December 18, 2018

High Dollar versus Economical Rods: Where do you stand?

Here's a question, when it comes to tenkara rods, do high price rods give you more satisfaction and better performance than economical rods? Should you buy a $500 tenkara rod with the expectation that it will make you a better tenkara angler, or should you buy a rod that is less than one third that price knowing that it’s not the “best” rod out there, but it will be more serviceable? It's a curious dilemma. 

Before we get into the meat of the matter, we need to talk about 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? Maybe it has to do with fit and finish, or maybe it has to do with performance? These are all good questions and answering them may be difficult and vary from person to person.

Brent Auger with one of his large trout. 

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 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, USA and your fish species and river systems are totally different from anything those Japanese tenkara anglers have ever seen or fished? Can you even trust those guy's opinion regarding that rod for your waters?

Discover Tenkara Karasu 400. A truly premium tenkara rod. 

Some say that "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 these are 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 certain rod from a well known tenkara company.  I loved that rod. But then I changed from a furled line to a level line and I started fishing other tenkara rods. Low and behold, I didn't love that rod 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 ended up selling that once loved rod.

TenkaraBum 36. My perennial favorite tenkara rod. It speaks to me. 

Separating good rods from better ones generally comes down to point of reference and personal experience. Holding, casting, and 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 value? Wouldn't a less expensive rod, with more affordable replacement parts be better for you?

But point of reference or experience comes with using and testing many different rods. It comes with testing them in many different situations, with varying lines and flies. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. I wish everyone could cast and fish with rods from many different tenkara companies. If this could be done, I think you'd see a whole lot of light bulbs go on!

A group of seiryu, keiryu and tenkara rods, ranging from cheap to expensive. 

Still, using many different rods doesn’t always guarantee the ability to discern a rod’s characteristics. A reason why many anglers 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, body shape and size, interests or goals. We all can buy an Oni type-1 rod, but ninety-nine percent of us will never cast or control that rod like Masami Sakakibara. It may be painful to say, but most of us just don't have that ability, nor are we built like him. Practice helps, but how many of us are willing to put in the tens of thousands of hours of casting and line control practice that Oni has? Most people just want to fish, not become a tenkara master.

Finally, it goes without saying that not all tenkara rods are the same. To quote Paul Gaskell, Ph.D of Discover Tenkara, "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 tenkara rod enthusiast, 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.

So getting back to my initial question, do high price rods give more satisfaction and better performance than economical rods? It all depends on your abilities, expectations, applications, personal philosophy, budget, and goals. 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 place value on rods that can do that. If you worry about durability and replacement cost, then it's less likely you will want to buy a $400-600 rod, and instead favor one that is more robust (typically heavier and clunkier) and has cheaper replacement parts. 

So in conclusion, when it comes down to buying a tenkara rod, buy one that fits your specific ability, intended use, and economic goals. As your experience level and goals change, so will your rod choice (and perceived value) change. Just please don't belittle someone else for their choice of tenkara rod. They likely love their rod because they have totally different goals and value scale than you do! There is no better or best, only best for any given person in their particular situation. Get out and fish! 


  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.

  4. I really loved your article! I have lower cost tenkara rods (MaxCatch, and Willow & Cane). But that's all I have to compare them to! I don't want to shell out the money for a different rod, unless I know it will help my fishing abilities! If I could fish a more expensive rod so I had a baseline to compare it to.....I just might buy one! But then I think....isn't true tenkara fishing about simplicity? I wonder how the lower cost graphite tenkara rods of today, compare to the rods the tenkara fisherman had to make to use?