The Suntech Aoi ZPRO is the rod I initially called the Blue ZPRO. Although Aoi is Japanese for "blue" it is also the name of the leaf that is used in the familiar three-leaf crest of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The character used to write Aoi on the case and on the rod makes it clear that it means the leaf, not the color. To name the rod for a leaf associated with the Shogun is indirect, to be sure, but it would be presumptuous for Suntech to come right out and say this rod is fit for the Shogun, or is the Shogun of rods.
My wife said it would be cheesy for me
to call the rod the Shogun ZPRO, and suggested I just call it the Aoi ZPRO. I resisted, and called the rod the Blue ZPRO because I just knew American anglers would not give it the
proper "ah-oh-ee" three-syllable pronunciation. It would end up being
pronounced "oy," which absolutely gives the wrong impression of the rod (and
verges on the disrespectful).
This is a rod that deserves respect.
However, I think to give the rod the proper respect, I probably should call it by its rightful name. Besides, Suntech has introduced the FMX Keiryu ZPRO, so to avoid confusion, I suspect I should use the correct names.
In several trip reports I have written about how much I liked the Suikei ZPRO 54 and Suikei ZPRO 64, which were extremely light, superbly sensitive rods rated for 8X tippets or lighter (rods I initially just called ZPRO). I rarely catch big fish, and 8X is fine for most of my fishing. For a lot of tenkara anglers, though, 8X just isn't enough. In any event, the Suikei ZPRO has been discontinued.
The Suntech Aoi ZPRO is just as light,
just as sensitive and is rated for 6X tippets. For most of the fish that most people
actually catch, 6X will be fine - especially with a rod that protects tippets as well as this one does.
I took an Aoi ZPRO 63 with me on my
vacation to Maine for some smallmouth bass fishing. With the first cast I was a
bit surprised at the difference between the Aoi ZPRO 63 and the original Suikei ZPRO 64. The Aoi's
got muscle! The rod isn't stiff by any means, but the midsection of the rod is
noticeably stiffer than the Suikei ZPRO rods. The Aoi ZPRO has much more
capability to tame a smallmouth or steer a rainbow out of the current and into
the quiet water.
The Suntech Aoi ZPRO comes in 53, 58, 63 and 68 lengths. The first Aoi ZPRO I ordered was the 63. A customer then ordered the 58 and asked me to compare the two. I took both rods to the park alongside the Hudson River for some lawn casting. The 63 was a known quantity, as I had fished it in Maine and also a couple times since I've been back.
The 58 was a surprise, though. It is 18.5" shorter and .4 ounce lighter. That doesn't seem like much but it was just enough that the rod felt a lot lighter and had a lot less inertia when casting. I loved it. That night I ordered one for myself and another one for my customer (he had purchased the first as a gift for a friend). He then ordered a couple of the 53s, one for himself and one for his friend (and again asked me to compare the rods). The Aoi ZPRO 58 feels quite a bit like the Kurenai Long 61, which I like a lot, with the added advantages of shorter collapsed length and lower price (offset to some extent by the 6X tippet limitation compared to 4X for the Kurenai Long.)
The 53 is even lighter (which of course is what you would expect, after all, it is shorter) but it is much lighter when casting. Since I always fish with a wading staff, I could see myself fishing the 53 one handed most of the time.
It is an almost unbelievably light two handed rod, though. Anyone who has wanted a longer rod but has refrained from purchasing one because of joint problems or concerns about tip heaviness should definitely consider the Suntech Aoi ZPRO 53 and should plan on fishing it as a two handed rod.
When I had first taken the 58 and 63 out lawn casting, I was using a size 3 line. When I took the 53, 58 and 63 out the second time, I used the Nissin size 2.5 level line. I am continually surprised at how well the long keiryu rods cast light tenkara lines. You really would think the rods were designed for them. I still like the extremely light keiryu lines for fishing weighted nymphs, but for unweighted wets or for dries, a size 2.5 Nissin line and a long rod will give you the best drifts you're ever gotten.
