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March 24, 2022

Riverworks ZX4-PRO review

 I've been doing rod reviews long enough to have see quite a few tenkara rods. I've seen some pretty high end rods, as well as many that were not so high end. But each time I see one of the high end rods, I'm pretty much in awe as to the aesthetic beauty and craftsmanship that some rod makers achieve. The rod reviewed in this post is no exception. It's the Riverworks ZX4-PRO

Riverworks Rod Company is a custom, made to order, rod manufacturer based in Signal Mountain, Tennessee, USA. Jeff Lomino is the owner/CEO and is the main rod craftsman and artist. He has the reputation of fine detail craftsmanship and on being a stickler for quality. He made a series of tenkara rods in the past, but the culmination of years of study and research has yielded the ZX4-PRO. With input from Rob Worthing, the ZX4-PRO is designed to be at the pinnacle of tactical nymphing rods available. Here's what Riverworks says on their website: "After 4 years of development and testing dozens of prototypes, Rob and I finally have what we both believe is the ultimate rod for fishing with weighted nymphs using the Tactical Nymphing ideology. The ZX4-PRO 395CM (13') was meant to emulate all the positive aspects of the ZX3 360CM (12') rod with several meaningful improvements. Longer reach...Added leverage...Lighter overall weight. We use the term PRO in the title for the ZX4 because this is not a beginner's rod. It is however a rod that a beginner can grow into as his/her skills improve. Rob and I believe, simply put, there is no better rod on the market for Tactical Nymphing. "

Here are some specifications from Riverworks:

LENGTH          395CM (13')

WEIGHT          3.30 OZ (94 Grams)

MATERIAL      Japanese Toray 40T Carbon Fiber Cloth with nano resin system

GRIP                American 4K Biaxial Carbon Fiber Sleeve with West Marine Epoxy. Poly/Carbon (7lb density) Core.  

ACTION         Fast Action Butt Section, Medium-Fast Mid-Section and Tip

The ZX4-PRO came to me shipped in a PVC tube. Inside, the rod was heavily bubble wrapped for protection. Included with the rod was a black neoprene rod sleeve, and an extra top two sections. 

My rod has an overall very dark graphite grey (almost black) coloration.  The blank is unsanded and has a slightly glossy finish. The rod designation is white lettering on a black background and is covered by a very generous epoxy layer. The tip of the handle section has a prominent epoxy reinforcement that is symmetrical and beautifully done. 






The handle is black polyurethane/carbon foam with an overlying carbon fiber sleeve (see the addendum at the bottom of the review*).  Rob Worthing states this material is lighter than EVA foam, but since I don't have any to compare, I can't substantiate such a claim. The contour is a very subtle double camel or hourglass shape. The handle is substantial in diameter and fully fills the palm of your hand. It's overall length is 29.5 cm (11.6 inches). 


Carbon fiber sleeve over polyurethane/carbon foam, with EVA foam caps on the head and butt of the handle. These end caps are to protect the blank from the hard carbon handle material.


The tip plug is black nylon plastic and it fits snuggly into the handle section of the rod. It includes a loop of  lilian material. The butt cap is black anodized metal and is knurled to aid removal. There is no decompression hole or coin slot. 



The lilian is yellow-orange and is attached to the tip section via a perfectly executed glue joint. The tip section can be fully removed through the second section (Japanese convention dictates the tip section to be section #1) so that the rod can be fully disassembled for cleaning and drying. The lilian comes without the ubiquitous terminal knot. 


Here are my measurements:

Fully Nested (with tip plug): 63 cm (24.8 inches)

Fully extended: 398 cm (13 ft, 0.7 inches)

Weight (without tip plug): 96.8 g (3.4 oz)

CCS: 19 pennies

RFI: 4.8

Rotational Moment: 7



A portion of the RFI Chart. For the full chart, CLICK HERE.


A portion of the Rotational Moment chart. For the full chart, CLICK HERE.


Casting the rod is a pleasure. The Tanuki blank is smooth and responsive. It has no overshoot, tip oscillation, or other aberrances. Dampening, both linear and rotational, is excellent. and rod recovery is near perfect. Although the ZX4-PRO has a somewhat similar blank as the Tanuki Shinobi, the Shinobi that I reviewed was shorter and a little stiffer. 

I used a 14' #3 level line, and the ZX4-PRO throws that line with smooth conviction, landing the fly first every cast. 

