Fly Fishing with Tenkara in the Smoky Mountains

Tenkara is an old Japanese method of fly fishing, but it’s relatively new here in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. That doesn’t matter, though, because it’s extremely effective for catching trout in these streams and it’s exceptionally easy to learn.

Here’s a video we put together to show you a little of what it’s like to fish with Tenkara in the Smokies.


We started experimenting with Tenkara rods last winter in the Smokies and are using them more and more. We even caught a couple of trout from the drift boat on the Holston River on a Tenkara rod a few weeks back!

Ian has been bringing a 13′ Tenkara rod along on most wade trips and we’ve introduced this style of fishing to a number of fly fishers this spring. In fact, we have even taken anglers out on dedicated Tenkara trips where that was the only style of fishing done.



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  1. Thanks for the reply regarding lines. I wish I could figure out a way to carry both the tenkara rod and my “normal” rod on wading trips..

  2. so is this going to become the fishing method of choice for you Ian, versus the traditional fly rod? What are the pros and cons of each?

    • I’m sure we’ll continue to use Tenkara, but I doubt it will completely replace traditional fly rods for us. Right now we’re really having a good time with it since it’s different enough that are fishing our home waters with a new approach. It’s rare we get to really examine that water from a new angle any more.

      Also, while it’s perfect for the mountain streams it isn’t as well suited for our big rivers. We’ve caught fish with Tenkara on the Holston, but it did take more effort than the regular fly rods.

      It’s not unusual to hear the comment that Tenkara is merely a niche method of fly fishing. That may be true, but so is my stiff 6 weight rod and sink tip line I use for big streamers, the 10 weight and full sink line I use for stripers, and the 7′ 3 weight I use for the tightest brook trout streams. We’re just having fun with it and plan to continue exploring its possibilities.

  3. I now fish the Smokys almost exclusively with Tenkara. I have never been so successful in these high streams.

  4. Excellent video guys! One of the best on Tenkara I’ve seen. Look forward to more.

  5. Bye the way R&R the three rainbows were taken on one of your guide adams fly. Tried to get them to rise to the haystack but could not get a rise on that went for the adams. Allen

    • Very nice! I’ve started carrying the Tenkara rod under my wading belt on guided trips. Almost everyday there are occasions where I’ll see a productive spot where I’m sure my angler can’t get a good drift with their fly rod. I’ll quickly rig the Tenkara rod and in every case my anglers have hooked fish on their first few casts with the new method. Productive and easy to learn.

  6. I love fishing Tenkara, caught three rainbow on White Top Laurel in the Virginia Highlands last week in one back eddy. Probably could have pulled it off with a western fly rod but would have taken some fast mending to keep the adams on a good drift. With the 13′ Tenkara rod was able to keep the line off the water and had three rainbows rise and take the fly. I always carry one in the back of my fishing vest and when the situation is right love taking it out and fishing with it. Some days I like fishing just the Tenkara. Allen

  7. 3.5# bass is my largest fish to date. One is limited by the strength of the tippet and the
    skill of the fisher

  8. So what line do you prefer for the smokies? How does this do on tight streams with such a long rod?

    • Matt,
      There is certainly a point on some really small streams here in the Smokies where it will get tough, but that’s also the case with any fly rod. On large streams like Little River, Hazel Creek, and the Oconaluftee we really like the 13′ rods. Medium size streams like Middle Prong Little River and others in that range we like the 12′ rods and level lines with slightly shorter leaders. A 12′ rod by Tenkara USA is actually convertible to about 9 1/2′ long. That makes that rod pretty good on most small streams.

      There is a bit of a “break in” period where you have to get used to the longer rod. The first day we used them we stuck them up in the trees every time we hooked a fish. Plenty of people do that with 9′ rods and even shorter. It just takes a little time using them to change your situational awareness of handling the longer rod with branches but becomes pretty natural with a little time on the water.

  9. Ian and Charity, clear and fun video.Good job! Tenkara is, if anything a better fit for the Eastern streams, in spite of what the West coasters think. Looks like you are favoring the furled line, too. You sure have some beautiful water! When are you going to start up “Tenkara Days in the Smokies?” Let me know if I can help.
    Tight lines and good times,

    • Thanks, Kevin!
      When we saw video of Tenkara done in Japan we initially thought it was somewhere in Appalachia. The rods really are a natural fit for our streams. Thanks for the offer. We’ll keep it in mind!

  10. What happens if one was to accidently catch, say, a 16 inch trout? How does the rods do?

    • Casey,
      Good question. The rods have such soft tips and are so flexible that it’s actually pretty tough to break a fish off. We’ve hooked some decent fish on our larger tailwaters and had no problem landing them and they are much more powerful than creek fish. Even if you hook a large trout on a traditional fly rod in one of these streams you’ll have to follow it downstream. Not really that different with the Tenkara rods. The extra length gives you a fair amount of play to give some line when necessary, but you’d be surprised how well they handle fish.