January 1, 2014

Annual Rod Review Summary -- January 2014

Since starting fixed-line fishing I have fished with and reviewed 50 rods. Some of these rods have been tenkara rods, some have been kieryu rods, some have been sieryu rods, and some have even been tanago rods, but all have been fixed-line rods. I have done my best to be as objective as possible in my reviews but rods are subjective by nature and therefore my opinion ultimately is subjective. Sorry about that.

Daiwa 43M-F
Kiyotaki 24

Me, on a small, tight stream

Shimano Kosuka 39NT

Before we begin, lets try to standardize measurements for the rods. First, their lengths will be in centimeters. Next, their weights (always without the tip plug) will be in grams. Finally, since action ratings (such as 5:5, 6:4. 7:3, 8:2) are not very accurate in representing the rods stiffness, rather it is where the rod begins to bend, their flexibility (not action) will be based on the Common Cents System (CSS). Although this system was designed for western fly rods it works equally well for telescoping fixed-line rods. The basics of this system has been described by Chris at Tenkara Bum. Remember that the action rating demonstrates where the rod bends but does not translate to overall rod stiffness. The Common Cents Systems does that.

To try to give an overall action "score" for each rod, I will use the Rod Flex Index (RFI). This is the number of pennies on the CCS divided by the length of the rod in meters. By doing this we allow the effect of length to be negated. This in turn allows rods of the same RFI score to be compared to one another and allows rods to be categorized. The higher the RFI score the stiffer a rod. A soft rod, like the 450 cm Ito has a score of 3.3 while a stiff rod like the Sekkei has a score of 10.

RFI comparison chart

The rods here presented are not in any particular order. I have organized them by company, but not by preference, cost, or any other parameter. Some of them may not be commercially available anymore, but are listed here anyway because you may find them on the second hand market. Please note: some of what you read here is from my previous posts. I got lazy.

These are short summaries of each rod. For a more detailed review follow the link, if available. Ratings are given in stars, the highest being 4-stars (****). Some ratings are in half-stars, such as two and a half stars (**'). Beware, this is a very long post -- it seems to go on forever!! Let's get started. Here are the rods:

Tenkara USA Iwana rods -- 12',11', 9'

I originally bought the Iwana 12 ft (360 cm) then I bought the replacement handles in the 9 ft and 11 ft offerings. This cleaver arrangement turns the 360 Iwana into two other rods quickly and thus increases its functionality for a large type of waters. I like the Iwana 360 It is aesthetically pleasing and functionally excellent. It is very light in the hand (76 g) 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.

CCS: 23 pennies
RFI: 6.4

Conclusion: I like this rod. Rating: *** (out of ****) I still like this rod over all. It seems to last the time test in weight, action, and durability. I don't use it much anymore, but it is my main back up rod that I keep at the cabin.

The Iwana 11 ft (330 cm) is a slightly different matter. Replacing the handle and removing the lower segment of the Iwana 360 changes the characteristics of the rod. It is still wonderfully light and aesthetically beautiful, but the action transforms from a 6:4 to a sub-7:3. The flex point is clearly further up the rod.

CCS: 21 pennies
RFI: 6.3

Conclusion: I mostly like this rod. Rating **'  I have much better short rods than the Iwana 11 ft, but I'm keeping it because it really is too inexpensive to sell and with the Iwana 12 ft it does increase the functionality.

Finally, the Iwana 9 ft (285 cm). Removing the 360 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 feels amazingly stiff. Although the RFI number is equal to the Iwana 11', the 9' feel much stiffer (there's that subjectiveness again). I have not fished a traditionally stiff tenkara rod (I am told that the Hane by BackpackingLight was such a rod) but the Iwana 285 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.

CCS: 18 pennies
RFI: 6.3

Conclusion: I didn't like this rod (handle) and sold it. Rating *.

Tenkara USA Ebisu

What to say about the Ebisu? Well, one 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. One thing I liked about the Ebisu was its action -- a nice smooth 5:5. It was a pleasure to cast. The other thing I like about the Ebisu is 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.

CCS: 13 pennies
RFI: 3.6

Conclusion: I mostly like this rod. Rating **'.  After using the Ebisu for a while and comparing it to some of my 5:5 cork-less rods I have come to the conclusion that the Ebisu is too heavy for me to continue really liking it. At 96 g, for only a 360 cm rod, it is too heavy. So, having lighter 5:5 rods available I sold it.

Tenkara USA Ito

This was Tenkara USA's first zoom rod.  You can fish this rod in two different lengths -- 390 cm or 450 cm. The lower section can be locked in place for the 390 configuration or it can be extended for the 450 configuration. The action was advertised as a 6:4 at 390 cm and 5:5 as 450 cm.  Well, in the 390 configuration the Ito feels like a 5:5 to me (with pronounced end of cast oscillation) but the 450 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.

Also, I felt like the Ito was quite tip heavy -- too much cantilever force. That issue was not as pronounce in the 390 configuration, but in the 450 configuration, wow, it was tip heavy. I know this because I have some long rods that don't feel nearly as tip heavy as the Ito did.

Finally, I did not personally care for the Ito's double half wells handle style. For rods over 360 cm I prefer a handle with a substantial "bulb" at the butt end (see the Daiwa LL41SF for what I mean). That bulb helps me grip a long rod (390 cm+) better, but I have found that I don't need it as much on a rod shorter than 390 cm.