The balance is excellent, but due to the weight of the rod, starting and stopping the cast is not effortless. This is a substantial rod at 96.8 grams. It's overall inertia is not as large as some of my rods, but it's more than others.

The handle is interesting. It's quite large in diameter, compared to other rods, and I could see that being an issue for some folks. I wear size XL gloves and like thicker handles, but this handle is even a slight bit thick for me. Maybe I just need to get used to it. The texture imparted by the carbon fiber sleeve is definitely grippy and gives plenty of tactile feedback. Does the polyurethane/carbon foam with carbon fiber overlay make it "better" than just plain foam or even cork, I don't know. 

Fishing the ZX4-PRO is fun. It is well balanced and causes very little arm fatigue after a few hours a steady fishing. I used the ZX4-PRO on a tailwater using a two tungsten nymph rig. I found that the rod casted the heavy flies really well and hook sets were good. Personally, I prefer a rod that is a little stiffer and has a little quicker hook set for my contact nymphing (RFI 5.8-6), but this is just a personal preference. I took rainbows up to 14 inches and the rod handled these with no issues, despite moderately heavy current. I did hook a few larger fish, but I think they were carp or large suckers (by the way they fought) and they broke me off before the rod could turn them.




Conclusion: I like this rod. It casts a level line beautifully and is accurate when using both weighted and unweighted kebari. But casting the ZX4-PRO is reminiscent of other rods I have used.  In fact, the weight, casting inertia, rotational moment, flex action (RFI), handle length and handle diameter reminds me of the Discover Tenkara Karasu 400. I bet if I were blind folded, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the two (except for the texture of the carbon fiber overlay on the ZX4). And as far as that carbon fiber sleeve-over-poly/carbon foam handle goes, I'm not sure I see its advantage over just foam or cork. However, the texture is quite nice. Again, Rob Worthing claims that the material is lighter than EVA foam, but since I don't have a comparison rod with EVA foam (or cork) I can't measure that, so we have to just put that statement into the "it's magic" category. This would be a great test of the scientific method.

What would I like to see changed? I'd like to see the rod lighter in weight - not the blank, but the finished rod. Shorten the handle a few centimeters and decrease its overall diameter. That would reduce weight. I would also thin the epoxy layer over the rod designation and lose the epoxy "reinforcement" at the tip of the handle section. I'd even consider removing some of the metal in the butt cap or changing to a nylon plastic butt cap (like the Nissin Zerosum Oni Honryu rods), anything to lose weight. If the weight could be reduced by a mere 5 grams (0.2 oz) then the rotational moment would be reduced to 6.6 (6.6 is better than 7) and the casting inertia would improve. The rod balance would change, but it would still be interesting to see the effects of some of these changes  - maybe it'd be better, maybe worse. 

Overall, I think Jeff Lomino and Rob Worthing have designed a beautiful rod that is worth the premium price ($449.00 USD), and Tanuki has made a wonderful blank. Since both Rob and Tanuki are students of Masami Sakakibara, I can definitely see the Oni influence on the action of the ZX4-PRO. Despite the few things I'd change, I bet you'd love the rod if you decided to purchase one. This rod combines world class craftsmanship with flawless design and quality materials, and it shows! 

*Addendum from Jeff Lomino - "These grips are actually built on a polyurethane/carbon foam core with a carbon fiber sleeve overlay . Everything is fused together with premium vinyl ester resin.. The EVA foam visible on the front and rear of the grip are caps that prevent the hard carbon fiber grip from rubbing against the blank."

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 ordered and purchased the ZX4-PRO rod in this review from Riverworks Rod Co. 







2 comments:

  1. Thank you another thorough review Tom.

    I have 2 questions that I would love to get your take on:

    You write "I prefer a rod that is a little stiffer and has a little quicker hook set for my contact nymphing". Could you please reference a rod or 2 that fits the bill in that regard?

    I primarily use a TenkaraBum40. When I contact-nymph with a relatively heavy nymph in deeper water, I feel like I have a hard time setting the hook. I have a Nissin Royal Stage Tenkara 7:3 400 as a backup. Might it be a better contact-nymphing rod with heavy nymphs?

    Thank you!

    Charlie Phelps

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    Replies
    1. I prefer the Nissin Air Stage Fujiyru 360 6:4 (RFI 5.9) or the Gamakatsu MultiFlex Suimu 4.0 (RFI 7).

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