February 15, 2013

Tenkara USA Ayu, series II -- review (Eh you, too!)

I received the new Tenkara USA Ayu , series II rod today -- just in time to fish it tomorrow. I had a series I Ayu but I sold it a few months ago to make room for another rod. The series I was a nice rod; a little heavy, but a nice rod. I had an emotional attachment to that rod, since it was the rod that I first saw in the hands of Daniel Galhardo when I was investigating the thing called "tenkara".  I watched him cast the Ayu effortlessly under the branches of overhanging trees, putting the fly right where he wanted it to go. It looked so surreal. That green banded rod will always remind me of my first foray into tenkara.

The series II Ayu may have the heritage of that first, venerable rod, but it is a different rod altogether. Other than keeping the same name, handle and length, this rod has its own identity and should be taken as such. It is not the same horse with a shiny new coat; this is a whole new Mustang!

As with all Tenkara USA rods, the Ayu series II comes quickly from Tenkara USA in a green fiberglass rod tube. A brown rod sleeve is included as well.

The rod itself is beautiful. I always thought all of Tenkara USA's rod were pretty but this one is downright sexy! The handle section of the rod has a classical graphite weave pattern with coloration of both sides of the label being a subtle, but pleasing burgundy. The label section is in dark graphite grey. This design is best seen under a direct light, or even better, in full spectrum sunlight. The more proximal sections do not carry the graphite weave motif but are pleasing burgundy (looks brown in some light). The tip section is dark graphite grey. The lilian is attached directly, without a micro-swivel.

In full spectrum light -- pretty!

The rod is 58.4 cm collapsed; slightly longer than the original Ayu. Extended, it is 390 cm and its advertised weight is 102 gm (mine is 105.6 gm -- without tip plug, of course). This is heavier than I like in a 390 cm rod, but I believe is it so due to the engineering goals of Tenkara USA. They want this rod, and all of their rods for that matter, to be as fool proof and durable as reasonably possible. They don't know what you and I are going to try to catch with the Ayu-II, so it is engineered to handle whatever it is given! The Ayu-II is made with a high modulus graphite fiber but according to Daniel not the highest modulus carbon available. As Daniel stated to me: "This results in a rod that is slightly heavier than what we're capable of doing, but that should last a long time and be very durable." To clarify this point, note that the higher the carbon modulus the lighter, but more brittle, the fiber is. Lower modulus carbon fiber is a little heavier, but has more stretch and durability. Daniel has elected to go with durable and more forgiving fibers rather than super lightweight, yet brittle, carbon. Also, I suspect, but do not know for sure, that Tenkara USA rods have slightly thicker walls than other leading tenkara rods. If this is the case, then that too adds to the durability of the rod, but it makes the rod a little heavier. And you know, given Daniel's goal for this rod, I can't fault them for that!

Weight without tip plug

The handle is a reverse-half wells-like design with high grade cork; little filler. This is the same as the "new" handle on the series I Ayu.  The butt cap is metal and has a rubber bumper to reduce rattle of the collapsed segments.

The tip plug is similar to most Tenkara USA rod's plugs except that this one has been drilled and accommodates a loop of spare lilian. Some of us have been doing this for some time and I am convinced that it reduces tip plug loss. This spare lilian can be used for field repairs, but of course it is still best to avoid breaking the tip by proper tip handling. From Tenkara USA:

  •  When setting up your knots always leave the fragile hard tip inside the main segment, exposing only the string at the tip of the rod as you set up,
  • Never exert any sideway pressure on the rod segments when closing the rod,
  • Always close rod segments by holding the thickest part of the segment you're closing (closest to next thickest segment),
  • Handle the first 3 tip segments very carefully.

The action of this rod is a little hard to describe. On one hand, it feels like a longer, heavier, Iwana 360 cm, but the Ayu II has a noticeably stiffer butt section -- much stiffer than the Ayu I. Despite this, the rod's tip is quite flexible allowing it to bend quickly -- more quickly than then Iwana 360 cm. I believe this is all in the design, as described by Daniel: "We kept most of the original Ayu there, but gave it slightly more “backbone”, and also made it into a 6:4 tenkara rod. This change gives it a crisper feel .... yet feels great when a smaller fish is caught."

