Fly Fishing Tenkara Products

Hands up who’s heard of Tanago?

Not many I suspect. Well you might call it an offshoot from tenkara and I hadn’t heard of it until recently when I chanced upon it whilst surfing the internet. Basically it’s tenkara fishing on small streams, with a shorter rod. Tanago apparently translates to bitterling, a small fish native to Japan and it is fishing for these very small fish that tanago was developed.
Progressing upstream with my new tenkara rod (image ©Joel Barrow 2012)

Progressing upstream with my new tenkara rod (image ©Joel Barrow 2012)

The first question I asked myself was: “isn’t tenkara about using long rods to give reach, because we have no reel and no way to extend line?” Tanago appeared to me to go against this, so how would it

work in practice? The more I thought about it the more it made sense. I could see a use for it on the smallest of streams, the sort of place where you’d take your 6′ brook rod and still struggle to cast. Tiny becks with a population of equally tiny trout, just waiting for a well presented dry fly or nymph to pass their way.

Tungsten Beads Plus now sells a range of tanago rods, ranging from 180cm (£45) to 450cm (£99) from a company called Kiyotaki. I opted for a 2.7m version from the extensive list of tanago rods available from Tungsten Beads Plus. At £78 I didn’t have much to lose, so why not?

As you’d expect it is like a miniature Tenkara rod: 19” collapsed length, 7 telescopic sections and a red lillian string at the tip for attaching the leader, but the handle was different. No room on such a short rod for a cork handle, the bottom (or butt) section is simply made with a section that is rough and easy to grip, yet comfortable in the hand. Although tenkara rods are very light for their length, I often find them cumbersome and heavy in the hand because of the extra length coupled with lack of counterbalance reel weight. With my tanago rod being only 2.7m (9’) extended, and very light at that (just 45g or 1 ½ Oz), there was no such weighty feeling in the hand. It’s a term often used to describe fishing rods, but this truly is a wand.

All I needed was a small stream to try it out and right on cue an old friend got in touch asking me to join him on a tiny stream in deepest West Yorkshire. A stream in the heartland of Yorkshire’s industrial, manufacturing and business area. It looked good he said, but he wanted me to go over and fish it by way of an ‘experiment’. I like such ‘experiments’, wherever they may be. They are exciting to fish, running your fly through perfect looking pools and glides, wondering if trout or grayling had found their way back after years of neglect, so I duly obliged.

We met on a busy road near an office block converted from an old mill. Office workers and passing motorists were looking at us in waders and fishing waistcoats like we were from another planet. Regardless, we set up to fish and I pulled out my new tanago 2.7m rod, extended it and attached my leader to the lillian using an arbor knot, instead of the more usual loop method. Flex at the tip was amazing to say the least; I have never seen a rod flex so easily, but then it needs to when you consider its use and lack of loading weight. My leader was 7’ level Daiwa Fluorocarbon Tenkara line, which I’d purchased from Tungsten Beads Plus with the rod. It’s described as “supple, low memory, high casting density for diameter, UV pink tint for visibility”. It looks too thin to cast and fish effectively, but therein lies the reason – high density to cut through the air and load the rod. To this I attached a tippet ring (it’s not cheap so using a tippet ring allows it to be used time and again without losing length through repeated knotting), and then about 6’ of my favourite 2lb Fulling Mill Fluorocarbon with a dropper in the middle.

One of the most useful things you can buy to adorn your tenkara or tanago rod is a couple of Fuji EZ Keepers. They attach to the rod with rubber O rings (about a foot apart), so you can hook your fly to one end and wrap the leader around them until there is a bend in the rod (tensioned leader). You are then able to keep the rod extended as you move from pool to pool and simply unwind the leader and unhook the fly to start fishing again. So with rod extended, leader made, flies attached and the whole thing wrapped round the Fuji EZ Keepers we set off downstream to start the ‘experiment’.

First fish to tanago (image ©Joel Barrow 2012)

First fish to tanago (image ©Joel Barrow 2012)

The idea was to walk a few hundred yards downstream and fish back to the car, but as always happens, we came across a few pools that looked to good to pass without fishing. The first two pools produced nothing so the experiment wasn’t going well. But the river was up a bit with recent rain and coloured, though clearing quickly, this could’ve been affecting things. We persevered and in the third pool came the first trout. It was quite small, but on the tanago rod it felt quite sizeable and gave a good account of itself. I was fishing 2 small tungsten nymphs on what you might call miniature French nymphing, without an indicator. At such short range the pink Daiwa Fluorocarbon Tenkara line showed up enough to act as an indicator without the addition of anything more visible.

We fished back upstream and I had another similar sized trout to the same fly, but I decided things were a little slow and switched to a duo set-up, with a Pinkhamer on the dropper. I didn’t get instant success, but I still felt confident that I was fishing well so continued. Upstream of us was a long pool with slightly deeper water than the other areas we’d fished. Access was difficult and I made the decision I could only fish effectively from the bank above the pool. I searched the water with the duo, quite surprised not to hook anything in many likely looking places. Then I did hook into a fish. At first I thought it was another small fish as I played it on the tanago rod, but a sudden lunge into the deeper water made me realise that I was attached to something much bigger and I had to move quickly downstream with it to cushion the ever increasing power it was exerting. There was a fallen tree across the stream near the bottom of the pool and the trout made a powerful run to get under it. There were branches sticking out in all directions so I daren’t let it go under or I’d be sure to lose it. By now I’d seen the fish and put its weight between 1½lb and 1¾lb. A sizeable fish in any river, with any river trout rod, but on a tiny stream like this, on a tanago rod, it was quite a fight! All I could do was hold firm and try to turn the fish with side-strain, but disaster – the hook pulled out. At first I blamed my tanago rod, but reflecting later it was not the rod’s fault, or angler’s fault. That fish could not be allowed to go under the fallen tree so had to be held back. The tanago rod probably gave me an advantage by absorbing more of the fish’s energy without breakage. The hook didn’t straighten and knots held firm so it was just a case of big fish, hooked in a tight spot, with plenty of snags. Chances are that if I hooked it again I’d land it, but I’m still gutted!

