December 10, 2013

New Tenkara USA rods: Sato and Rhodo -- review

Early in November I received a package in the mail. It was from Daniel Galhardo of Tenkara USA (TUSA). It was a package that I was anxiously awaiting, since it contained the new TUSA tenkara rod(s). Daniel has hinted that a new rod (or rods) was going to be released soon, but no hint as to the design. We have not known if the rod(s) was going to be a new design altogether, updated version of an existing TUSA, or a resurrected version of a previously offered rod. I did not know, but I was excited to see.

So, with the unabashed enthusiasm of an eight year old on Christmas morning, I opened the package and saw not one, but two rod tubes! One tube was longer than the other. I got them out and hurriedly opened the shorter of the two. Inside was a rod, a beautiful rod, unlike any other rod I have ever seen. I stood there without moving, having a shocked looked on my face, until my wife asked if anything was wrong. There was nothing wrong; I was just caught way, way off guard!

Rod Descriptions:

The new rods from TUSA are the Sato and the Rhodo. The Sato is a triple-zoom rod that can be fished in 330, 360, and 390 cm configurations. The Rhodo looks like its little sibling - its "mini me". It too is triple-zoomable and can be fished in 270, 297, and 320 cm configurations. The zoom feature of these rods is being filed for patent by TUSA.  Both rods are very beautiful with a glossy black finish and deep cherry red accents. At a quick glance, they look similar to my Nissin Zerosum 360 7:3 that I love so much.

In what appears to be a departure for Tenkara USA, these rods are very light weight. The Iwana series of rods are pretty light weight for sure, but most of Tenkara USA's other line up have been quite a bit heavier than available Japanese tenkara rods. Not any more! The Sato and Rhodo can compete with the best of them in gross weight. Also, the cross-sectional diameter of these rod is a lot smaller than anything I've seen from Tenkara USA. These rods are less beefy in appearance than previous Tenkara USA rods. They are more refined and svelte looking.

Tenkara USA Rhodo (left) and Sato

Here is how they look with the Nissin Zerosum.

Left to right: Rhodo, Nissin Zerosum, Sato

Red accents on the lower rod sections

Both rods came with a Tenkara USA rod tube and sleeve. As with all TUSA products the design is neat and clean. The rod tube is very similar to previous offerings but the end caps are slightly different -- no rubber knobs, just smooth rubber.

Tenkara USA Sato with rod tube and sleeve. The Rhodo's tube and sleeve are similar, just shorter.
End cap of rod tube.

As mentioned above, both rods are zoom rods. But instead of zooming between two fixed lengths (like the Tenkara USA ItoShimano Mainstream ZE, Shimano Keiyru Tenkara 34-38 ZL, Daiwa Sagiri 39MC, Daiwa 43MF) both of these rods have three fishable length configurations. The zoom sections are imprinted with their length, in both feet/inches and centimeters, and have friction tape where they seat into the next larger section. I have seen this before, as it is the same with my Suntech Field Master and Suikei keiryu rods. They are triple-zoom rods also. 

Of note however, unlike the other TUSA rods that I have owned, there is no rod flex designation on either the Sato or the Rhodo. I think this is on purpose. Recently Jason Klass of Tenkara Talk blogged about the confusion of rod flex designations like 5:5, 6:4, and 7:3 that have been traditional with some tenkara rod manufacturers. Daniel mentioned in the discussion portion of that blog post that he has been rethinking rod classifications and so I think those usual designations were purposefully left off these two rods.

Sato rod designation. You can see the friction tape on the two zoomable sections.
Rhodo rod designation and zoomable sections.

The handle on both rods is cork. It appears to be of high quality with narrow defects and little filler. The shape is excellent. It is a double hump, camel back, or gourd shape. Again, it is very similar to my Nissin Zerosum in shape. Personally, this is my favorite tenkara rod handle shape. It fits my hand best and is most comfortable. The Rhodo's handle is a little shorter at 22.5 cm, while the Sato's is 26.5 cm in length.

The winding check is minimal on both rods; gold metal.

Winding check and a little cork defect.

Again, the tip plug for both rods is similar, just different in size. It is wood and has been drilled and then threaded with a loop of extra lilian material. This nice feature was started with the TUSA Ayu II. But here is the cool thing, with these rods you get two -- yes two -- tip plugs. The second is stored in the butt cap!! If you look at the butt cap you will see a hump sticking out. This hump is drilled and threaded with red lilian material just like the tip plug. Well, if you pull on the lilian loop a second tip plug slides out from the butt cap!

Now, I suspect that the real design is to leave one of the tip plugs at home, as an extra, but when you fish you remove the tip plug from the rod and stick it into the butt cap! You now have instant tip plug storage with less chance of loss!! Is that cool or what!!! Tenkara USA calls this feature the "Keep your Plug" system. It is a trade mark system and patents have been filed.

Tip plug
Keep your Plug system: Butt cap with tip plug installed

Keep your Plug system: Butt cap with tip plug removed.

The butt cap is dampened with rubber. There is no drainage hole.

The lilian is red and is attached directly, without a micro-swivel.  The glue attachment point is small, neat and clean enough to allow the 1st section (tip section) to be fully removed through the 2nd section. This allows the entire rod to be disassembled for cleaning and drying. There is no knot in the lilian. Which is what I generally prefer as I don't usually use furled lines. If you prefer to have a lilian knot, the lilian is long enough to tie one in easily.

Sato disassembled.

Here are some specs for each rod:

Sato: collapsed length is 58.5 cm (without the second tip plug in the butt cap). Weight is 74 g (without the second tip plug, but one being installed into the butt cap as this would be how the rod would be fished).  Advertised length compared to measured length: 330 cm: measured length is 326 cm; 360 cm: measured length is 352 cm; and 390 cm: measured length is 378 cm.

Moment for Sato (with tip plug installed in butt cap): [Moment equals wt (in kg) times radius (distance in centimeters from the butt end to the center of mass or balance point). It is easier to calculate than MOI. It may be an indication of how tip heavy a rod is and how fatiguing a rod is to fish over time. It is measured by Gamakatsu for their rods. A rod that has a moment equal to or less than 5.5 seems to feel lightweight and without tip heaviness.  Rod reference data: Iwana 12' moment is 6.14; Ito at 390cm is 7.84 and at 450cm is 10.93; Oni rod is 5.2].
     330 = 4.14 kgcm
     360 = 5.03
     390 = 5.96

Rhodo: collapsed length is 53 cm. Weight is 59 g. Advertised versus measured lengths: 270 cm: measured length is 265 cm; 297 cm: measured length is 294 cm; and 320 cm: measured length is 319 cm. As you can see, the Rhodo is closer to what is advertised.

Moment for Rhodo:
      270 = 2.39 kgcm
      297 = 2.98
      320 = 3.66

As you can see from these measurements the Sato will feel very slightly tip heavy at 390 configuration, but still, it is much less than other TUSA rods. There is no tip heaviness in the other configurations. The Rhodo has no tip heaviness.

Sato weight

Rhodo weight

Rod lengths (bottom to top): Sato extended to full 390 (see arrow), Daiwa LT39S-F, Tenkara Times Try 390,
AllFishingBuy Hirame-ML-3909

As far as flex action, these rods are sweet. One thing that I have found over the years is what flex action I prefer. I like a rod that is "slow" enough so I can feel the rod load, but have enough "backbone" to control the fish in various situations. You've heard these terms, slow and backbone, before -- they are commonly used but mean different things to different people. Therefore, rods must be measured and actions quantified. Since TUSA does not give us a hint as to the flex action of the rods, I will attempt to further categorize them based upon their Common Cents Scale (CCS) and Rod Flex Index (RFI) numbers. My favorite rods have an RFI  between 4.0 and 5.8. There are a few exceptions however, like the Oni rod and the Daiwa 39MC -- I love those rods!

For the Sato, it has a CCS value of 21 pennies at 390 cm, 20 pennies at 360 cm, and 19 pennies and 330 cm. This gives it a RFI of 5.4, 5.5, and 5.7 for 390, 360 and 330 cm respectively.  For the Rhodo, the CCS values are 15 pennies at 320 cm, 15.5 pennies at 297 cm, and 15 pennies at 270 cm. This gives it a RFI of 4.3, 5.2, and 5.6 for 320, 297, and 270 cm respectively. These values place the Sato in the 6:4 RFI classification, but on the slower end of the 6:4 rods.  The Rhodo has a split personality. At its 320 cm configuration it is a 5:5 rod, while at its 297 and 270 configurations it is a slow 6:4. Here is is comparison table:

RFI comparison chart

Fishing the rods:

I took both rods onto the water a number of days. I visited two different types of streams; each stream was designed to test a specific rod. To test the Sato I went to mountain streams that are more open and less confined, but still with riparian vegetation. To test the Rhodo I visited headwater streams; small and confined with plenty of overhead branches and snags, and very little room to cast. I did not fish either rod on large, open rivers or ponds/lakes. I did this purposefully, as I don't think either rod was specifically designed for large and/or still waters. This is just my hypothesis.

