Tenkara rods did not get to be the way they are by accident. Over hundreds of years they have evolved from simple bamboo poles to the modern ultralight high-tech carbon fiber telescopic rods we use today. They are designed specifically for fly fishing small streams.
Because the line is tied to the rod tip, the rods have no guides and no reel seats. US anglers might think "cane pole" and UK anglers might think "whip." Tenkara rods can cast an unweighted fly with a very light line and protect a very light tippet, something neither a cane pole nor a whip could do. And if that wasn't difference enough, they weigh just a few ounces and collapse to a very compact length.
Similarly, they are on a completely different level than the telescopic crappie poles that they vaguely resemble. Before I could buy a real tenkara rod, I bought quite a few crappie poles trying to find a good substitute. They just aren't the same. The action is different, and the quality is in another league.
Actually, they are quite a bit different from fly rods as well. Beyond the lack of guides and reel seat, the most obvious difference is that the rods are telescopic rather than having ferrules like a fly rod. This allows the rod to collapse down to between 15 and 26 inches, depending on the model. The small size and light weight makes them a great choice for backpackers, for whom every ounce counts.
There has been an ongoing controversy in the US - ever since I imported the first Soyokaze - about what exactly is a tenkara rod. Personally, I think that is the wrong question to ask. Rather than ask what is a tenkara rod, a better question is what rod is best suited to the type of fishing you want to do. It might very well be a tenkara rod, but then again, depending on the type of fishing you want to do either a keiryu rod or a seiryu rod might be a better choice.
My eyes were opened to other rods and the other possibilities when I got my first Soyokaze rod, which I had actually purchased for micro fishing - targeting very small fish. The first time I used the rod, however, I discovered it could cast a size 3 tenkara line absolutely beautifully, and handled a 10" wild brown trout as if that was what it was made for. Since then, lots of people have bought Soyokaze rods, and they are as convinced as I was that the rod works beautifully for tenkara fishing in small streams.
The Soyokaze has been discontinued by Daiwa and is no longer available. I have since discovered other small stream rods that are much nicer than the Soyokaze. These are seiryu rods. They are used in Japan to catch smaller fish in more placid streams. The 290cm ones (9'8") are just ideal for the smaller trout you find in the headwaters - little brookies or cutthroats or rainbows, depending on where you live. They are almost unbelievably light and unbelievably sensitive. Longer ones are great for sunfish, whether in warmwater streams or ponds. There are a lot of small fish that aren't trout but are a lot of fun to catch. One of my most memorable catches - and best fights - was a 7" creek chub caught on seiryu rod. It's all about matching the tackle to the fish.
And just as there are rods that for small fish are more appropriate than tenkara rods, there are rods that are better for big fish in big water. Keiryu rods tend to be stiffer than tenkara rods and although they come in a wide range of lengths, many are considerably longer as well. The greater length is better for big water, the greater backbone is better for big fish. Some have much stiffer tips than tenkara rods, and are thus better for fishing weighted nymphs. It is hard to get a hookset when the fly is deep and the rod tip is soft. Tenkara rods need the soft tip to cast a light line. Keiyru rods need to be able to hook fish when bouncing a fly or bait along the bottom. Keiryu rods are used for bait fishing in Japan and for fishing heavily weighted nymphs or big streamers in the US.
We've come a long way in a few short years, and there are a lot more choices available. At first all you could buy were tenkara rods, and that is what everyone wanted. People have since learned that tenkara rods are specialized enough - optimized for fishing unweighted wet flies in mountain streams - that if you are fishing somewhere else, or some other way, there might be better choices out there.
Even within tenkara rods, now that premium rods are available from top Japanese companies such as Daiwa and Shimano, and tenkara rods that are actually made in Japan from Nissin and Shimotsuke, there are better choices out there.
For fishing unweighted or very lightly weighted flies on a light line. Optimized for high gradient small to medium streams and 8-20" fish (depending on the rod).
Confused by too many choices? Make it simple and get a starter kit that contains an all-around rod, line, tippet, flies, and fly box.
For fishing weighted nymphs or larger flies in bigger water for bigger fish. Used with split shot and bait in Japan (with extremely light lines). Shorter keiryu rods can be used for tenkara fishing in very small overgrown streams where even the shortest tenkara rod is too long.