What occurred to me first about the tanago rod and Daiwa Fluorocarbon Tenkara line was that I’d instantly took to casting it. From the very first cast of the day it cast beautifully without any thought. I

Tanago - perfect for small streams (image ©Joel Barrow 2012)

Tanago – perfect for small streams (image ©Joel Barrow 2012)

remember getting my first tenkara rod and struggling to cast it. The same was true when I first tried French nymphing on a purpose designed, conventional fly rod. Of course these experiences would have helped me casting with my tanago rod, but even so it was simplicity itself to cast with, duo or French type nymphing. Not only was it easy to cast with but it was very accurate also, with the flies going where you wanted most of the time. Yes there was the odd wayward cast, but you’ll always get that on small, overgrown streams – angler error rather than any fault of the rod/tackle. Without doubt, the tanago rod gave me the edge in this smallest of streams. There were areas I’d have loved to have run a fly through. Areas that ‘had’ to have a fish, but it was impossible to get a fly into. Had I have been fishing with my 6’ brook rod there would have been many more areas left un-fished. I made many casts that I though would result in loss of flies, only to see the flies drop in exactly where intended.


Fishing back to where our cars were parked I had a trout from most likely looking spots, sometimes more than just a single fish. There were many missed and pricked fish as well. It was one of the most enjoyable days fishing a small stream I’ve ever had and I put much of this down to the tanago rod. I know for a fact that if I’d used a short conventional fly rod I’d have been hooked up in trees constantly on the backcast, the opposite bank during the cast and by misplaced forward casts due to flycasting in such a confined space – it goes with the territory! Much as I love fishing small streams and becks I do find it very frustrating at times constantly snagging the fly and leader in the surrounding vegetation. I can honestly say I have never used a catapult cast so much in a single fishing session. The tanago rod is superb for catapult casts, not just catapulting the leader and flies easily, it does it extremely accurately. Roll casts and side roll casts are a delight also; the ultra flexible tip flicking the flies out with ease. From now on this will be my rod of choice for small streams with small fish.

Just what tanago was invented for ! (image ©Joel Barrow 2012)

Just what tanago was invented for ! (image ©Joel Barrow 2012)

Finally, I can’t sign off without a few words about using a tanago rod as a teaching aid for young anglers. Tanago rods are great for getting children to take their first steps in flyfishing. For all angler dads, uncles, granddads, etc, this is the perfect tool to introduce your kids’ to river flyfishing. Let’s face it, the hardest part about flyfishing is learning to cast. For a young child it takes quite a lot of strength, timing and coordination to cast with a fly rod and that’s before they even attempt to fish properly. Tanago rods are short enough and light enough for the smallest of children to hold and use without excessive strain on their developing muscles and joints. With a little help and instruction, children can cast a tanago rod with ease, getting the fly where intended. Having presented their fly, tanago rods are much easier to fish with than fly rods, keeping in touch with the flies by just lifting the rod. If ever there was a way for a child to catch their first river trout tanago is it. They will learn casting skills, rivercraft, entomology, an appreciation of nature and the environment, hooking, playing and landing fish…the list goes on, but hopefully you will have introduced them to something that will stay with them for life.


Published by permission of Stuart Minnikin, to read more articles by Stuart visit his blog here

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About the author

Stuart Minnikin

I'm a flyfishing and tenkara instructor and guide working in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, North Yorkshire, England. APGAI qualified, member of Hardy ProTeam, Tenkara Centre UK Endorsed Guide and former member of England International Rivers Team. I fish for trout and grayling in the Yorkshire Dales and throughout the UK, and I run escorted Flyfishing Holidays To Slovenia.

1 Comment

  • Does this style of fishing always involve getting into the water with waders on, or can you also do it from the bank of the body of water from where you are fishing? The reason why I ask is that I wonder if you could do this style of fishing on canals? Canals by their very nature are fairly narrow, I fish them for perch using ultralight lure tackle. I have often thought about having a go at catching perch on a fly rod using the tiny LRF style soft plastic worms I have such as the Nikko-Kasei Pin Worms rigged on unweighted hooks, however I have never gotten around to trying it. These Tanago poles remind me of a coarse fishing whip that many canal anglers use for float fishing, however I want to learn a bit more about them because I definitely think that they could be very effective on canals, not just for perch, but also for species such as roach and bream and even jack pike. What is the line set up on a Tanago pole, do they have a braided style main line which is attached to the lillian, and then a short fluorocarbon or mono leader? And is the overall length of the line equal to the length of the Tanago pole, or can it be slightly longer than this? What I like about these Tanago poles is that they can easily be cast with a roll cast, which is about the only cast that I was able to master when I had fly casting lessons a few years ago. I would be very interested to know if you think that Tanago poles could be used on a venue such as a canal.

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