What is Tenkara? Florida Man’s Take on Tenkara Fishing

Tenkara is not just about catching fish, it’s about simplicity. In tenkara, you only use a rod, line and fly.


Tenkara rods are collapsible poles that range from 4 to 16 feet in length. They are designed to be fished with a short line and traditional trout flies. There is no reel seat, no eye, just a long, flexible pole. Hook something really big, and you’ll be relying on your persuasive touch to bring the fish to you. It’s simple. And exciting!

Over the winter, Tenkara Rod Co. sent me the Teton Zoom kit ($245) for the “Florida Man” to evaluate. It comes with a 13-foot running line, a 6-pound test head spool, and a small box of generic wet flies.

Teton Zoom tenkara rod kit
The Teton Zoom kit included a length-adjustable rod with 10.5- and 12-foot options, a 13-foot walking line, a 6-pound test head reel, and a small box of wet flies.

Mounting the rod was no problem for Florida Man. The carbon fiber sections telescope out like the crappy fiberglass poles we buy at hardware stores all over Florida. A difference Instead of a ring to tie your line to, the rod ends in a thin red nylon line, or lillian, about 2 inches long.

How to set the running line?

Line connected to Liliana
Rolled stripe tied on lillian; The tippet will be attached to the end of the terminal.

I took a few videos on YouTube: Tie a top knot in the lillian, near the end, to form a stopper. Now look at the nylon line. Note that it has a sewn loop on one end, a small metal loop on the other. The metal eye is for attaching your leader. The loop is for connecting to the sewn rod. Grab a bit of the running line and pull it through the sewn loop, forming a hook. Secure this over the red line and pull it tight, against the knot. It is strong, flexible and replaceable.

Now to attach the leader. The first thing to do is to find the loop installed in the line. Look closely, it’s small. Cut and throw away. Maybe there was a factory defect in my kit, but try as I might, I couldn’t get a leader knot to power that eye. I tried several different knots, several leader materials, and half a dictionary of epithets before concluding that the damn loop was cutting!

Anyway, I removed the loop and used a single nail knot to tie about four feet of 6-pound monofilament directly to the line. Very strong.

bobber and tube jig for freshwater fishing
The writers prepared for a freshwater session.

To show I’m a good sport, I tied one of the soft, wet flies included in the kit. These patterns are excellent in flowing trout streams; you let them drift or sweep with the current like aquatic insects at the end of their life cycle: dying after moulting or emerging from nymph form. In a black water lake, not so useful. You need something that floats, like a popper, or sinks, like a jig.

The day was cold. Standing on the edge of my backyard lake, I thought of crap. I chose a white/chartreuse tube top. 2 feet up the leader I added a small float – a ½ inch Thingamabobber. Fly fishermen call it a strike indicator. Here in Florida, it’s a bobber. Any old panfish float will do.

The fly fisherman casts a tenkara rod into the backyard pond
A tenkara rod is perfect for some quick yard work.

With a pond-worthy setup, I found the Teton Zoom a joy to cast. It is much lighter and more balanced than cheap rack poles. You can fish and message your friends at the same time. With the rod fully telescoping to 12 feet (can also be fished in shortened 10.5 foot form), 13 feet of line and 4 feet of leader, the reach was impressive. Drop the jig and bobber through the shoreline vegetation, let it sit, then twist with the rod. In my first 20 minutes, I caught two bass, a good shellcracker, and about 2 pounds of tilapia. Entertaining, to say the least.

tilapia on grass with pipefish in mouth
Tilapia among the writer’s latest catches.

The next day, I left the furled off the line and tied a 6-pound piece of leader to the liliana, turning the tenkara into a straight barrel. A five- to six-foot leader is perfect for getting into the pads for bluegill, shellcracker and crappie.

The pole collapses into a 26-inch travel tube for storage in a backpack, travel bag, on your desk, under your car seat, just about anywhere.

bluegill in hand
A nice bluegill also came in on the tenka.

Disadvantages? On a recent trip, I got impatient trying to loosen a stuck tip ferrule and broke it. The good news is that it’s $20 to replace a section, and the rods are made so that the sections can be removed from the back. Also: The guys at Tenkara Rod Co. suggest pulling the sections through your fingers as you assemble the pole, adding some natural non-stick. FS

Florida Sportsman magazine was published in February 2023