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.

CCS: 390=15, 450=15 pennies
RFI: 390=3.8, 450=3.3

Conclusion: I was disappointed with the Ito and sold it. Rating **.

Tenkara USA Ayu

This is one of TUSA's longer rods at 390 cm. 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. At 102 g, 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.

CCS: 13.5 pennies
RFI: 3.5

Conclusion: I sort of like this rod. Rating **'. I did not like it enough to keep it however. It didn't have any redeeming quality that made it stand out when compared to other 5:5 rods that I have. I sold it.

Tenkara USA Ayu II

This rod replaced the Ayu in Tenkara USA's rod line up. The Ayu II is a beautiful rod with a stiffer 6:4-7:3 action. It has all of Tenkara USA's quality and design and makes a very attractive larger fish rod. The handle has a comfortable curvature with high quality cork. It is advertised as weighing 102 gm, but mine weighs a whopping 105.9 gm. For a 390 cm rod, this is too much. So even though it has a wonderful action it weigh just too much for all day fishing. It is a fine large fish rod that is likely to be very robust of time, however.

CCS: 29 pennies
RFI: 7.4

Conclusion: Overall a good rod, but too heavy. Rating **'.  Mine gets little use currently.

Tenkara USA Amago

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). 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 (100 g rather than 102 g). It has a nice 6:4 action that commands control of any line you put in it. Because it comes in at 410 cm it too has significant cantilever force but maybe because it just looks so solid it doesn't feel as overall heavy as the Ayu. This is just perception I suppose. The Amago, however, does feel really tip heavy. It is a long rod that weighs a lot and as Montgomery Scott said to Captain Kirk "[You] cannae change the laws of physics!" A long, heavy stick generally will feel long and heavy!

CCS: 31 pennies
RFI: 7.6

Conclusion: I sort of like this rod. Rating **'.   Although a great large fish rod, it was just way too overall heavy and really tip heavy for me to continue liking. I sold it.

Tenkara USA Sato

This is one of the new rods offered by Tenkara USA. It is a beautiful rod, having a glossy dark finish with cherry red accents. The handle is high quality cork in a gourd or camel shape. It is very comfortable and relaxing to use. The rod has a unique feature in that the tip plug can be stored in the butt cap. This reduces that chance of loss. The rod comes with two tip plugs, just in case. Each tip plug is threaded with a loop of extra lilian for good measure.

The rod is a triple-zoom rod; it can be fished in three different lengths, 330, 360, 390 cm. This makes the rod very versatile. Also, it is very lightweight, coming in at 74 g. The action is smooth and the rod loads well with a #3.5 level line.

One thing I am disappointed about is that it is shorter than advertised. When in the 360 cm configuration it is actually 352 cm. And when in the 390 cm configuration it is actually 378 cm. This may not seem like a big deal (and it's really not) but sometime I need all the reach I can get. A 12 cm shorter rod can throw off targeting and reach in certain waters.

CCS: 330=19, 360=20, 390=21 pennies
RFI: 330=5.7, 360=5.5, 390=5.4

Conclusion: I really like this rod. Rating ***. I haven't had it very long so I need some time to fully feel it out, but what I see is a very nice rod with smooth action and excellent features. I am a bit disappointed that it is shorter than advertised, however.

Tenkara USA Rhodo

This rod is very similar to the Tenkara USA Sato so much of what I wrote there applies here. The overall looks are very similar. The handle is very similar. The tip plug storage is the same. The Rhodo is lighter however at 59 g.

The Rhodo also is a triple-zoom rod. It is fishable at 270, 297, and 320 cm lengths. It's action is smooth and a little softer than other rod I have at these lengths. This allows this rod to load well even with short lines, such as 7 foot #3.5 level line. It casts beautifully with little effort at all three lengths. This is a premier small creek rod. Its measured lengths are more true to the advertised lengths.

CCS: 270=25, 297=15.5, 320=15 pennies
RFI: 270=5.6, 297=5.2, 320=4.3

Conclusion: I really, really like this rod. Rating ***'. I think it is the best small creek rod out there, to date.

AllFishingBuy.com Kasugo-4209

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 like this rod so far. Although it is billed as a 14 ft rod it is actually a 420 cm rod. Its overall weight is 102.6 g, 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, supposedly a 6:4.  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.

CCS: 33 pennies
RFI: 7.9

Conclusion: I like this rod. Rating **'.  I finally sold this rod. It was a good rod for the money but I found better to take its place.

AllFishingBuy.com Hirame-ML-3909

This rod is a real sleeper, in my opinion. OK sure, it has pretty cheap cork, the knurling on the butt cap is pretty rough, and the tip plug is quite loose, but hey, it is a "no name" rod (probably a Chinese copy of a Nissin rod). As I stated in my review, I bought this rod on a whim, just to see what it was like.

It is a 390 cm rod that is billed as a 7:3. However, when compared to my Daiwa 7:3 rods, the Hirame-ML-3909 feels much more like a 6:4. It feels like what I wish the Ito in 390 cm configuration would have felt like. The Hirame-ML-3909 has a nice effortless casting stroke that I really enjoy. Some 7:3 rods are a little too stiff more my taste, but this one is not. It loads well and throws a level or furled line with equal proficiency.  Also, there is no tip oscillation that I can appreciate. At 85 g, it is a little heavier than I would like, but for a 390 cm rod it is still a lot better than 100+ g!

