AllFishingBuy Universal Tenkara Unagi 4505
by Tim Nitz
Grip Comparison - (from top) Ayu, Iwana II, Unagi, Iwana I, Wakata
Readers should read Randy Knapp's "Top 10 Ways to Break a Tenkara Rod or Telescoping Fishing Pole." These rods demand that kind of care - if your fishing conditions won't allow it, this rod may not be for you. The Unagi 4505 represents an extreme for me. At 14'8" long when extended, 7:3 flex profile, 4.2oz advertised weight, and collapsed length of 3.6’, it is the longest, heaviest, stiffest fixed length line rod I own.
APPEARANCE AND CONSTRUCTION:
The packaging and rod appearance are very nice. The rod is painted. Only one gold ring currently shows abrasion wear. Rod segments get progressively shorter toward the tip so, when collapsed, the segments move quite a bit inside the grip section. The rod tip plug is dark wood and fits well. The butt cap is a blackened metal ring with a rubbery butt disc depicting a 6-petalled flower with drainage hole. The grip is made of cork rings and the overall shape is consistent with other Allfishingbuy tenkara rods. The cork is sound, with little filler and no large voids. The rod has a charcoal colored lillian, affixed with a brass metal clip. I don't really like metal on the tip of my rod, but it did look nice. The lillian is on the short side. The area (about ½") where the lillian extends onto the rod tip is very stiff, I assume this is the epoxy holding the lillian on. Replacement tips came with lillian glued onto the tip and the butt of the lillian painted gold which I greatly prefer. The tip is of hollow tube construction. The Unagi exterior is "ridged" and this "ridging" is less pronounced on the butt segments and increasingly pronounced toward the tip. Actually, the term "ridges" is a little misleading, think instead of thin valleys in the surface, between which are plateaus of about 1/16" width and spiraling up and around the length of the segments.
CASTING AND LINES:
This is a fast rod and reminds me more of casting a western fly rod than other tenkara rods, more like "pushing" the rod through the stroke than the rod doing all the work. After using the rod for some time, I came to like how it cast and with the right line you can either slow the action down or cast lighter lines with a brisk, snappy, stroke. It is a heavy rod, but not unbearably so and is comfortable to cast with my off-hand so I can rest my casting arm as needed. I liked the dampening on this rod. A No. 4 Tenkarabum Hi-Vis Fluorocarbon Line requires a quick, snappy cast and is on the light side, a 15' Streamside Mystic Creek Bronze Hopper cast beautifully but is on the heavy side on the water. My primary line became a 15' Tenkarabum Artificial Horsehair which cast nicely and was stiff and light enough to prevent sag. It was also overall best in wind. I purposely stuck to light lines and #12 wet flies in order to get a sense of this rod as compared to other tenkara-style rods. I don't mean to suggest that it cannot be used with heavier, sinking lines or larger flies, but that's a different matter altogether.
When I cast a tenkara-style rod, I like to extend my index finger along the spine. I want the pad of my index finger on the rod itself, not on the grip. With tenkara-style gear, I have only one point of contact with the end of the line, my left hand. My tenkara-style rods are much more sensitive than any of my western flyrods and lines and it's one of the major attractions for me. I can feel exactly what's going on under water. I want the most sensitive part of my hand in direct contact with the rod itself, not insulated by a grip and with the "swell" of the upper grip in the hollow of my palm. Of my current rods, only the Ayu is shaped that way.
The rod balances quite nicely when my index finger is placed as described above. However, the swell of the grip hits my hand wrong and it actually becomes uncomfortable over time, even slightly painful. Moving my hand down to fit the swell threw the balance off and put my finger on the cork. Gripping the rod at the butt was very comfortable, as comfortable as any of my other rods.
