December 18, 2018

High Dollar versus Economical Rods: Where do you stand?

Here's the question: do you really get more from a high priced "premium" tenkara rod? Or to word it another way, when it comes to tenkara rods, do high price rods give you better satisfaction/performance than economical rods? It's a curious dilemma. Should you really buy that $600 tenkara rod with the expectation that it will make you a better tenkara angler, or that you will enjoy fishing more than if you buy a rod that is less than one third that price? Well, let's discuss some of that.

First, before we get into the meat of the matter, what makes a rod premium and what makes one economical? Does it have to do with design, like taper? Does it have to do with materials? Does it have to do with experienced input or endorsement? Does it have to do with fit and finish? Does it have to do with performance (ie, look how big of a fish I can catch with my Brand Z tenkara rod)? These are all good questions and answering them may be difficult and vary from person to person.

Image borrowed from HERE.

It makes some sense that some rod designs will cast better than others, but do they fight fish better? Does a higher modulus of graphite fiber make a better rod? Maybe, but says who and where's the proof? If a brand of tenkara rod is endorsed by 13 Japanese tenkara anglers, but another brand is not endorsed by any, does that make the first tenkara rod better? What if you live in Texas and your fish species and river systems are totally different than anything those 13 Japanese tenkara anglers have ever seen or fished? Can you even trust those guy's opinion regarding that rod?

Image of the outstanding Karasu 360 borrowed from Discover Tenkara

Some say that so called "premium" tenkara rods are better than cheaper rods. Is this really true? Premium rods are purported to dampen better, have better linear and rotational recovery, have less overshoot at the end of the cast, have more quality materials, better fit and finish, etc. But if this all really true, can the average tenkara angler really tell? Aside from fit and finish, and aside from the rod that casts like a real dog, I wonder if most people who use any specific tenkara rod can tell how their tenkara rod dampens. Why? Some of it has to do with point of reference. When I first started fishing tenkara I fished with a Tenkara USA Iwana.  I loved the rod. But then I started using a level line and fishing other tenkara rods and low and behold, I didn't like the Iwana so much anymore. Does that mean it was a "bad" rod? No, it just meant that my point of reference, or experience, had changed. I sold my Iwana.

My current favorite rod. It fits almost all of my current goals.
I think it's point of reference/experience that separates good rods from better ones. Holding, casting, and better, fishing a rod tells you if that particular rod is right for you. But your personal approach to tenkara also determines how you perceive value in a rod. If you buy an expensive "premium" rod but are afraid to fish it because you don't want to break it, is it really of any value? Wouldn't a less expensive rod, with more affordable replacement parts be better for you?

But point of reference, or experience, with many different rods can follow the law of diminishing returns. When I first experimented with different rods I could readily tell major differences in flex, action, dampening, etc. But now that I have cast and fished with hundreds of difference tenkara rods I have a hard time remembering the characteristics of those first dozen rods. That's one downside of experience. I'm not discouraging getting experience. Heck, I wish everyone could cast and fish with 10 rods from different tenkara companies. If this could be done, I think you'd see a whole lot of light bulbs go on!

Image borrowed from Jason Klass' outstanding blog Tenkara Talk

Another reason why many can't tell the subtle differences between rods is in how they use the rod. Let's face it, we all don't have the same abilities, talents, interest or goals. We all can buy an Oni rod, but 99% of us will never cast or control the line like Masami Sakakibara. It may be painful to say, but most of us just don't have that ability. Practice will help, but how many of us are willing to put the tens of thousands of hours of casting and line control practice that Oni has? I mean really! Most people just want to fish, not become a tenkara master.

Image borrowed from Tenkara Guides, LLC Oni School

It goes without saying that not all tenkara rods are the same. To quote Paul Gaskell, "There is no single “perfect” tenkara rod – but there are individual rods that come pretty close to perfection for a specific application. Each application, will inevitably come with its own set of specific compromises. Strength versus weight, casting versus fish-playing and length versus balance are all examples of the trade-offs every rod must choose between. And don’t forget that all those trade-offs will also interact with each other."  I love this statement. As a rod reviewer I always try to keep this in mind when I come across a rod new to me. I also recommend that you keep it in mind when looking for a new tenkara rod.

DRAGONtail Hellbender after a workout! 

Getting back to my initial question, do high price rods give better satisfaction/performance than economical rods? It all depends on what your abilities, expectations, application, personal philosophy, budget, and goals are. If you love items that are purported to be the "best" then you will gravitate towards rods that seem to fit that niche. If you want a rod that will handle a 28 inch rainbow in fast water, then you will give value to rods that can do that, but not in rods designed for Japanese tenkara. If you worry about durability and replacement cost, then it's less likely you will want to buy that $400-600 rod and instead favor one that is robust and has less costly replacement parts.  Get my point?

Image borrowed from HERE

So in summary, when it comes down to buying a tenkara rod, buy one that fits your specific ability, intended use, and economic goals. Using an automobile metaphor: Want a BMW, if it fits your budget then buy one. Rather have a Toyota, no problem, go for it. Can only afford a Dacia Sandero? Then get one and use it. As your experience level and goals change, so will your choice (and perceived value) change. Just please, please, please, don't belittle someone else for their choice of tenkara rod (or car). They may love their rod because they have totally different goals and value scale than you do!


  1. Great article.I have fished many species with different styles of fishing and gear over 45 years. Never having an abundant budget, I've been a budget fisherman. I always bought what I could afford and made it work. Could better quality gear have worked better? Maybe. Could it have improved my abilities? Maybe. Could I have caught more, or bigger fish? Maybe. But regardless how much money I spent, I always had fun!

  2. Nice job of distilling down the process Tom. All things I think about but not put together so well.

  3. Excellent article Tom! It is our differences in choice that can be the best of teachers, but only if we are willing to observe.