I don't care for the handles shape though. As I have stated, for rods over 360 cm I prefer a "bulb" at the butt end. I have since modified the handle to my liking. Because of this, I fish with this rod a lot and I have caught some "big" fish (> 20 inches) with it. It handles large fish well, but you can still feel smaller fish as they fight. Another nice thing is that it has features that are available on many of the more premium rods like a tip-lillian swivel. Also, the finish is excellent and replacement parts are inexpensive and readily available.

I have heard of some quality issues with the handle, but I still think this rod is worth the investigation if you are looking for a "lightish" weighing 6:4+ 390 cm rod that can handle 20+ inch fish.

CCS: 23 pennies
RFI: 5.7

Conclusion: I really like this rod. Rating ***.   I still have this rod and still like it. I have wrapped the handle a bit, but it still goes with me to certain waters. It is my main winter fishing rod when the air temperature is less than 20 degrees. It has been tried and tested and is now like an old friend.

AllFishingBuy Matodai-40-4506

I think this rod is a Chinese knock off of the Shimano Mainstream ZE. I bought this rod because it was long and billed at only 90 g. It however was a great disappointment. The overall  quality of the rod seems quite nice but the tip section snapped while playing the first fish that I hooked with it! Yes, that's right, snapped! The fish was probably only 14 inches and the current wasn't even that strong, but as I raised the rod to the 90 degree angle the tip section snapped near its base. The video is pretty nauseating in that you can hear the "crack" as the tip section gives way. It broke at 19 mm from where it came out of the second segment.

I thought that maybe I just had a defective tip section so I replaced it with a replacement tip section that I already happen to have. But, with the next fish I caught (approx. 12 inches) that one snapped too!!

I contacted AllFishingBuy and they took the rod back and refunded my money. That was nice of them.

CCS: no data
RFI: no data

Conclusion: Either I got a defective rod and replacement tip section or this rod has a faulty design. Rating '. If you are interested in this rod I'd suggest you contact AllFishingBuy and make sure that they have checked the rod out with the manufacturer. BTW, I did like the handle shape and the rod did cast well.

AllFishingBuy Wakata 270

This is a fun little rod. Like the other rods I bought from AllFishingBuy, it is not fancy. It has a nice flat nonglare finish I wish more rods had. It is very light weight and casts well. It makes a nice small creek rod.

CCS: 15 pennies
RFI: 5.6

Conclusion: I like this rod. Rating ***.   It pretty much took the place of my Soyokaze 27SR when I fish very small, tight streams that have heavy tree canopy. I might not be using it too much now since I like the Tenkara USA Rhodo better, however the Wakata does have a non-glare finish. This might be a plus when fishing close quarters.

Daiwa Soyokaze 24SR, 27SR, 31SR

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 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 330 cm feel heavy! These rods are a blast to use in tight, heavily covered streams. I have caught fish over 12 inches with both the 27SR and 31SR, and they each handled the fish without an issue.

It just received the handle to convert the 27SR into the 24SR. I fish a few streams where a 270 cm rod with a 7 foot line is just too long. The 24SR seems perfect.  I am excited to use it this coming summer and compare it to my Kiyotaki 24. The 24SR is slower than the Kiyotaki with an RFI of 5.4, compared to the Kiyotaki's 6.3.

CCS: 24SR=13, 27SR=17.5, 31SR=21 pennies
RFI: 24SR=5.4, 27SR=6.5, 31SR=6.8

Conclusion: I really like these rods. Rating *** each.   I still really like these rods, but I have other rods that are taking their place. I might have to sell one of them (likely the 31SR since I use the Nissin Pro Spec 2-way 7:3 more often) as my collection gets too large. But not yet. The 24SR will likely become my favorite "really small, tight, and choked with trees stream" rod. It has a softer action than the Kiyotaki 24, another great small tight stream rod.

Daiwa LL41 SF

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 360, 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 (410 cm) in length. It is amazingly light, only 85 g for a 410 cm rod! It has a smooth, relaxed cast similar to, but better than, the Ayu. It does not have any appreciable end of cast oscillation. And its reach is phenomenal! It is designed to cast light 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. Action: 5:5. For a 410 cm rod it has surprisingly little cantilever effect -- it is not tip heavy at all.

CCS: 16.5 pennies
RFI: 4.0

Conclusion: I like this rod. Rating ***.   I have sold this rod. It was very nice but it didn't work as well for me over time as other 5:5 rods I have. I prefer the action of the Daiwa Sagiri 45MC over this rod.

Daiwa LT36SF, 39SF, 44SF

I have all three of these rods and enjoy them. The 36SF has been a work horse for me when the water is high and the current is fast. It will hold fish well in these situations where other rods fail. Also, at only 45.5 cm the 36SF is strikingly short, when compared to most tenkara rods, in its collapsed position. It is easy to take along where ever I go.

The 39SF and 44SF are big fish rods. They can cast a long line and battle a large fish in fast current. They don't collapse down as short as the 36SF but are still reasonably compact.

This rods are graded as a 7:3.  The casting action is crisp but smooth. I have cast #3.5 - 4.5 weight lines and furled lines without issue.

