Daiwa Soyokaze Rods
The Soyokaze rods are my current favorites, despite earlier notions that there was no advantage to 9' or shorter rods (see my earlier review on the 9' Wakata). I own and have fished with the Soyokaze 20SR, 27SR, and 31SR. While this site's descriptions are spot on, I know that I appreciate hearing other anglers' comments on a rod before buying one. It's with that in mind that I offer up these comments.
All of the rods share the upper, or tip-most, segments. Each length has its own handle section, and sections are added to the grip end to make up the length. If you like the tip action on one, you will probably like it on all of them. The change in action thus, logically, comes from the overall length and mass, and the addition of stiffer sections to the butt end.
This is not to say that they all behave the same. They don't. The 20SR is a delightful, whispy rod with very nice slow action that will toss the lightest of lines, the 31SR is a substantial rod with a beefy backbone that handles larger trout. I don't understand it, nor does it make logical sense, but it seems to me that the 20SR and 27SR have a more sensitive tip than the 31SR. For example, I've watched sub 1" trout attack flies on all three and could easily feel them on the shorter rods. I could just barely feel the rod respond with the 31SR. It's the same tip, so the only thing I can think is that the additional mass or additional sections of stiffer butt (changing the overall action) somehow dampens the vibrations.
For some reason I really don't worry about babying these rods - and as a result they interfere less with my angling. Perhaps it’s not having to worry about a cork grip, perhaps it’s the sub $100 price, perhaps it’s their simplicity itself. I'm not sure, but I simply don't worry about breaking these rods. I know that at least part of this is because they use a solid tip section, which is both more sensitive and sturdier than hollow tips I've owned. Anyway, a good part of what this means to me is that I have no hesitation throwing one into a pack, sans tube or sock or anything, and carrying it up into the mountains. For my personal use, then, not only is the rod lighter than what I've formerly taken, but I'm also not carrying the extra weight of a sock or tube. When backpacking, I most often head up into the Eagle Cap Wilderness to fish high mountain meadow streams or alpine lakes.
But if I were to fish an area composed of a mix of tight and open riparian areas, I could simply add the handle section of the 20SR to the longer rod and have two different rods, for less weight than I've been carrying for one.
There have been quite a few comments on the lack of cork or foam grips. It's kinda funny, actually, when you think about it. The vintage bamboo tenkara rods didn't have cork or foam grips. For me, the textured grip of the Soyokaze rods provides a sturdy purchase even when wet, makes for a smaller package to fit into a pack, allows two casting positions (one with the butt in the hollow of my palm, the other with my fingers up at the top of the textured section) and is comfortable. It also encourages a light grip and more open hold, which improves my casting and comfort over the course of an angling session. The smaller diameter (combined with the lighter weight of the rod) also allows for a variety of holds, though I admittedly tend to fall back on the index finger on the spine hold.
I've had the 20SR out a couple times. I started with a rod-length level line of No. 2 fluorocarbon and never had an occasion to change, so that's all I've used. I suspect that one of the best parts of this rod will be what I can do in combination with a short line (4' or less) in really tight areas. Where it really has come into its own is in fishing a series of little beaver ponds where there are little pockets of water between piles of driftwood all holding good sized fish. Awkward casting angles and limited places to stand while casting all add up to challenging casting and the shorter length rod and line allow me to treat these small pockets as I would larger pools of water, allowing some drift and manipulation of the fly. I was casting a #12 fly on a heavy scud hook which was a bit heavy for the No. 2 line and this rod. I landed an 8" rainbow with no trouble and a couple 7" as well as many in the 5-6" range. I never could land a little guy - the smallest to hand was 3".
I bought the rod for skinny alpine water and micro-angling and never imagined I would actually find a use for it on larger water and bigger fish. One of my favorite fishing areas anywhere is an area of combined alpine meadow stream sections with a series of beaver ponds through the forested areas. There are places where you crawl up to within casting distance in tall grass. In other areas you are up to your pits wading to reach a beaver pond. This would be a perfect rod for both of those.
The Soyokaze 27SR remains my favorite. When I bought my first 9' rod (the Allfishingbuy Wakata 9') I said I didn't see much practical difference between it and my 11' rod - they filled the same niche and so I quit using my 9' rod. Flipping my earlier impressions around, then, should mean I can fish the same areas with the 9' rod that I had fished the 11' rod. And I have. I like the action and response of the 27SR more than my 31SR. I've had 3/4" trout tugging on my flies (all too big for them) and got clean, clear vibrations in the hand, and landed a couple 9" trout (one rainbow/redband, one brookie) with absolutely no difficulty. The weight difference between it and the 31SR is noticeable, and overall the 27SR is simply more responsive. 5-6" trout, which make up the vast majority of fish landed this year so far, put a decent bend in the rod. I've not experimented with as many line types, weights, or lengths as I have with the 31SR, sticking to comparing 4 rod-length Tenkarabum artificial horsehair lines.
The Soyokaze 31SR is an enigma to me. It should behave like the other two rods, but it is substantially different. I was hoping that this rod would be slightly more sensitive in the tip, akin to the 27SR. Not that it isn't plenty sensitive, but I am always looking for even more response - feeling the response of the fly to different water conditions is how I figure out the underwater landscape of an area. Besides, I love it when I can feel those little guys tugging at an oversized fly. In the hand it feels beefier than the Soyokaze 20SR or 27SR – it’s a reassuring feel and the additional weight feels good in the hand. Of the three it really feels like a rod for fishing rivers and normal sized trout. I haven't had any fish larger than 7" on it nor smaller than 4" so can speak to neither its response to bigger or smaller fish. It has a nice response to these medium sized fish, however, plenty of rod action with a lot of reserve control. I did watch one particular 3/4" trout tugging at the fly the other day and could barely feel it, adding to my suspicion that it's slightly less sensitive.
Where it really, really, shines, though is in its amazing ability to cast a wide variety of lines and cast them well. I've used everything from a 15' No. 4 level line to a 6'8" No. 2 level line and had no issue with the casting precision or "pace". The only line I tried that I didn't perform as well with this rod was a 13' light hand-tied tapered fluorocarbon line from Tenkarabum. I could cast it and it straightened out nicely, but only with a crisp casting stroke and a faster pace than I like. People who already have a faster, crisper, cast might actually like the combination. I really like how it casts a No. 2 level line, but appear to be settling on a rod-length No. 3 line as my general line and will likely take a spool of No. 3 fluorocarbon backpacking as it seems to work fairly well in most situations. After trying it just to
see how the rod would respond, I've actually turned to the 15' No. 4 line a number of times since. The longer length allows me to reach areas I've normally used much longer rods for but still maintain a decent line to water angle. In addition to various level line lengths and weights from 2 to 4, I've used the following with good results: (1) original green mono TenkaraUSA furled line, (2) 4 different weights/tapers of Tenkarabum Artificial Horsehair 9' lines (it cast all of them equally well, so I like the lightest the best), (3) 10'2" Light Hand-tied tapered fluorocarbon Tenkarabum line.