January 25, 2023
Tenkara rods are collapsible poles anywhere from 4 to 16 feet in length. They are designed to be fished with a short length of line and traditional trout flies. There is no reel seat, no eyes, just a long, flexible pole. Hook something really big, and you’ll rely on your own persuasive touch to bring the fish to hand. It’s simple. And exciting!
This winter, Tenkara Rod Co. shipped me the Teton Zoom kit ($245) for “Florida Man” evaluation. It comes with a 13-foot furled running line, a spool of 6-pound-test leader, and a small box of generic wet flies.
Assembling the rod was no problem for Florida Man. The carbon fiber sections telescope out like the fiberglass crappie poles we buy at tackle shops all around Florida. One difference. Instead of a ring to tie your line off, the rod terminates in a thin red nylon line, or lillian, about 2 inches in length.
How to affix the running line?
I pulled up a few videos on YouTube: Tie an overhand knot in the lillian, near the end, to form a stopper. Now look at the furled nylon line. Notice it has a stitched loop in one end, a tiny metal eyelet in the other. The metal eye is for attaching your leader. The stitched loop is for connecting to the rod. Catch a pinch of the running line and pull it through the stitched loop, forming a hitch. Secure this over the red line and pull it tight, seating it against the knot. It’s strong, supple and replaceable.
Now to attach the leader. First thing to do is, find the eyelet that’s installed on the line. Look close, it’s tiny. Cut it off and throw it away. Maybe there was some factory defect in my kit, but try as I might, I could not get any strength out of a leader knot to that eye. I tried several different knots, various kinds of leader material and half a dictionary of epithets before I concluded the damn eyelet was cutting it!
Anyway, I got rid of the eyelet and used a uni-nail knot to connect about four feet of 6-pound monofilament directly to the line. Plenty strong.
To show I’m a good sport, I tied on one of the soft-hackle wet flies included in the kit. These patterns are great on flowing trout streams—you let them drift or sweep with the current like aquatic insects at either end of their life cycles: Dying after mating, or emerging from nymphal forms. In a still, blackwater lake, not so useful. You need something that either floats, like a popper, or gets down, like a jig.
The day was cold. Standing on the shore of my backyard lake, I thought of crappie jigs. I picked out a white/chartreuse tube jig. I added a tiny float 2 feet up the leader: a ½-inch Thingamabobber. Fly fishermen call it a strike indicator. Here in Florida, it’s a bobber. Any old panfish float will do.
With a pond-worthy setup, I found the Teton Zoom a delight to cast. It is much lighter and better-balanced than the bargain-rack crappie poles. You can fish and text your friends at the same time. With the rod fully telescoped to 12 feet (it can also be fished in a 10.5-foot, abbreviated form), 13 feet of running line and 4 feet of leader, the reach was impressive. Pitch the jig and bobber out along shoreline vegetation, let it sit, then twitch with the rodtip. In my first 20 minutes, I landed two bass, a good shellcracker and about a 2-pound tilapia. Entertaining, to say the least.
The next day, I left off the furled line and just hitched a piece of 6-pound leader to the lillian, converting the tenkara into a straight canepole. Five or six feet of leader is perfect for dapping in pads for bluegill, shellcracker and crappie.
The pole collapses into a 26-inch travel tube perfect for stowing in a backpack, travel bag, your desk, under a car seat, pretty much anywhere.
Drawbacks? On a recent trip, I lost patience trying to free a stuck tip ferrule and snapped it. Good news is it’s $20 to replace a section, and the rods are made so you can pull the sections out the back. Also: The Tenkara Rod Co. guys suggest pulling the sections through your fingers as you rig up the pole, adding some natural non-stick. FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine February 2023