July 20, 2012

6 Month Rod Summary - July 2012

I have been fishing tenkara now for 6 months and I have used quite a few rods. I have owned and fished the following rods: Tenkara USA (TUSA) Iwana-12', Iwana-11', Iwana-9', Ebisu, Ito, Ayu, Amago; AllFishingBuy.com Kasugo-4209; Daiwa Soyokaze 27SR, Soyokaze 31SR, LL41SF, and Sagiri 39MC.  I have not yet fished the offerings by Tenkara-Fishing.com, Tenkara Fly Fishing, or Shimano and Sakura rods, but I thought that you may want to know my current feeling regarding the fore-mentioned rods.

left to right: Daiwa 31SR, 27SR, 39MC, Ebisu, LL41SF
left to right: Kasugo-4209, Amago, Iwana-12, Iwana-11

As you can tell from my blog entries, I generally fish small-to-moderate freestone western streams but will on occasion fish larger water and even some spring creeks. The rivers in the intermountain west are generally pretty open with little canopy but many of the smaller streams have a heavy canopy with tight casting lanes.

I have formally reviewed many of the rods that I have listed above and made statements based upon an early impression, but now that I have fished them for a while, and compared them to other offerings, I would like to give a brief current summary of each one and my likes and dislikes. Disclaimer: Obviously my opinion of a rod is based upon my style of casting, personal preferences in rod action, type of water fished and size of fish pursued, etc. This means that other users may like a certain rod while I do not. In fact, you may think I am completely off my rocker when it comes to a certain rod because you love it and I do not. So be it. I only offer here my impressions. Be that as it may, here we go:

TUSA Iwana rods -- 12',11', 9'

from http://www.tenkarausa.com/product_info.php/products_id/110
I originally bought the Iwana 12 ft then I bought the replacement handles in the 9 ft and 11 ft offerings. This cleaver arrangement turns the 12 ft Iwana into two other rods quickly and thus increases its functionality for a large type of waters. I like the Iwana-12. It is aesthetically pleasing and functionally excellent. It is very light in the hand and has little cantilever effect making it a joy to cast. It handles furled, level and hand-tied tapers lines all nicely. It is a joy to use. As with all of TUSA rods their extras are first class. With every rod you get a rod sleeve and rod tube. Every rod in warranted for life and customer support is first rate as well. Also, I like the fact that they donate a portion of the proceeds to conservation efforts.  Conclusion: I really like this rod.

The Iwana 11 ft is a slightly different matter. Replacing the handle and removing the lower segment of the Iwana 12 ft changes the characteristics of the rod. It is still wonderfully light and aesthetically beautiful, but the action transforms from a easy 6:4 to a stiffer 6:4 or even a 7:3. The flex point is clearly further up the rod.
from http://www.allfishingbuy.com/Tenkara-Rods.htm
I still like the Iwana 11 ft, but not as much as the 12 ft model. Conclusion: I mostly like this rod.

Finally, the Iwana 9 ft. Removing the 12 ft model handle and the two lower sections and replacing with the 9 ft handle really changes the rod. It definitely is feather-light but it is also amazingly stiff. I have not fished a traditionally stiff tenkara rod (I am told that the Hane by BackpackingLight was such a rod) but the Iwana 9 ft is stiffer than I like. Don't get me wrong, it is very functional and some people like the "fast" action of this rod but it is not for me. I like to feel the rod loading and to have a more relaxed casting stroke. Conclusion: I didn't like this rod (handle) and sold it.

TUSA Ebisu

from http://www.tenkarausa.com/product_info.php/products_id/51
I was introduced to this rod while fishing with ERiK Ostrander of Tenkara Guides LLC based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. I had been fishing my TUSA Ito on a modestly tight stream when he offered me to try his Ebisu. The first thing that I noticed was how much lighter it was than the Ito. Up to that point I had not felt that the Ito was heavy (by tenkara rod standards) but when I picked up the Ebisu it felt noticeably lighter. Upon arriving home I immediately bought one.

