August 1, 2015

TrailLite Designs Stream Sutikku -- review

I recently received a new product from TrailLite Designs' owner Thom Darrah.  I have a few TrailLite Designs products and I have found them to be well designed, functional, light weight and robust. I use the TrailLite Designs Ti Tenkara net all the time and have come to appreciate it's functionality in every day use.

The new product I received is the Stream Sutikku. As Thom says on the website: Sutikku ("soo-teek-coo") means stick in Japanese.   This wading staff is the modern version of the classic wading accessory. It is made of carbon fiber, thus making it very lightweight and sturdy. The handle section is 17 mm in diameter. Fully collapsed it is 80 cm. Fully extended it is a very generous 145.5 cm. It can be adjusted to any length in between by twisting the lower section counter clockwise, sliding it in or out to the desired length, then twisting it clockwise to tighten. This is very similar to the mechanism on many trekking poles.  The surface of the staff is slightly textured, due to the carbon fiber weave, thus allowing a positive grip. The weight of the staff (without the rubber tip cover) is 155.5 g.

Carbon fiber weave

Length fully collapsed

Length fully extended

At the top of the Stream Sutikku is a small compass. There is also a loop to aid in holding the staff. On the tip of the staff is an anodized milled aluminum cleat, which aids in biting though moss for a more sure contact with the stream bottom. For those seeking a more stealthy contact, a rubber tip cover is provided.

Milled aluminum cleat

Rubber tip cover

I found the Stream Sutikku to be very well made and easy to use. I'm not sure that the compass really is of any usefulness.  Rather maybe a removable top showing a 1/4" threaded platform to allow you to mount your camera so the wading staff becomes a monopod might be more useful.

The staff does oscillate in deep, fast water, but then again, every telescoping type wading staff does this. The Stream Sutikku is better than most and I can only attribute this to the carbon fiber material. Water does get on the inside but it drains out the holes at the top (the ones the the hand loop goes through) when the staff is inverted. This is much better than trekking poles, which have to be pulled apart to dry.

Conclusion: I like this wading staff. It's very lightweight, excellently designed and constructed, and very sturdy. It is a little too thin for my extra large size palms, but I'll add a wrap and that will be fixed. The aluminum tip cleat really bites onto rocks, and the included rubber tip cover works great in softening the sound. All in all -- it's another winner from TrailLite Designs!

Here is a video of me using the Stream Sutikku on a typical moderate sized mountain stream.

July 27, 2015

Backcountry Trip -- July 2015

I just got back from a backcountry trip that I took with my son. We hiked into some difficult to reach streams in the greater Yellowstone area. I've been to these streams before but he had not. He soon will be applying to graduate school and so I might not get another chance to take him to these special places. This past weekend was my chance.

After driving a few hours we parked the truck on the side of a remote forest service dirt road, in a place where the map showed the best overland route to the first stream. We didn't follow any official or established trail, rather, we followed the USGS 7.5 minute map for the area and used compass to navigate. We hiked cross country until we reached the canyon that contained our first stream.

It takes about 35-40 minutes of a very steep descent into the canyon before reaching the stream, but once reached it is heaven. The water is crystal clear, there are no signs of human trespass and there are cutthroats a plenty.

We changed into our wading gear (waist high waders for him and hip waders for me) and started fishing upstream. He used a Tenkara Times Try 390 with a 3.3 meter Soft Tenkara line and I used a Nissin Air Stage Fujiryu Tenkara rod with a 12 foot #3 line. We fished subsurface all morning, he using a #10 UKB and I various kebari. The UKB out fished my flies easily. We fished pretty steadily, only stopping to eat an early lunch.

We caught cutthroats ranging from 8 inches to 14 inches. He also picked up a mountain whitefish. But after a few hours it started to rain and so we knew it was time to climb out of the canyon and head to our next destination.

The climb out also takes about 35 minutes and it is extremely grueling. Essentially, it is straight up a canyon wall, no trail. The first 100 feet is a 60° slope and from then on to the top is only 50°. By the time we got to the top we were pretty tired. Last time I did this climb I lost my vision for a few seconds half way up. This time was better.

