Winter Fishing with Tenkara

Tenkara is perfect for winter fishing.  No line guides to freeze up, no line to manage with your second hand, and best of all – warm gloves!

Winter fishing can be daunting, so here are a few tips to help you on your way to a successful trip to the water with old man winter.


ERiK :

Winter fishing is about two things : staying warm and catching fish.  Equipped properly, both can be easy.

Staying warm is centered on keeping your legs well insulated.  When you’re standing in a cold river you lose tons of heat through contact with the water – much more than you lose through the rest of your body.  Make sure you have a good base layer on your legs.  If you think you have enough long underwear on, then double it.  On warm winter days, around freezing to 40°F-ish (0° C to 5°C, I wear a pair of Patagonia Capilene 3 Midweight Bottoms with Patagonia’s R1 Pant.  If it gets any colder I add expedition weight fleece bottoms.  These three items of lower body insulation can be combined to keep you warm in almost any temperature mother nature can torture you with and still have the river have moving water.  The beauty of keeping your legs well insulated is that you can regulate your temperature very well.  If you’re cold, then go on a quick jog, run in place, etc.  If your hot, then take a seat in the cold river.  With a focus on keeping your legs well insulated winter fishing can be a toasty warm expenience.

Catching fish is all about getting your fly into the fish’s kitchen.  In winter the fish move the kitchen to the bottom of the deepest pools.  You’ve got to fish with flies heavy enough to get down there.  Try Utah Killer Bugs or any of our ER Wool Body Kebari tied on size 10 jig hooks with tungsten beads.  One winter favorite is a Killer or a Wool Body tied on a red bait hook.  The red seems to get the fish willing to move a couple of feet to investigate.  On the other hand, sometimes the fish want to take smaller bites, so offer up a small midge larvae/pupae pattern in size 20 or so.  Small kebari in 22 to 18 work well in darker colors.  The combo of huge and tiny is a killer way to introduce yourself to a whole lot of trout.


John :

EriK and Rob covered all the clothing really well.  I would add some basic survival gear.  It is  easy to slip and crank an ankle on icy rocks or get stuck in your car on bad roads.  Having some basic survival gear is the difference between hypothermia and rescue.

1.  Let someone know where you are going and what time you will return.

2.  Fire starting capability.  Carry at least 2 methods for starting a fire. I like a swedish firesteel and a basic Bic lighter.

3.  Signal capability, visual and audio.  I carry a Fox whistle with 120db rating and a USAF Pilot Survival Mirror.

4.  Water container.  Winter environments are just as dehydrating as the hottest deserts.  eating snow encourages hypothermia.  You need some kind of water container so you can at least melt snow for drinking water.

5.  Basic first aid kit.

6.  Emergency satellite personal locating beacon, PLB

.Don't get lost in the winter

I don’t know about you but a lot of places I go fishing have no cell phone coverage.  If you are really hurt, lost, or just plain screwed, remember when seconds count, help in the backcountry help is just hours or days away.

7.  A good knife.  I like a good 4 inch blade mora style knife.  They are light weight, razor sharp, and compact.  It doesn’t take up any room in my pack. 

8.  Head lamp with strobe mode.  It gets dark early here in Utah in the winter.  A lot of fishing days end in a twilight hike back to the car.  If you get lost, the strobe is visible for over 1 mile


9.  Space Blanket.  This is a good multi-use item.  It can provide warmth, signal device, shelter, just use a little imagination.

10.  Good quality multi-tool, Leatherman/Gerber Tool.  Don’t by a crappy Chinese knockoff.  Spend a little cash and get a good one.  Remember, someday this may be the thing that saves your life.

Almost all of these items are readily available at good outdoor specialty retailers such as REI etc.



Rob :

You can’t learn how to catch fish in the winter unless you learn how to stay warm in winter. I mean REALLY learn how to stay warm. Outdoors. Standing in water. For hours. So that’s what I’m gonna concentrate on.

Staying warm in winter means layering. Everyone has their own way of doing it, but in general, we all need at least 3 interlocking layers:

  1. a base layer to wick moisture and help keep your skin dry.
  2. a middle insulating layer that creates static air space.
  3. an outer layer that buffers the wind and precip.

From head to toe, my favorite layers are wool. Maybe it’s my New England whaler heritage talking, but there’s a reason why those old salts wore so much wool. It wears hard, wicks well, stays warm even when wet, and resists odors. Today was a snowy but dry 24 degree day on Utah’s famous Middle Provo River. From inside to outside, here is how I layered:

  1. Base Layers:
    1. Ibex Merino Wool Crew Sock
    2. Smartwool NTS MID 250 Bottom
    3. Ibex Woolies 220 Zip-T
  2. Mid Layers:
    1. Smartwool Extra Heavy Mountaineering Crew Socks
    2. Patagonia R1 Pants
    3. Patagonia Nano Puff Vest
  3. Outer Layers:
    1. Seal Skins Trekking Sock (with Merino wool pile lining)
    2. Ibex Tuck Pant (a wool blend soft shell)
    3. Patagonia R4 Jacket (outer layer; toasty warm, windproof, quick drying, and one of my favorite pieces of gear).
    4. Patagonia Rio Gallegos Wader (with wool lined booties)
Winter fishing fleece

Patagonia’s R4 – the warmest jacket you’ll ever sell a kidney to afford.


