I’m often asked what I recommend as starter setup for a child getting into fly fishing and I’m starting to think a Tenkara rod might actually be the best option. Tenkara () is a traditional Japanese style of fly fishing that employs only a rod (11-13 feet), line, and fly–no reel. I have my 10-year-old son Paul Tenkara fishing on a little stream by our house, and not only is he having a blast, he’s becoming a pretty sharp angler.
Sure, we get out the hula hoops and practice casting with a standard fly rod and reel (8-foot, #4 weight). Those lessons are important. But when we actually go fishing (chasing 6-12-inch browns and brookies) with dry flies, we Tenkara fish.
Here’s what I like about Tenkara fishing for little folks: The suppleness of the rod and the lightness of the line automatically requires a well-timed casting stroke. He feels that rod load, and the fly goes where he wants it to go. He waves it around wildly, and he has no chance. Simple. He gets that.
What I like even more is the fact that fishing Tenkara puts a premium on stealth. My little guy is like most, he likes romping and splashing and charging around. But it didn’t take long for him to realize, with the limited range of a Tenkara rod, he has to sneak up on his targets. Now, he factors in sunlight and shadows. He thinks about where he positions himself. He plans how to drift that fly into the zone just right. Not bad for a 10-year-old.
Come to think of it, not bad for any angler. A little stealth training and reinforcement never hurt any fly fisher.
Two other points: Tenkara rods start at around $135, which is about what the youth combo packages (rod, reel, and line) cost. And, it’s easy for kids to land the fish when they hook them. They just lift the rod. Mind you, if Paul ever hooks a 20-incher on that thing, it might get pretty interesting in a hurry. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, and I am 100 percent convinced that Tenkara fishing is moving him down the learning path in the right direction.