June 10, 2016

Zen Fly Fishing Suzume review -- part 1

I love small stream tenkara. I find it challenging and yet, very rewarding. It has its own set of demanding situations and as such, the gear used can be quite different from classical Japanese, open stream, tenkara. I have yet to find a rod that meets all of the demanding situations that I encounter in my thin blue line creeks. But maybe I have now found a better rod.

I have reviewed one rod from Zen Fly Fishing in that past, and I found it not to my liking. What I didn't know at the time was that rod was not designed as a tenkara rod, even though it is called a tenkara rod. It was designed to be a rod that mimics a 5-6 wt western fly rod without the reel seat or guides. Therefore it is really stiff, heavy, and does not perform like a tenkara rod, especially with a level line. It was made for western fly anglers to "transition" over to tenkara by using something that was more familiar in flex to what they already use.

Well, I just received a Zen tenkara rod that is more to my idea of what a tenkara rod should be. It is the Suzume. This rod is Zen Fly Fishing's answer for small streams and creeks. It is a triple zoom rod, and can be fished in three different lengths, 7'7", 9'3", and 10'8" -- per their website.

The rod I purchased is a classic Chinese or Korean made rod, with all the usually accouterments one would expect from a Chinese rod. That said, the finish is well done, black, and glossy. The segments (except the tip and second segments) have two green-on-gold bands at their tip-ward ends, which act as accents. The rod designation is gold lettering and also well done. The rod comes in a standard green Chinese made rod tube (the kind that started with Tenkara USA and has been perpetuated ever since by other companies). It also has the standard black felt-like material rod sleeve that you can get with so many other rods.

One thing that is different, however, is that a spare tip and second section come with the rod, standard.

The handle is a camel shape and is quite thin over all. The cord looks what one would expect in this level of a rod with the standard defects and filler. The handle is 28 cm in length. The winding check is blued metal and fits tightly to the cork.

The zoom mechanism is a combination of a stepped butt post with O-rings and prominent friction tape flared sections on the two segments nearest the handle segment. This combination works well and makes the zoom segments hold nicely without rattling. I did find that one of my segments is hard to get back on the post after it had been fully extended. This was due to one of the O-rings being shredded by the graphite. I hope that Zen will have extra O-rings available, because I doubt my O-ring will last more than a few outings. In the mean time I'll try some silicone O-ring lubricant.

The shredded O-ring is going to be a problem.

The butt cap is blued metal which is knurled and has a coin slot, to aid in removal. There is also the zoom post as previously mentioned. There is no air hole. The tip plug is the standard Chinese tip plug that comes with every rod made in China. I've said it before on other rod reviews but I think this tip plug style is stupid looking, with its faux stone insert, it sort of looks like costume jewelry. But that's just me, I prefer a simple nylon plug; the kind that comes with most Japanese rods.  The tip plug does fit snuggly, for what its worth.

The lilian is thick red material and is attached to the first, or tip segment, with a micro swivel. The lilian on my rod came with a knot tied in it, which I don't really care for. But in this case it's not too much of a problem. I like to be able to disassemble the rod completely to clean it and dry it. The knot prevents this, but the glue joint at the swivel is too thick to allow complete disassembly anyway, so like I said, the knot is not much of a problem.

Here are some measurements from my rod:

Fully collapsed: 53 cm
Extended at the 7'7" configuration: 247 cm (8'1")
Extended at the 9'3" configuration: 288 cm (9'5")
Extended at the 10'8" configuration: 328 cm (10'9")
Weight (without tip plug): 71 g
CCS/RFI at 7'7" configuration: 13/5.3
CCS/RFI at 9'3" configuration: 16/5.6
CCS/RFI at 10'8" configuration: 18/5.5

Short length

Medium length

Long length

The rod's action is pretty nice, IMO. It has a pretty flexible tip section, but the rod gets a little stiffer the closer you get to the handle. This is born out in the CCS findings. At its shortest configuration the CCS is only 13 pennies. Yet in the longest configuration it's 18 pennies. You can see from this that the tip sections are quite flexible.

As far as casting, I used a #3.5 fluorocarbon level line to test the rod. All three length configurations throw the line just fine. The tip has some end of cast oscillation and doesn't dampen that quickly, but its not that bad. The casting stroke is shorter and faster in the 7'7" configuration than it is at the other lengths. It's much more of a flick of the wrist than a movement of the forearm.

So what do I think? Well, I'm cautiously optimistic, overall.  I am disappointed that my rod is not 7'7" at its short configuration. That's why I bought the rod in the first place. I have a few really heavily vegetated creeks that will not tolerate a 270 cm rod. I can only fish them with a 240 cm rod . We'll have to see if 247 cm is too long. It will probably be just fine.

I don't like the tip plug (sorry to belabor this point), and I'm worried about the O-rings tearing (BTW, silicone O-ring lubricant helps my rod a lot). Also, I'd rather have the lilian attach via a small, perfect glue joint that will come through the second segment for full rod disassembly, than a cheap micro-swivel. I doubt the swivel makes any difference on a rod like the Suzume.

But for the most part I'm pleased. I don't know what has happened at Zen since the last rod of theirs that I reviewed, but it's been a good thing. Paul Vertrees now works for Zen and I know he's a skilled tenkara angler. He's also an excellent hunter and woodsman, and an all around great guy. I suspect he's had a positive influence on the company. With Paul at Zen I'd like to see some high quality offerings worthy of our dollar, rather than more Chinese me-too rods -- there are plenty of them available out there in the tenkaraverse. I guess time will tell which direction Zen Fly Fishing will go.

Part 2 will be an on-the-water review for the small creek angler. Will the Suzume perform the way a small creek angler wants? We'll see. Stay tuned!

Disclaimer:  My opinion regarding this rod is just that, my opinion. Your opinion may differ.  Also, your rod may not have the same length, issues, 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 Zen Fly Fishing.


  1. Hi Tom,

    On the O-ring replacement issue, True Value Hardware stores (and I am sure other hardware chains as well) have O-ring files with little pull out drawers filled with various sizes and thickness of O-rings, with the dimensions usually listed on the drawer's label. Or if your O-ring needing replacement is too warn out to measure for replacement, you can just take the rod in the store and match to the O-ring size that fits your rod the best, which I have done on rods that were too big a diameter for the O-rings that came with the EZ-Keepers. Cost is usually slight, under a dollar for most small O-rings and no shipping charges, although there may be some sales tax, depending on where you live. It is an easy fix...Karl.

    1. I have obtained O-rings from Home Depot.

  2. Appreciate your thoughts on our newest rod. I can send you a spare O ring if needed preventively. Actually this rod was a collaboration between Zen, Adam Omernick and Michael McFarland. Special thanks to them for their insight and advice.