CCS: 36SF=28, 39SF=29.5, 44SF=33 pennies
RFI: 36SF=7.8, 39SF=7.6, 44SF=7.5

Conclusion: I really like these rods. Rating *** each.  I have used these rods from mountain streams to large rivers. I like the control I get with these rods and they fight fish extremely well. They truly are premium, fast action tenkara rods.

Daiwa Sagiri 39MC and 45MC

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 are 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 340 cm to 390 cm. It is, like all the Daiwa rods I have, astonishingly lightweight -- only 59 g for a 390 cm rod. Its action is pleasant and unlabored in both the 340 and 390 configurations --  I can't really feel much of a difference between the two actions; maybe it is a little softer in the 390 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 340 and 390 depending on the conditions of a certain stretch of the stream. Of note, this rod is not tip heavy at all making it a rod you can fish with all day and not even know you had been wielding a fly rod!

I also have the longer version as well; the 45MC. It zooms from 400 cm to 450 cm. Like its shorter sibling, this rod is feather light and casts beautifully. It too has an amazingly effortless casting stroke and is a lot of fun with a fish on. Even though it is really long it has little appreciable tip heaviness. It replaced my Daiwa LT41SF.

CCS: 39MC: 340=13, 390=15 pennies. 45MC: 400=14, 450=14 pennies
RFI: 39MC: 340=3.8, 390=3.8. 45MC: 400=3.5, 450=3.1

Conclusion: I really, really like these rods. Rating ***' each.  They are so much fun to use. Although they appear somewhat delicate, they fight fish well. But I only use 6X tippet so to protect the rod from a really large fish.

Daiwa Kiyose 43M-F, 53M-F

These are classical Daiwa keiryu rods. They are well balanced and light weight for being such a long rods. They can handle larger fish, in fact, I got the 53M-F to take steelhead and carp! They cast a line beautifully and have amazing reach. I generally fish the 43M-F in the shorter configuration, only extending when I need more length to land a fish. However, when I have cast this rod in the 430 cm length it handles well with little tip heaviness.

The rods are billed as 7:3.

CCS: 43M-F: 380=28, 430=33 pennies
RFI: 43M-F: 380=7.4, 430=7.7

Conclusion: I really like these rods. Rating ***.  I fish the 43M-F all the time. I don't use the 53M-F often, as it is a specialty rod. I hope to get back up to Oregon and do some keiryu for steelhead soon. I have not measured the CCS or RFI for the 54M-F as it really wouldn't be a rod used for tenkara.

Daiwa Sekkei 36M

from Tenkara Bum

I bought this rod to see if it would be a good Euronymphing  rod. At an 8:2 action this rod can really throw a set of big heavy nymphs. I loaned it to Chris Stewart at Tenkara Bum and he agrees that it is an excellent specialty nymphing rod. This is a zoom rod. It can be fished equally well in either 320 or 360 cm lengths. The handle is like the Daiwa 43M-F, Soyokaze and other similar rods.

This rod is short when collapsed; only 42 cm. It is also very light at 68 g.

Nymphing is where this rod really shines. Tie on a tandem Czech nymph set or a "duo" and you have two lengths to fish with equal effectiveness.  Because the rod is so light your arm doesn't tire, even in the classical fully extended Czech nymphing style. It is nice! Hooks sets are quick and line control is excellent.

CCS: 320=43, 360=47 pennies
RFI: 320=13.4, 360=10

Conclusion: I like this rod as a nymphing rod. Rating **'.  I finally sold this rod. I decided I didn't use it often enough to justify keeping it. It was a good nymphing rod though.

Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 24, Kiyotaki 33, Kiyotaki 39

These are fun rods. They are relatively inexpensive but have some nice features like a lillian swivel and a great finish. As you can see, they are cork-less rods. They are remarkably lightweight and are very short (only 39 cm) when fully collapsed. Their action is rated at 7:3 and I believe it! I wish they were just a little more flexible in their casting actions.   They make excellent travel or backpacking rods.

The handle has alternating non-slip bands that work great. The handles are sort of thin when compared to other cork-less rods but I have not had any issue with the grip -- and my hands are XL. When a fish takes your fly you can feel the hit very well with these rods.

Since they are on the stiff side of the penny scale they make really nice nymphing rods. The 24 is too short for this but the 39 is killer!

CCS: Kiyotaki 24=15, 33=26, 39=38 pennies
RFI: 24=6.3, 33=7.8, 39=9.8

Conclusion: I like these rods. Rating **' each.  Although I like these rods I did sell my Kiyotaki 33, but only to make room for a different rod in that length. The Kiyotaki 24 is a great "really small creek" rod. With a 7 foot line I can cast the fly pretty much anywhere and it has enough backbone to keep fish out of the snags. I may get a Kiyotaki 21 for really tight creeks.

Shimotsuke Ten

This is a premium tenkara rod from Japan. It has a relaxed mid-flex action that is a pleasure to cast. I use #3.5 line with it and it has become one of most favorite rods for mountain stream fishing. The handle has a unique shape, which is very comfortable. Non of the cork defects are filled making a handsome design in the cork itself. It is lightweight at 64 gm and is 380 cm in length.

