The Nissin Air Stage seiryu rods (the Air Stage Hakubai) are wonderfully light, extremely sensitive rods very well suited for tenkara fishing in smaller streams for smaller fish. Seiryu is generally translated as "clear stream" and these rods are about as nice as you'll find for fishing the crystal clear headwaters in the Catskills, the Smokies or the Sierras.
And if you happen to live too far away from little streams teaming with hungry trout, you'll find these are also wonderful rods for little streams teaming with hungry sunfish. They're not big fish rods (to be perfectly honest, tenkara is not a big fish pursuit) but for smaller fish these are just delightful little rods.
The Nissin Air Stage Hakubai rods are superb for micro fishing.
It seems like little fish are the new big thing. A recent NPR segment on micro fishing has generated a lot of interest. Perhaps the best thing about it is that it is so accessible. Nearly every town park has a lake or stream, and they all have fish. Most won't be wall hangers, but if you fish with equipment that is actually designed for catching small fish, it can be a lot of fun.
Micro fishing can also get very interesting and challenging if you take it to the next level - seeking out and fishing for species in your area that you have not yet caught. It starts with sunfish and gets progressively more challenging.
The first thing you'll notice when you pick up an Air Stage Hakubia is that it is almost unbelievably light. The 2.4 meter rods, which at 8' are about as short as I would recommend for tenkara fishing even in the very smallest of streams (and for small fish) weigh just .6 ounce.
Although these are wonderful headwaters rods, they're really not backpacking rods. The collapsed length on all of them is a relatively long 23 5/8". (Of course, generations of fly fishermen backpacked with three piece fly rods, which when broken down are quite a bit longer than that!). The longer sections mean fewer joints, and fewer joints make a smoother casting rod.
Of course, you don't have to be a fly fisher to enjoy a light, sensitive rod. With a soft underhand "pendulum cast" you can place a split shot and a small hook with a bit of worm on it just about anywhere you want.
Generations of youngsters discovered fishing with a worm on a hook. Generations of oldsters are now rediscovering the simplicity of fishing with a worm on a hook!
In addition to being light and responsive, the Nissin Air Stage Seiryu rods are really pretty. The finish is a clear coat over blue speckles and is unlike any other rod I've seen. In the sunlight, the rod changes from blue to green depending on the angle of the sun.
The color is carried into the grip section, which, as on all the other seiryu rods I've seen, is just a widened section of the rod blank, to which has been applied a very effective nonskid finish. The lack of cork between you and the blank gives you tremendous feel for what the fly is doing (and what the fish is doing).
I truly do not understand why some of the Japanese anglers, who do use seiryu rods like the Nissin Air Stage for tenkara fishing, cover the wonderfully sensitive grip with the rubber wrapping used on tennis racquets. You need it in tennis to cushion the shock from hitting line drive serves. In tenkara? I don't think so.
The tip plug is plastic and has minute ridges machined into the part that goes into the rod tip. It is a very snug fit - much more so than on the perhaps more common wood / rubber plugs. It is definitely not going to slip out by itself. However, they are small and easy to misplace. Do not lose the tip plug! Replacements are available, but they are expensive.
The grip screw is also plastic and seats securely in an aluminum insert in the end of the grip. The knurling on the screw cap allows you to tighten it securely or remove it easily.
I would recommend size 3 line and 6.5X tippet. except for the 190 硬中硬, for which I would recommend size 2.5 line and 8X tippet.
Like a set of fine china, replacement pieces are available but there is no warranty. Handle with care and you'll be able to pass it on to your grandkids.
The Nissin Air Stage rods are made in Japan.
The Vermont PBS station had a nice program on tenkara not long ago. Although the host kept referring to the rod used in the show as a tenkara rod, it was actually a Nissin Air Stage 240. The fishing was pure tenkara but the rod is actually a seiryu rod. Nonetheless, if you are fishing for little wild brookies, it would be hard to find a better rod to use.
Rainbow caught on Air Stage Hakubai 190 硬調 Photo courtesy Ryan Q
Texas Cichlid caught on Air Stage Hakubai 240 硬調 Photo courtesy John E.
Nissin Air Stage Hakubai 190 硬中硬 (medium) - $160
This is better suited as a micro fishing rod, but people have been using the slightly stiffer Air Stage Hakubai 190 硬調 for fishing the tiniest streams for 4-6" native brookies. The medium version (硬中硬) is a bit softer, and a 6" fish is about as large as I would want to hook with the rod.
