9 foot Wakata
by Randy Knapp
(Warm Springs, VA)
I first put this review on another site but it seems appropriate here with Tim Nitz's review along with Chris Stewart's. I will review the 13 foot Wakata later.
My new Wakata came in a reinforced plastic case with sock (tucked in on the side and not readily noticeable) but no rod tube. With a price of $75.50 shipped this is reasonable. Custom socks and tubes are easy to make or can be ordered from several sources at reasonable prices.
When I first took out my Wakata tenkara rod from the case, I was immediately struck by its lightness in my hand. This rod can easily be cast all day without fatigue. I have been recently casting other tenkara rods and telescoping poles of various weights and all of them feel heavy in the hand when compared to my new Wakata.
The second thing I noticed is the long cork grip. It was covered with shrink wrap plastic which I quickly removed to examine the actual cork. I was surprised and delighted to find the grip with 14 variously sized cork rings finely sanded with only a modest amount of fill. I have only seen better cork on the most expensive available traditional fly rods and with a 12" grip, Flor grade cork would add significantly to the cost of the rod. While a 12" grip length seemed excessive at first, upon fishing my Wakata, my reservations were soon dispelled. I found myself unconsciously holding it in different places from the top at the winding check to the bottom throughout the day depending upon the casting situation or how I landed or played a fish. The grip is perfect for my fishing style.
The last thing I noticed were the rod details as I examined it more closely. The finish is glossy black but not gaudy. The 98% graphite blank is in six telescoping sections and all are straight and evenly finished. The butt cap is black plastic and screws into a metal receiver. The plastic cap has a small hole drilled in it for drainage which is a nice feature I have not seen on other telescoping rods/poles. As in other tenkara rods, each section can be removed for cleaning and drying after a day on the water. The top three sections need to stay together once a knot is tied in the lillian attached to the tip. The knot will not easily pass through these sections and should be untied (possible but not easy) if these sections are to be separated. This is why the top three sections are sold as a unit when replacing a broken tip. The closed rod measures 25" from top to bottom. For me this is a good length for convenience and travel but some backpackers may find it a little long as will those airline travelers who may want to place the rod into a carry-on bag.
I lawn cast my Wakata with a number of different line configurations. I found it to be the most versatile of all my telescoping rods/poles for ease of line selection. I cast level 10lb fluorocarbon, 15lb fluorocarbon, 15lb and 17lb mono, custom tied graduated mono, artificial horsehair, poly leaders, light fly lines, etc. The rod cast them all. Even conventional tapered leaders work well. Because of the crisp action of the 6:4 taper, I found the heavier lines to be a bit more effortless and versatile except in the most delicate dry fly applications. I was pleasantly surprised that the rod also handled the longest of tenkara lines usually used with rods up to 5' longer than my Wakata. With its casting versatility and lightness I found myself aching to get this little gem on the water.
When I got to the stream, I found two immediate advantages to the nine foot length of my Wakata. It was much easier to fish brushy, overgrown streams. I was also able to walk from spot to spot without having to collapse the rod except for long treks through the woods. Longer tenkara rods almost have to be collapsed when moving out of the stream because the line seems to catch on everything it touches. It is the easiest tenkara rod to cast and play fish on tree lined streams. It is normally very difficult to fish a tenkara rod when there are overhanging branches. Not only is it necessary to be extremely careful on such streams when casting but also when playing fish. With a two to four foot shorter rod this becomes significantly less of a problem. Fewer bow and arrow casts are necessary and it is much safer to lift the rod when setting the hook and playing a fish. Also, with the much shorter rod length it is much easier to grab the line without the risk of high sticking the rod when landing a bigger fish or when retrieving the line when snagged either underwater or on an overhanging branch. Most of us cannot reach out past the extended tip of an eleven to thirteen foot rod to grab the line. We are forced to point the rod directly at the line and pull hoping the snagged tippet and/or line gives way before the rod.
I also found that when fished with a heavier line roll casts were easier with this rod and that the loops were tighter. There are pluses and minuses to everything and on open streams and lakes the longer length of my other tenkara rods is often a valued asset. However, on smaller streams I think the 9 foot rod has several distinct advantages. By holding the rod at the top of the cork grip, the rod becomes 8 feet and by collapsing one section the rod becomes as useful as any of the shorter, popular small stream fly rod and reel combos.
Since most traditional fly rod and reel combos are 9 feet, one might wonder why not just use one of them. Make no mistake in thinking that a tradional 9 foot fly rod and reel combo is anything like a 9 foot tenkara rod. On tenkara rods there are no guides, ferrules, or reel seats to add weight. In comparison, this little Wakata feels almost weightless. There is also no reel or excess fly line stretching down the rod length and wrapped on the spool. The Wakata feels light and delicate in comparison yet it still has the strength and versatility of the traditional fly rod and reel combo with one exception: tenkara rods cannot make really long casts. Most tenkara rods are designed to make casts of 30 feet or less including outstretched rod and arm. Longer casts can certainly be made with ease. It is in the landing of fish that difficulties arise because if the tenkara line is too long then the fish must be pulled in by backing up a long ways or by pulling in the line hand over hand rather than by just moving the rod or reeling in the line.
Another thing I noticed while fishing my Wakata was the ease in making near pinpoint casts with the right marriage of line, tippet, and fly. The crisp light action combined with the perfectly balanced butt strength made it possible for me to drop the fly right on target. The longer and softer the tenkara rod, the more difficult this is even for an experienced caster, especially in a stiff breeze.
The most significant limitation of using a shorter tenkara rod is in line handling. One of the advantages of fishing a longer tenkara rod is the ability to reach out over faster currents to fish the softer flows and back eddies on the far side of a stream without actually having to cross to the other side. This usually isn't a factor on the smaller brushy streams for which this rod excels, but it is a valid reason to purchase one or more longer tenkara rods for more open areas.
Before I received this rod I always thought that if I had only one tenkara rod it would be about a 12 foot rod with a 6:4 action. I'm not so sure anymore. This rod is so light and versatile that I think I will reach for it first and find excuses to justify its use even in open areas and larger waters. The actual weight of the rod as shipped including the top plug is 2.1 ounces (59.53g), weighed twice on two different US Postal scales. Manufacturers often state the weight of their rods differently, often stating the weight of just the blank alone without add ons such as guides, cork grips, and reel seats. Actual in hand casting weight must be measured, but even this doesn't tell the whole story. The weight distribution in my Wakata is greater in the butt section than my other tenkara rods (none from Allfishingbuy) so that the Wakata seems much lighter than just the actual scale weight. Rods with more weight distributed away from the grip feel heavier. An object held close to the body feels much lighter than when the same object is held at arm's length. The difference in rod weight distribution greatly effects casting fatigue over the course of many hours.
I feel quite confident that at $75.50 delivered, the 9 foot 6:4 Wakata is the best tenkara rod per dollar of the four I have fished. I feel confident that the other tenkara rods offered by Allfishingbuy from the same manufacturer are probably equally excellent rods for the money and are of the equal of most other tenkara rods at any cost. I assume that in Japan and soon perhaps here there will be tenkara rods of higher quality components and maybe better action in the 9 foot 6:4 configuration, but at import prices of $300 to $1000 there is probably not enough difference to justify the additional expense unless a person completely disregards cost as a consideration when choosing a rod.