Tenkara vs Fly Fishing – Which is Right for You?

Thomas Krik

Written by

Thomas Krik

Marc Lowe


Marc Lowe

tenkara vs fly fishing

Have you ever wondered about the different casting techniques? Picture yourself amid a serene mountain stream or on the banks of a sparkling river armed with nothing but fishing equipment.

Now, imagine two intriguing methods that have enraptured fishing enthusiasts across the globe. One originated in Japan, while the other emerged from the waters of Europe. These distinctive approaches, known as Tenkara fishing and fly fishing, involve using artificial flies to entice fish.

If you need clarification about their differences, this article is for you! The table below will give you an overview of the difference between Tenkara vs. Western fly fishing.

Aspect Tenkara Fly Fishing
Origin Japan Europe
Rod Long telescopic rod Varies in length and action
Reel Not used Used for line management and casting distance
Line Fixed length line Adjusted length using the reel
Fly Selection Typically limited to a single fly Wide range of fly patterns available
Technique Applications in small, mountainous streams Versatile for various fishing environments
Casting Distance Limited to shorter distances Capable of longer casts

Tenkara vs. Fly Fishing: What Are They?

1. Tenkara


Tenkara fishing holds its roots deep in the rich tapestry of Japanese tradition, spanning centuries of angling history. It was a simple and effective way to catch fish in the crystal-clear streams.

Picture a long telescopic rod, a fixed length of line, and a single fly; all delicately wielded to entice fish with grace and finesse.

2. Fly Fishing


Fly fishing was born out of the desire to mimic the movements of aquatic insects and deceive fish with artfully crafted artificial flies.

What began as a means to entice fish evolved into a beloved sport and an advanced angling method. With fly fishing, anglers can adjust line length, control retrieval speed, and achieve impressive casting distances.

Technique and Principles of Tenkara vs Fly Fishing

Tenkara and fly fishing may involve artificial flies, but they approach angling from different perspectives.

  • Tenkara uses no reel fishing rod, and it’s all about finesse and precision, relying on the angler’s skill to delicately present the fly and entice fish in intimate, mountainous streams.
  • Fly fishing uses a reel that allows for adjustable line length, retrieval speed, and casting distance. Fly fishing rods come in different sizes and actions, catering to various fishing environments and techniques.

Key Elements

1. Tenkara


  1. Rod: The Tenkara rod gives you ultimate control in those narrow mountain streams.
  2. Line: It has a fixed length and attaches directly to the rod’s tip.
  3. Fly: In Tenkara fishing, it’s all about using Tenkara flies that dance on the water’s surface or dive below it, depending on your target.

2. Fly Fishing


  1. Reel: Using the reel, you can adjust the line length, control retrieval speed, and reach impressive casting distances.
  2. Rod: Just like in Tenkara fishing, the rod will make you in control when casting.
  3. Line: The line itself is specialized, thick, and tapered, providing both weight and flexibility to carry your fly to the right spot.
  4. Fly: Fly fishing offers an endless array of patterns, from tiny dry flies that imitate floating insects to larger nymphs and streamers that mimic underwater prey.

Pros and Cons

1. Tenkara Fishing

  • Simplicity: Tenkara Fishing embraces a minimalist approach, making it easy to learn and master, even for beginners.
  • Portability: The Japanese fly rod used in Tenkara fishing is lightweight and compact, making it highly portable and ideal for backpacking
  • Intuitive Drifts: With a direct connection to the fly, anglers can easily manipulate the drift and control the fly’s movement to entice strikes.
  • Limited Casting Distance: Due to the absence of a reel, Tenkara fishing is best suited for shorter casting distances, making it less suitable for larger bodies of water.
  • Restricted Fly Selection: Tenkara fishing typically relies on a single fly pattern, limiting the range of imitations available.
  • Wind Challenges: The long, lightweight rod used in Tenkara fishing can be more challenging to handle in windy conditions, affecting casting accuracy.

