December 12, 2015

Tenkara Tanuki "Black Beauty" 375 tenkara rod -- review, part II

In my last post I talked about some of the physical characteristics of the Tanuki 375 rod. Here I will discuss how it fishes on a typical mountain stream. But first, I'd like to share a conversation that I had with Luong Tam, the designer of the Tanuki line of tenkara rods.

I asked Tam if he'd like to share some of his design process, materials and overall goals for this rod. He's a very engaging guy and shared a lot through  a recent email.  As you will see, Tam is not just a tenkara angler who wanted to get into the business of selling rods. He is an engineer as well as an avid tenkara angler. He designed his own rods, chose the materials and did hours of testing  before ever releasing his first offering. Here is some of his information that he shared:

"About myself, I was trained as a designer and architect. My passion is fly fishing.

I love to build rods. I created my first bamboo rod when I was about nine years old. It was a one-piece fixed line rod, about 1 meter long. When the dot com bubble bursted around 2002 - I was working in the industry - I tried to build bamboo rods for almost a year and hang out with bamboo rod makers. I learned a lot about rod making at the time. I love the idea and feeling of bamboo rods and the lightness of carbon fiber. That was the beginning. 

Initially, I just wanted to build tenkara rods for myself and some friends in 2014. Then I was getting deep into it without knowing. I ended up quitting my job so I can concentrate on the design. I was constantly thinking how to engineer the rods and how to put materials together. Designing tenkara rods became obsession that was intriguing and inspiring at the same time. 

One of the most challenging aspects of creating Tanuki rods is that it is a marriage between tradition and innovation. It has the traditional Japanese rod feel with some aspects of Western style fishing. It also was a combination of modern technology and materials into an age-old fishing method. I created mission statement “Best of Both Worlds”. 

On the engineering side, it was challenging to keep the traditional soft and smooth casting of Japanese rod, at the same time retain the stiffness of the Western style which helps control accurate casting. Modern technology and material helped me achieve the desired result. On the aesthetic side, I wanted my rods to reflect traditional Japanese culture in modern time. I am inspired by Japanese simplicity in design which, I think, is focused and elegant. 

The most difficult thing in design was the use of materials. Which material should I use and how to use it? I like to use the latest and the greatest available. This may come from the fact that I am a software engineer, being exposed to the cutting edge technology. I chose the best material I could find, or material that will become the standard in the next few years when other rod makers figure out ( ). The higher the modulus of carbon fiber, the lighter the weight but stiffer and brittler. I need to develop a rod taper to take advantage of the light weight without losing the softness of traditional Japanese rod. 

Most of the top sections, I used extras wraps of different woven carbon fiber material to reinforce the connections and decorative elements to a point of overdoing it.

The Grip
I learned a lot when I was redesigning the grip for Tanuki375. I used EVA foam over cork for durability, comfort and aesthetics. The grip for all Tanuki rods uses extremely high grade and high density EVA. The high density EVA helps to transmit the blank vibration better. Many nymph fishers love to feel the rod vibration. Initial Tanuki375 had a narrow grip. When I took a few to Oni School USA in Utah, the feedback was that it was a little tight for a larger hand.

I increased the grip diameter by 3/32 of an inch. By increasing the diameter, a fisher feels more comfortable but less connected. It is also affects the balance of the rod. That became a problem.

Larger diameter grip turned out to be a lot more challenging to create than I thought. It took me three months to solve this problem and I ended up with a lot better balanced and more comfortable rods without sacrificing the feeling of the previous Tanuki375 narrow grip. It weighs only 12 grams more. 

I was wondering how to create rods that reflect Japanese culture in a modern time. While I was studying at U.C. Berkeley, I often attended lecture series on Japanese architects and designers. I also had a chance to spend a few months in Japan and learn its culture and design while I was a student. Since then I have been inspired by the simplicity and elegance of Japanese aesthetics. Now it is time for me to put everything together.

Besides the engineering and aesthetics of the design, I want to give my rod a soul. Without a soul, it was going to be an incomplete rod. I named the rod “Tanuki”. Tanuki is a popular Japanese mythical and magical creature. It is a very interesting character. It represents both good and devilish sides of human nature. Tanuki375 has a nickname “Black Beauty”  to celebrate the good side. I need help from all Tanuki fishers to build up Tanuki's soul and character.

I am very happy with Tanuki375. It is the best of both worlds. It is designed for all levels of fishers."

As you can see, the Tanuki 375 is not a rod bought off Alibaba for $20, repainted and then sold for $129. It is a custom design, made with the highest quality materials and thoroughly tested so to bring the best experience to the tenkara angler.

I found this to be so. The rod's balance is excellent and the handle is very comfortable. The rod easily cast unweighted flies on a #3-3.5 fluorocarbon level line. It also just as easily handled tungsten bead head nymphs (I only fished one at a time however, no dropper set up). Also, I found that I really like the little extra length that the 375 cm length gives me. On my streams the sweet spot is 380 cm, and the Tanuki 375 is right there.

I caught trout from 8 inches to 14 inches. I did hook a larger trout, probably in the 16 inch range, but he spit the hook and got off. The rod never felt under powered, even when the 14 inch brown got into the faster current.

Conclusion: The Tenkara Tanuki 375 is a great rod. I really like it. It has the subtlety to cast with finesse, but the power to throw bead head nymphs and fight nice sized trout in a moderately fast current. I like the length, action, balance, aesthetics and overall design.  I don't care for the tip plug; I'd rather see a wood or black nylon plug. Also, I prefer cork handles, but I'm not that opposed to EVA foam. So, all in all, I think anyone buying this rod would be very pleased with what they get.

Disclaimer:  My opinion regarding this rod is just that, my opinion. Your opinion may differ.  Also, your rod may not have the same characteristics or functionality as my rod. There are variations between rods, even in the same production run. No description can fully tell you how a rod feels or fishes. For this, you must personally hold, cast, and fish the rod then make up your own mind. 

I purchased this rod and have no formal affiliation with Luong Tam and Tenkara Tanuki. 

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