When I went to string up the Unagi for the first time I was in the process of tying on a No. 4 level line and the tip snapped off. It broke right at the butt end of the metal clip. I will concede that more than just the lillian was extended out of the end of the rod, it was extended out to where the metal connector is. And so, when you're told that ONLY THE LILLIAN SHOULD BE EXPOSED it means just that, it does not include the part of the lillian that has rod inside it. And that sounds simple, but the truth is that it's really not that easy to do consistently, especially with a short lillian to start with. And to compound things, at 3.6 feet long collapsed and 4 oz weight, it's not that easy to balance the rod in one hand while you are trying to attach a level line. And then try doing it along the side of a busy highway in the rain. After reviewing it over and over in my head, I can only conclude that I was holding the tip of the rod tip itself in my fingers to steady it when it snapped. There was no significant sideways pressure, no slipping of my fingers, nothing like that. I ordered two replacement tips and Allfishingbuy expedited the shipping for me. Since I had two, and since the purpose in ordering two fresh tips was to conduct this review of the rod, as supplied, I decided to test one of the tips before inserting it into the rod. I was hopeful that the issue with the first tip really was the metal connector. I placed the tip between my thumb and index finger pad and applied pressure. It snapped immediately. No resistance, it just snapped. I proceeded to snap off ¼" pieces down the rod. I snapped off a ½" piece and snapped it in half. The last break I made seemed to me to give a little before snapping, as if it were starting to bend. I quit at that point. I measured all three tips and found no measurable difference. Under magnification I could see the breaks followed the valleys spirally around the tip. The hollow created by the mandrel appeared reasonable centered at the butt of all three tips. The hollow of the original tip also appeared reasonable centered at the break. The hollow of the purposefully broken replacement tip, however, was off center at the break, so I may indeed have felt tube collapse in the last break.
Once strung up and on the water, however, the remaining tip remained intact. I had one underwater snag on a log and 5 overhead branch snags. I purposefully either freed or tried to free the line by snapping the rod in the opposite direction. The tip survived this abuse. One 12" redband put a decent bend in the rod and the tip held. When the rod is able to distribute the stress over it's length, the tip appears adequate, at least to the extent I was able to test it. Replacement tips are available for $10.07 plus shipping.
Increased sensitivity is a feature I might spend extra care on. Unfortunately, this tip isn't any more sensitive than my other rods. Actually, it is quite a bit less sensitive. I could feel the fly or line breaking the water surface, I could feel a 4" redband change direction once hooked, I could feel a hard strike, I could feel the line ultimately straightening out. I could not feel the effects of different current speeds on the fly, I could not feel softer strikes, I could not feel the fly hitting boulders under water, I could not feel the tension on the line as I twitched the fly. I was able to watch three approximately 5" redband trout rise to play with the fly but never did feel them at all. For both 12" redband trout I landed, I had to rely on the fluorocarbon line straightening out to locate the trout and then predict the moment of strike in later passes in order to land the fish. This would be OK, I guess, but isn't why I came to use tenkara-style gear in the first place. Twitching a fly requires a VERY subtle touch with this rod. Unlike softer rods that have more give and so react with gentle movements, the Unagi demands a twitch of the wrist slightly more than that of a softer rod but not so much that you move the tip. I found it very difficult to make subtle lifts or movements of the fly.
I landed two 12" redband trout and one 4” parr. All were in river current under flood conditions. There was insignificant rod bend on the 4" parr but satisfying rod bend with the second 12" redband. This rod was intended for bigger fish and I had the impression that there was plenty of backbone left. While the length did provide terrific ability to work both sides and the dead center of a seam on the far side of the river, I could not work close in at all - the rod and line were simply too long. While I did not test it, the stiffer action and length of the 4505 Unagi should lend itself to use of streamers in fixed line length fly angling. Using a 15' line I could get about 35' of "retrieve".
This series fills a definite niche in fixed line length fly angling. As people continue to explore the boundaries of this approach, there will be a need for long rods with increased backbone and ability to cast lines that penetrate wind. Many will want to try larger fly patterns, perhaps even streamers. Presently, this is the only commonly available rod of this size and action in the US that I am aware of, and the only one with easily available replacement parts.
For my needs I can see a personal use for such a rod, but I desire a more durable and sensitive tip and reconfigured grip before I can recommend it. The fragile tip does not provide additional sensitivity. With a different tip construction and grip configuration, I would have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone looking for a more specialized fixed line length rod in the under $300 price category.