On the head goes:

  1. Wool Buff (head and neck, that is)
  2. Ibex Meru Hat

And, most importantly, the hands. We’ve tried (and continue to try) dozens of gloves and glove combos. Some aren’t durable enough. Some don’t allow the dexterity to tie. Many soak up a ton of water and turn into ice bricks. No matter what we try, we always seem to come back to the (suprisingly cheap and warm) WindShear Glomitt.

Winter tenkara fishing glove


Plenty of calories and a warm beverage half way through the day doesn’t hurt.

Unfortunately, what does hurt is tobacco and alcohol. I know, I know. I wish that shot of schnapps in hot chocolate actually warmed you up, too. But it doesn’t. And the surest way to slice off the blood supply to your precious fingertips is a good old dose of capillary clamping nicotine.

Oh, and ALWAYS PACK A SECOND SET OF WARM DRY CLOTHES!  Even if you’re not as prone to unintentional bathing as I am, you might as well play it safe.


Christmas lists for the Tenkara Enthusiast

What do you put on the Christmas list for the tenkara enthusiast in your life?  From just a few dollars to a few hundred, from accessory to mainstay, we’ve got your tenkara Christmas list right here – divided into sub $10, between $10 and $100, and over $100.

ERiK :

Umpqua Competition Jig Hooks, $9.25 – the C400BL jig hook is my favorite hook for tenkara by far.  It’s easy to get that traditional kebari shape, but you get the added benefits of extra holding power and a smaller chance of loosing your fly to subsurface snags.

An under $10 item for your tenkara Christmas list


Dr. Slick Mitten Scissor clamps, $20 – These are useful year round.  They are easy to use and easy to close.  Just one squeeze and they go from safely put away to pulling the hook out of your favorite fish.


Patagonia R1 Hoody, $149 – This is the most used garment in my wardrobe.  If it’s 45° F (7° C) or colder, then it’s on my body.  The fit is snug, which allows me to layer as I need to, and it regulates my temperature like a champ.  Perfect for your tenkara Christmas list.


John :

Simms Retractor

This simple retractor is lightweight, noiseless, low reflectivity for stealthy approaches, and just plain works.  For $9.99 you just can’t beat it.

Casio G-Shock GA100-1A1 watch.  $99.99

Want to avoid arguments with your better half over why you are 4 hours late getting home from your last fishing trip?  Get a good solid watch built to take a beating that also is low reflective for stealth with spooky fish.

  • Shock Resistant
  • Magnetic Resistant
  • 200 Meter Water Resistant
  • Auto LED Light with Afterglow
  • World Time
    29 times zones (48 cities + UTC), daylight saving on/off, home city/world time swapping
  • 4 Daily Alarms and 1 Snooze Alarm
  • Hourly Time Signal
  • 1/1000 Second Stopwatch
    Measuring capacity: 99:59’59.999″
    Measuring modes: Elapsed time, lap time, split time
    Others: Speed (0-1998 units/hour), Selection distance input (0.0-99.9)
  • Countdown Timer
    Measuring unit: 1 second
    Countdown range: 24 hours
    Countdown start time setting range: 1 minute to 24 hours (1-minute increments and 1-hour increments)
    Other: Auto-repeat
  • Full Auto-Calendar (pre-programmed until the year 2099)
  • 12/24 Hour Formats
  • Accuracy: +/- 15 seconds per month
  • Battery: CR1220
  • Approx. battery life: 2 years
Why not get a pack designed by professional tenkara guides?  All I can say is, “It is freaking awesome!”




Rob :

Fishpond PioPod Micro Trash Container, $12.50. Okay, so it’s not quite sub-10 bucks. But what is nowadays? Besides, this thing is indispensible on the water. We never leave anything behind on the river. Whether it’s a knotted line or a candy bar wrapper, a PioPod lets you carry it all out with ease.


Sunline Fluorocarbon Level Line #3.5, $25. Just about the only line I use. It’s high visibility is crucial to perfecting your casting and presentation. It improves strike detection, too. Size #3.5 is light enough to hold off the water, yet just heavy enough to cast like a dream. This line will work well with just about any tenkara rod.


Patagonia Guidewater Duffel, $189 – This bag has two faces. One face is mesh for carrying wet waders and boots. The other face is waterproof to keep guidebook, wallet, and a change of clothes dry. Not only can I carry everything I need to and from the water in one clean and neat package, but after one year of abuse, I can safely say it’s bombproof.

