I recently obtained the middle rod in the acclaimed Gamakatsu tenkara lineup. This lineup, the MultiFlex Suimu family, consists of three tenkara rods. They are known in Japan as being some of the highest quality rods, and are designed with the commercial tenkara tradition in mind. This means they have faster actions, more robust materials and can handle large salmonids in strong currents. These rods are not for everyone, but if your conditions are right, they are dynamite!
I have Suimu 4.0 and the Suimu 5.0, and have written about them before. This review is for the middle of the lineup, the Suimu 4.5. Cosmetically, it looks very similar to the other two rods, so I won't dwell on its description except for saying that the Suimu 4.5 is not just a Suimu 4.0 with one more segment, or the Suimu 5.0 with one fewer. All three rods are unique unto themselves. They have their own tapers and distinct personalities. Although the Suimu 4.0 and 4.5 have the same handle lengths, all three rods have completely different lengths and tapers, and therefore feel quite differently from one another.
Cosmetics, accents, lilian with micro swivel, tip caps, butt cap and zoom posts are all very similar among the three rods, but segments are definitely not interchangeable like they are in some other rods. The personality (or action) of the Suimu 4.0 is fast with lightning quick hooksets and immediate power. It's an impatient rod; it wants to get 'er done, and now! The Suimu 5.0 is more laid back, with a patient and forgiving action. It initially feels like it wouldn't be able to handle a large fish, but don't let that deceive you! The Suimu's 5.0 power comes into play only after the rod begins to bend, then holy smokes, it can move the world! But what about the Suimu 4.5? Well, it's right in the middle!
But first, here are some of my measurements:
Fully nested (with tip cap): 67 cm (26 in.)
Fully extended: 344 (11' 3.4") / 398.5 (13' 0.8") / 450 cm (14' 9")
Weight (without tip cap): 95.4 g (3.4 oz.)
CCS: 23 / 27 / 28 pennies
RFI: 6.7 / 6.8 / 6.2
Rotational Moment: 5 / 6.9 / 9
The Suimu 4.5 is a double "zoom" rod (meaning, it can be fished at three distinct lengths) and has excellent balance at all three lengths. However, even this rod can't rob Isaac Newton and therefore is more tip heavy at 450 cm than it is at 350 cm - that stands to reason. But in the hand, the Suimu 4.5 is remarkably balanced.
The action at all three lengths feels about the same. It's quick, but not as quick as the Suimu 4.0, and it's definitely not as relaxed as the Suimu 5.0. The rod flexes slightly further down the segments than does the Suimu 4.0. It's hard to put into words, but it's definitely there and you can easily see and feel it when "jiggling" the rod. This makes the Suimu 4.5 more pleasing to cast than the 4.0. It's just a little slower than the 4.0, but that "little" makes all the difference, at least to me. However, not to belabor the point, this is a fast rod. It has RFI's in the 6's (high 6's at the shorter lengths), and that should tell you something - this rod is not going to be full-flex noodle. All Gamakatsu Suimu tenkara rods are designed with the commercial tenkara tradition in mind, that is, hook the fish quickly and securely, and get the fish into your hand very quickly. After all, that's how the Shokuryoshi of Japan survived and made a living catching fish.
Here's what Discover Tenkara has said about the Gamakatsu Suimu rods: "Big Fish – Especially Sea-runs: Kobayashi-san’s speciality [sic] style of fishing – especially in the terrifying Tonegawa river. His approach demands special tackle and, because he is a professional gear tester for Gamakatsu, he had major design/performance input into the rods he uses.
The Gamakatsu tenkara rods are exceptionally high quality and, as well as being beautiful to cast, they are extremely strong. His most used Honryu rods are a triple zoom Gamakatsu “Suimu – Tenkara Multiflex” which locks at 3.5, 4.0 and 4.5 metre lengths – plus the same rod but in a dual zoom model that locks at 4.5 and 5.0 metres. On this rod, Kobayashi-san has landed rainbow trout up to 71 cm!
Gamakatsu honryu rods are very powerful as you bend them more. You should not cast them with your finger pointing up the back of the rod – because of the leverage from the powerful lower sections and the overall length of the rod."
The Suimu lineup of rods were not designed for level line casting; furled lines were preferred. But I fish my Gamakatsu rods with level lines. I have gone to "composite tapered" level lines for these big rods, as taught to me by Adam Trahan (who regularly fishes the Colorado River below Lees Ferry). These lines are made up of two different sizes of fluorocarbon level line. They are quite long, but are manageable with these long rods. A typical line for me is fourteen feet in length (but can be much longer), with 80 percent of that length being #3.5 or #4 line and 20 percent being the next lighter line (#3 or #3.5, respectively). I connect the two segments of line with a Speed Blood Knot. Like Adam, I terminate the line with a tippet ring. The extra length of heavier line gives the line more mass, but the taper lets the line turn over the flies (often multiple and weighted) with conviction. This system works for me.
Being a long rod, the Suimu 4.5 has some startup inertia at its 4.5 meter length. There is much less at the 4.0 meter length. Despite this inertia, the rod is easy to cast and control. The casting arc is relatively short, due to the fast action, but effective. In summary, it's a joy to use, but you have to adjust your timing to achieve optimal energy transfer and line extension.
Coming up: In Part II of my review, I'll talk more about the rod on the water. Until then, cheers!