April 8, 2013

Shimotsuke Ten tenkara rod -- review

Recently I purchased a Shimotsuke Ten tenkara rod so that I could see how this other Japanese rod maker compares to my Daiwa, Shimano, and Nissin rods. I have used Shimotsuke rods before, but they have been keiryu rods not tenkara rods. I bought the Ten used, but only slightly used, so it is essentially new.

Shimotsuke makes many different types of rods, but only two styles of tenkara rods. One style is the Ten (or heaven) and Mai 380 cm rods and the other is Tenkara Brother 330 and 360 cm rods.  The Ten and Mai are premium level rods while the "Brother" is an entry level rod. The main difference between the Ten and the Mai is carbon content and thus overall flex. The Shimotsuke Ten is a 20 penny mid or half-flex rod (maybe more of a 3/4 flex) on the Common Cents Scale and the Mai is 17 penny full-flex rod.

Shimotsuke tenkara rods are used by tenkara-master Katsutoshi Amano. He uses the Ten and Mai, but it is not clear if he consulted on their design.

The Shimotsuke Ten comes in a classic plastic carton so common with Japanese tenkara rods. A rod sleeve or sock is provided, and like the Shimano 34-38 ZL the sock looks more like a 1970's sweat headband than something to protect your rod.

The rod itself is beautiful. The overall motif appears to be pseudo-bamboo but in a different style than the TFO SH 116. The coloration is yellow-gold with green "vegetation" accents on the lower sections of the rod. The top two sections are glossy black making a striking contrast to the lower sections when fully extended.

The rod designation

Green accents

The handle is cork with a unique double hump curvature. It is different than the more smooth gourd-like curvature of my Daiwa LT36SF or Nissin Zerosum 360 cm rods but just as effective in creating multiple hand locations. As I have stated before, my palm size is "very large" and therefore I tend to get hand fatigue with non-curved or cylindrical handles. I am not disappointed by the Ten's handle shape.

No cork filler

The other interesting thing about the handle is that none of the cork defects are filled! I find this unique to this rod and greatly different from any other rod I have owned. Most all other rod companies try at least to fill in the natural cork defects to created a smooth and flawless appearing handle. This handle is not that way. The funny thing is that I don't find this a put-off in any way. In fact, it creates a beautiful handle with contrast between the cork and the slightly darker defects. The defects themselves are very shallow but ironically may aid in providing increased grip due to their increased surface tactile contrast and friction.

The lilian is attached with a micro-swivel and is red. Like all the Japanese tenkara rods I have it does not have a knot on the terminal end.

Lilian and micro-swivel

The tip plug is black nylon plastic and has micro-grooves which aid in keeping the plug from spontaneously falling out. It has a good amount of friction when inserted into rod -- not too loose -- so it is unlikely to spontaneously fall out. The butt cap is gold colored metal. It has a rubber insert to reduce rattling from the collapsed segments. There is a modestly aggressive knurling that aids in removal of the cap. There is also a small drainage hole.

Tip plug

Butt cap

The rod is very lightweight at 64 gm without the tip plug (I'm not sure why it says it weighs 75 gm on the carton, it clearly weighs 64 gm). Extended it is 380 cm long. Fully collapsed it is 59 cm.

Fishing this rod is a real pleasure. It is mid-flex with great rod loading, even with a light line such as a #3. The rod will cast with all weights of level line, but I prefer a #3-3.5. I have not used a furled line with this rod as I normally don't fish furled lines. The casting stroke is smooth and unlabored. There is no appreciable tip oscillation and the rod has excellent dampening at the end of a cast. Targeting is very controlled and excellent when using a light line. The cantilever effect is very minimal;  not even slight hint of tip heaviness.

Fighting fish is fun with this rod. Although it is a "mid-flex" rod, it flexes all the way to the handle with a 12 inch trout in a brisk current. This is true tenkara fish size. This rod, like all Japanese tenkara rods, is designed for 6-14 inch trout or char species swimming in moderate to moderately-high gradient water. It wasn't designed for panfish, bass, or large trout; since that isn't Japanese tenkara. Still, this rod would do fine with all of these pursuits except maybe large bass and trout larger than 16 inches (depending on the current speed).

Here is a video of some of the fish I caught with this rod. The water was fast and largest fish was a 16 inch Bonneville cutthroat. The fish and current tested the rod but it handled them well, although I'd say that the 16 incher was about as big as I'd want to go with this rod! Sorry about the water droplets on the lens, it was raining.

Conclusion: I like this rod.  The Ten is lightweight, smooth casting, quick dampening and aesthetically beautiful. The handle appears at first to be unusual, but it is very comfortable and non-fatiguing. I consider this rod a premium tenkara rod made by a well known and established Japanese rod company. It is a true tenkara rod and therefore can handle "true"  Japanese tenkara fishing and Japanese fish size. I wouldn't choose this rod if I were after 16-18+ inch fish. It is made for "tenkara fish", that is, 6-14 inch trout in a modest current.

I like the Ten more than the Shimano 34-38 ZL (this is a zoom rod) but not as much as the Nissin Zerosum 360 cm 7:3, but it is close. If you want one, or the slightly more flexible Mai, or even the basic "Brother" tenkara rod contact Chris Stewart at TenkaraBum. He can get you one!


  1. Very cute cane ... thanks for sharing your opinion ...

  2. Glad you like this rod, I've got a Shimano Mainstream on order with Chris that should hopefully be made and shipped in the next couple of months.

  3. How many good rods out there... This is one i would like to put my hands on...
    Thanks for sharing.