Hi. This will be my first post on here, and I imagine it might ruffle a few feathers, but I like to do that from time to time(gives me a feeling of accomplishment). I have been tenkara fishing for about a year and a half now, and love the style for it's simplicity. However, I do not use a $120+ TenkaraUSA rod. I do not use a $60 rod from Allfishingbuy.com. I do not use a $40 Fountainhead rod. My tenkara rod a $6 10' Shakespeare Durango 3 piece telescoping panfish pole from Wal-Mart(which I also use as a walking stick). I fish it with a 10' furled mono line(3 strands of 6# mono, no taper) that I made myself, and about 5-6' of 4# floro as tippet. And contrary to most of the claims you will find online, it works beautifully. I was recenly quite pleased to see an article in the latest issue of the Backwoodsman Magazine, entitled " Redneck Tenkara" , outlining an approach to the sport very similar to my own. I figured I would throw a post out there, explaining my take on it, for any of those who are wanting to get into tenkara, but either can not afford to spend an exuberent amount on gear, or are, like myself, simply too cheap to want to spend that much.
Most tenkara snobs will gladly tell you that you can't use a panfish pole for tenkara, and usually add that "if you want to take it seriously", you should spend the money on the high end TenkaraUSA rods, or other brand of their preference. This is partly because this sort of elitist BS is bound to pop up in any kind of activity that gains a certain level of popularity, partly because the founder of TenkaraUSA has esentialy said the same thing on his site and a couple of forums I have been lurking around lately (goes so far as to refer to his products as "true" tenkara rods, which comes across a tad arrogent to me, but at least he is honest enough admit that he discourages people from considering alternatives to his rods because he wants your money), partly because I imagine there is actually a difference between the performance of a TenkaraUSA rod and a panfish pole(I just can't believe that the difference could possibly be worth that much money) and partly because some telescoping panfish rods are not well suited as tenkara rods for a beginner. Pick the wrong one, and I can understand how someone could say it could turn you off of tenkara fishing. However, tenkara is the style, not the stick. You could go cut a 10' sapling or cane, rig it with a light line about the same length as the pole and a fly, and legitimatly call it tenkara. And probably have a blast doing it, too, so long as you approach the task with the proper mindset.
I think the trick to using panfish poles sucsessfully for tenkara is two fold.
A) Picking the right rod. There is quite a bit of variation in performance of diferent brands(or even different models of the same brand) of telescoping panfish poles. While I imagine that any of them will work for tenkara if you know what your doing, certain ones are easier than others to start learning with, particularly for those who tend to give up quickly if they don't succeed right away. My suggestion, watch the videos on TenkaraUSA's website, and study how the rods flex when he casts. Then, look for a panfish pole that acts close to that when you try a few "test casts" in the store. Yeah, you might have to try out 5-6 different types of pole before finding the right one, and you might get some funny looks, but it is an essential step in setting up a decent "redneck" tenkara set. It also helps to find the one that "feels" right to you. I think that Shakespeare's Durango line's, and particularly the 10' model's, actions are closer(not quite the same, but closer) to a tenkara rod than most of the other telescoping panfish poles I have seen,and I believe they are graphite, rather than fiberglass, so they are lighter weight than most of the other options, too.
B) You need to adapt the technique to the tool, rather than the other way around. Remember, a panfish pole isn't a TenkaraUSA rod. While the priciples of tenkara are the same no matter what rod you choose, the weights, action, balance, and other aspects do require some subtle differences in technique to acheve the same results. When I first tried using my 10' Shakespeare, I watched the casting videos on TenkaraUSA's website site and attempted to cast the way he showed. I was somewhat "less" than successful(OK, I sucked at it). But, when I stopped focusing on the rod and arm movements in the videos, and started focusing on how the line moved, and where I wanted the fly to go, I was able to adjust the way I was casting towards that goal. Sort of like in instinctive archery, you learn to focus on the target, not the bow. Now, I don't have any trouble casting, and can put the fly where I want it.
There you have it. I have now joined the ranks of the few on the web who openly encourage using an inexpensive and widely available alternative to "real" tenkara rods to get into the sport. Despite a majority of claims out there, I believe that the inexpensive panfish poles are a extremely viable option for those who wish to get into tenkara without spending as much money.