CCS: 20 pennies
RFI: 5.2

Conclusion: I really, really like this rod. Rating ***'.  The Ten is lightweight, smooth casting, quick dampening and aesthetically beautiful. It is a true tenkara rod and therefore can handle "true"  Japanese tenkara fishing and Japanese fish size. I wouldn't choose this rod if I were after 18+ inch fish. It is made for "tenkara fish", that is, 6-14 inch trout in a modest current.

Shimotsuke Kyodai 3.6

I bought one of these, from Chris at Tenkara Bum, as a gift to my son in law. I bought the "starter kit". I fished with the rod on and off over a couple days, mainly fishing for bluegill and bass in the rivers of Arkansas. The rod is a basic entry level rod that is solid in appearance and performance, but not fancy.  The handle is cork and of moderate quality. The rod is moderately stiff and casts a #4 line or furled line very well. As far as 360 cm entry level rods go, the Kyodai 3.6 is stiffer in action than the TUSA Iwana 12' and Tenkara Rod Co. Sawtooth, but not as stiff as the DRAGONtail Tatsu360. I did not have a scale with me to test the rod's weight but it is advertised at 88 g. I caught some reasonable sized bass with this rod and it handled them really well.

CCS: 25 pennies
RFI: 6.9

Conclusion: I mostly like this rod. Rating **'.   I didn't get to use this rod on the streams and conditions that I normally fish. But what I saw and experienced of this rod demonstrated that this is a solid entry level tenkara rod that would work on mountain streams fishing for trout as well as southern rivers and ponds fishing for 'gills and bass.

Shimano Kozuka 39NT

This 390 cm premium keiryu rod is beautiful in form and function. It too is rated as a 7:3 rod and has an action quite similar to the Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 39 (although the Kiyotaki is slightly stiffer). On the CCS, the Shimano is a 33 penny rod.

I have used this rod for weighted nymphing and it works great. It is lightweight (85 g) and with the long reach it covers the water, even with a short nymphing line. I have not fished dries on a long line with it, but I'm sure it would cast a tight loop with accurate presentation.

Another nice thing about the rod is that it is very compact when collapsed -- just 36.8 cm! This makes an excellent travel and backpacking rod. It is my main backup rod when I hike into the Yellowstone backcountry. It takes up no room at all in my daypack.

CCS: 33 pennies
RFI: 8.4

Conclusion: I like this rod. Rating ***.  The action is just a bit stiffer than I like, but this rod has it's place in ones arsenal. I consider it a power rod. I still like this rod. I have toyed with selling it, since I have the Kiyotaki 39 which is very similar, but I just can't seem to go through with it. It does its job so well.

Shimano Mainstream ZE

This is an amazing rod. Designed by Dr. Ishagaki and manufactured by Shimano, it  combines many excellent features into one great rod. It is a zoom rod being fishable at 400 cm and 450 cm. It has moderate stiffness for such a long rod and yet it is very light coming in at 82.7 gm! Despite it being such a long rod it has very little cantilever force; very little tip heaviness. It casts beautifully; I generally use a #4 level line and cast in the 400 cm configuration.

It does have two downsides. One is that it is very long when collapsed -- 92 cm! The other is that is is very expensive when compared to other tenkara rods. Replacement parts are available but difficult to obtain.

CCS: 400=22, 450=21 pennies
RFI: 400=5.5, 450=4.7

Conclusion: I like this rod. Rating ***. I fish it often but only when I can easily walk to the stream. It is not a packable rod!

Shimano Keiryu Tenkara 34-38 ZL

This is another rod designed by Dr. Ishagaki and manufactured by Shimano. It, like the Mainstream ZE, is a great rod for some but it is different in many ways. This rod has a EVA foam handle which is curved and confortable. The rod is very light coming in at 76.1 gm. It too is a zoom rod, being fishable in 340 cm and 380 cm lengths. When fully collapsed it too is very long 70.5 cm.

Fishing this rod is nice in its 340 cm length but it feel a little too "whippy" at 380 cm. For this reason, I'm not as impressed with it as I am with the Mainstream ZE. But to each his own; you may love this rod.

CCS: 340=19, 380=14 pennies
RFI: 340=5.5, 380=3.7

Conclusion: I almost like this rod. Rating **'.   It cast nicely at 340 cm but I didn't like it at 380 cm. You may say, "just use it at 340 cm and extend only to net the fish". I say, "I could do that, but I have other rods in the same length that I think cast better".  I appreciate its heritage, but I ended up selling it.

Nissin Zerosum 360 7:3

Here is a beautiful rod. Glossy finish with cherry red and gold accents make this rod the hands down winner in the tenkara rod beauty contest. It has a high quality cork handle in a gourd shape that is comfortable and very functional. The Zerosum casts smoothly, without over shoot or oscillation. The rod is very light at 67.2 gm. at 360 cm it comfortably covers most of my favorite waters.

I tend to fish this rod a lot. It has become one of my "go to" rods because it action is perfect for me. Even though it is advertised as a 7:3, it is really a slow 6:4. Nissin seems to over rate their rods action for some reason. This rod's action falls smack dap into the 6:4 category, but on the slower end of the 6:4 spectrum

CCS: 18 pennies
RFI: 5.0

Conclusion: I really, really like this rod. Rating ***'.  It is one of my favorites. I just might have to get the 400 cm version someday!

