January 18, 2018

Shimano Pack Tenkara rod -- review

Pack rods for tenkara have had a renaissance lately. Tenkara USA has a new pack rod (a reintroduced version of their Hane), Nissin has their Ramon series of rods, and, of course, Tenryu has the TF39TA rod. We also can't forget Nissin's Mini series, Teton Rod Company's Mini series and Shimotsuke's Kiyotaki (all of which are more keiryu rods, but still count as very packable rods). Well, now Shimano has a pack rod. It's called the Pack Tenkara, and I was able to borrow one and take it for a test drive.

The Shimano Pack Tenkara is a beautiful rod, as I'm sure we'd all expect, especially coming from Shimano. The coloration is dark green with subtle metallic flecks to enhance it's looks. Unlike many tenkara rods, the Pack Tenkara doesn't have any adornment like color bands or stripes. It's just a rich, dark Hunter or forest green. The rod comes with a rod sleeve and a remarkably heavy Cordura covered rod tube. I would think that the rod tube weight would be unappreciated by those carrying the rod in a pack up into the mountains. 

The rod is a "zoom" rod and can be fished between and advertised lengths of 310 cm and 340 cm. The zoom feature holds the zoom section snugly, but unlike most zoom rods the area to grab (the overlap) and extend the zoom segment is very short --  as in 7 mm! 

The zoom section overlap is very short.

The handle is both cork and black EVA foam. The shape is the classic gourd or camel shape, with the hump closest to the butt being smaller in diameter than the other hump. The handle length is 29 cm with the cork section being 4.5 cm. The winding check is perfectly executed and sits tightly against the cork section of the handle.

The tip plug is wood with a fluted rubber stem. The rod I borrowed had a tip plug WAY too big and it couldn't be pushed in all the way. That's sort of strange for Shimano. The butt cap is brushed nickel. It has a coin slot, air hole and rubber bumper. What it doesn't have is a post which receives the zoom section. The zoom section is held in place only by a short taper at the tipward end of the zoom section. It works perfectly, but it does look strange not to see that classic post with O-rings on the butt cap.

The tip plug on this particular rod specimen is way to big and won't fit properly.

The lilian is black (a nice departure from the ubiquitous red lilian) and is attached to the first section with a perfect glue joint -- no micro-swivel here! The first section can be passed through the second for complete rod cleaning and drying. 

Here are my measurements:

Fully nested: 42 cm
Fully extended: 301, 334 cm
Weight (without tip plug): 85 g
CCS: 16 pennies at both lengths
RFI: 5.3 at 301 cm, 4.8 @ 334 cm

The rod's action is true to Shimano's more recent tenkara line of rods. The rod is full flex with a smooth, rich arc and flex action. There is no end of cast oscillation. Linear and rotational dampening are both quick.  The Pack Tenkara tip section is stiffer than most rods I use. This might be due to a hollow tip section rather than the usual solid tip section that comes on most tenkara rods. The rod loads is further down the blank than many rods; the tip stays relatively rigid. The Shimano 44NP and 34-38ZL both have a hollow tip sections and I'm betting this rod follows their design. 

I cast the rod with a #3 line, but I felt that the rod was designed (and begging) for a lighter line. This is not a rod that tolerates a heavy line very well! It will do it, but it doesn't like it.

I fished the rod on a small mountain creek that had low, clear water levels consistent with winter conditions in Idaho. These conditions demanded delicate fly placement and absolute stealth, as the trout were taken in mere inches of water only a few feet from where I was standing. I fished an unweighted #10 UKB. The rod cast it anywhere I desired. The casting action is a little more full flex than what I personally prefer is a small stream rod, but I'm sure it would be greatly appreciated by the full flex crowd. It definitely is designed for an unweighted fly, and it did not appreciate the weighted kebari that I briefly tried.

I caught browns in the 10-12 inch range. It handled these fish just fine, but because of it's full flex action I had to move my casting arm more than I like to keep them out of the creekside snags. I didn't care for this, but that's just a personal preference. I prefer rods that have a quicker response to my arm movements when controlling a trout in small sized flowing water. Still, it was fun fishing with it.

Conclusion: I mostly like this rod. As I stated above, I tend to prefer rods with a mid flex action and quicker response time. I liked the RFI score, but this rod gets this penny rating from the whole rod bending, not from the tip bending. I personally prefer a little stiffer mid section and a more flexible tip in my small stream rods.

Shimano's recent rods are more full flex their older rods that I have used (Mainstream ZE and LLS36 NX) and have been designed for unweighted, low air resistance flies which are cast with light level lines (in other words, classic level line Japanese tenkara). Certainly the nested length makes this rod very packable, and it comes from a thoroughbred heritage, but it's not a rod for me, at least at this stage in my fishing evolution. But that said, I'm sure it would be greatly enjoyed by other small stream anglers looking for compact, full flex, true tenkara rod.  

Update 14 Mar 2022: I have revisited the Shimano Pack Tenkara and decided to purchase one. It's compact nested size and it's action will be what I need for certain fishing adventures. 

Disclaimer: My opinion regarding this rod is 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 have no affiliation with Shimano. I borrowed the rod and it was returned after the review.


  1. To me it would seem the Tenryu TF39TA would be a wiser investment over the Shimano due to the Tenryu's small, collapsed size and the fact it can be fished at 3.3m, 3.6m and 3.9m in length.

  2. That short tenryu is an interesting rod, but personally I prefer the Tenryu that doesn't collapse as short... the action is far better.

    Also, being that this Shimano is about half the price of the Tenryu, it sounds intriguing to me! I think I'll grab one to try it out.