I follow a thin stream as it threads through a mountain meadow in New Mexico’s Pecos Wilderness. The water is skinny enough to jump over in most places. But deep undercuts secret cutthroat trout, and larger pools open up with promise of schools.
These are small and smart fish, attuned to the slightest disturbance in their pristine environment. Catching one often comes down to a game of wits that I frequently lose.
This backpacking trip, I was carrying a Teton Zoom from Tenkara Rod Company, a kit that’s become my go-to for fishing in the mountains in the past year. It’s a Tenkara rod and doesn’t have a reel, just a line tied to its tip.
Spotting a sky-reflecting pool ahead, I pull out the Teton Zoom, set it up in seconds to its 10.5-foot length, and float a fly to its surface. A ferocious 5-inch cutthroat snaps and I lift the rod to set the barbless hook, quickly making it over to release the small fish that darts back beneath an undercut. Knowing this pool is spooked for a while, I collapse the rod and continue on.
In short: I tested the Tenkara Rod Company Teton Zoom Tenkara rod ($245 full kit; $225 rod only) this summer while backpacking and exploring different fishing areas. Unlike many other Tenkara rods, this one expands to two different lengths, offering versatility in different settings and environments. You can fish narrow mountain streams just as easily as you might fish bigger alpine lakes or rivers.
It’s simple and easy to set up, so you can move from one fishing spot to another quickly, and it easily fits inside of a backpacking pack. It won’t replace my regular fly-fishing setup. But it is the only one I bring backpacking anymore.
- Extended length 10.5'-12'
- Collapsed length 23"
- Weight 3.5 oz.
- Material Carbon fiber
- Segments 9 including handle
- Handle length 11.25"
- Price $245 for kit that includes cases, line, tippet, and flies
- Extremely lightweight and compact
- Simple and fast setup
- Adjustable length for a variety of conditions
- Ever-so-slightly less responsiveness compared to fixed-length rods
- Slightly longer stowed length than some corresponding fixed-length rods
- I’ll probably lose the wooden end plug
Tenkara Rod Co. Teton Zoom Review
What Is Tenkara?
Tenkara is basically fly fishing without a reel, and it was born in the high mountain streams of northern Japan. Its name is shortened from “tenkara-tsuri,” which roughly translates to “fishing from the heavens,” a reference to the dry fly landing on the water.
In the past several years, Tenkara fishing has increased in popularity in the U.S., with anglers appreciating its simplicity, aesthetic, and effectiveness on skinny water. Tenkara USA is credited with introducing Tenkara to the U.S. in 2009. Tenkara Rod Company, maker of the Teton Zoom that I’ve been using, opened in 2013.
With a “standard” fly rod, the line and backing can be stripped from the reel to extend the length of casts and drifts to many times the length of the rod. With Tenkara, the line length is typically about the same as the rod’s.
The adjustable Teton Zoom from Tenkara Rod Company brings some flexibility to this set system by being able to extend from 10.5 feet to 12 feet. A foot and a half may not sound like much. But this extra length can make a difference in casting, drifting, longer tippets, and leverage when landing fish.
Smaller fish are usually the goal with Tenkara rods, but the Teton Zoom can land 20-inchers, the company says. It’s not a rod I would take to Alaska, but for the mountain streams of the Southwest, it’s been spot on.
What’s in the Box?
The carbon fiber, nine-section Teton Zoom comes in a carbon fiber tube and a black velvet sock. There is a 10.5-foot furled Tenkara line, 5x tippet spool, and three barbless dry flies in a tin included. There’s also a wooden line holder in the kit. That slides onto the rod handle and makes it look a bit like a katana.
The sections telescope into one another, so there’s no aligning individual pieces. The rod can be collapsed and the line wrapped around the spool. That makes it easy to travel and quickly pack up or deploy at the next opportunistic spot.
Assembly out of the box is fast. Just tie an overhand knot in the red 2-inch cord called a lillian at the tip of the rod. Then secure the line with a slip knot behind the overhand knot. Tie on your tippet length of choice and a fly, and you’re ready to go.
By using the slip knot, the line easily comes off of the lillian. It can then be quickly wrapped around the wooden line holder for transport or storage. It takes me about 30 seconds to set up the rod as opposed to minutes with my seven-piece fly rod.
A Tenkara Standout: Tenkara Rod Company Teton Zoom
The Teton Zoom’s adjustable length is what sets it apart from other excellent Tenkara rods on the market. It expands from 10.5 feet to 12 feet, making it flexible for different environments. It fishes wonderfully on small streams with restricted casting range. But it can also be used on larger bodies where the extension allows longer casts, drifts, and leverage for bigger fish.
This rod is great for slingshot and side casting and for dipping flies into pools from behind boulder jumbles. Eight segments nest into one another and into the cork-handle section, and friction lock into one another. A wooden end-plug keeps the segments from spilling out when stored. I’m expecting to lose that plug at some point, and it’s probably this rod’s biggest weakness.
At an inch shy of 2 feet when collapsed, the Teton Peak slides easily into packs or pockets. And at 3.5 ounces, there’s no weight or space penalty. If segments need to be cleaned of grit, a butt cap in the handle can be unscrewed, and the segments can be removed individually to clean or replace.
The 10.5- and 12-foot lengths hit the sweet spot for many anglers. But if you need a shorter rod, Tenkara Rod Company’s 10-foot Beartooth rod ($225 full kit; $205 rod only) collapses to 14 inches. And rival company Tenkara USA makes the Rhodo ($250) that has three settings at 8’10”, 9’9”, and 10’6” lengths. The Rhodo collapses to 21 inches.
Teton Zoom Advantages
Tenkara in general strips down my fishing kit to just what I need when fishing mountain streams: a rod, line, and fly. I don’t need to make long casts, and I like the speed of the setup and breakdown so I can move faster.
I’m able to stay focused on the section I’m getting ready to fish as I assemble the Teton Zoom, as opposed to my fly rod that requires me to squint as I align the sections and thread the line through the guides — usually with some muttered choice words as I drop something.
When backpacking through forests or brush where an assembled fly rod can easily get snagged or snapped, being able to quickly retract the Teton Zoom and slip it into my water bottle pocket is a huge plus.
So, has the Teton Zoom completely replaced my fly rod? No. I’m leaving the Teton Zoom at home when I’m hitting the San Juan or Animas rivers. But it is the rod I use most often, and the only one I take backpacking now.
Fly rods and Tenkara rods are apples and oranges. But the Teton Zoom brings some of the flexibility of a fly rod to Tenkara fishing with its extendability. The Teton Zoom is perfect for backpackers who want a featherweight, compact fishing system for small creeks and streams that can quickly be set up.
Beyond backpacking, Tenkara is a centuries-old discipline that adds a new dimension to the sport and art of fly fishing, even in bigger water.
So, with something so simple and effective as the Teton Zoom, is there anything not to like? If you’re fishing larger rivers or large lakes, you’re probably going to want to stick with a reeled fly rod for long drifts, long casts and multiple presentations in water that isn’t as easily spooked as quiet mountain streams.
Because of the adjustable segment of the Teton Zoom that sits in the handle when not extended, some users feel that the rod is somewhat damped or muted to the sensitive strikes of small fish. But I haven’t noticed an issue.
If you enjoy fishing narrow streams and quiet pools, but still may want a little extra reach at times, the Teton Zoom is a great tool to add to your kit. It gives you everything you need, and nothing more.