Wakata 9' 6:4 Rod Initial Impressions
by Tim Nitz
I want to be very clear about this. I received my Wakata rod on Monday and it's now Wednesday. My only other tenkara-based rod is an 11' Tenkara USA Iwana that I received about a month ago and have been fishing nearly exclusively since receipt. My initial impressions might be of some limited use to those considering purchase of the Wakata 9' rod.
I did not compare the two rods side by side using the same line, etc. I have been using the Tenkara USA furled lines with the Iwana and mostly TenkaraBum Artificial Horsehair line with the Wakata.
1) Quality of Build and Finish: I like the quality of the Wakata rod very much. Whereas the Iwana has a smooth exterior, the Wakata has a more pronounced scrim resulting in ridges. In terms of quality of finish I find them comparable. On my Wakata I can see some spots where the painted rings have minor paint "pooling" spots. However, the "marbled" pattern of the paint hides these well. I guess I would compare the difference between the appearance of a handpainted paint job verses a paint job sprayed. I am not speaking to the actual process which I have no knowledge of, simply suggesting that both are nicely done, just different. Mention is made of the plastic butt cap used on the Wakata. I feared what that would look like and had already started thinking about what I could do to replace it, but upon receipt it actually looks quite nice and is quality plastic. The butt cap is of two-piece construction with a thin hard plastic threaded sleeve and a softer butt insert. This insert is decorated with a flower (I don't know what kind, not a cherry anyway) and has a drain hole in one petal. The lillian is attached the same as the Iwana, and what might look like a metal retaining ring in some photos is actually a spot of gold paint or epoxy. Mine was not pre-knotted. The ONLY issue I have with the appearance of the Wakata is the label which I find unattractive. It is some kind of decal covered with the rod finish. It's not ugly, just not what I would call attractive and I would remove it if I could. You can decide for yourself, the pictures online are quite clear. The rod sack is good and there is no tube. The rod cap is wood, fairly well matched to the painted rod rings, and uses a slot to provide friction inside the rod tube.
2) Cork and Grip: Before buying I read comments about the quality of the cork and the grip. In truth, it's exactly as I would expect of a $100 rod - which is good. Like my Iwana, there is a gap between the cork and the winding ring and a gap at the butt. Both have similar grips, but the Iwana central bulb is more comfortable for me as it tapers down to a smaller grip both are equally comfortable held by the butt bulb. The grip on the Wakata is longer than the Iwana, but I didn't find a preference for one over the other based on length.
3) Value: Before getting into performance, I just want to say that I find the two equivalent in price and value. The slight difference in cost isn't all that significant and the extra you pay for the Iwana covers the nice rod tube and nicer badging. I think they are fairly comparable in value, both great values.
4) Length considerations: My primary reason for getting both was to be able to fish a section of the Wallowa River in NE Oregon that is basically blocks from home and on the way home from work. Water flows and size change somewhat over the local stretch, but few people fish it and the fish are relatively wild as a result. Except for spots, the river here is heavily overgrown and overhead branches and branches extending over the water from banks is typical. The river is about 20' wide in spots, but more typically about 6-8' wide and from a few inches to 3 feet deep. Trout range from parrs to a few 12" with 4-6 inch fish most common. Rainbows, brookies, and bull trout, in that order and this section does hold some Chinook spawning sites. Thus my reasoning for the 11' Iwana and later, the 9' Wakata. What I've found is that the Wakata honestly only gives me a few more feet of fishable area. Overhead vegetation is simply that and going to a shorter rod hasn't really appreciably increased my range. Still, that's some short sections I could not have fished with the Iwana. On the other hand, fishing the same places with both, the Iwana does let me reach and control the line better in areas I simply cannot reach with "rod-length" line on both and I don't think simply using a longer line on the short rod would actually help since it's the angle of the line that is at issue. As everyone has said, fish the longest rod you can get away with and in my case on this one river, that means the 11' Iwana. Given the limitations in fishing densely vegetated sections of river that both have, I would say they are comparable in tight sections with only slight advantage to the 9' but very different in those areas where the river does open up.
5) Sensitivity: I've had 1 1/2" mighty fish on both and both acted similarly, which is to say great. Both bent and transmitted the movement of the fish up the line and rod equally. I didn't really look at the rod on the larger fish, but I didn't feel a difference there either. But there is a difference I feel and can't quite pinpoint. I do think the Iwana is slightly more sensitive. My guts tell me that I can better feel what the fly itself is doing with the Iwana (bumping rocks, feeling slight differences in current speed) than with the Wakata. I can't quantify it and I may be full of hooey, but that's my impression. And this sense is extremely important to me. However, in terms of feeling strikes I don't notice a difference. And to be clear, I am happy with both in terms of sensitivity, I just slightly prefer and trust the Iwana.
6) Casting: Again, I haven't used comparable lines with both yet. I have enjoyed using the TenkaraBum artificial horsehair line with the Wakata and it's a great match. I have only tried level line with the Wakata and that was in the dark and I admit I made a mess of it. But I don't have the experience to judge and didn't practice it at all. But for me, with my limited experience, so far I find the casting of the Iwana to be smoother and more fluid. I also think it is slightly less demanding. With the Iwana I can do all kinds of crazy casting things (like swirling the line around my head "whip" style) and it always straightens out and lays flat. I don't really even think about casting anymore with the Iwana. I'm not to that point with the Wakata and part of me thinks that the difference really is in rod length itself. I may be wrong and I am sure that part of it is I am not used to the timing of the Wakata, but today, for me, the Iwana is slightly smoother to cast. That said, flexing both without line suggests that the rods should perform about the same or very similarly. So it's probably either the length itself or my casting ability. Both worked quite well, however, and I would have been happy with either as my first rod.
The question it appears most have is will the 9' rod let you get into places you can't with the 11' rod. On my test stream with overhead obstacles and dense vegetation the answer is that the increased coverage is pretty minimal. At this point in my angling I would not recommend that someone choose a 9' rod over the 11' rod for that reason. In other words, so far the 11' rod, being noticeably better in those areas where the river does widen slightly, seems better suited even for this tight area. I may change my mind about this with more experience with both, but right now I don't really see a need for both rods. What you gain with one in some spots you lose in others. And a rough guess on this one section of water suggests that what I gain is equal to what I lose (except that the largest fish seem to hold in the larger water spots).
That said, I am pleased with both and consider both purchases a great value. For myself, with an 11' foot rod to start, I now feel I would have been better served to have bought a 13' rod as my second to cover areas not best covered with the 11' but I would guess I would have been delighted with either of these as my first rod. Also, unless I discover differently, I am currently seeing the two as rather comparable and so having one of each provides a backup or one to lend to a partner while angling and I really wouldn't mind which of them I got to use.