October 22, 2014

Zen Fly Fishing Gear Baichi tenkara rod -- review

If you've been following my blog for even a short amount of time you will know that I like reviewing rods. I try to be objective and fair in my reviews and avoid words like "terrible", "horrible", "sloppy", etc. But I just purchased a rod that challenges my vocabulary in this regard.

I recently saw online a new tenkara start up based out of Colorado. It is called Zen Fly Fishing Gear. Another name for the company is Zen Tenkara. As I perused their website I saw that they had a series of tenkara rods that look very much like other Chinese manufactured rods available today. But there was one rod that caught my eye. It is the Baichi. This rod is a 9 foot to 11 foot zoom rod -- something that could be interesting to a small stream tenkara fisher such as myself. Here is what Zen Tenkara says about the rod on their website: "Baichi means “medium” and ours is a medium “zoom” rod. Fished at either 9’ or 11’ this tenkara rod has a 7:3 flex and features our new swivel tip Lillian. The Baichi is the perfect transition rod for those attached to their 9’ 5 weight. This rod is light and incredibly flexible but was designed with guides, transition anglers and high durability in mind. It’s stiffer and less delicate - providing easier hook-ups, and, can take more of a beating. We created this rod for bigger fish, 14”-20” and is a powerhouse for nymphing. It could quickly become your go-to tenkara rod. We recommend between 4x and 6x tippet."

After reading this I thought "7:3", "medium", "incredibly flexible" are words I was interested in. But the "It's stiffer and less delicate" had me confused. How could it be stiffer and less delicate and be incredibly flexible at the same time? I just had to find out -- so I bought one.

I ordered the rod on Oct 13th and received it on Oct 21st. The rod came in a standard green rod tube so common to other non-Japanese tenkara rods. With the rod came a black fabric rod sleeve, a sticker, a rubber wrist band, and a dog tag.

The finish of the rod is glossy black with green accents at the upper portions of the sections, except the tip section (1st section). There are seven sections. The 6th section friction fits into the handle (7th) section, thus allowing it to be extended on demand, making this rod a zoom rod -- zooming between 9 feet and 11 feet in length. This friction fit connection is slightly loose, allowing the two sections to chatter just a little but during casting.

Zoom section

The handle is moderate quality cork with lots of filler. It has a slight camel or double hump shape and fills the hand nicely. It is 29 cm long. The winding check is non-glare metal and fits tightly against the cork.

The tip plug is metal and plastic and has the standard faux marble that comes with some other Chinese rods. It fits snugly into the tip of the 6th section. The butt cap is metal with a plastic post. This post is for the zoom feature. There are two rubber O-rings on the post, but mine had only one that functioned. One of them was broken and had fallen off the post. The metal of the butt cap is knurled to aid with removal. There is no drainage hole.

Tip plug

Butt cap with broken O-ring (came from Zen Tenkara like this)

The tip section is very stiff. I've never used a rod with such a stiff tip section. There is a micro-swivel that is glued on straight. The lilian is standard red, is 9 cm long and is quite thick.

Here are some specifications: Collapsed, the rod is 67 cm long. Extended, the rod is 288 cm and 334 cm in the 9 foot and 11 foot configurations, respectively. Without the tip plug, the rod weighs 104.2 gm. For a short tenkara rod, that is heavy! As far as flex profile, this rod is off the charts! On the Common Cents System the rod measures 58 pennies! This gives the Baichi a Rod Flex Index of 20. Now that's stiff! It makes the BPL Hane look like a flexible willow stick!

Length in 9 foot configuration

Length in 11 foot configuration

Weight without tip plug

As far as casting, this rod is a stick. I couldn't get the rod to throw a line very well at all. I'm betting this rod was designed to lob cast heavy subsurface flies. I could tell within the first few seconds that this rod was not a tenkara rod, but rather, a fixed line fishing rod that was designed to be similar to a 5wt 9 foot western fly rod without ferrules. I didn't even take the plastic off the handle but put it back in the rod tube, got on the Zen Tenkara website, and requested a return request.

Shortly after submitting my return request I received a phone call from Adam at Zen Tenkara. He asked why I wanted to return the rod and I explained. He stated that the rod was designed to be used in heavy nymphing, such as Euro nymphing for larger fish on tailwaters. I pointed out to him, then the rod should not be labeled a tenkara rod, since that is not tenkara. Rather it is fixed-line fishing. He admitted the rod was not designed for light line - kebari tenkara fishing.

So here's the beef, if you want a rod that is stout for Euro nymphing, this rod may answer your needs. You could also consider the Nissin Sensui 330 which is a short, stiff nymphing rod but weighs only 59 g and costs far less. But as for tenkara, real tenkara, the Baichi not the rod. If you want a tenkara rod that zooms, for small streams, I'd go with the Tenkara USA Rhodo. It's exactly as described online.

