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A Case for Soft, Full-Flex Rods

by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)

A little Guadalupe bass, a size 14 Stewart's Spider, and the Nissin Royal Stage Syunki

A little Guadalupe bass, a size 14 Stewart's Spider, and the Nissin Royal Stage Syunki

There are many instances in tenkara and keiryu fishing where a robust, firm rod is the right choice. I would lose all credibility if I suggested otherwise. When angling for bigger fish, using weighted nymphs or live bait, or exploring deeper water, a firm rod gives better hook-sets and more fighting capacity. You’re also less likely to break them, and they’re better suited for most beginners.

Also, Americans use tenkara rods in ways the Japanese don’t. We pursue everything from cutthroats to catfish in all kinds of water. In Japan, tenkara focuses on small fish in mountain streams. Our adaptation of tenkara nudges us toward firmer rods because we’re not sure what we might catch. For example, in my warm Texas waters I might land cichlids, catfish, Guadalupe bass, largemouth bass, green sunfish, bluegills, big shiners, red breast sunfish, and stocker rainbows in the winter. I might be fishing in 4 inches or 4 feet of water. Which rod should I pack? It’s tempting to go with a more-adaptable pole.

But, I would suggest that there are situations where a soft, full-flex rod is just right and actually increases your angling enjoyment. In fact, when I recall my most memorable fishing expeditions, they often include such poles as the Nissin Royal Stage Syunki, the Nissin Air Stage Hakubai, and the Nissin 6:4 Zerosum 320. Within their design limits, these are wonderfully-responsive rods that provide a beautiful tactile experience for smaller fish. If you’ve never caught a Guadalupe bass or even a lowly bluegill on an 8-12 penny rod, you don’t know what you’re missing.

A full-flex rod makes every fish a big one. You can feel each twitch, strike, and head shake. Even a modest fish in the neighborhood creek provides an amazing experience. In fact, the best fight I’ve ever had on any rod was when I landed a fat, half-pound cichlid on the diminutive Nissin Air Stage Hakubai 240. My second best fight was a three-pound channel catfish on the full-flex Tenyru Furaibo TF39. These were wonderful battles that the Japanese designers never envisioned.

Also, full-flex rods cast smaller flies exceptionally well. Midges and dry flies float to the water like a dream and don’t scare the fish. You can work those little fishable pockets with more confidence. Frankly, I just get more strikes on softer rods.

If you choose to use soft, full-flex rods, there are key points to remember. First, these are not the best rods for newbies. If a 6:4 Zerosum is the first tenkara/seiryu rod you handle, it will probably feel way TOO soft! (Can you imagine what it feels like to use a cork-handled rod that weighs less than two ounces?) It takes a little experience to get the most from them. If you know what you’re doing, you can land a surprisingly large fish with a surprisingly soft rod, but that’s not how we start!

Second, treat these rods gently. There’s a reason for their softness. The carbon fiber tubes, especially in the tip section, won’t take rough handling. Of course, you need to practice gentleness with all tenkara rods, but there’s less room for error on the seiryu models. This means that light tippet is a must. Light tippet doesn’t guarantee that you won’t break your new rod, but it’s a step in the right direction. The manufacturer issues those recommendations for a reason. Part of using soft rods is respecting their inherent limitations.

Third, use the sharpest hooks you can find. It’s hard to get a good hook-set with a super-soft pole, and cheaper hooks won’t cut it. Name-brand, quality hooks are the way to go.

Are soft, full-flex rods for everyone? No, but they sure will add to your fishing enjoyment in the right circumstances. The key is to match the rod to the situation.

Comments for A Case for Soft, Full-Flex Rods

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Oct 17, 2018
Going Longer!
by: Les Albjerg

John - Another great article! If you are in waters with bigger fish, and want to still enjoy the "soft, full-flex" experience, I would suggest, going longer. I bought a Daiwa Sagiri 45MC for fishing sunfish last year. As John has so well put it, these full flex Seiryu rods leave you with lasting memories! I was fishing one of my favorite tailwaters that doesn't have big fish. Most of the rainbows and cutthroat trout run from 4-8 inches. I was using a Royal Coachman Kebari tied with stiffer hackles in size 12 so I could fish it dry or just below the surface. I got to an eddy, and floated it through the air, and about 1-2 inches before it hit the water a 14 inch rainbow came out of the water and nailed it! Fortunately for me, he set the hook on himself, and the battle was on! With the longer rod (4.5 meters) I was able to keep him in the eddy and out of the fast water. It was an epic battle that lasted between 5 and 10 minutes. I could feel every twist and turn, but with the length of the rod, I had plenty of flexibility and leverage to somewhat keep it all under control.

This rod has become a favorite for pond sunfish. The battles are fun, and I am still amazed that many times, the sunfish seem to simply give up, and swim straight to me.

John didn't mention the Suntech Kurenai rods. I had a blast this spring near where I bear hunt catching 4-8 inch rainbows and brook trout from the small stream where we park to hike in. Every fish was a fun catch! I have the Kurenai 30, but they come in lengths up to over 6 meters! Every time so far when planning on ordering a Kurenai 45, 54, or 63, I talk myself into a different rod. Just think a 4.5 meter rod that weighs only 1.8 ounces!

And John, I still think about that Guadalupe bass that eluded me when I was in Texas last year! Right at my feet in plain sight!

Oct 17, 2018
Guadalupe bass trick
by: John Evans

As you've noted, Guadalupe bass can be finicky. One thing I've experienced over the years is that a swift, rising motion of the fly often triggers a response with these little native bass. I catch 9 out of 10 of them when I'm lifting a fly for the next cast. So, I'll be drifting a Killer Bug off the bottom, gently raise it, then raise it all at once at the end . . . and that's almost always when they strike. They grab the fly when it's just about to "escape." Well, give it a try at the next opportunity.

Oct 18, 2018
Works for trout, too.
by: Chris Stewart

John's strategy for catching Guadalupe bass works for trout, too, although I have not achieved his 90% rate. I have had many days where perhaps a third of my fish came as I was lifting a Killer Bug or Killer Kebari to make a new cast.

Those fish never seem to be lost to a long-distance release, which is what prompted my frequent comments that a hook set doesn't need any more force than you use to start a back cast.

Oct 18, 2018
Tight Line - Flexible Rod
by: Les Albjerg

I ditto Chris' experience. One of the joys of these long flexible rods is the feel of the strike no matter how subtle it may be. A couple of weeks ago, fishing for Sunfish with the Daiwa Sagiri every fish was lip hooked and I was fishing with no weight and Red Wigglers. You could feel the fish right away; lift the rod; and the battle was on! I was using the Gamakatsu R10B, size 14 hooks. As John pointed out (pun intended) sharp hooks are a must with these rods. Another fun factor when fishing lakes is often the fish don't know they are hooked right away. That delayed reaction of the fish has brought on many a good laugh. You feel several wiggles and then all of a sudden the rod takes a nice big bend!

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