Tenkara fishing is rapidly growing in popularity in the US . A minimalist fishing technique from Japan, tenkara fishing involves heading out with just a rod, line, and a handful of flies. There’s something almost spiritual about paring down to the basics of fishing – not to mind the incredible sensitivity you’ll feel when that take happens.
If you want to find out more about it’s origins, advantages, and techniques, check out our ultimate tenkara guide over here. Here are our reviews of the top tenkara rods on the market right now!
How Tenkara Rods Differ From Traditional Fly Rods
Tenkara rods are completely different creatures from traditional rods.
Firstly, there are no reels – instead, you’re fully reliant on your rod. This is why tenkara rods have to perfectly hit that balance between delicacy and strength: the flexibility and precision to cast effectively and the strength to land that fish.
They don’t break down into different sections. Instead, they are telescopic and collapse down into a small, compact size. This makes them perfect for hiking, camping, bikefishing, or heading out into remote, overgrown areas of the backcountry. 
You also won’t line guides on these models. Instead, there’s avb flexible fiber called a ‘lillian’ on the end of the rod. The lillian gives the rod a greater action and is also where you’ll tie your line on with a slip knot or a girth hitch (depending on the type of line you use).
How To Choose A Rod
When you’re looking for a good tenkara rod, there are a few important factors to consider before you head out to the shop or look around on Amazon:
They are longer than normal rods and tend to range from anywhere between 10-15 ft. This allows you to easily reach those likely spots where the fish are lurking.
The benefit of having a longer rod isn’t just an increased reach. You’ll also find that they tend to be much more sensitive, allowing you to quickly and effectively detect strikes every time.
However, if precise and accurate casting is a priority, you might want to buy a shorter one instead. Short models are also stronger and more durable, for the most part.
Power, or the strength of the rod, is vital, as you don’t have a reel to take some of the stress off your rod. You use the rod to play the fish instead of the drag on the reel.
Higher power, hard action models will be able to tire out a fish. If your aim is to land as big a fish as possible, look for a stronger rod. Shorter models also tend to be stronger, although they give you less flexibility than a longer rod.
Light action rods will bend more easily, making them better suited to smaller fish. Action, or flex, as it’s called for tenkara fishing, can be quite complicated to get your head around.
Pretty much all of the rods are lightweight. But it’s important to consider not just the weight they’re labeled as, but how it will feel in your hand. Some rods seem to handle differently than you’d expect for their weight.
Nowadays, handles tend to be made from high-quality cork or dense EVA foam. Look for an ergonomic cork handle that will be comfortable on your hands. Make sure you watch out for plastic or low-grade handles, as these can often chip away or become damaged quickly.
Occasionally, you can find rods that have a wooden handle, made in the traditional style. Wood handles have higher sensitivity, giving you a greater connection with your rod – but they can be hard work on your hands after a couple of hours or so.
You can find tenkara fishing rods and even complete sets for reasonable prices. This is great if you’re not sure whether you’ll enjoy fishing tenkara-style, or if you’re working with a tight budget.
Generally, though, the rule with fishing gear goes that you should buy the best you can afford – the investment should pay off in the long-term.
Tenkara Rod Reviews
It can be tricky to know which tenkara rod to go for out of all the options on the market. Here’s a quick glance at some of the best ones on the market right now!
Wild Water Combo
When you invest in the Wild Water Tenkara Combo, you’ll know that you’re all set up and ready to go. You’ll get everything you need – right down to a booklet that will walk you through how you can get started at a bargain price.
As starter tenkara kits go, the Wild Water Combo is excellent quality. The rod is strong and durable, with a slow action and medium flex. It packs up small so you can take it on camping trips and spend an hour or two on the water, too. After assembling it a couple of times, you’ll easily get the hang of it and be able to put it together in minutes.
You’ll also get a Lifetime Warranty with your purchase. If you do have any issues and need a replacement part, Wild Water has excellent customer service and will be more than happy to help you.
Tenkara USA Hane
The carbon fiber Hane by Tenkara USA is a well-made rod with a wide, EVA foam handle, knotted red lillian, and a distinctive white design. This rod is on the stiffer side, making it better suited for larger trout and bass. On the other hand, you might feel like it’s overkill when landing a smaller fish.
