September 12, 2012

Put a Cork in (on) it

Like a lot of folks, I have been fly fishing for a long time. Almost every fly rod I have used has had a cork handle -- my Grandfather's old telescoping metal fly rod has a wood handle; it's the only one I've ever used that didn't have a cork handle. Then I started tenkara. I bought a Tenkara USA Iwana 12 foot rod; it had a cork handle. I bought a few more rods; they had cork handles. Then I bought a Daiwa Soyokaze 31SR rod and low and behold -- no cork handle!

Daiwa Soyokaze 31SR

A 12 inch cutthroat with the Soyokaze. I know, the fish is upside down and pointing the wrong way-- sorry.

Little did I know that cork could become such a controversial topic. After I received the Soyokaze, and espoused its virtues in a blog post, there started an online discussion regarding what is a tenkara rod and what is not. I hope that my post did not add to the fire, as that was not its intent. I just thought it was a fun little rod to fish! Since that time there has been discussion after discussion after discussion on what is tenkara and what constitutes a tenkara rod.

I must admit that cork is nice. I have some nice tenkara rods with cork handles, but I really like my rods that are cork-less. For the most part, they are very much lighter than the cork rods, with the exception of the Tenkara USA Ebisu which has a red-pine handle and is modestly heavy. Also, the cork-less rods fit into my sling-style carriers better that their cork robed cousins. This is a little thing but notable nonetheless.

As of right now I have 4 rods without cork (not counting the Ebisu). They are the Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 24 (7'10"), Daiwa Soyokaze 27SR (9'), Daiwa Soyokaze 31SR (10'), and the Daiwa Sagiri 39MC (11.5'-13' zoom). I really like all of them. The Sagiri is my current favorite for small to moderate waters. It is amazingly light and very versatile. I also really like its casting action. I bought all of these rods from Chris Stewart at Tenkara Bum.

Top to Bottom: Ebisu, Sagiri, Soyokaze 31, Soyokaze 27, Kiyotaki

A closer view

Some may ask: "Do they (rods without cork) hurt your hand after a while?" All I can say is "No" they don't. I do get a numb area on the lateral surface of my right third digit using the tripod or "tenkara" grip, but I get this using my cork rods and non-cork rods alike. I used to get this numb spot using my western rods as well (I have always preferred the so-called tripod grip, even when fishing western). In retrospect, I actually like that there is no cork on my "tenkara-questionable" rods.

Daiwa Sagiri 39MC with a flopping cutthroat
Sagiri in action

Fish ... what it's all about!

So what is the downside of going cork-less? I don't know, I haven't found one yet! Are they slippery when wet or fish slimmed? No. Are they uncomfortable? No. Are they more expensive? No. Are they colder in freezing weather? I don't know, I'll let you know in about, oh, 6-8 weeks. Can you grip them as well if you have an arthritic hand? Umm, maybe. How about if you hook a really big fish? I don't know, after all they are mountain stream rods not a 7wt steelhead rod.

If you haven't tried one of these rods, and are curious about them, maybe you ought to try one. If we say, "I won't use them because these aren't tenkara rods" without trying them then how can we roll our eyes at a western-style fly fisher who says they don't like tenkara when they have never tried it.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not stating that these rods are tenkara rods. I have not asked anyone if these are tenkara rods or if they can be used for tenkara. All I am stating is whether they are tenkara rods or not they sure fish tenkara-style awfully well! If they are not tenkara rods don't tell them -- it may hurt their feelings!

What do you think? Have you tried a cork-less rod for tenkara-like fishing? Do you like them? Which one(s)? Am I the only tenkara fisher who is uncorked?!


  1. I agree completely. I'm new to fishing of any kind and like things that just work, catch fish and keep me on the water in beautiful places.
    Corkless rods like the 9' soyokaze have been a real hoot to fish in Utah. It is the only rod I have that is really of any use in the tight quarters up Big Cottonwood canyon and Millcreek canyon in Utah. And it makes every fish I catch so much fun because it translates every twitch and wiggle. It is much more effective than my 6' bamboo rod on the same streams. I would say it is more versatile than my short western bamboo rod that cost about 10 times more - sometimes I fish it on medium sized streams in the Uintas and hook into good sized fish 15-18 inches that otherwise would not fall for the bamboo rod because there isn't a long enough drift or they get spooked by the fly line. Soyokaze in Japanese must mean "So it works".

    1. ... Just work, Catch fish ... AMEN!

      I love it: "So it works"!!! Excellent!

      I need to get down there and fish Big Cottonwood and Millcreek. I hear they are pretty canyons.

      Thanks for the comments.


  2. I have a Soykaze 27. I've found the rod casts like a charm, though I have added some rod-wrap to the handle to aide my aging, less-than-dextrous hand. So far I haven't gotten out of Indiana to fish for trout since I bought it. But it has been a joy to cast on the ponds and small creeks (sometimes ditches) around my county. The bluegill have given the rod the greatest workout, I think the word scrappy was invented for them. I've even caught some 2+ lb bass on the rod (including some smallmouths in a small creek that really surprised me). In a pond I had something big on once that dove deep (carp?) and luckily the 6x tippet broke. But you'd wish for the same thing to happen with a Tenkara rod. I think the rod might be too much for hand-sized and smaller pumkinseeds in the rivulets that pass for creeks here. I may have to look into Chris' smaller rods when fishing for them because the journey to that fish sometimes is just as important as the fish itself.

    1. "the journey to that fish sometimes is just as important as the fish itself."

      I like that! Wonderful statement!



  3. I love the Soyokaze that I have. Tenkara is as tenkara does, I say. If it works it works. It's the 7'8" model, and I use it for small brushy streams. Do I notice the absence of the cork, as far as any discomfort? No - it's just so light it doesn't seem to matter that there's no cork. So I reckon I've come a bit uncorked too.