One thing that I have found with other zoom rods that I have owned is that they tend not to cast as well (less control, more effort, more floppy, etc) in their longest length configuration than in their shorter configurations. This seems true (in varying degrees) with the TUSA Ito, Shimano Mainstream ZE, Shimano Keiyru Tenkara 34-38 ZL, Suntech Field Master, Suntech Suikei, and Daiwa 43MF (Interestingly, I find that the Daiwa Sagiri 39MC casts equally as well in either the 340 and 390 cm configurations). Some people have proposed that the reason for this is that the longer configurations for these rods are really to aid in landing the fish, but casting them is generally supposed to be in their shorter configurations.

 Also, these same zoom rods feel more tip heavy in their longest configurations. This makes sense though as they shift more weight away from the handle when fully extended. This places the center of mass more towards the tip

Because of these two previous points, when I want to initially see how a zoom rod will perform, I first hold and cast it in its longest configuration.

For the Sato, it cast equally well in all three configurations. Yes, it does feel a little more tip heavy in the 390 cm configuration but really not by much (this was predicted by the calculations of rod moment, above). The casting stroke is slow and smooth. The rod loads well with a #3.5 line of 12-14 feet. There is some mild tip oscillation at the end of the casting stroke when in the 390 cm length, but this can be easily compensated for by adjusting your casting stroke. It took me only a few minutes to get this corrected. When in the 330 and 360 cm configurations the casting stroke is a little brisker but equally as smooth. I detect no tip oscillation in these configurations. FYI, I did not use a furled line with this rod. The Sato is light in hand and well balanced, particularly in the 330 and 360 configurations. Targeting is controlled and precise.

For the Rhodo, it balances and casts beautifully in all three configurations. I used #3.5 lines of 7 and 10 feet in length. No tip oscillation is detected, but then again, this rod has such little mass that the inertia is minimal. It is very light in the hand and such fun to fish. Again, the targeting is controlled and precise.

11 inch brown with the Rhodo

10 inch rainbow with the Rhodo

Over the past month I hooked a large number of standard tenkara sized fish with both rods. The fish ranged from 6 inches to 14 inches. Water levels were low so I didn't have strong currents to battle. Both rods handled there fish really well. There were no issues at all with fish of this size, and yet the rods are soft enough to make small fish fun.

12 inch cutthroat with the Sato

14 inch cutthroat with the Sato

Here are a few videos of the rods in action:

Sato --

Rhodo --

Conclusion: I really like both of these rods!  They are beautiful in appearance, sound in construction, light weight in hand, having quality materials and some innovative features. Since they are triple-zoom rods they are both versatile and each can adjust quickly to a variety of fishing situations. I like their moderately soft actions and I, of course, greatly appreciate their Tenkara USA heritage -- bullet-proof warranty and outstanding customer service.

Do I have any complaints or concerns? What comprehensive review would be complete without a couple (if I didn't have any then I'd just be another cheerleader!)? Here are mine. They are nitpicky I know, but here goes:

#1 -- I am just a little disappointed that my Sato's measured lengths were shorter than the advertised lengths. I can accept a discrepancy of up to +/- 5 cm, but over that is an issue in my book. My rod is 12 cm shorter in its 390 cm configuration, therefore it is not a 390 cm rod. This may be only my Sato; I don't have another to compare it to.
#2 -- My Sato is a little bit hard to extend from the 330 to the 360 configuration. When extending, it frequently slides out the 390 section while the 360 section stays tight. I had this issue with my Suntech Field Master, so the fact that my Sato does this is not a surprise. Multi-zoom rods have more potential issues than single zoom rods.

I have no complaints or concerns with my Rhodo. As far as I have evaluated it, it is functionally perfect for its design. This is a great little rod and seems to be the perfect tool for small streams.

So there you have it. Two excellent new rods from Tenkara USA. It was a bit of a wait, but I think it was worth it!! Congratulations to Daniel and the Tenkara USA team!!!

Jason Klass of Tenkara Talk also has reviewed these rods. You can find his review here.

Disclaimer: My opinions regarding these rods are just that, my opinions. Your opinion may differ.  Also, your rods may not have the same length, issues, or functionality as my rods. 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 these rods and have no formal affiliation with Tenkara USA.