Despite their light weight they are surprisingly capable rods. Fishing with a tungsten bead head black Killer Bugger, I caught several 10-12" fish in moderate current and the rod was not even close to being maxed out.
On my next trip out with the Suntech Aoi ZPRO 63, I caught a 16 incher and the rod also had no trouble subduing the fish. And that is the difference between the Aoi ZPRO and the original Suikei ZPRO. I probably couldn't have stopped that fish with 8X tippet, which is the maximum that was recommended for the Suikei ZPRO. With the Aoi ZPRO and 6X, I was able to maneuver the fish into quieter water before he even tried heading downstream.
If you are looking for a rod that is both long and light, and can handle good size fish, the Suntech Aoi ZPRO 68 may be just what you are looking for. The 19.5" rainbow above did not take very long at all to get into the net.
The Suntech Aoi ZPRO is a keiryu rod, after all. I have mentioned the "zero" fishing concept several times. Basically, it is an attempt to add as little as possible (approaching zero) to the natural bait so that it achieves as close as possible to a perfectly natural drift. That means a small, light wire hook, the least amount of weight necessary to get the bait down to the fish, the lightest line possible and a rod with a very soft tip so the fish feels no resistance when it takes the bait. The rod has to be soft overall to protect the very light line.
The ZPRO series (the discontinued Suikei ZPRO, the Aoi ZPRO and the FMX Keiryu ZPRO) are Suntech's rods for the "zero" niche of keiryu fishing. The Aoi ZPRO in particular is a very nice rod indeed. The tip sections are quite soft, so you will see the markers dip before a fish feels any tension on the line. The midsection is firmer, though, which yields positive hook sets and better control over a fish than the extremely soft Suikei ZPRO or the full flex FMX Keiryu ZPRO. The Aoi ZPRO is also lighter weight than the FMX Keiryu ZPRO.
If you want to explore zero fishing, the Suntech Aoi ZPRO will take you as far as you want to go. The rod is rated for 10X tippet, which is just over 1# test and will very definitely test your skill. At first, you will very likely break the tippet on the hook set. You can learn to be a gentle fisher, although it will be hard to keep your pulse rate down when you have a fish on 1# test line!
As with other keiryu rods, the grip is a widened out section of the blank with a very effective nonskid finish. The grip screw cap is plastic, knurled for easy removal or tightening, and has a hole for ventilation. The rods have Fuji rod caps, KTC-16 for the two shorter rods and KTC-20 for the two longer rods. All have micro swivels to attach the lillian.
Weight (with cap)
Weight (without cap)
At first glance, you might think a 22' rod is way too long to even consider. However, when fishing on a stream that is wide enough, where there are no overhead tree limbs to get in the way of a long rod, the 6.8m Suntech Aoi ZPRO will give you more reach and better drifts than you have ever gotten before. The 7m rods that Craig Thoreson and I fished with at the Midwest Tenkara Fest were just way too effective and way too much fun to dismiss. If at all possible, go long.
Aoi ZPRO 53|
Aoi ZPRO 58|
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|I finally got out for the first fishing with my new Suntech Aoi ZPRO 53. Yes, another winner! At 17’ the rod is the lightest long rod rated for 6X that Chris carries, just right for the old age/bad shoulder set.
It casts beautifully, in spite of a strong, gusty wind, with 15’ of #2.5 level fluorocarbon line and 3’ to 4’ of 6X tippet. When reflected sun on the water obscured the line, the rod’s sensitivity transmitted the lightest bites; a pleasant surprise and something I didn’t expect due to its length.
So, if you’re looking for a long, but light rod and won’t be disappointed if Mr. Big busts the 6X, the ZPRO 53 is outstanding. Actually, 6X is plenty strong, as Chris points out, for the fish most of us catch and this rod is both delicate and beefy at the same time. Great rod! I highly recommend it.
Herb S, Michigan