Nine Foot Iwana
People had been after Tenkara USA almost from the beginning to produce a 9' rod for the small overgrown streams found in the East and Southeast. After much stonewalling the company came out with a replacement grip for the Iwana that is (or at least was in the initial production run) labeled "10ft" which is a bit surprising because with the new grip the Iwana actually measures just shy of 9'3".
The grip, and it's labeling, really are a bit of a mystery. The company has repeatedly commented that short rods aren't really tenkara rods. The Director of Marketing recently tweeted: "Sub-10 ft. so-called 'Tenkara-style rods' lose all the advantages of real Tenkara rods. Might as well use a western 7 footer" and "Is it really a Tenkara rod if you have to put 'tenkara' in quotation marks?" One wonders if the grip is labeled 10 ft. just so it didn't have to be labeled "Tenkara"USA.
The rod is light in the hand, and while it is not as stiff as I feared it would be, it is still a bit on the stiff side.
Initially I had thought that feels a bit stiff only because it is so light that the rod itself doesn't have much mass to help load the rod when casting. Since I have gotten the Soyokaze rods, which are even lighter but nowhere near as stiff, I realize that is not the case. It feels stiffer because it IS stiffer. With a short line, there isn't much line weight to load the rod either and most anglers who use the rod report having to use a heavy size 4.5 line.
The rod is labeled as a 7:3. I won't say the 7:3 notation is wrong, because I'm not sure there is a precise way to measure it, but I would not have labeled it as such. It may be another case of labeling a rod 7:3 because it is a stiff rod. (I'd have called it a 6:4, and if the Ito is a soft 6:4 that would make the nine foot Iwana a stiff 6:4).
Whatever the specs say for the length, weight and action, the rod itself gives those who wanted a shorter rod from TenkaraUSA what they were asking for. Now that there are alternative 9' rods available, though, more than a few tenkara anglers have decided that the 9'3" rod they got from TenkaraUSA was not really the 9' rod they wanted. I'd have to say it reminds me of "Hi-Vis" fluorocarbon lines from a company that deep down believes fluorocarbon should be invisible. You can tell their heart isn't in it.
The first time I was able to fish with the rod was on one of the remarkable native brookie streams in New Jersey.
One of the most remarkable things about the stream is that it is right alongside a road. It probably helps that a much better known trout stream is nearby and seems to attract all the attention. I suppose it also helps that at first glance the stream doesn’t appear to be much more than a trickle. Plus, it’s hard to remember the name. Seems I’ve forgotten it already so I can't tell you where we went. Oh, well. Sorry.
I strongly suspect there are dozens more streams much like it. Very small, out of the way, with perhaps only short bits and pieces that run across public land. A small stream like that couldn’t handle much fishing pressure, but there was very little indication that it gets much.
The guy who took me there and I both decided to try out our new 9'3" Iwanas. Fishing with the rod did not change my initial assessment gained from casting it in the apartment (short rod, high ceiling - it works). I spent most of the day fishing with a size 4
Hi-Vis level line.
We both caught fish. I managed two brookies and a chub that I think was a bit bigger than the brookies. Still, for me a tight line is a tight line and I was just as happy with the chub.
Most people would say a 9'3" rod is a specialty rod. Some (see above) would say it isn't even a tenkara rod). Of course, depending on where you fish it might be the perfect size, or even too long, as I found out on a very tight little stream in the Catskills.
If you have the 11' or 12' Iwana already it isn't much of an investment to get the 9' grip, though, so you might justify it with only one stream, or even only parts of one stream. On the other hand, if you don't already have an 11' or 12' Iwana, you can't just buy the 9' rod - it is only available as a replacement grip for one of the longer rods.
I've often said I'll fish the longest rod I can get away with, even fishing with a shorter than normal line. Still, there are streams where you just can't fish with a longer rod. I have since found a suprising number of spots on my favorite streams that I have to pass up when fishing with a longer rod.
A few days ago I was up on a small brookie stream in the Catskills. In stark contrast to the stream Alan and I fished in New Jersey, it was tight, with trees and brush lining it's banks and branches overhead. I started the day with a 9' rod and progressively went to shorter rods as I climbed higher and the stream got smaller.
I did not have the 9'3" Iwana with me because I was fishing with the 9'0" Soyokaze instead. At roughly the same length, both would have been a good match for the stream. Both would have been a good match for the larger fish that I caught. For me, though, the Soyokaze was the more fun rod to fish with. It is a lighter rod, and more and more I am drawn to lighter rods. Also, being significantly less stiff than the Iwana, it was more fun with modest sized fish.
One other important aspect to consider is line weight. In general, I am a fan of light lines. They are MUCH easier to keep off the water, and to me the whole essence of tenkara is keeping your line off the water. I almost always fish with a size 3 line - which is lighter than the lightest line TenkaraUSA even offers.
Most of the commentary by people who like the 9' Iwana suggests they use a size 4.5 line, feeling a line that heavy is necessary because of the stiffness of the rod. For a small stream, 4.5 is an awfully heavy line, and the only times I fish a line that heavy is when I have a rod as stiff as the Hane or am fishing in the wind. The 9' Soyokaze on the other hand casts a size 3 line beautifully.
If you already have a longer Iwana, getting the 9' grip is not a major investment, and if you don't mind heavy lines would be a good idea. It sells for $40 compared to $72 for the 9' Soyokaze. I like the lighter weight and more responsive action of the Soyokaze better, but if you prefer a firmer rod, you'd probably like the 9' Iwana. If you do not already have an Iwana, though, you must understand that you cannot buy a 9' Iwana. You would have to buy either the 11' or 12' Iwana for $158 to be able to use the $40 add-on grip. If you only want a short rod, getting one from TenkaraUSA will cost you $198.
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