The rod is named Baichi, which they say means "medium". The only definition of Baichi I could find was in Chinese and it means "idiot".  Maybe I was an idiot for buying this rod, but I was mislead by its online description. It is not "incredibly flexible" nor "light". Rather, it is very stiff and heavy and is not designed for Japanese tenkara fishing, but instead, is designed for Czech nymphing. Maybe instead of being called the Baichi, it should be called the Koště Hůl, which in Czech means "broom stick".

As with all of my rod reviews, my opinion is just that, my opinion. Maybe you would like this rod. If you want to find out, buy one.

October 16, 2014

What I've Been Fishing Lately

I recently fished a favorite autumn creek of mine. I usually fish this creek when I don't have a lot of time, or when I don't feel like driving a long way.  The last couple of times on the creek were less than stellar and so I approached it with a little trepidation, not knowing if this would be a catching day or not.

As I entered the water and worked my way upstream I was not getting into any fish. This was disappointing, but I persevered. The water was beautiful, the temperatures were right in the target zone and the sky was not too bright, all of which should have put me into fish right away.

About 2 PM I saw a few caddis on the water and started to take notice. Since starting tenkara, I have not been matching the hatch in any way, except on a few occasions during midwinter when the baetis where coming off. But this time I noticed. There were no fish rising, but I thought, "this has to be a sign" and I changed my fly.

Because the caddis were brown/grey, I change to a Soft Hackle Grey kebari. I used to use this fly all the time, but in the past year it has seen little water time. Way? I don't know. It's a good fly. I went with a #10 and started to work the undercuts that hug the banks of the creek.

Sure enough, even though I had just worked the same area, a deep undercut protected by a willow, with a white Takayama variant kebari, I hooked into my first fish. It was a nice 12 inch cutthroat. A few minutes later I had taken 3 cutthroats of the same size, and three smaller brookies from the same undercut.

As I worked my way upstream I took more fish, even in places where I had not taken fish before. Was it the fly? Was it the time of day? Was it my presentation and being in the right place at the right time? Probably all had something to do with it.

I tie this fly differently now than I had in the past. Now I use wool for the body. It uses less dubbing and it is more durable. The wool also absorbs water quickly and lets the fly sink. I still use a dubbed collar, mainly to hide the whip finish, but the fly looks and performs the same.

It's a nice fly. If you haven't used it before, give it a try...especially if there are caddis around!

Hook: #10-12 of whatever caddis pupa or scud hook you want.
Thread: 8/0 grey
Hackle: Partridge
Body: Shetland Sholmit/Mooskit 119
Dubbing collar: Grey Hare-Tron
Ribbing: Copper wire. Thin gauge for a lighter fly; heavy for a fly that sinks fast.

October 12, 2014

Tenkara Rod Wrap, AKA, a Rod Burrito

One of the joys I receive from tenkara is the ability to fish different rods on any given outing. Some  tenkara fishers think this is heresy, holding tightly to the "simplicity is best" model. I too like the simplicity of tenkara, but I am also a gear head and therefore like to explore different rods, with different lines on any given outing.

On most outing I'll usually carry two rods. But sometimes, when I'm exploring new waters, I'll try to carry a few rods, just to have all of my bases covered. In carrying these rods I don't generally use the original rod sleeve or tubes, as these must remain in excellent condition in case I decide to sell the rod. Therefore I needed a way to carry more than one rod, of varying collapsed length, and yet keep them protected.

Talking to my wife, and reviewing a prototype from another angler, I bought some inexpensive duck cloth, 1 inch webbing, some plastic buckles and such. I came up with a wrap that can hold up to eight rods. These rods can be the same collapsed length, or varying lengths. They are held in place by elastic straps, and are held tightly. I designed the wrap to allow the fisher to orient the rods in two different configurations depending on preference. One way is traditional, with all the handles oriented the same way. The other, my prefer method, is with the handles alternating with the tips. This second way reduces the bulk on one side of the wrap, created by handles.

The rods are slipped into the elastic holders, the ends of the wrap are clipped together, then the wrap is rolled and tied. I prefer ties to a buckle since the tie length is easily modified depending on how many rods are in the wrap.

The wrap can then be used as is, or slid into a 4" rod tube for more protection.

It's very nice and easy to make. I'm sure there would be many different variations but this design works well for me.

October 7, 2014

Tenkara -- October 1, 2014

I fished a small mountain stream this past week that had gin clear water and numerous small rainbow trout. The largest rainbow was 10 inches, but many had fat bellies and all were very energetic.

The air was crisp at 54 degrees F; the water was 48 degrees F. There was new snow on the hill tops and the leaves were changing color, into their autumn splendor.  Best of all, I was the only one on the water.

All in all, it was a great outing. This was new water to me and I'd say it was pretty successful. I'll be back next year; it was that fun.

Here is a short video of the trip: