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by Morgan Lyle Oct 21,2010
A second company has been launched selling tenkara tackle — those long, telescoping, fixed-line fly rods that some people, myself included, have really taken a liking to.
The brand is called Fountainhead, based in Michigan, and it represents an opportunity to try the game for a low price. Fountainhead rods are even less expensive than the tenkara tackle that was previously available, and compared to conventional rod-and-reel setups from Sage or Orvis, they’re dirt cheap.
A quick review: Tenkara is a Japanese style of fly rod that first appeared in the U.S. a year and a half ago. Made of feather-light black carbon fiber, they telescope out to anywhere from 11 to nearly 14 feet in length. No reel is used, and there are no guides — just a light line attached at the rod tip, about as long as the rod itself plus a couple feet of tippet.
Casting distance is obviously limited, but if you can sneak up on a good lie, a tenkara rod is a great tool for fishing dry flies, wet flies or nymphs. You can hold your whole line off the water, which permits perfectly natural drifts, and the rod casts tight loops just like a regular fly rod.
Tenkara USA of San Francisco introduced tenkara to the American market in April 2009. Fountainhead is its first real competitor, although at least one specialty rod seller has offered tenkara rods as part of its business.
Paul Szymusiak, founder of Fountainhead, is a lifelong fly-fisher who started out by selling furled leaders and got into the tenkara rod business within the past year.
Fountainhead rods retail for $70 to $80. Eleven-, 12- and 13-foot models are available, with actions ranging from 5:5 (slow) to 7:3 (fast). Add another $14 for a furled line (or just use a length of 15-pound fluorocarbon). Another line of rods, to be a composite of carbon fiber and fiberglass, is in the works.
Tenkara rods are inexpensive to buy because they’re inexpensive to make: no guides to wrap on, no reel seat, etc. But simple doesn’t equal primitive. Tenkara rods are exquisite fishing tools, and have made good impressions on fly-fishing gurus, including John Gierach and Ed Engle.
“Many ardent fixed-length-line fly anglers, like myself, are very experienced fly-fishermen,” Szymusiak said. “Tenkara presents seasoned fly-fishers a simple but engaging new way to enjoy their sport.”
I use my tenkara rod (a Tenkara USA 12-foot Ebisu with 5:5 action) more than my Thomas & Thomas conventional rod these days. I’ll bring the five-weight to large rivers like the Delaware, but it’s almost always the tenkara rod on the small streams I fish most. On Sunday, I used it to catch five trout, including a few small ones, a fat 14-incher and a good one that broke me off, plus a small, yellow perch with bright orange fins.
The website for Fountainhead rods is www.tenkaraflyfish.webs.com.