  1. Awesome review! These rods truly are beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to break these new rods down, they're definitely going to make my decision a little bit harder now.

    1. Thanks Johnny. Good luck on your rod quest. There are many great choices!

  2. love the videos and thanks for the reviews.

  3. The overlap with the Suikei (on paper) is hard to ignore. Qualitatively, how significant is the difference? (my friend and I both own a Suikei, so it's a good reference point at least for us.)

    I think the Suikei is still the porridge that Goldilocks would pick for anyone who intends to fish a variety of conditions with just one rod. So if the Sato manages to be as good or better, I think TenkaraUSA has a winner.

    1. The Suikei is just a hair stiffer at all lengths. It is also more true to the length advertised, but still short by a few centimeters. The Suikei is a great rod. In some ways I like it better than the Sato. The Sato does load a little quicker and bends a little further down the rod. Heck, both are really good rods!

    2. The worst thing about owning the Suikei is that it is so versatile it makes justifying buying more rods difficult. Note: Difficult, not impossible. :)

  4. The 12cm difference in length raises my eyebrow too... When I was experimenting with Moment(Torque) and MOI with my rods, it was clear that that rod length has an increasingly non-linear negative effect once you get beyond 360cm. The Sato has a distinct advantage if compared with other 390 (actual) cm rods.

  5. Love the videos! They get me excited for trout season to open up Jan. 1 here in Minnesota! I have been considering another rod purchase and may have gives these some serious thought.

  6. Tom, nice comprehensive review. About the the Sato being 12 cm shorter than 390cm. 12 cm sounds like a lot. But, otoh. if you only expect < 5cm that works out to 5/390 x 100 = 1.28%. Coming up short by 12 cm is 12/390 x 100 = 3.08% shorter than spec. Which is perhaps reasonable for a friction fit telescopic rod. Especially a triple zoom rod. Was the 360 length spot on ?DW

    1. DW,

      The 360 length was measured as actually 352 cm, 8 cm shy. The 330 was measured as 326, which is better.

    2. Well, there ya go. The 330cm length is short by 1.21%. The same percentage as 5cm short of 390cm you thought acceptable. And 8cm short of 360cm doubles the percentage to 2.22%. 12 cm short at 390 is 3.08% short, almost triple the 1.2% set at the 330cm length. Triple zoom = 3 places for tolerance to go, Plus or Minus . DW

    3. My Suntech Suikei is a 320,360,390 triple-zoom rod like the Sato. It's measured lengths are 318, 358.5 and 392 cm respectively. That is why I am a bit disappointed with the Sato. Because I know that the tolerance can be better!

  7. Thanks Tom,
    do you have any nissin airstages yet to compare? would like to hear your view of them cf your Oni rod and the Tenkara USA rods.

    You obviously rank the sato as stiffer than your Oni rod, but I'd like to hear more about your views on differences in casting, and fish landing, between the two.

    1. Hi Craig,

      I haven't seen an Airstage yet. I'll have to see if I can borrow one from Chris sometime.

      The Sato is a little stiffer than the Oni. In my hands they cast slightly differently, the Oni still being best in my view. The Sato has some end-of-cast tip oscillation while the Oni doesn't. As far as fish landing, they seem comparable but need more data for this (I need to catch more fish!!).

    2. re airstage, you really should, you are missing out big time. when I get my sato I'll compare to the airstage, sagiri, and oni, and drop you a note.

  8. Secondly. This review is a chance to see if the Moment numbers can tell us anything practical. Sato 390 should have a CG=5.96/74g = 80.54cm. Similar to the Ayu2 , CG= 81.4 cm. However, the Ayu2 weights 42% more, and has a higher M of 8.55. My guess is the lower M number overrides the similar CG length and tells us the Sato will feel more balanced despite similar CG lengths and also be easier to swing.
    The Sato 360 numbers compare very well to the Daiwa LL36 a 72 gram rod. Sato M = 5.03 vs Daiwa LL36 M= 4.82, & Sato CG = 67.97cm vs Daiwa LL CG = 67cm. Or the Nissin PS at 360cm extension a 67 gram rod with M = 4.33 & CG=64.7cm. It would be interesting to see the M and CG numbers of the Zerosum 360 in comparison. DW

    1. Thanks.However, my question got lost in the data. Let me rephrase it. Tom, the Sato 390 and Ayu2 both have almost identical CoG lengths. 80.57cm / 81.4cm. How would you contrast the sense of weight and tip heaviness of these two rods with nearly identical CoG?