The manufacturer recommends tippet from 9X to 7X and personally I would not go over 8X. I have caught fish over 10" with 8X and I am not at all sure this rod would survive a battle with a 10" trout.
The rod is 6'3" long and weighs .4 ounce.
Nissin Air Stage 240 硬調 - $175
In my opinion this 7'8" rod is about as short as you'd want to go for effective tenkara fishing in even the most overgrown streams. At only .6 ounces, it's also about as light as you can go. The 6" headwaters brookies will give you a fight on this one. Even better, you will feel the fight of the 3" fish!
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|My oh my oh my! A lovely thing - only cast to lawn trout in the back yard with 9' of #3 but - my oh my oh my!
.....fished two rivers and one pond today with the Air Stage. The Air Stage works. I like where it bends but I felt it was underlined today [with a size 3 line].
I like the rod a lot. The grip is perfect for the rod length. It has authority with a fish on even though the grip is slim and the fish didn't push the rod much. It can handle 12"+ trout easily I feel, though I wouldn't take it to a tailwater.
Dry flies went right where the were supposed to. An accurate rod. It reminded me something we often forget.....all you have to do to cast is get the line moving. You don't have to backcast unless you want to. The rod did all those circular casts Mr. Sakakibara does in the vids easily. The rod has vocabulary, if you know what I mean.
Stephen M, Massachusetts
|I took the rod  out today on a small stream in eastern WV with mostly brookie natives. The rod handled remarkably well for such a short length and is substantially fuller working than the Kiyotaki.
I am amazed at how close I can get to the fish in the faster sections of the stream. I had numerous strikes and did manage to land about a dozen in 2.5 hours of fishing with the largest brookie being around 12 inches but most in the 4-8 inch range.
It does take a while to get used to such a short rod but it allows me to place some real tight casts and that is how I got the 12 incher under a tree on a quick bend. Really a very small pool. I think this rod will be very nice when things get really overgrown. The rod is so light and small one hardly knows you're holding anything and I can still get 6-36 inch drifts with it easily.
Roger H, West Virginia
|I was very pleased with the feel of this rod both in the casting and in the "fighting" with the fish. The Air Stage 190 is the perfect rod for close quarters fishing on tight mountain streams for smaller fish.
John C, Massachusetts
|You were correct, this is one sweet rod. After hours of use all I can say is you can't make a bad cast with this rod.
Bob H, New Jersey
|I received some micro gear from Chris today. I couldn't wait to try it out so off to the local pond I went. My new Nissan Air Stage 190 is pure delight. It's not only beautifully finished but it's sensitive enough to play micros and tough enough to land bluegills. I caught some of each. I tied a single strand knot of black killer bugger yarn around a few of the Owner New Half Moon Tanago hooks and trimmed the excess yarn forming a little ball. The fish thought it was a little bug of some sort. I also got to use my new micro photo tank. It provides a nice photo format for identification and keeps the little critters in water to be safely released. I'm stoked! Some guy pointed out a 20" Rainbow for me to target. I said no thanks, I'm going tiny. He just shook his head and walked away. Thanks Chris. Micro fishing's a hoot!
Terry F, New Mexico
|Nissin Air Stage 190 is a blast!
Kyle Q, North Carolina
|I love the rod! It's the best rod I have ever fished! 8" Rainbow is a blast to hook and land (What a fight).
Ted F, North Carolina
|I went fishing this morning with the Nissin Air Stage Hakubai 240. Anyone who enjoys fly fishing for panfish is doing a disservice to himself if he doesn't get this rod. What fun! Anyway, I thought I'd send along a picture of this grandpapa bluegill that I caught. You can tell it's an old fish. Well, you can imagine the battle on the ultralight Hakubai.
John E, Texas
|I did a little fishing with my new Air Stage 450 this morning. Caught a couple dozen bluegill. I am very happy with the rod. It feels very light, even with the long length. It is very sensitive, soft enough for small fish but has plenty of backbone for larger fish.
With the long length I could drop my fly on top of the water and keep it high or let it sink deeper. The fish today were biting just and inch or two below the surface. In areas sheltered from the wind they would bite at the surface, I could adjust and put my fly were the fish were at. I really like the Air Stage.
Harold B, Indiana