Other thing I like about the Ebisu is its casting stroke. It is rated a 5:5 rod so the casting stroke is relaxed and the rod fully loads with a level line. The Ito is supposedly a 6:4 rod in its 13 ft configuration but it feels more like a 5:5. The difference between the Ebisu 5:5 and the Ito "5:5" is that the Ito tends to oscillate at the end of the casting stroke but the Ebisu does not appreciably. I found this whip or "noodling" action of the Ito annoying. I know that TUSA design their rods not oscillate or noodle, in fact they state their rods are "true" tenkara rods because of this lack of wiggle or oscillation but I felt the Ito oscillated too much for my taste.

Anyway, back to the Ebisu. Finally, I like the Ebisu's wood handle. Maybe it is just eccentric or different enough from other rods, but whatever it is I like the wood. It is solid and feels nice under hand. I'm sure a cork handled Ebisu would be a nice rod too, but (have I said) I like the wood. Conclusion: I really like this rod.


from http://www.tenkarausa.com/product_info.php/products_id/125
I won't spend that much time on this rod since I pretty much described what I didn't like about it above in the Ebisu section, but there were some things I did like. One of those things was the "zoom" concept. You can fish this rod in two different lengths -- 13 ft or 14 ft, 7 inches. The lower section can be locked in place for the 13 ft configuration or it can be extended for the 14 ft, 7 inch configuration. This is great in concept, but in practice it made a "noodlie" rod even worse. Remember what I said in the Ebisu section regarding the Ito's supposed 6:4 action. Well, in the 13 ft configuration the Ito feels like a 5:5 to me (with pronounced end of cast oscillation) but the 14 ft, 7 inch configuration it is even slower -- maybe a 3:7! It felt like it would flex all the way to the handle when casting. Also, in the 14 ft, 7 inch configuration I could not control the cast. It felt very labored and heavy. Maybe it is just me and my casting style (wrist flick with little elbow action) but I did not like it.

Now, before you go saying that I am being too hard on the Ito just remember that all of this is just my opinion. The Ito is a good rod; I just like others better. Who knows, maybe I'll change my opinion about some of the others rods in the next 6 months! Conclusion: I was disappointed with the Ito and sold it.


from http://www.tenkarausa.com/product_info.php/products_id/50
This is one of TUSA's longer rods at 13 feet. It is also a 5:5 action but I do not feel that it has the end of cast oscillation that the Ito has. I like this rod mostly but it does feel heavy after fishing with it for a few hours. Now when I say it feels heavy I do not mean it feels like "a SAGE 5-6wt with a Lamson reel" heavy. The Ayu is much lighter than any mid-weight western setup. But tenkara rods are supposed to be light, right? So when one feels heavy after a while then it is heavy by tenkara standards. Maybe the reason the Ayu feels this way to me is due to its cantilever effect. It is a long rod and extends way out there. This extension causes a cantilever force putting stress on the rotation point or fulcrum (that would be your wrist) making it feel heavier than it may actually be.

The cork handle (newer version) was too large in diameter for my wife's or daughter's small palm size so I trimmed it down on a cork lathe (I make my own western rods).  Still, neither of them really like the rod due to its weight. They like the Iwana 12 ft much better.  Conclusion: I mostly like this rod.

TUSA Amago

from http://www.tenkarausa.com/product_info.php/products_id/85
I had the original version of the Amago and that is what I fished with. I now have the newer version (I have a disease that way, in that I need the newest version of anything) but have not fished with it yet. The Amago is a substantial rod. It is TUSA's big fish rod and it feels like it! It actually weighs just a little less than the Ayu (3.5oz rather than 3.6 oz). It has a nice 6:4 action that commands control of any line you put in it. Because it comes in at 13 ft, 6 inches it too has significant cantilever force but maybe because it just looks so solid it doesn't feel as heavy as the Ayu. This is just perception I suppose. I did not catch anything over 14 inches on my original Amago but I am sure it could handle any fish I'd get into! Conclusion: I like this rod.

AllFishingBuy,com Kasugo-4209

from http://www.allfishingbuy.com/Tenkara-Rods-Light-Action.htm

I bought this rod on a whim. I could see from their website that it would likely be somewhat similar to the TUSA Amago but the Kasugo-4209 cost less. I just had to try it out. Well, I wasn't disappointed. In fact, I really like this rod so far. Although it is billed as a 14 ft rod mine is in fact only three inches longer than the Amago (13 ft 6 in) at 13 ft 9 inches. Its overall weight is 102.6 gm, which is heavier than my Amago. Despite this it actually feels lighter than the Amago. I am not sure why this is but I tried to explain it in my Kasugo-4209 review.

