January 17, 2015

Gamakatsu Ryokei 390 review -- part II

A while back, I owned a Gamakatsu Ryokei 360. I really liked that rod. I have fished a lot of rods and if you've been following my blog for any length of time you know that I have never stated that I loved a certain rod. I usually say that I like or really like, or on rare occasion, really, really like a certain rod. But the Ryokei 360 was as close to any that I've come to loving a rod.

Despite that, I sold the Ryokei 360. The main reason was that I already have a million 360 cm rods. But when I sold the Ryokei 360 I told myself that given a chance I'd get a 390 cm version.  Well, the other day I saw a used Ryokei 390 for sell. The price was right so I bought it. I'm very glad I did.

The Ryokei 390 looks exactly like the 360 so I'm going to cheat a little and copy my previously published 360 rod description (to save time). Sorry.

The rod comes in the typical Japanese plastic carton with a rod sock. There is nothing fancy in the packaging for sure. But I suspect that people don't buy this rod for its packaging. They buy it for its performance. The Ryokei series of seiryu rods are advertised by Gamakatsu as "competition" rods. Again, the emphasis of these rods is performance.

The rod is glossy black with red accents. The handle is cork-less but has a very efficient non-slip coating. This coating works well both when dry or when wet. The handle has a comfortable diameter as well. The rod is modestly long at 62.5 cm when collapsed (including tip plug). It is 391 cm when extended. It weighs an astonishingly light 48 g! Although it is a lightweight rod, there is no compression of the segment walls when they are squeezed. This is different from some other very lightweight rods that I have owned. Often times, ultra lightweight rods are just so because their wall are very thin; they deform when they are squeezed.

The schmutz on the handle is from fishing! 

weight without tip plug

The tip plug is wooden with a fluted rubber insert. It fits snugly into the end of the rod and, I think, would be unlikely to just fall out spontaneously. The butt cap is plastic with rounded rubber terminal portion. There is a rubber bumper to dampen the noise of the collapsed segments; there is also a drainage hole. The lilian is classic red and is attached with a perfectly executed micro-swivel. The tip section can be withdrawn through the second segment for complete rod disassembly.

This rod has excellent in-hand balance. There is no tip heaviness and casting is effortless. I used a 12 foot, #3.5 line with excellent casting accuracy and line control.  The casting arc is smooth. There is no tip oscillation as the rod dampens quickly at the end of the casting stroke.

The Ryokei has good lower section stiffness and therefore easily controls tenkara sized (12-16 inch) trout in fast water. I never felt out of control at any time when fighting trout in this length range, despite fast moving water. The tip is quite flexible, thus the Ryokei 390 has a Common Cents Scale rating of only 15 pennies. This gives it a Rod Flex Index (RFI) of 3.8. This shows that the Ryokei 390 has the same flex profile range as the Tenkara USA Ito (in the 390 cm configuration), but unlike the Ito, the Ryokei 390 weighs only 48 g, while the Ito weighs a heavy 116 g. That's over twice as much as the Ryokei 390.

Unlike all other fixed line rod companies (that I am aware of), Gamakatsu publishes the rotational moment for their rods. To review, rotational moment is a an estimation of torque or "swing weight" of a rod. The lower the number, the less tip heavy the rod and the less effort to make the rod travel through its arc. The rotational moment is the weight of the rod in kg times the radius (or length from butt to balance point of the fully extended rod) in cm.

From Gamakatsu's website -- here.

As you can see, the Ryokei 390 has a rotational moment of only 4!  That is amazing for a 390 cm rod!! For comparison here are data of a few other rods: the Tenkara USA Ito has a moment of 7.84 at 390 cm, the Ayu II is 8.55 and the Oni type I is 5.2 (the Oni type I weighs in at a hefty 101 g, however).  Any number over 5.5-6 and the rod feels tip heavy. The higher the number also means more stress on your forearm and more chance of microtears being induced in the extensor tendon with repeated use (aka, tennis elbow).

So although the Ryokei 390 and the Ito have the same RFI, they in no way feel or cast the same. The Ryokei is much lighter in the hand and has a much lower rotational moment. In other words, they are night and day different.

I used the Ryokei 390 with a #3.5 fluorocarbon level line, which it cast beautifully. I did not cast the rod with a furled or twisted line as I normally don't use these types of lines. I used unweighted kebari, brass bead head nymphs and tungsten bead head nymphs (size #12-14). It cast the them all without complaint. When casting the bead head nymphs I used an open casting loop, so to avoid the fly hitting the rod.

Conclusion: I really, really like this rod!  It is about as perfect as a 390 cm fixed line rod can get (in my book). It is lightweight, has an ultra-low swing weight, has a relaxed flex profile, fights modest size trout well in fast water, and it is aesthetically beautiful. It is a competition grade seiryu rod that performs tenkara techniques without any hesitation.  I'm very glad I obtained this rod!

Downsides? It is a little long when fully collapsed. A new one costs a bucket of money ($359.00 on one site). And being a Japanese rod, it doesn't have a warranty. So there you have it, even perfection comes with a high cost and some degree of risk!

To see the rod perform on stream, see the video from part I of this review.

Disclaimer: My opinion regarding this rod are just that, my opinion. Your opinion may differ.  Also, your rod may not have the same length, issues, or functionality as my rod. 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 this rod and have no formal affiliation with Gamakatsu..

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tom, One of my sons and my wife made a trip to Japan recently (him for work and her for pleasure),and they were able to get a Ryokei 360 Rod for me with the help of a Japanese work acquaintance. None of the Tokyo shops they contacted had the rod in stock. But, fortunately, they were able to order it and get it within about 2-days - they were there for only a week.

    I found the 360 to be exactly everything that you said it is in your reviews; it is the best casting most enjoyable fixed line rod that I have ever cast, and I also have the Kurnai 33 and Royal Stage 33, the Air Stage 390, and a Suikei 39 Medium Zoom rod as well, and the faster models of those rods mentioned have similar grip profiles and casting actions, but the Ryokei is at the top of the class by a big margin.

    I have not fished it as of yet and I am somewhat reluctant to take it out for fear of damaging it, getting replacement parts would be very expensive and difficult I believe. But, fish it I definitely will after I figure out a safe enough place to do so where I can catch some trout. After 4 years of the worst drought and fire conditions in recorded history here in California, we have a close to normal water year this season, but things will probably not get back to close to normal in my remaining lifetime. Pine bark beetles have decimated 85% of the pine trees in the Sierra, as well. Thank you so much for all of your great work and making me aware of this most excellent Ryokei Rod....Karl.