October 19, 2013

Sakura Seki Rei 3.3m tenkara rod -- review

I have in the past been fortunate to own/fish/review some of Japan's premium fixed-line rods. These have included rods from Daiwa, Nissin, Gamakatsu, Shimano, Shimotsuke, and Team Oni. I have also used some really nice rods from Suntech as well. One Japanese rod company that I have not been able to try has been Sakura, at least up till now. I recently did some trading and acquired a Sakura Seki Rei 3.3m tenkara rod. Here is my report.

Sakura is a well established rod company of some reputation. Their rods are not as readily available as are rods from other tenkara companies, however, they are well known in Japan. Sakura has a few tenkara offerings including the Seki Rei (se-KEE-ray) and the Kongo. The Kongo has the feature of being really compact when fully collapsed, a cork handle, and a faster 7:3 action. Tenkara Bum has fished with and reviewed this rod. I have not seen one. For what its worth, I found that sakura means "cherry blossom" and seki rei means "wag tail". What wag tail means -- I have no idea (see comments section for update)!

The Seki Rei 3.3m came in a plastic carton and included a orange rod sleeve. My Seki Rei was previously used, but only lightly. The coloration of the rod is vegetation green. The sections are hand detailed to look like bamboo with darker green longitudinal stripes. There are black and beige accents near the tips of the sections. The overall effect is quite nice; it makes this rod look like the premium tenkara rod that it is. The rod designation is hand painted onto the rod. This gives the rod some extra character.

Rod designation

Rod coloration and design (on my front lawn).

The handle is wood, cylindrical in shape, and of moderate diameter. It is reported to be paulownia wood, but I can't confirm that. It is relatively easy to grip, but I found that a wet hand helps hold the wooden handle better than dry hand. I thought the overall effect of the handle was nice, but I prefer a shaped handle more than a uniform diameter cylindrical one.

The winding check is silver-tone metal and is knurled. It fits tightly against the handle.

The handle after light use.

Winding check.

The lilian is green and is attached directly and has a knot in the end. The black epoxy that attaches the lilian is small in diameter, smooth and perfect. The tip plug is wood; it fits snugly into the handle section. The butt cap is black anodized metal. It is smaller in diameter than all my other rod's butt caps. Also, it has a fairly long threaded section, again, when compared to most other rod's butt caps. There is no drainage hole, but there is a small foam pad to dampen the rattle of the collapsed sections.

Lilian and section accents.
Tip plug

Butt cap. The small hole in the foam fits the tip section when collapsed.  
Some scratches on the butt cap show the true metal beneath the coating.

One issue I found with my particular rod is that two of the seven sections do not extend smoothly. As you extend sections 3 and 4 (the tip section is #1) they hesitate just before (2.5 cm before) being fully extended. I suspect this is due to thicker or uneven coating in those areas. The blank looks fine and uniformly tapered, so it must be the coating. I'll have to get a micrometer and do some measurements sometime. I've never run across this issue with any other rod, and to be honest, I find it a little annoying, especially in a premium rod. Both sections do fully extend so there is no issue with the rod casting and such. Maybe its just my rod because it was used and not new. I haven't been able to handle another Seki Rei to see if this issue is common. I suspect it isn't.

My Seki Rei has 7 sections and is 330 cm extended. Collapsed, it is 60.5 cm. It weighs 80.2 g, without the tip plug. It has a Common Cent Scale rating of 21 pennies. This gives it a Rod Flex Index of 6.4. This puts is in the stiffer end of the 6:4 rod range and is comparable to the Tenkara USA Iwana 11 foot. The Seki Rei doesn't feel as stiff as the Iwana 11 foot however.

RFI comparison chart

Casting the Seki Rei is wonderfully easy. It has a relaxed casting stroke that is unforced and smooth. There is no overshoot at the end of the stroke; the tip dampens quickly without oscillation. It casts a #3-4 level line well but it feels best to me with a #3.5-4. I did not use a furled line with this rod. The rod is a little heavy for a 3.3 meter rod and this can be a little distracting, but it balances well in the hand.

Fishing the rod is fun. As I mentioned earlier, the wood handle is easier to hold if you get your hand damp but quickly dipping it into the stream. The day I tested the rod I had to do this numerous times since my hand would dry out after a few minutes.