The Kasugo-4209 has a nice relaxed action for such a long rod. It can control any line given it and excels at long furled lines throwing large, wind resistant flies. It is also an excellent Czech nymphing rod with its reach, action and ability to handle one or more heavily weighted nymphs. The handle shape is a bit funny with over accentuated curves but is comfortable to hold in multiple positions. The butt cap is cheap plastic and the cork is "poorish" in quality but with the way this rod fishes I can overlook that. Conclusion: I really like this rod.

Daiwa Soyokaze 27SR, 31SR

from http://www.tenkarabum.com/daiwa-tanago-rods.html
Ok fine, these might not be "true" tenkara rods by some peoples definition but they look like it enough, cast like it enough, and act like it enough that I call them tenkara rods. I think they look more like a modern telescoping carbon-fiber tenkara rod than do traditional Japanese bamboo tenkara rods of yesteryear. You know the old saying: looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, acts like a duck.... it must be a duck. Anyway, they are marketed as tanago rods but they work just great as shorter tenkara rods. I like both of these rods. I like their actions and the way they cast a level line. They handle fish well also. I also like how light they are. When I say light I mean amazingly light! They make the Iwana 11 ft feel heavy! These rods are a blast to use in tight, heavily covered streams. I have caught fish over 12 inches with both and they each handled the fish without an issue. The segments have the Daiwa V-joint making them bend at the joint better and much less likely to jam. See the Daiwa LL41SF for details on this feature. Conclusion: I really like these rods.

Daiwa LL41 SF

all from http://www.tenkarabum.com/daiwa-tenkara-rods.html
I was so impressed with the Daiwa Soyokaze 31SR that I wanted to try one of Daiwa's "true" tenkara rods. I went with the LL41SF. Here is a little riddle: what is as light as an Iwana 12 ft, as long as a Amago, and casts better than a Ayu (way better than an Ito)? You guested it -- the Daiwa LL41SF! Holding this rod in your hand you would not believe it is 13 ft, 6 inches in length. It is amazingly light. It has a smooth, relaxed cast similar to the Ayu. It does not have any appreciable end of cast oscillation. And its reach is phenomenal! It is designed to cast level lines and it does that with great control. I have found that it does not handle long furled lines well, however. That is OK by me because I use level lines most of the time now.

Daiwa rods have what they call a V-joint. It does not look like a "V", but rather it appears that small, alternating bands of material has been removed from the butt section of each segment (see picture above). This reduces the contact surface area of the joint and makes the segments bend or flex smoothly when casting or fighting a fish. More importantly, it reduces the chance of jamming the segments together and getting them stuck. I have not formally tested this but I think I can feel a difference when collapsing the rod. It collapses with less force.

When I am on big water, and/or I want a long reach, I either go for the LL41SF or the Kasugo-4209 -- fly type, wind, gut feeling make the decision. Conclusion: I really like this rod.

Daiwa Sagiri 39MC

from http://www.tenkarabum.com/daiwa-sagiri.html
This is the zoom rod I have been looking for. When I did have the Ito I thought to myself, wouldn't it be nice to have a rod that zooms from 11 feet to 13 feet -- that way most of my waters would be covered. As I have stated before, most of the water I fish is small and somewhat tight. But even on those streams you can come to an open section or beaver pond where extra reach and stealth would be real handy. Enter the Daiwa Sagiri 39MC.

This is a zoom rod that extends from about 11.5 ft to 13 ft. It is, like all the Daiwa rods I have, astonishingly lightweight -- only 59 gm for a 13 ft rod. Its action is pleasant and unlabored in both the 11.5 ft and 13 ft configurations --  I can't really feel much of a difference between the two actions; maybe it is a little softer in the 13 ft configuration, but its subtle. The handle, like with the Soyokaze 27SR and 31SR, is a comfortable non-slip portion of the butt section. It is not cork, but you know what, with these rods I don't even miss the cork! Who would have thought! 

