March 15, 2013

TFO Soft Hackle SH 116 rod -- pseudo-review

Recently I was able to see and sort of use a Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO) Soft Hackle 11' 6" tenkara rod. Up until now I have only read about this rod, but I was unable to actually cast one. Given what I have read, I decided not to buy one but rather wait until I could cast someone elses rod.

The rod is the first tenkara rod made by a major western fly fishing rod company. TFO had some big name consultants on board when designing this rod, but as far as I can tell no Japanese tenkara masters or anyone who had practiced tenkara for many, many years. Of course, tenkara experience in the US is pretty immature with only a handle full of folks practicing tenkara for more than 4 years. Chris Stewart saw what was probably a prototype in the summer of 2011 in Montana. He was able to see Yvon Chouinard's tenkara rod and Chris has stated that this rod was likely where the TFO SH 116 came from. That's not hard and fast knowledge, but an educated guess. I'm sure if I have my facts too far off I'll hear from some folks.

Chris Stewart with Yvon Chouinard and possible TFO SH 116 prototype (from The FLy Line)

Chouinard with his rod (from LearnTenkara)

Since I was using a fly shop demo rod, I wasn't able to get any detailed pictures. I'll use pictures already available on line.

from TFO

 The SH 116 is a handsome rod weighing in at about 83 gm (2.9 oz). It collapses to 52 cm (20.5 inches). The cork appears to be high quality, but the one I played with was used so it is hard to say how it might have looked new. The handle is pretty much cylindrical with a very subtle curvature. The butt cap is hard plastic without any knurling.  The tip cap is similar to Tenkara USA's cap -- wood with plastic and rubber. The lilian is attached directly. The overall finish of the rod is pretty cool. It is in what would be best described as a faux bamboo motif. It is quite artistic for a tenkara rod!

from TFO

I wasn't able to fish with the rod, but I was able to handle and cast it for quite a while. I used a 13 foot Streamside Leaders furled tenkara line (because that's what was available at the fly shop) with tippet and fly. I have casted/fished with enough different rods (to date, over 25 different fixed line rods) so I think I have a pretty good idea how the rod would be on the water. The first thing that struck me was how stiff the rod was. In fact, as I was first casting it, the fly shop guy asked me what I thought and then appeared puzzled when I answered "it's stiff". What he couldn't appreciate is that although the TFO was the only tenkara rod he had ever used, it was one of many that I had used! This rod is pretty stiff. The 10' 6" version is measured on the Common Cents Scale (CCS) as a 31. That's pretty stiff -- right in the same stiffness range as a Tenkara USA Amago. I am told that the 11' 6" version is a little softer, but it didn't feel very soft to me. I'd say it is on the stiff side of a stiff-tip7:3; probable CCS of 30-31. That's just a educated guess though.

As far as casting, the rod did cast the heavy furled line extremely well. It provided excellent accuracy; I would have liked to have had a level line available for comparison though.

Conclusion: I mostly like the rod, but it feels a little too stiff for me. To me, it felt stiffer than my Daiwa LT36SF, and that is supposedly a 7:3 tenkara rod. Believe me, I have some stiff, power rods (Shimano Kozuka 39NT, Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 39, and Daiwa Sekkei 36M) so I know what is a stiff rod. This rod isn't as stiff or "fast" as those rods, but not too far off. This rod has enough backbone that it could easily handle any fish I would be likely to catch, but also not "feel" the little guys that are so much fun on a tenkara rod. But, match a long PVC line to this rod and you could have a blast with bass flies on your favorite pond or lake -- irregardless of the wind!

Another complaint is the handle. Personally, I prefer a handle that has a prominent bulb or bulge near the butt end -- a so called camel hump, gourd, or hour-glass shape. I think the SH 116 handle would give me hand cramps and hand fatigue after fishing it for a while. If you have a small palm size, this handle likely would not be an issue.

I feel that this was sort of a hemi-semi-demi review, since I wasn't able to actually fish the rod. Sorry about that. Would fishing this rod change my mind? Maybe, but I doubt it.

You may ask, am I going to buy one? My answer: No.


  1. Tom, as you know i have the 10'6 (weights 75 gram). I like it very much and use it mostly on my kayak. It is not a rod for small querry perhaps an 8" fish is still fun with it. For people using popping bugs and the like with a pvc line (my case) it is a very handsome rod for warm water or lake/pond especies. I didn't have much time to try it with nymphs but i feel it will do just fine with them also.
    Thanks for the review.

    1. Thanks for your input, Carlos. I bet this rod is fun with bass!