I fished a moderate size stream with moderate to fast current. The day I videoed for this review I used a 10.5 foot #4 line, plus 3 feet of 5X tippet. This line cast beautifully with the Seki Rei but it was too short for the stream I was fishing. To reach my intended target I had to, on numerous occasions, force the cast by extending my arm.

By extending my arm I greatly reduced the efficiency of the tenkara cast and robbed the rod of its ability to propel the fly towards the target as it was designed to do. Extending your arm is not the way to cast a tenkara rod, rather, keep your casting arm tightly against your body with the elbow bent, at about a 45 degree angle. Keep the forearm/wrist straight in line and parallel to the trunk of your body. The upstroke or back stroke is mostly done by flexing your elbow, remembering to stop the rod tip at about the 12 o'clock position. The forward cast is done by briskly extending your elbow, stopping at the 10 o'clock position, and flicking your wrist forward EVER SO SLIGHTLY. This last maneuver shoots the fly forward in a burst of speed so that hits the water first, before the line.  Better yet, if you perform your cast properly the line will not lay on the water at all. The fly will hit the surface and penetrate the water column with the only part of the line in contact with the water being the tippet. It is a beautiful thing, this cast, when done correctly. It is every bit as beautiful and satisfying as a properly executed double haul. You will be in direct control of the fly with no slack in the line. You will both see (the line hesitates) and feel the fish take your fly. With the proper tenkara cast you can act upon and control the fly rather than be acted upon by the stream.

Here are a few of the fish I took that outing:

Conclusion: I like this rod. That said, if I was in the market to purchase a 6:4 rod, and if I could have handled it before buying I probably wouldn't have purchased one. Remember however, that I got mine through an equipment trade, and I'm happy with the trade.  I like the action. Although it is on the stiffer side of the 6:4 rod continuum it has a pleasing casting action that is relaxed and not at all stiff. I don't really care for the handle. I don't hate it, I just don't care for it. The hand crafted aesthetics are amazing and give the rod special character. I suspect that there aren't any two Seki Rei's that are exactly alike because of this. I think that's cool.

Here is a video of the fish I caught. It contains some narrative, some music, and some action.


  1. From the photos, it looks like the previous owner varnished the grip. The Seki Rei I borrowed and reviewed had an unfinished grip, which I found quite easy to grip with dry hands. The wood has an open grain and if unfinished produces is a very effective non-skid grip. I bit of paint remover, VERY carefully applied, may solve the problem.

    Wag tail is a type of bird.

    1. I was wondering if my handle has been varnished, as the handle for the Seki Rei in other images is much whiter.

      Wagtail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_Wagtail

      Thanks, Chris.

  2. Both of you guys know that I help Sakura import these rods. I've been importing them shortly after Daniel introduced TenkaraUSA. They are available and much has been said about them at www.Tenkara-Fisher.com which you visit from time to time and comment there. This is one of the things that irritates me, very few people give credit where credit is due. That being said, the review is decent and goes along with what I know of the Seki Rei. This is a rod that I imported. Each one has a personality but all have the same sort of feel. I remember one rod being not so smooth to extend, just one but it casts just like all the other rods. The handle is made of Paulownia wood and comes without varnish or lacquer. And by the way, Seki Rei means wag tail bird.

    1. Everyone, I guess I did Adam an injustice by not stating that he was the one to import these rods into the USA shortly after Daniel introduced Tenkara USA. Sorry Adam, my hand has been slapped. I give you the credit. No slight intended.

    2. Adam...how would one go about ordering a Seki Rei?

    3. Adam.....how does one go about ordering a Seki Rei?

    4. Kyle, contact Adam directly though www.Tenkara-Fisher.com.

  3. Late to this party, but I had to comment. I love the Logan River. I worked as a summer ranger at Bear Lake a couple of summers in college and that area holds a very special place in my fishing experience. Thank you for the videos as they really are a throwback to days gone by.

    By the way, have you fished up on Monte Cristo above Woodruff Utah? I used to spend a month or two each summer visiting relatives and running wild. Now I just wish I had known about Tenkara then. Fly fishing with a 5wt was good, but this would have been so much better.