2. Fly Fishing

  • Casting Distance: With the aid of a reel, fly fishing allows for longer casting distances, making it suitable for covering larger bodies of water.
  • Wide Range of Fly Patterns: Fly fishing provides an extensive selection of fly patterns, allowing anglers to imitate various insects, baitfish, and other prey species.
  • Line Control: The reel in fly fishing enables precise line control, allowing for mending, line retrieval, and better management of the fly’s presentation.
  • Learning Curve: Fly fishing can have a steeper learning curve compared to Tenkara fishing, requiring time and practice to develop casting and line control skills.
  • Equipment Complexity: The additional gear, such as the reel and various lines, can add complexity and cost to the setup.
  • Portability: Fly fishing rods tend to be longer and less compact, which may limit portability in certain situations, especially for backcountry trips.

Similarities of Tenkara and Fly Fishing


  • One of the most apparent commonalities is their use of artificial flies as lures.

Whether it’s a meticulously crafted fly pattern in fly fishing or a delicate, hand-tied fly in Tenkara, both techniques harness the art of mimicry to entice fish with their lifelike imitations.

  • Beyond that, both methods celebrate the artistry and finesse of presenting the fly to the fish.

It’s all about understanding the subtle nuances of the water, the currents, and the fish behavior and using that knowledge to make the perfect cast that elicits a strike.

Differences between Tenkara and Fly Fishing


  • Tenkara fishing, rooted in Japanese tradition, focuses on simplicity and minimalism.

It utilizes a long telescopic rod, a fixed-length line, and a single fly, eliminating the need for a reel. This stripped-down approach lends itself well to small, intimate streams, where precision and delicate presentations are essential.

  • In contrast, fly fishing embraces versatility and adaptability.

It incorporates a rod, reel, and specialized fly line, allowing for adjustable line length, retrieval speed, and casting distance. Fly fishing offers a broader range of fly patterns and techniques, enabling anglers to imitate various insects and baitfish.

This also allows for dry and wet fly fishing, including imitating insects beneath the surface. Fly fishing requires more gear and offers more versatility.

However, the choice between the two depends on personal preference and fishing conditions.

Cost of Tenkara vs Fly Fishing


Regarding costs, Tenkara fishing has a clear advantage in terms of affordability compared to fly fishing.

Its simplicity makes it easier to learn and keeps the price tag in check, making it an excellent option for those on a tight budget or newcomers to the angling world. On the other hand, fly fishing is more expensive upfront.

The expenses can add to the need for a rod, reel, specialized fly lines, leaders, tippets, and diverse fly patterns. Additionally, additional gear and accessories like waders, boots, and vests may be desired for a complete fly fishing setup.

Which is Better Between Tenkara and Fly Fishing?

Is Tenkara worth it? Tenkara offers a beautifully simple and intimate approach, with its reeless fly rod and fixed line, allowing for a direct connection with the fish and nature.

If you’re new to fishing or prefer a more straightforward approach, Tenkara fishing might be your jam.

On the flip side, fly fishing opens up a world of possibilities. With fly fishing, you can explore diverse waters, experiment with different fly patterns, and hone your skills in presenting the fly with finesse.

Ideal Situations for Tenkara and Fly Fishing


  • If you’re venturing into small, cozy streams or tight spaces, Tenkara fishing is a dream come true.

Its long, lightweight rod allows for precise casts in those intimate settings, and its delicate presentations can work wonders to tempt cautious fish. So, if you are surrounded by picturesque mountain streams or hidden pockets of water, Tenkara fishing is the way to go.

  • On the other hand, fly fishing offers incredible versatility if you’re tackling larger bodies of water like rivers and lakes or venturing into saltwater flats.

With its ability to cast longer distances and cover more water, fly fishing is perfect for those expansive areas where fish may be spread out or lurking in deeper pockets.

Target Fish


Tenkara fishing is particularly renowned for its success in targeting trout. Tenkara’s delicate presentations and precise casts can work wonders in enticing these elusive freshwater beauties.