We hiked back to the truck, drove north and got to our next "trail head" by late afternoon. From there we once again went by map and compass, hiking through pristine forest until we reached our predetermined camp spot. Since we were in the backcountry and off trail, we minimized our impact by hammock camping. We set up camp and cooked our supper --  chana masala and lentils over rice. I boiled the water on my titanium wood stove. I started the fire with flint and steel techniques, getting the fire going after only the second strike.

My pack

My tinderbox


Bear precautions -- hanging the food and all "smellables"

Camp -- minimizing our impact

The next morning we ate a hot breakfast and had our morning hot drink then geared up and left base camp, hiking about 0.25 mile in our waders until we reached our targeted river. From there we fished thorough out the pocket water, catching rainbows from 8 inches to 13 inches. He once again used the Try 390 but I used a Daiwa 53 MF with a long line, casting two handed.

After fishing the large river for a while we decided to head back to camp via fishing a small stream. I switched over to the Daiwa 45MC that I had with me and we walked side by side up the stream fishing all the best lies.

I didn't take many pictures of the fish we caught, mainly because I was having too much fun fishing with and instructing my son. We got back to camp, had lunch, packed up and hiked out.

It was a great weekend. This is what life is really about: getting outdoors and spending time with family, using backcountry skills to get to some really isolated and beautiful places, fishing, camping, and having plenty of time to talk -- not about anything special, just talk.

Me, at the end of the hike, still alive.

I hope I'll be able to go other places with my son but for now we have this trip. It was great!

July 20, 2015

Nissin Zerosum Oni Honyru Tenkara -- review, part I

I recently received in the mail the new Nissin Zerosum Oni Honryu Tenkara rod. This is the long awaited big water, big fish tenkara rod mainly designed for the US market and for US rivers, and is a collaboration between Tenkara no Oni and Nissin Tenkara. Discussions about this rod have been on the forums for a few weeks; some of the discussions getting a little heated. So I was pretty interested in seeing this rod and comparing it to the Shimano Honryu 44 NP that I just recently had.

The rod comes in a typical plastic carton and comes with a pale purple rod sleeve. The rod is glossy black in finish without any adornment or accents, excepting a woven carbon fiber accent on the tip of the handle section.

The handle is a gourd or camel shape and is made of high quality cork. There is less than usual amount of filler. The winding check is silver metal and fits tightly to the cork.

The tip plug is black nylon plastic and fits tightly without slipping. The butt cap is also black plastic and is rounded for comfort when palming the butt of the handle. There is a silver accent band, and a rubber bumper but no air hole. The butt cap is slightly knurled to aid in its removal.

The lilian is classic red and is attached to the tip with a perfectly executed glue joint. The tip section can be withdrawn through the second section for complete rod disassembly.

Here are some specs:

Collapsed (with tip plug): 63.5 cm
Fully extended: 448 cm
Weight (without tip plug): 97.8 gm
CCS/RFI: 20 pennies/4.4
Rotational Moment: 8.73!

Rod Flex Index comparison chart

Casting the rod is quite nice for a long rod. Due to it's length (and weight), it has quite a bit of inertia and to get the rod moving through the air takes effort. This would be expected of any single hand rod 450 cm in length. As you would guess from the rotational moment calculation, the rod is tip heavy. However, it's moment number is high due to it's heavy weight, not it's center of gravity measurement. In fact, although its rotational moment number is much higher than the Shimano Honryu 44 NP, the Zerosum Oni 450 feels a little less tip heavy. I attribute this to the fact that even though it is longer than the 44NP, its center of gravity point is closer to the handle than the 44 NP. Now, only if it weighed the same as the 44 NP, then its rotational moment would be 7.5!

I used an 18 foot fluorocarbon twisted line (with 4.5 feet of 5X tippet) made by John Vetterli of Tenkara Guides LLC. I was casting into a 15 mph head wind and the rod had no problem turning over the line and tippet. The rod loaded well with this line. I have a 7 meter Fujino Tenkara* line coming that I'll be interested in trying with this rod.