Fishing the Ayu-II is fun. I used it today on a freestone river targeting native cutthroat trout. The stream can have a fairly robust current, but this time of year it is very manageable.  I have landed fish upwards of 20 inches on this water but today fish of that size were no where to be found.  Today the fish were not very cooperative, but I did catch a few small guys. Even with these, the rod lets you feel the fish, mainly because the tip is so sensitive.

I cast both 13.5 foot furled and level lines. Due to the flexible tip section I think this rod does better with a level line. I used a #3.5 line without any problem.  The furled line I used cast well but it was harder to keep the line off the water since the tip section is so flexible. I would suggest a level line with the Ayu-II.

Casting was spot on. Casts were crisp and easily hit the intended target. Since the rod is heavier than most, it is important to keep your casting arm tight against your body, letting most of the cast originate from your wrist. If this is followed, arm fatigue is not an issue.

Conclusion: I like this rod, mostly.  It has been expressed in other reviews and in forums that the weight of the Ayu, series II is of concern. I too was a little disappointed with its weight, but really, keeping in mind the design goal of the rod, the weight is not that big of a deal. Everything else with the rod is nearly perfect. Reduce the weight by 25 gm and I would venture to speculate that this rod would be one of the best rods in the world (but then it probably wouldn't be as durable of a rod)! That said, for anyone desiring a crisp casting, robust, 390 cm rod capable of handling larger fish, I think the Ayu, series II is just the ticket.

Disclaimer: The rod I reviewed is on loan from Tenkara USA. My sincere thanks to Daniel for allowing me to borrow and fish this rod. I received no compensation for reviewing the rod, but it is on longterm lease for testing. 

What of the "old" Ayu -- series I? It looks like it may have a life of its own -- through clones! For your entertainment, from a recent internet offering:

The similarities are uncanny!

"new with sock and tube TENAKARA JAPAN FLY ROD 13' 5:5 action ~ this is a traditional Japanese fly rod, meant to be used without a fly reel

at 5:5 this is the softest model available. extremely light-weight and with its 5:5 action, very precise. The progressive taper, ultra-light weight, and full flex action provides for great battles, even when hooking the smaller fish"

Ah yes, free enterprise at work! Copy someone else's product, make just a few minor cosmetic changes, apply a slightly altered name, and voila, it is a a new product! It is this business model that has kept Apple lawyers busy for years! Who knows, with modern DNA technology, maybe one day you'll be cloned and those clones sold online as the "real" you!!


  1. I am realy impressed to see Tenkara USA to get fish easily. Very good way to collect fish from river and waterfall. I have been choosen Tenkara USA rods green clor item.

  2. Tom, very nice review. what about the cantilever effect? Is it a tip heavy rod?
    Just to put more wood to the fire regarding Ayu copies see the link below:

    1. It feels somewhat tip heavy but not as much as the original Ayu or the Amago.


  3. Greg Herring, TorontoFebruary 8, 2014 at 8:18 PM

    Noticing your offer, I want this rod. Many of the rivers in our area are suitable and I have difficulty managing my fly line with conventional fly tackle. Either the fish is too far away to avoid current with a 9ft rod, or too close when I try to 'high-stick with same' - spooking the fish.
    However the main reason is that I have become bored in the last few winter months, and cannot wait to fish but other wise am tying the same old flies. Another friend and I discovered Tenkara on the net and your wonderful blogs for reviews. We are looking seriously at the T-Times Try, and want to start with quality. A third friend observe that my emails to him (also interested) were as excited as a 3-year-old who had discovered his privates. New leaning, new fly tying methods, new technique! For someone with 15 rods, 25 years experience and a member of two fishing clubs, I am as excited as I was when I began to learn fly-fishing. So, I want this rod to help continue the adventure and the new learning curve.
    Regards, Greg

  4. Greg, I think you need to add your comment to the "giveaway" post rather than here. http://tetontenkara.blogspot.com/2014/02/tenkara-rod-give-away.html