One drawback we found with the Hane is that it’s pretty tip-heavy. If you like a stiff rod that has little flex, this one should be top of your list. It’s definitely durable and will be great if you want to try out tenkara while still catching bigger fish.
Not only that, but it makes a great choice for hiking or even for flying to different locations, as it packs down to a tiny 15”. You can take this one anywhere with you.
However, if you pretty something with a bit more action, check out our other recommendations instead!
Tenkara Iwana 12’
If fishing isn’t just about taking home a trophy-size fish for you, consider the Tenkara Iwana. Although you won’t be going for any big ol’ lunkers with this, you’ll be blown away by the precision of your casts and the delicacy of your presentation when you use the Iwana. Not only is it small and lightweight, making it easy to carry in a backpack, but it’s well made from high-quality materials.
The Tenkara Iwana isn’t the cheapest rod on the market for tenkara fishing, but it’s built to last. When you buy this, you shouldn’t need to replace or upgrade it for a good few years.
When you’re using the carbon fiber Iwana, the heightened sensitivity is sure to amaze you. Strikes are instantly detectable, which translates to you catching more! You’ll also find that this rod will put up a fight, and you’ll feel the fish the whole time, making every strike an exhilarating experience.
DRAGONtail Shadowfire 365
You don’t always want to splash out when you’re trying out a new technique, so affordable gear like this carbon fiber DRAGONtail Shadowfire might be just what you’re looking for. Available both as a full combo set or just the rod alone, you can get started with tenkara fishing without making a big dent in your bank balance.
This rod is constructed from top quality graphite and has just the right amount of flex, with 6:4 action. Don’t think that you’ll be limited to tiny little panfish – you’ll have no trouble landing medium-sized fish with this set-up.
If you’re an avid hiker or backpacker, you’ll be pleased to hear that it collapses down to just 23”. This makes it the perfect choice to take along with you next time you head out into the backcountry.
The DRAGONtail Shadowfire is the best budget tenkara kit around. We recommend it for anyone who isn’t convinced about tenkara and just wants to give it a try, or for backpackers who are looking for a light rod that is easy to carry around.
Maxcatch Tenkara Combo Kit
The Maxcatch Tenkara Combo Kit is an excellent choice for anyone looking to get started in tenkara fishing. It truly has everything you could need to get out there on the water and give tenkara a try – rod, line, tippet, hooks, flies, and even a case to keep everything neat and tidy.
As to the rod, it’s both lightweight and impressively strong. You’ll have no trouble catching fish with this Maxcatch model that comes in 11’, 12’, and 13’ foot lengths. Constructed from high-quality materials, you can tell that these models are made with care. You won’t have to worry about your line getting tangled thanks to the rotating lillian.
This Maxcatch would make a great choice for anyone fishing on small waters. It’s sturdy enough to stand up to a fight with decent-sized fish without snapping. The small learning curve means that even a beginner could be landing fish on this in just a short time.
Keiryu Rod Co. Telescoping 17.7’
Keiryu is another Japanese fishing technique – you could call it tenkara’s big brother! Fishing Keiryu-style means using stiffer rods and weighted flies or bait so you can get down to where the fish are lurking.
If you’re still not convinced about tenkara or you just love chasing big trout, you should definitely check out this high-quality telescopic rod which extends to an impressive 17.7’ in total. Equally, it’s great for tenkara fans who want to play around with new techniques.
This kit comes equipped with a Kevlar furled line and a bait line with split shot, so you can fish both dry flies, bait, or weighted flies. This model offers much more versatility than you’ll get with a traditional tenkara rod.
You’ll be amazed by how easy it is to cast – try a side cast, bow cast, or orbit cast – and by the smooth, natural presentation you’ll get with this. You won’t risk scaring off the trout with a noisy impact on the water or line dragging along the surface. Instead, you’ll get a drag-free drift and superior strike detection, and more catches as a result!
With a quick learning curve, this Keiryu rod is suitable for anyone from beginner to pro. Give it a try – I guarantee that you’ll land a good many trout using this set-up.f
The Wrap Up
So there you have our reviews of the best rods for tenkara fishing around right now. If you’re interested in trying out this exciting fishing technique, you won’t go wrong with any of these!
Feel free to drop any comments or questions below! So what do you think – are you tempted to give this ancient type of fishing a try? Let us know!