take it when I go paddling, which is how I stock up on panfish for a fish fry. I even take it to the beach. I’ve caught a hand full of fish off Florida’s gulf coast just standing in the surf with a 12 foot line attached to the rod.
Plus, it fits in my carry on bag so I can take it with me when I travel. I almost never bring a checked bag when I fly.
You can take it along with you when hunting. You can just keep it in your car, in case you spy a nice creek or river on your way home from work.
And while traditional tenkara fishing is intended for catching trout in small mountains streams, tenkara rods in America are extremely versatile. You can fish larger rivers and lakes like I do. Some people use tenkara to fish for salmon in Alaska. Some even (successfully) fish the salt flats for bonefish with a fixed line rod.
Tenkara can be whatever you want it to be. For me, it’s my favorite form of fishing because it allows me to fish when I’m out doing other things. I’m all about combining activities when I can.
A complete tenkara setup is just a rod, some line, and flies which you probably already have. Even the highest quality setup will run you less than $200. See what opportunities show up once you have a tiny, lightweight, easy-to-set-up rig with you.