Tenkara Packs by ZimmerBuilt

We love the simplicity of traditional Tenkara. All that’s required is one rod, line, a box of kebari and maybe a drink of water. It’s difficult to beat the unencumbered freedom that Tenkara brings.

Other days, you just gotta carry more. Other days, being prepared means carrying a jacket, first aid kit, and a bit of food. Other days, you want to try a few different techniques, just for a change of pace. And some other days, you need to carry a few rods, a dozen spools of line, a few fly boxes, snacks, drinks, camera, etc. to give your client a quality, professional guide experience.

At Tenkara Guides, we needed a pack for those other days. We needed a pack that was:

  1. lightweight
  2. water resistant
  3. built tough
  4. easily, immediately accessible
  5. big enough to carry everything for a long day in the wild . . .
  6. but not bulky or complicated
  7. able to carry multiple rods safely and securely
  8. comfortable all day long

We asked for a lot, and Chris Zimmer at ZimmerBuilt delivered. He calls it the Tenkara Guide Sling.

[flagallery gid=11 name=Gallery]

We were pretty happy with the Guide Sling. But Chris wasn’t done. ZimmerBuilt designed an entire integrated system of packs and pouches around the Guide Sling. Chest packs, waist packs, strap packs and more. Spend a few hours on the water with a box of kebari and a line or two in the Tenkara Micro Pack. Next day, stuff a jacket, lunch, camera, a couple rods and more in the Guide Sling. Strap the Micro Pack onto the Guide Sling, and you’ve got everything you need for a full day. Seamless transition.

John likes the Guide Sling so much, he sullied himself.

We don’t see one red cent when Chris Zimmer sells a pack. This is an honest recommendation. We’ve spent months putting the Tenkara Guide Sling and the entire ZimmerBuilt Tenkara lineup through the ringer. The stuff works.

Check out the Guide Sling, Micro Pack, and the rest of the Tenkara lineup at Find the perfect combo to fit your needs, get outside, and go fishing.




How much stuff can you put in the pack?  Enough for a full day on the water in wintry conditions:


Here are a couple more on river pictures to wet your appetite:

Here’s a quick video of Rob with a Provo River Brown while putting the Guide Sling through it’s paces:

The Ultimate Tenkara Starter Kit

Do you hate making decisions? I know I do. I’ve been dating the same girl for 7 years and I still haven’t popped the question. No kidding. 7 years.

For someone new to the Tenkara game, the ever-expanding selection of things like rods and lines can get a bit overwhelming. Some of the most frequent questions we come across in email, on forums, and on the phone are “Which rod is right for me? What line should I get? 6:4 action or 5:5? Furled or Level?”

Such questions are usually followed more questions. Questions about what type of water, wind speed, or fish size you expect. But that just complicates the picture. Before you know it, you’re spending hours on the internet searching for answers and explanations when you could have been fishing and having fun. That is the point, right? Go outside, catch fish, and have fun?

So in the interest of getting people out there, fishing and having fun, we wanted to provide a “no decisions needed” list of basic gear, including a brief explanation of why each item was chosen, and a URL where you can make your purchase where applicable.

Here’s the Tenkara Guides answer to The Ultimate Tenkara Starter Kit:

1)The Rod.
Tenkara USA 12ft Iwana. The best all-around rod on the market. Covers a wide range of conditions, types of water, and fish sizes. Great quality at a great price. And wonderful customer service.

2)The Line.
Tenkara Bum Hi-Vis Fluorescent Orange Level Line, size 3.5.
Hi-Vis means you can see your line, which makes learning to cast and detect strikes easier. 3.5 means your line is light enough to easily keep it tight and off the water, key skills when fishing Tenkara. It balances well with the Iwana rod. Cut it into 10-12 foot sections, and you’ll get 4-5 lines out of one 20 yard spool.

3)The Tippet.
Size 5X monofilament, any brand.
You can find this stuff at any fishing shop. Or pick some up at Tenkara USA when you buy your rod. 5X is the best all around size. We rarely use anything else. We use fluorocarbon most often, but monofilament is cheaper. Either way, we NEVER LEAVE ANY tippet or line on the river.

4)The Fly.
The Fly Stop Kebari, Black, size 14.
Fish eat flies. So do trees, bushes, submerged logs and rocks, etc. You’re gonna loose flies. At 55 cents per fly, it’s hard to argue with the Fly Stop. Get a dozen or two. Black size 14 is a great all-around style. Mix in size 12 too. When you’re ready to start tying your own, try Tenkara Bum Utah Killer Bug Kit (the one fly we use most often).

Total price for a quality kit with everything you need to get started? About $183.55.

Beat that, Western fly anglers.

We’ve got a few posts in the works reviewing all sorts of other rods, lines, and accessories. Worry about all that other stuff later. Right now . . .