Nissin Pro Spec 2-Way 7:3

This is another rod from Nissin that I like. It is not as pretty as the Zerosum but it is very functional and comfortable to use. It too has a gourd shaped handle but unlike the Zerosum the Pro Spec's handle is foam, covered in a veneer of cork. That may sound like a negative, but its not. It has turned out to be both comfortable and robust.

The rod is a zoom rod, making it very versatile for small streams. It fishes at 310 cm and 360 cm. Both configurations cast equally as well with a smooth, moderately slow action.

I did have the 3rd section (tip section is #1) break twice -- once pulling against a snag, and once on a 12 inch trout. I'm not sure why this happened twice but it hasn't happened since. I haven't heard if anyone else has had this problem.

CCS: 310=15, 360=14.5 pennies
RFI: 310=4.8, 360=4.0

Conclusion: I really like this rod. Rating ***'.  Despite the breakages and the cheaper handle I like the rod. I don't like it as enthusiastically as the Zerosum, but it is a great rod that I use frequently. I use it as a 310 cm rod more than the Daiwa Soyokaze 31SR.

Suntech Field Master Keiryu Special 39

The Field Master is a highly versatile keiryu rod. It is a triple-zoom rod that can be fished in the 320, 360, and 390 cm lengths. It is beautifully made and functions wonderfully. It is a little on the stiffer action scale, but many people might like that. It clearly is a 7:3 rod. It dose get a little softer as it extends into its longer configurations, but not by much! It casts a #4 level line smoothly and controls fish, even in fast current superbly.

The handle is corkless, but has a very effective grip coating that is effective both wet and dry. The rod is very lightweight at 69.1 gm. The zoom feature is well thought out and functional.

CCS: 320=24, 360=26, 390=28 pennies
RFI: 320=7.5, 360=7.2, 390=7.2

Conclusion: I sort of like this rod. Rating **'.  It was a little too stiff for me so I sold it. It was replaced in my collection by the Suntech Suikei, which has a softer action. When I need a rod this stiff I use one of my Daiwa LT series.

Suntech Suikei GM 39

This is another triple-zoom rod by Suntech. Like the Field Master, the Suikei is beautifully made and is very functional. It also fishes in the 320, 360, and 390 cm lengths. But unlike the Field Master, the Suikei is softer. It has a pleasing 6:4 action that matches many lines and waters. The handle is very similar the to Field Master but is a little thinner. I have wrapped mine to make it a little thicker for comfort. I use a #3.5 line mostly with this rod. For a zoom rod, this is an ubber light rod at 60.5 gm.

I understand, from Chris Stewart, that there are two versions of the Suikei, a medium 硬中硬 action and a faster or stiff 硬調 action. Mine is the former, medium 硬中硬 action. I have not evaluated the latter.

CCS: 320=18.5, 360=21, 390=21.5 pennies
RFI: 320=5.8, 360=5.8, 390=5.5

Conclusion: I really like this rod. Rating ***.  This is the rod I take with me when I have room for only one rod. Normally I carry two rods -- mostly because I like fishing with different rods. But when I can only take one, like on a business trip, I take the Suikei. I like its nice action and yet good power for controlling fish. This is a great rod that should not be overlooked!

Suntech GM-R Special 36NT

This is an interesting "Dr. Jekyl and Mr Hyde" rod from Suntech. Although it is a single length rod when you fish it, it comes with two different tip sections. One is a tiny bit longer making the rod 360 cm, and the other is shorter making it 350 cm. The longer tip is softer while the shorter is stiffer. Both tip actions place the rod in the 6:4 range but the shorter tip almost pushes the rod into the 7:3 category.

The rod is like all Suntech rods I've used, very beautiful. Fit and finish are perfect. The non-slip handle coating is clear and very effective wet or dry. This for is a handsome gold excepting the top two section which are glossy black. It is quite stunning. The rod is crazy light at only 47 gm. Both tips cast beautifully but I liked the longer, softer tip section best.

CCS: 350=23, 360=18 pennies
RFI: 350=6.6, 360=5.0

Conclusion: I like this rod. Rating ***.   It is amazingly light yet powerful. I never owned this rod, as it was loaned to me by Chris Stewart. It was nice enough that I thought about buying it, but I already had too many rods.  (Ya think!!)

Suntech Kurenai HM33

This wonderful little rod is like the other Suntech rods. It is beautiful and light. It casts like a dream and is so much fun the catch fish with. It does have one problem though: After you have cast and fish this rod all other rods feel heavy and labored to use!! No joke, this rod will spoil you! It weighs 32 gm! It casts a #2-3 line like a dream, and catching a 8 inch trout is like fighting Moby Dick! What fun.

The handle is small, but if you hold it right (with your fingers not your palm) it is not fatiguing.  The action is a 5:5 and is sweet and slow. The rod loads beautifully and you can literally feel it unload as it throws the line forwards to its intended target. The rod is a seiryu rod.

CCS: 12.5 pennies
RFI: 3.7

Conclusion: I really like this rod. Rating ***'.   Much to my regret I sold it to make room for another rod in its general action category. I may have to get another one day, after I've thinned the herd. This is such a fun small creek/small fish rod.

Oni Rod

This is a specialized rod produced one at a time who's process is watched over by Masami Sakakibara, a tenkara master. The rod is sort of an enigma; it defies all the conventional rules. It is long, at nearly 4m, yet it has no tip heaviness -- not one hint. It weighs 101.1 g, which is pretty heavy, but feels as light as a feather. It has a slow action, yet can cast long light lines and place them exactly where you want. It is in a class all its own.