I like the casting curve of this long rod better than the 44 NP. It is still relaxed, but it can handle a complex line (furled, twisted, tapered) better than the 44 NP.

So overall I think I'll mostly like this rod, but I have yet to fish it -- I will this fall. I am disappointed in the high rotational moment, but then again, the rod is quite robust and should stand up to fish larger than I generally go after. I'm sure I'll use the rod, but it won't be my first choice. It likely will be fatiguing after many hours of use and so if I'm going to be on larger waters with large fish I'll stick to a two handed rod. Again, I don't want to risk a forearm or shoulder injury again -- been there, done that!

You can get one of these rods from Chris at Tenkara Bum.

* Update: July 21, 2015: I received a Fujino Tenkara 7 meter tapered line today from Tenkara Bum. I got the rod out and cast this line on my lawn. What a great match. The line casts perfectly with the Zerosum Oni Tenkara rod. FYIW, the line also casts beautifully with my Daiwa 53 MF. I look forward to using both of these rods with this line.

July 13, 2015

Shimano Honryu 44 NP -- dry review

I recently received a new but rare rod designed by Dr. Hisao Ishagaki in collaboration with Shimano tenkara. I say rare because it is my understanding that of the first run, only a few were made and they have all been sold. This rod I have may be the only one in the US, I'm not sure.

The 44 NP is designed to be a large stream or river rod, hence the term honryu, which interpreted is mainstream. Because of this it is a very long one handed rod.

The rod comes in a typical Japanese plastic carton and has a sparkly knit rod sock included. The rod is glossy black and without any accents. The fit and finish are perfect, as with all Shimano rods. It is a high carbon content rod with advertised carbon content of 97.3%.  Here is the Shimano page for the 44 NP.

The handle is similar to the Shimano 34-38 ZL, that is, black EVA foam in a gourd or camel shape. The rod end of the handle is cork, however. The word "Tenkara" is formed into the foam portion of the handle. The handle is 30.1 cm in length.

The tip plug is wood. It fits snugly into the tip end of the handle section. The butt cap is gold anodized metal. It has a coin slot for removal but no knurling. There is a rubber bumper and a small air hole.

The lilian is dark brown and is attached directly to the tip section with a perfectly executed glue joint. The tip section can be retracted through the second section for complete disassembly for drying and cleaning.

Here are some specs:

Fully collapsed: 100.5 cm
Fully extended: 436 cm
Number of sections: 5
Weight without tip plug: 84 g
CCS/RFI: 16.5 pennies/3.9
Rotational Moment: 7.9

I will disclose at this point that I did not fish with the 44 NP. That's why I call this a dry review (as opposed to a wet review where I fish the rod). I did this because as soon as I picked it up and extended it I knew that I would not want to keep it. This is mainly do to the tip heaviness of the rod. It's rotational moment is 7.9. This is high enough that it has noticeable tip heaviness. I have had extensor tendonitis in my right arm before and I can not risk developing it again. Like many, my hands are my livelihood and a tendon injury is not what I want. Therefore, I try not to fish with any rod that has a rotational moment higher that 7-7.1. Since I knew I wasn't going to keep the rod I only cast it on my front lawn.

The rod casts very smoothly. It has a slow, exact action that most would agree is in the 5:5 flex action range. Because it is a long rod it takes deliberate casting action to get it to move through the air.  I compared it to my Nissin Royal Stage 400 7:3 and the 44 NP requires more energy to move. The Nissin is 410 cm long and one would not think the 26 cm more length would make that much difference, but it does. FYI, the Royal Stage 400 7:3 has a rotational moment of 6.9. It is much less tip heavy.

I cast the 44 NP with a #3 and #3.5 lines, each 14 feet long. These lines seem a good match for this rod.

Conclusion: I almost liked this rod.  I can tell it has been designed well, but it is too tip heavy for my liking. I'm sure someone with stronger forearms will like this rod but it's not for me. The action is rich and slow and the materials are second to none. I guess I could keep the rod as a collectors item, but then it doesn't serve its purpose, so with that, I'll sell it (and it has been sold). So, if I want to go longer than 410 cm I think I'll need to stick to two handed rods. I have just began to explore these rods.