June 25, 2015

The Question I'm Asked Most

When I get correspondence it is usually in the form of a question. The most common question I get is, "what rod would you recommend for a beginner?" This, of course, is a difficult question to answer because I don't know the type of fishing (stream, river, creek, pond, lake), the species and size of fish targeted (trout, warm water species, ...), the skill level, the personal goals, the budget, likes/dislikes and a whole bunch of other stuff of the person asking the question. Because of this, my answers are often vague and not full of details. I know this must be frustrating to the questioner, but I can't answer what I do not know.

I've often wondered why I get these questions. I guess it's because I have this blog and through it try to share what works for me and what doesn't. I hope that I've never mislead anyone by making them think I was an expert. I'm not. I'm just a guy with a blog. Still, I have fished with more tenkara rods than most and maybe that's why I'm asked my opinion regarding rods.

So in this post I'd like to answer the question: what rod (in the 360 cm range) would I recommend for a beginner. To answer this question I must follow two basic assumptions. One is that I can only recommend a rod that I have fished with myself. If I have no experience with a rod then I can not recommend it. Two, is that the rod be on the less expensive end of the price scale. I know that many beginners could afford a top of the line rod, and price is not a limiting factor, but many beginners just want a rod that they could learn tenkara on and see if they like it. They don't want to break the bank, or cry too much if they break the rod.

Before we begin, I want everyone to understand something. That is that I don't sell rods as a business. I have no formal or informal relationship with any rod maker or retailer. I am not now, nor have been in the past a wholesaler/retailer of tenkara rods. Also, I'm not a rod design consultant. Therefore I'm not beholding to anyone. When I give my opinion it is as untainted from the stains of money as I can possibly make it. In other words, I have no conflicts of interest to declare.  So, here I will present some entry level rods (tenkara only, not keiryu or seiryu) in order of cost (USD), from least to more expensive, that I think would work great for a beginner tenkara fisher. The order they are in is based on their cost -- don't read too much into their order. Here they are:

Tenkara Times 1st Step 360

I have fished with most all Tenkara Times rods and I like all of them. The 1stStep is an entry level rod that has all the features that would help a tenkara beginner to hone their skill and have fun doing it. The action is soft, full flex. This allows the fisher to feel the rod load and unload during casting. The finish is a nice non-glare matte. The construction is good and materials appear to be of good quality for its price point. This rod casts a level line really well. This is the rod that I bought for my son-in law to learn tenkara with. He really likes it too! You can get the 1stStep from either Tenkara Times or Three Rivers Tenkara. The price is $85.00 USD (at the time writing). My review of this rod is here. It comes with a rod tube and sock. It weighs 89 g.

Dragontail Shadowfire 360

This is a great rod for its price. Its action is softer than the Dragontail Tatsu 360 (a rod I personally don't care for).  The Shadowfire is well built, has a matte finish and throws both furled and level lines well.  I think it is such a solid entry level rod that I bought three of them to use as loaners for youth groups I teach to fish. Also, they are sold right here in my town by Brent Auger of Dragontail Tenkara. My review of the Shadowfire 360 is here. As this is a classic entry level rod it can be had for a bargain $89.99 (at the time of writing). It comes with a rod tube, and sleeve. It weighs 84 g.

Tenkara Rod Co. Sawtooth 360

This was the first Tenkara Rod Co. tenkara rod I bought and fished with. I got mine as part of their Kickstarter campaign. The Sawtooth is a pretty rod, and that feature might appeal to some. Its action is a little on the stiffer side of the 6:4 flex action scale and that said it casts a furled line well. Level lines can be used as well, but it casts better with a #4 than lighter level lines. I personally don't care for some of the Tenkara Rod Co. other rods, but this rod is good. This is the rod my son fishes with. The price is $129.00 USD. Although it costs more than some other entry level rods I don't think that it is that much better. In fact, I prefer the action and handle shape of some of the less expensive rods better than the Sawtooth. Maybe the price reflects the cost of the paint to make this rod so pretty. My review for the Sawtooth is here. It comes with a rod tube and sleeve. It weighs 88 g.

Tenkara USA Iwana 12'

This is the entry level rod by which all others are measured.  It is a beautiful rod that is robust and has stood the test of time. This was the first tenkara rod I bought and the rod that let me see how amazing tenkara could be. Its action is on the stiffer end of the 6:4 action scale. It throws both level lines and furled well, but like the Sawtooth, the Iwana answers to a #4 level line better than lighter lines. I don't know how many Iwana's have been sold but I'll bet there are more of them out there than the other rods I feature is this post. It sells for $157.00 USD. My (really old) review of the Iwana is here. It comes with a rod tube and sock. It weighs 76.5 g. I don't have an Iwana anymore, that's why I had to use a stock photo.

Nissin Prosquare 360

This is a really great rod. Of all the entry level rods I've presented here, it is the only rod designed and made in Japan. It's made by a company that has been designing and making tenkara rods for decades. The action is outstandingly smooth. The balance is excellent. Also, materials and fit/finish are fantastic for an entry level rod. All in all, it's about as good as it gets for this level of rod. I prefer a level line with this rod. The Prosquare comes in two action profiles: 6:4 and 7:3. Both are excellent, but as you'd expect the 6:4 is softer and more full flex than the 7:3. You can get this rod from a number of different vendors, but I'd recommend Tenkara Bum.  His (Chris Stewart) service and knowledge regarding all things tenkara is second to none. He can also point you to other rods (like keiryu or seiryu rods) that might be better suited to your needs than what I present here. The price for the 6:4 is $150.00 USD, while the 7:3 is $160.00 USD. The rod comes with a sleeve, but no tube. The 6:4 weighs only 62 g. The 7:3 weighs 71 g.  I sold my Prosquare and I never did do a formal review on it, again, that's why the stock photo.

I know there are other solid entry level rods available -- some I've used are no longer offered, but can be found used occasionally on sites like eBay. I mention these five because they are all still available and I have experience with them -- if I haven't fished them I can't recommend them. So if I didn't mention your rod don't be offended. I've heard good things about rods from Badger Tenkara, but I've not been able to get my hands on one. Allfishingbuy has a lot of proprietary 360 cm tenkara rods as well. I've fished their rods in other lengths but not 360 cm, that's why they aren't mentioned here.

So there you go, the answer to what rod I'd recommend for a tenkara beginner. All of these rods will serve you well. Now you just have to decide -- I can't help you there!


  1. Thanks for putting together this review of intro 360 rods. I like the idea of having an inexpensive rod to use as a loaner for young kids (they aren't as mindful of where they step or what they hit with the tip of the rod). Did you do the same thing with Western gear? Try all the different rods and reels and resell the ones you didn't like? You'd have to be made of gold, I think...; )

  2. Tom - very good information, as usual. Less than a year ago I became interested in tenkara and looked to make my first rod purchase. After reading reviews on your site and others, I decided on the Shadowfire. It's been an excellent rod for fishing small lakes, streams, and trout parks in Missouri. Your articles and videos are a great resource for those of us new to tenkara fishing. Thanks - Jeremy

  3. The Nissin Pro Square 360 is amazing for the price point. I love mine. It's not the cheapest starter rod, but like you say it's feather light and the fit and finish are top of the line. Having worked for a Japanese company, that's exactly what I expected from a rod made in Japan. Quality control matters!