      I think the answer will give a an insight into the difference between rods of M = 5.96 and M = 8.55.

      I have concluded the Moment number is built into the rod blank - after Greg discovered adding weight to the grip decreases CoG but does not change the Moment number. At least - That is part of my current thinking about what the Moment number tells us. DW

    2. "How would you contrast the sense of weight and tip heaviness of these two rods with nearly identical CoG?"

      The Ayu II is heavy in hand and tip heavy. It is much more so than the Sato, as predicted by the moment calculation.

  9. Nice work Tom. It sure was worth waiting.
    Now you an Daniel let us all tenkara anglers in a budget with
    a serius problem to solve; What rod(s) to sell? ;-)

    1. Thanks Carlos. Its good to hear from you. Yes, what rods do we sell!

  10. David, the Zerosum 360 rods are as follows:
    6:4 rod
    COG 26.5cm
    M 4.24

    7:3 rod
    COG 27cm
    M 4.87

    The rods do appear to be a step up for TUSA although they don't match the Zerosums or even the 320 and 360 Pro Squares in terms of weight and moment. Hard to compare the 390 rods because the Sato is really a 378.

    1. Your COG numbers seem incredibly short. Rearranging the Moment formula to get rod weight gives me RW = M/COG. For the 7:3 RW = 4.87/27 = 180g or 6.35 oz. A bit on the heavy side.

      Good point about Tom's Sato390 is really the Sato378. Variations from specified length theoretically could introduce slight inaccuracies. otoh - The tip section on the Nissin ProSpec is 37cm long. If I moved it back 12cm I doubt the change in CoG measurement would change by more that inaccuracies of my scale or my accuracy in reading the tape measure. . dw

    2. Tom, the Nissin ZSum 360 is a 65g rod. vs the 75g Sato. What are your CoG and M numbers for the 7:3 ZS360? Would you conclude the M and CoG numbers of the Sato at 360cm tells you anything practical about it in contrast to the ZS360 7:3?

      iow - if I had a ZS 7:3 do you think reading the M and CoG numbers of the Sato at 360cm would give me any practical insight into the different feel I might expect by comparison if I ordered a Sato. I'm not trying to play one rod against the other. Just trying to learn if the Moment and CoG will really tell me anything practical about rod selection if I was thinking of ordering any new rod where M value is known. Tnx. dw

    3. My Zerosum 360 7:3 weighs 67g and has a balance point (CoG) at 72 cm. Therefore its moment is 4.82. My Sato's moment at 360 is 5.03. This despite my Sato at 360 is really only 352 cm long and my Zerosum is really 365 cm long! The Zerosum is a lighter, less tip heavy rod even though its longer than the Sato.

  11. OOPS I misread my own table and gave you the CG in inches rather than cm. Should have been 67.3 for the 6:4 rod and 68.6 for the 7:3. There is some variation from rod to rod, and also from person to person in how firmly they seat the segments. The Zerosum 360 7:3 that I measured was 71g, compared to Toms rod of 67g.

    1. No worries Chris. I had worked the equation rearranged to calculate CoG using the rod weights from your website. But it was a private message that pointed out he thought you meant inches. My calculated CG was a little different probably due to difference from website weight to your actual rod weight. However, converting your numbers to cm and working the equation for rod weights, they came out very close to the web site weights. Still it is interesting the CoG values of the Sato, LL36 and Zerosum are all about the same value and the individual Moment numbers will give a hint at how they will feel a little different. D

  12. Thanks Tom. Very good review. I always appreciate that you spend the time to do this stuff for us.

    1. Thanks JD. Get your hands on one or both. They are pretty impressive.

    2. Hopefully soon. Thanks for the encouraging nudge Tom.

  13. Unless you always hold all rods right at the butt cap, it would make sense to measure from the heel of your hand where you actually hold the rod. On rods with two grip positions, I almost always hold the rod on the forward position. Because the forward position on the Daiwa LL36SF is quite a bit further from the butt than it is on the Zerosum due to the longer grip, it significantly changes the effective M for the rods. For me, the Effective M for the Daiwa is 3.9 and the Effective M on the Zerosum 360 7:3 is 4.2. Choking up shortens the rod, but it also has a dramatic impact on the Effective M.

  14. Most excellent reviews. I am salivating and saving up. Kudos Tenkara USA