The 39MC also does not have any appreciable end of cast oscillation. It dampens in a heart beat. Something to note however, it does not have the V-joint feature like the other Daiwa rods that I own, which I think is unfortunate, but still this rod is such a pleasure to use.  It is so fun to "zoom" between 11.5 ft and 13 ft depending on the conditions of a certain stretch of the stream. My largest fish to date taken with this rod was 14 inches. It handled it with plenty of power. Conclusion: I really, really like this rod.

The Daiwa Sagiri 39MC in action

A nice cutthroat taken with the 39MC

So there you have it, my latest impressions of the rods that I have used. I try not to be a brand loyal but I try to find what works best for my fishing style. That said, I reserve the right to change my mind about any rod at any time since experience is often times the best teacher.

What rods do you like, and why? Do you disagree with me on my choices? Let me know and maybe I can learn from your experience.


  1. Tom,
    Thank you very much for your impression on all the rods you have tried and for trying our rods. I really appreciate the feedback and some of it is already making its way into our next production of the Ito, and of a new rod being developed for 2013.
    Thanks for the reviews.
    Tenkara USA

    1. Hi Daniel,

      Thank you for your comment. It may have seemed that I was a bit tough on some of the TUSA rods, but I was not trying to be. I appreciate TUSA products; they are always aesthetically beautiful and very functional. The Iwana 12' was the first tenkara rod I ever purchased and it opened my eyes to what fly fishing could be. I cherish that rod for what it showed me.

      I can't wait to fish the next generation Ito and any new rod that TUSA introduces.

      Best regards,

  2. Very interesting Tom, I appreciate the time you took to post this.
    I fish similar waters, but can't afford an arsenal the size of yours.
    If you could only have 2 rods, which 2 would you chose?

    1. There are many combinations that you could choose. If you really have streams similar to mine, small-to-moderate in size, some with tight canopies, some not, then I would say the Daiwa 27SR and the Sagiri 39MC. This would give you two actual rods but three functional configurations -- 9 ft, 11.5 ft and 13 ft. This would allow you to cover a lot of types of water with two small, light weight rods.

      Another combo would be a Iwana 12 ft with a 9 ft handle replacement. Even though I said I didn't like the 9 ft stiffness doesn't mean you won't. Or you could go for a Iwana 11ft and an Ayu -- if you think you don't need a shorter rod. Remember that TUSA rods have a lifetime warranty. That may be of some value to you.

      These are recommendations are from the rods I have used; there are others from other vendors that I have not used.

      I don't think you'd go wrong with any of these combos. Most importantly: get the best your budget can afford and have fun!!! With any of these rods tenkara in fun!!


  3. Thanks for your reply Tom,
    gives me a couple of rods to think about.
    The Sagiri sounds interesting.

  4. Tom,

    You seem impressed with the Daiwa-Enshou-LL41S-F. Chris at TenkaraBum seems equally impressed. My only hesitation with purchasing this rod would be with the finish, meaning the blank appears to be quite glossy. Is it as glossy as it appears in the photos I've seen. With these longer rods I think matte finish is better from the perspective of spooking fish. I have considered the Kasugo-4209. SO this really feels lighter to you than the Amago?


    J.C. Coleman

    1. Hi J. C.

      I do think the Kasugo-4209 feels lighter in the hand than the Amago. When The Amago is fully extended it fells quite tip heavy. The Kasugo is not as tip heavy and thus feels lighter overall.


    2. Thanks for the reply. I just got an Amago and thought it was tip heavy. I have a Kasugo 4209 on the way and will compare the two.


  5. I fished a friends Amago and I too thought it felt tip heavy. Would the Kasugo-4209 be the same type big fish, big water rod as the Amago?

    1. Yes, I think so. Granted, I have not caught a 20+ inch fish with mine, but it has handled every fish up to 20 inches very well -- even in pretty strong currents. At over 13' 9" it is a big water rod for sure.

    2. Tom - Thank you for sharing your opinions.

  6. Tom,
    You are on the money with your review of the Ito. I purchased a Hirame-L-3909 from Igor at All Fishing Buy and by far my go to rod. The cork is not good by any means and the end cap does not fit correctly. I will always go to this rod first until I get a Diawa LL41S-F.