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 fishing unweighted wet flies in small streams.
Because the line is tied to the rod tip, the rods have no guides and no reel seats. People might think cane pole or crappie rod but 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 crappie rod could do. And if that wasn't difference enough, they weigh just a few ounces and most 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 (back in 2007), 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 a very convenient length. The small size and light weight makes them a great choice for backpackers, for whom every ounce counts.
More significant, though, is that tenkara rods are designed to cast a much lighter line than fly rods, and most tenkara rods are longer than fly rods. The longer rod and lighter line allow tenkara anglers to keep their line off the surface, minimizing drag, and to manipulate their flies in ways that are difficult with a shorter rod and heavier line stuck in the water's grip.
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 seiryu rod or a keiryu rod might be a better choice.
Seiryu rods are designed for smaller fish in streams with modest current. The Japanese use them for chubs and dace. Most Americans use them for smaller trout - and they are wonderful light, sensitive rods for fishing smaller streams.
Keiryu rods are designed for fishing with weight - split shot and bait in Japan, but generally bead head flies in the US. Most keiryu rods have firmer midsections than tenkara rods, allowing them to get good hook sets with fishing deeper in the water column. Most are also quite a bit longer than tenkara rods. In general, most keiryu rods are better than most tenkara rods at fishing weighted nymphs.
Carp rods, not surprisingly, are designed for catching carp. People have used tenkara rods for carp. Carp have broken tenkara rods. I would urge people who want to target larger fish, whether carp, channel cats, or schoolie stripers to use rods actually designed for larger fish.
Over the last few years, a lot of small companies have sprung up and
are offering tenkara rods - in some cases the very same rod with a
different name and paint job. Some I've fished with and some I haven't,
but I can assure you that there is a big difference between a rod
designed and built by a Japanese company with a long history of making
tenkara rods and a rod bought by a startup company over the internet
from an outfit in China that has been making tenkara rods for only a few
years. Even the best known US company has only been making rods (in
China) for a few years. Tenkara is a traditional Japanese fishing style,
it only makes sense to buy from companies that grew up with that
If you want the best, follow the tradition. Go to the source.
Please click on the links or the photos to go to pages with detailed write-ups and Add to Cart buttons for the rods.
Tenkara rods are not grouped by line weight like fly rods. Instead many 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.
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
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