Very light rods for smaller fish, primarily in quieter streams. Just ideal for smaller trout in headwaters streams. Longer rods excellent for sunfish in ponds and lakes.
Headwaters rods are designed for very small streams, perhaps brushy or very overgrown, and for the smaller fish you will find there. Not all are tenkara rods but all are light, sensitive rods very well suited to fishing the headwaters.
Tanago rods are only for very small fish - minnows, shiners, dace, darters, etc. that are not skittish - you can't cast far with a 4' rod. The Kiyotaki micro fishing rods can also handle smaller panfish, bass and trout, as well as the minnows. The Nissin Air Stage 190 is a wonderfully sensitve, light rod for catching small fish.
The following rods are no longer available, but they may give you some insight into what I look for in a rod.
Tenkara rods are telescopic because they have to be. If you catch an unexpectedly large fish and it heads for the next county, you don't want your rod to come apart and the tip section to follow the fish. Also, eventually you will snag your fly at the extreme end of your cast or backcast, at a point where you cannot even reach the line to pull on. In that case, all you can do is pull straight back on the rod. If the rod had ferrules and one of them came apart, you could lose your rod tip.
Both of those scenarios also illustrate why you must use a light tippet. Do not fish with tippet stronger than 5 lb breaking strength (4x or 5x depending on the brand of tippet). The rods are very good at protecting light tippets, and light tippets are necessary to protect the rods. In the case of the snag described above, pulling back on the rod will tend to jam the rod segments together, and a light tippet will help prevent them from getting so tight that you can't collapse the rod. Collapsing the rod is the cause of most broken tenkara rods, as the last few segments are delicate. That's why I feel so strongly that all tenkara anglers should have a Tip Grip - so strongly that I am giving them away.
Some rods have been broken when an angler gets the fly snagged and then tries to jerk it out (or does an aggressive hook set on what ends up being a snag). The quick jerk (as opposed to the steady pull of a fish) puts a strain on the rod for which it wasn't designed. Treated with care, the rods are quite durable, and the breakage rate has been much lower than I had anticipated.
Tenkara rods are not grouped by line weight like fly rods. Instead most are given a rating such as 5:5, 6:4 and 7:3. Although all tenkara rods have soft tip sections and much stiffer butt sections, the ratings give an idea of where the softer sections transition into the stiffer sections. It is not specifically 6 sections are stiff and 4 are soft, because most tenkara rods don't actually have 10 sections. It's more of a percentage split, like 50/50, or 60/40 (60 percent of the rod is stiffer and 40 percent is softer). It is a trap to think that a 7:3 rod is stiffer than a 5:5 rod. The rating is a measure of where the rod bends, not how much force is require to bend the rod.
If you've ever taken a rod and just wiggled it, you've seen the butt section move to the left while the tip moves to the right, then the butt moves to the right and the tip moves to the left. There is a point on the rod that is stationary, the point where the tip section goes one way and the butt section goes the other. On a 7:3 rod, that point is closer to the rod tip than on a 6:4 rod, and it's closer to the tip on a 6:4 rod than on a 5:5 rod.
Unfortunately, the rating system is of little use to rod buyers. Not all tenkara rod manufacturers use it, and among those that do there is no standard so a 7:3 rod from one manufacturer can be very, very different from a 7:3 produced by another manufacturer. It is a guideline at best. I have tried to further the discussion of tenkara rod ratings with the Common Cents Database and my "What is a 7:3?" essay.
Broken Ito Rods
Rethinking Rod Choice
Rethinking Rod Choice II - A Softer Rod for Bass
Rethinking Rod Choice III - Many
Why I sell Rods That Aren't Tenkara Rods
Tenkara with a "tanago rod?"
It's all about the fishing
Lillian Knot - To Knot or Not to Knot
Tenkara has no strict rules. Enjoy tenkara in your own way.
- Eiji Yamakawa
|On many of the rod pages you will see testimonials. Not one was solicited. Not one was written by a blogger who was given a rod in return for a writing a testimonial.
To be sure, some were written by bloggers, but at TenkaraBum, bloggers are customers just like you. They aren't considered part of the marketing department, and they pay the same price for a rod that you do.
The testimonials are not about creating marketing "buzz" but to allow actual buyers who liked the rods to share their views.
Chris Stewart, Tenkara Bum