My Tenkara Swab

By: Andy Marks

Disassembled 3.3 m Tenkara USA Hane rod w line keeper, line, and my tenkara swab and case.

Imagine the Hane fell in the river, soaking it. Or, imagine the rod was used to fish Bacon Rind Creek from its bank on a recent 27℉ morning with an ice fog mist flowing down the surrounding hills and down the creek to the Gallatin below. The rod wasn’t dunked, but when its segments were wiped off they left frost on my hoodie. Tenkara USA recommends that its rod segments be dried before storing. The segments outsides were wiped off.

When I take the rod apart after days like that the wet segments stick together. Wiping off the outside gets half the water. The rod segments need to be dry inside too. I thought about using a rifle barrel cleaning rod, but it was thick and I wasn’t sure what it would do to the segments. Instead, I tried a segment of 17 lb mono with a perfection loop on one end. I fed the other end down the tube, then put a ‘V” shaped paper towel bit in the loop, and pulled it through. That failed because the 17 lb mono had a mind of its own: It wasn’t straight and wouldn’t always feed down the tube. It also doesn’t occupy a small storage space willingly. 

I switched to a 24” segment of 20 lb backing braid, with a perfection loop at one end, and a ⅛” tungsten bead between two stop knots at the other. Starr with the smallest tube it will fit in, and work up to the larger tubes, finishing with the handle section. Lower the bead in the finished, narrow end of a tube and meet it at the other. The bead easily overcomes the line’s attempts to stick to the wet sides. Load the perfection loop with a ‘V’ shaped paper wad, and gently pull it through the tube. Increase the paper wad size as you move to larger diameter segments so that it offers some resistance as you pull it through. Inspect each tube by holding it up to a light. They will be shiny and clean. This will swab off water, sand grains, pine needle bits, dust, and whatever else may have accumulated. Slide the unfinished end of the clean tube over the finished end of the cleaned stack and repeat. If a clean tube won’t slide over the stack one of them is upside down..  

The top segment is usually solid: No insides to clean. The next segment probably won’t slip over the lilian’s stop knot. You may need to use the top segment as the next tube’s swab. Collapse segment 1 into segment 2, withdraw it, wipe it off, and repeat a few times. The 3rd segment may be large enough for a ⅛” diameter tungsten bead. If not, you need two swab tools, one with a large bead, and another with a 1/16” bead. My Hane and Amago rods clean with a ⅛” bead.

When the rods you’ve used are dry and clean, tuck them away. Note how the segments slide easier than when wet. That’s a good thing. 

Braid has no memory and it’s supple. To stow the swab, hold the braid at its midpoint with one hand and the two ends with the other. Bring those extremes together, and repeat until you have a series of folded segments maybe 1” in length. Lower that into a tiny, write-me-a-ticket-red pill tube like mine and cap it. Stow that. If the braid is wet, give it a chance to dry first. Thanks for reading.

Andy Marks: “I’m 65, I live in UT, fish in UT, in WY, Yellowstone, and ID. I’ve been fly fishing for 2 ½ years, I have 15 fly rods and 4 tenkara rods and since I’ve used the latter I haven’t touched the former.”

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