The rod is glossy black and has a very slightly curved foam handle. It comes with a psychedelic patterned rod sleeve.

CCS: 15.5 pennies
RFI: 3.9

Conclusion: I really like this rod. Rating ***'.   You may think I'm blowing smoke when I talk about this rod, but to experience it is really something. Is it my favorite rod? It is one of them, and it has a special place in my collection. I am very delighted to own and use an Oni rod.

Tenkara Worldwide River Master

This is a rod sold by Tenkara Worldwide from the UK. It is very similar in appearance to the TUSA Ayu I but it has a faster action. This rod doesn't have the tip heaviness of the Ayu but it doesn't have the refinement either. The fit and finish of this rod are not up to Tenkara USA standards. Still, it is a nice work horse rod that is easy to cast and fun to fish. It is 390 cm in length and weighs 89.2 g, which is pretty reasonable.

This is one of the few rods that I have broken on a fish. Granted, the fish was in heavy current and I suspect it might have been foul hooked, but I'm not for sure. That was a shame because it had a really nice action and fished well.

CCS: 25 pennies
RFI: 6.4

Conclusion: I mostly likely this rod. Rating **'.  I think it could have been better presented in fit and finish than it was. I certainly wouldn't talk anyone out of purchasing one of these rods, as it is a stable, practical and work-a-day 390 cm rod. It just didn't have anything really special about it. I have seen other rods for sell that look exactly the same, even down to the funny little tag on the butt cap, so I suspect this is a standard Chinese copy rod. But hey, the price is good and the rod is solid.

Gamakatsu Ryokei 360

This is a seiryu rod that has no cork on its handle. it is amazingly light and casts effortlessly. Mine weighed 46 g, but its advertised at 44 g. The rod is a pleasure to cast, and I must say, it was one of the best casting 360 cm rods I've ever used. The finish is glossy black. The fit and finish were flawless.

I caught many 14-16 inch trout in fast water and every time this rod handled them without issue. Fast water is the operative term here. Many rods can handle good sized fish but to handle them in high gradient, fast water is the measure of many a rod.

CCS: 19 pennies
RFI: 5.3

Conclusion: I really liked this rod. Rating ***'.  Despite this, I sold it. I just had too many 360 cm rods and it wasn't getting its water time. It needed to find an owner that would put it through it paces. This horse needed to run! A 390 cm version of this rod could be amazing, expensive, but amazing!

Sakura Seki Rei 3.3

This Seki Rei is a tenkara rod offered by Sakura, a long established tenkara rod company in Japan. The rod has a paulownia wood handle. The very fact that it has a wood handle makes it different from many other tenkara rods, excepting the TUSA Ebisu and a few Nissin rods. The handle is not curved but is cylindrical. The rod is handsome with hand painted accents making the green finish look like bamboo. The rod designation is hand painted onto the rods as well; not a sticker. The rod is rated as a 6:4 and has a pleasing relaxed action. It casts a #4 line very well. It is a little heavy for a 330 cm rod at 80 g.

CCS: 21 pennies
RFI: 6.4

Conclusion: I mostly like this rod. Rating **'.  I enjoy its casting action and its heritage, but other than that I'm not sure it has any other feature more special than other tenkara rods I own. I ended up selling it.

Tenkara Times Next 360

This rod comes from Tenkara Times and has a nice modern design. The handle is part EVA foam; it has a comfortable shape and contour. The finish of the rod is flat, non-glare charcoal. The rod is lightweight coming in at 70 g. The rod is advertised as a 5:5 rod and its action measurement would indicate this. It has a nice relaxed casting action and it handles a #3-3.5 line very well.

CCS: 14 pennies
RFI: 3.8

Conclusion: I mostly like this rod. Rating ***. I find the foam handle a little harder to hold than cork, but not by much. I like the handle shape and the over casting action of this rod.

Tenkara Times Try 360 and 390

Try 360 6:4

The Try 360 and 390 also come from Tenkara Times. They are very light weight rods; both with wonderful relaxed actions. The 360 weighs only 62.2 g while the Try 390 weighs 72 g. Both rods have flat, non-glare charcoal finishes. The handle for both is similar in overall shape. It has more dramatic curves than most tenkara rods but it makes a comfortable handle to hold. The actions for both rods are relaxed.  Even though they are advertised as 7:3 for the 390 and 6:4 for 360, they measure at a 6:4 for the 390 and a 5:5 for the 360. They handle reasonably light line well yet both rods fight fish very well. Since they are so lightweight they are easy to hold all day. The 390 is a little more tip heavy than the 360, but this just makes sense since its longer.

CCS: 360=13, 390=19 pennies
RFI: 360=3.6, 390=4.8

Conclusion: I really like both of these rods. Rating ***'. I think they are both designed very well and have very good materials. I like both of their actions. I really like the flat finish on both. The handle is one of the most comfortable of any tenkara rod I own.