Fly fishing, on the other hand, offers endless excitement, from the majestic trout and magnificent salmon to the ferocious bass, toothy pike, elusive carp, and even the mighty tarpon and permit in saltwater.

Skill Level and Learning Curve

Tenkara fishing is often seen as a great starting point for beginners. The simplicity of Tenkara fishing, with its fixed line and telescopic rod, makes it easier to focus on learning casting techniques and honing your presentation skills.

On the other hand, Western fly fishers must have a broader range of skills to master, which may take more time and practice to become proficient. Casting techniques, line management, and understanding the dynamics of fly lines are just a few aspects that require attention.

Tips to Improve Your Techniques


  • Get Out and Practice: The more you familiarize yourself with the rod, line, and fly, the more comfortable and practical you’ll become.
  • Seek Guidance: Join fishing communities, attend workshops, or hire a guide to learn from the experts. They can share their wisdom and help you fine-tune your skills.
  • Experiment with Flies and Lures: Fish can be picky eaters, so having various options in your tackle box can increase your chances of enticing a bite. Play around with different colors, sizes, and patterns to see what works best in different situations.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Tenkara and Fly Fishing


  • Fishing Environment

Think about the type of water you’ll often fish in. If you’re drawn to small streams and rivers, Tenkara fishing is a fantastic option.

On the other hand, if you can access larger rivers, lakes, or even saltwater, fly fishing’s versatility allows you to adapt to different environments and target a more comprehensive range of fish.

  • Skill Level and Learning Curve

Consider your skill level and how much time you’re willing to invest in learning new techniques.

Tenkara fishing is often considered more beginner-friendly, with a shorter learning curve. On the other hand, fly fishing offers a broader range of techniques and may require more practice and patience to master.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you catch big fish with Tenkara?

Saltwater Tenkara is possible. Remember that when targeting larger fish with Tenkara casting, choosing a rod with a bit more backbone and a higher weight rating is essential. This will provide you with the extra strength needed to handle bigger fish.

Why do fly fishermen hate Tenkara?

Some traditionalists may prefer the complexity of Western fly fishing methods and view Ankara as a departure from those traditions.

The inability to manipulate the line during the fly’s drift might be seen as a disadvantage by those who enjoy the control offered by traditional fly fishing.

Can you use regular flies with Ankara?

You can employ dry flies, nymphs, streamers, and more, just like you would with traditional fly fishing. The key is to choose the correct fly pattern and size based on the specific fishing conditions and the type of fish you’re targeting.

Is Tenkara considered fly fishing?

While it may differ from the USA or Western fly fishing techniques, like not using a reel and having limited fly manipulation options, it still falls under the broad umbrella of fly fishing.

Many anglers find tenkara, or Japanese fly fishing, appealing because of its simplicity, elegance, and deep connection with the fish and the natural surroundings.

Can I use Tenkara techniques with a fly fishing rod?

Remember that Tenkara fly rods and traditional fly fishing rods have different designs and strengths. Tenkara excels in tight streams, while traditional rods handle larger fish and longer casts. So, feel free to borrow some tenkara techniques, but also appreciate the unique advantages of each approach.

Can I use the same equipment for Tenkara and fly fishing?

You can’t use Tenkara fly fishing gear when you go traditional fly fishing. While you may share some accessories like flies, leaders, and tippets, the rods and reels are distinct for each style. So, to enjoy Tenkara and traditional fly fishing, you’ll need separate gear for each approach.


When comparing Tenkara vs Fly flishing, it’s noticeable that the former shines in small to medium-sized streams, where precise presentations are essential.

On the other hand, traditional fly fishing, with its reels, lines, and versatile casting techniques, opens up a world of possibilities in various fishing environments.

So, whether you’re drawn to normal fishing, the elegance of Tenkara, or the versatility of traditional fly fishing, follow your heart and embrace the approach that resonates most with you.

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