Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, has been an avid fly fisherman for many years. In countless interviews, he has preached the mantra that simple is better, less is more and that a truly happy life does not have to be filled with things. This way of thought is not just reflected in how Patagonia does its business, but it is also the core idea behind Tenkara.

Tenkara rod

A small, out of the way lake in the Dusty Basin – High Sierra

In the book Simple Fly Fishing, Mr. Chouinard tells how, Simple fly fishing [or Tenkara] is for those… who are put off by the image of the testosterone-fueled ‘rip-some-lips,’ good-old-boy, bass and trout fisherman who have turned the contemplative pastime into a competitive combat sport. [It is also for] the experienced angler who has all the gadgets and gizmos and discovers he or she wants to replace all that stuff with skill, knowledge, and simplicity. It is for the person who believes that a design or a piece of art or a sporting endeavor is finalized and mastered ‘not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away.‘”

Tenkara has been around for many centuries, but it has only been brought to the United States in the last five years. This past spring, Patagonia released their own simple fly fishing Tenkara rods and starter kit. Patagonia’s Tenkara Rods are made by Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO), a highly reputable fly fishing rod manufacturer based in Dallas, Texas.

Tenkara rodPatagonia’s starter kit offers a great value, as it comes with everything you will need to get started. The only thing you will have to buy is a set of forceps and snippers (I use a very small and lightweight Gerber Dime multi-tool that has a small pair of pliers and scissors, among other tools). The pocket-sized instruction manual explains how to set up your rod. I won’t get into too many details, but the level floating line connects to the lillian. The leader is attached to the level line. Finally the fly is tied to the end of the leader. The pocket manual tells you what knots to tie to properly attach everything together. I would recommend you pick up some tippet, as you will inevitably break the leader when your fly gets stuck under water or in a tree branch. With the tippet you can “recycle” your leaders, which are fairly expensive. See “An Intro to Tenkara” if you have no idea what any of these items are. Here is a helpful video Patagonia put together that shows you how to do what I just described:

Musings

  • The rod itself collapses down to just 20.5” long and extends in seconds to 10’6”. It weighs 6.6 ounces. With only a small amount of tackle to carry, the whole kit comes to one pound. I built a rod case from 1.5” PVC pipe that is very light. The rod is not bomb proof, so I gladly accepted the extra weight of the case so  that I do not have to worry about it while backpacking.
  • The line holder that comes attached to the rod is very handy. In fact, a buddy of mine added one after seeing it in action on my TFO rod. It is especially useful if you are moving a short distance between spots on the river, because it allows you to quickly secure your line so that your fly does not catch on anything as you are walking.
  • There are a variety of fly fishing casts. Since you don’t have a reel, moving the fly in the water is solely reliant on your technique. Here are two casts that I have found most useful. The first is the “standard cast”— with your elbow tucked loosely at your side, bring the rod up quickly to the 12 o’clock position, sweep your arm forward to about the 2 o’clock position, keeping your arm in line with your body, then snap your wrist. As you gain more experience, try pulling your wrist up ever so slightly right before the fly reaches the water in order to lay the fly into the water rather than plunging it into the water, which may spook the fish. The other helpful cast is the bow-and-arrow cast. This cast works great when there are a lot of branches that prohibit a “standard” cast. Simply pinch the level line in between your thumb and forefinger and pull back. Be careful not to pull too hard and snap your rod. Also make sure the fly is not hooked on anything (like your leg or a branch). This cast will take a bit of experimentation to master. Once you have mastered these casts with your dominate arm, switch to the other arm. You will be surprised what you can teach yourself by switching arms.
  • There are many helpful videos on Tenkara techniques, from casting to fly manipulation in the water, at Tenkara USA. Their forum is also chocked full of useful information.

Tenkara rod

Overall, I have been very happy with my Patagonia Tenkara Fly Fishing rod. I have taken it fishing all over Maryland, as well as in West Virginia and the High Sierra in California. With no shortage of fish-able waters all around the mid-Atlantic region, I have had a great summer exploring rivers, creeks, lakes and ponds. If you are on the fence about becoming an angler or are one already but are looking for a more simple experience, I would highly recommend you give Tenkara a try. With Patagonia’s starter kit, you can be out on the water in no time enjoying a simple and pure experience.

Tenkara Rod 1

My biggest one yet!

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