Temple Fork Outfitters Softhackle 116

I only tested this rod at one of the fly shops in Ketchum, Idaho. The SH 116 is a handsome rod weighing in at about 83 gm (2.9 oz). It collapses to 52 cm (20.5 inches). The cork appears to be high quality. The handle is pretty much cylindrical with a very subtle curvature. The butt cap is hard plastic without any knurling.  The tip cap is similar to Tenkara USA's cap -- wood with plastic and rubber. The lilian is attached directly. The overall finish of the rod is pretty cool. It is in what would be best described as a faux bamboo motif. It is quite artistic for a tenkara rod!

For casting, I used a 13' Streamside furled leader. The rod cast well, but then again the rod is relatively stiff in action. So, casting a heavy furled line shouldn't come as a surprise.

I wasn't able to measure the Common Cents System rating for this rod.

CCS: ?
RFI: ?

Conclusion: I thought the rod was OK. Rating **.   But it's not a rod that I personally would purchase. There are enough other tenkara specific rods that have a better action and much better length that I would not go out of my way to buy a SH-116. It's not a bad rod, just one not for me.

DRAGONtail Tatsu360

This is an entry level tenkara rod of moderately good quality. It is not as fancy as other rods, but then again, it's not supposed to be. The handle is a standard half-wells shape common to a lot of Chinese generic tenkara rods. The cork is of modest quality. The finish is a dark charcoal, non-glare flat. The action is pretty stiff. Although the rod is advertised as a 6:4, it measures just as stiff as my Daiwa LT36SF, a 7:3 rod. This Tatsu360 casts a #4 line well, but a #4.5 or furled line might be better. At $70 USD (or less if on sale), this rod is a great bargain! Its overall weight is 87.6 g.

CCS: 28 pennies
RFI: 7.9

Conclusion: I think this rod is OK. Rating **'.  It is a little too stiff for me and doesn't cast as well as the LT36SF. But then again, the Tatsu360 costs 4 times less than the Daiwa. That's hard to overlook! If you need a good entry level tenkara rod with some backbone for larger fish, this rod just might fit the bill!

Tenkara Rod Company Sawtooth

This is another entry level tenkara rod of moderate to good quality. The rod is strong in aesthetics with an overall look that is quite stunning. It has a glossy finish that alternates between light and dark brown. The metal components are gold in coloration. The handle is the standard half-wells, similar to the DRAGONtail Tatsu360. The overall weight is the rod is 88 g. Like other rods, this rod can be purchased alone or in a package. The package is pictured above and comes with rod, sleeve, tube, a furled line, one spool (not shown), and three flies. This package is $159 USD and is a great bargain for any one wanting to get into tenkara.

The action is a 6:4, but on the stiffer side of the spectrum. It is not as stiff as the Tatsu360 though.

CCS: 22 pennies
RFI: 6.3

Conclusion: I mostly like this rod. Rating ***.  It has a similar RFI to the TUSA Iwana 12' and therefore should be a good starter rod for tenkara. The Iwana 12' is lighter by 12 g, but it also costs more than the Sawtooth. This is one pretty rod though.


So there is my 2014 Rod Summary. I know each review was a little brief but it should give you some idea about each rod and what I like or don't like.  Please remember that only you can tell if you personally like a certain rod or not. What I write may not reflect exactly on how a rod works for you.

I hope this has been somewhat helpful. As I evaluate more rods I'll add them to future rod summaries. But that's it for now. I'm tired of writing!


  1. Tom, very nice work to begin a new year.
    Anyway o would like to see a more complete review on the AFB wakata rod.

    Other than that, as i have a try 390, i can say that mine weights less than yours (75 grams).
    It is a big water but not a big fish rod. It casts well in the wind with a #4 fluorocarbon as well as
    a floating line (i've used 360 cm of Cortland 0,027" running line with it).
    Its casting is very precise with very little tip heavines (it is less tip heavy than the Iwana 12')
    and i like it a lot.

    I also have a TFO soft hackle 10'6".
    This is a very fast (maybe 8:2 rod) but overall i like its action.
    It has a stiffer tip with a, somewhat, downwards softer blank .
    It is very precise at casting and fights big fish well.
    Can throw big flies against the wind and is my 1st choice
    when i go to the mangroves on my yak.
    It has no appreciable tip heaviness (moment = 5.04).

    1. Thank you Carlos, for the information. It's always good to see data from other rods.

      Happy New Year.

  2. What will earn that final 1/2 star?
    No 4 star rods yet?
    What do you think is the missing ingredient?

    1. No 4 star rods yet. I'm not sure that there is a "perfect" tenkara rod, as every rod has a compromise. Avalability, asthetics, durability, fit and finish, cost, replacement parts, overall action, length, weight, tip heaviness, materials, accessories, etc.. all are considered in acheiveing my overall rating.

  3. Hey there Tom, enjoying your blog here as I learn about Tenkara. I live in Kenya currently and am looking to explore the trout steams in the region. I've very little fly experience as my background is bigger bass, redfish and speckled trout along the SE coastal regions. I am kicking around either the Iwana or the Sawtooth and note you are recommending both of those as good options in this post. Is there something, other than the small price difference, that should push me to pull the trigger on one over the other? Thanks in advance for your advice.

    1. Either of the rods would be excellent. The only advantage to the Iwana is the lifetime warranty. Also, replacement parts are inexpensive and easily obtained. I suspect that replacement parts for the Sawtooth are also available but you would have to contact Teton Rod Co. for details. Again, either rod is a great start!