June 4, 2015

Ghosts Of Tenkara USA Rods Past

I love tenkara rods. If you read this blog regularly, that fact is pretty self evident.
Having fished primarily Tenkara USA rods for almost six years now, it's been interesting to see the various models come and go from their line-up.

While it's nothing really uncommon, rods are retired as newer versions are introduced all the time from other makers, it's been such a relatively short period of time many can probably remember them all. Could you imagine if you could say the same about the Orvis rod line up?

Here's a list of some the rods I recall, images and copy courtesy of Tenkara USA (& Backpacking Light) via the magic of the "Wayback Machine"

Backpacking Light Hane


This was an interesting little rod. Maybe the first tenkara collaboration, the Hane was the shortest Tenkara USA rod available at the time at slightly under 10 feet, and was a "special make up" that was only sold via the Backpacking Light website. It's sort of become a collectors item for those that are into that, since it was so unique and relatively short lived.

Description (circa 2009)
"The Hane model is exclusive to Backpacking Light and was co-designed by Ryan Jordan for the ultralight backpacking community. One of the lightest and most compact Tenkara fly fishing rod currently on the market. Elegant and ultra-compact design without compromise to quality. Length provides balance between good reach and casting in tight quarters. 
Reinforced carbon fiber wall in lower section negates the need for a separate case. Ideal action with 7:3 flex ratio provides pin-point precision while being very responsive and easy to cast. High-grade cork handle is long enough, with a universal shape, for a variety of casting holds. Low-glare finish reveals the beauty of the carbon fiber used in the Hane's construction. Fits inside most packraft paddle shafts (Aqua Bound or Sawyer). Reinforced lower tube is durable enough to be used as a rear pole on a flat tarp or along with p-cord and round lashings, as a pole extender in a pyramid tarp." 
  • Length-collapsed: 16 in. (40.6 cm) - 16.5 in. (40.9 cm) incl. plug
  • Length-extended: 9 ft - 10 in. (3 m)
  • Length-handle: 8.25 in. (21 cm)
  • Weight: 2.7 oz (77 g)
  • Number of Segments: 10
  • Ratio: 7:3

Iwana 11'


This was my first tenkara rod, I actually own one of the originals that featured a much shorter cork handle than later versions and was marked with a 5:5 action (later changed to 6:4). A separate accessory handle was also later sold which converted this 11 foot rod into a 9 foot rod, and made it a favorite of bushwhackers everywhere.

Description (7/12/2009)
"These are lightest rods we offer. Ideal for those seeking very very delicate casting and for fishing smaller streams, the Iwana feels extremely light-weight and all sensations are enhanced when hooking a fish. The flexible tip action provides for great battles, even when hooking the smallest fish. Quality and strength are by no means compromised, and landing large fish is not unheard of (17" mentioned on a forum). If you are going to streams where 12 inch trout are trophies this is the rod. These rods have a beautiful "glossy carbon" finish, where you can see the high-quality carbon fiber material through a nice glossy finish."
  • Closed size: 20 1/2 inches (including 1/2" cap)
  • Segments: 8
  • Handle length: 9 inches
  • Weight:2.5oz



The Ebisu is one of my favorite rods. I consider myself lucky to have snatched one up via a "want to sell" ad on a tenkara forum a few years ago. Featuring a somewhat unique wooden handle, this rod was originally offered in two versions; 5:5 and 6:4. I really love the way my 5:5 casts a level line or even light furled line.

Description (7/8/2009)
"These rods feature a unique Red-Pine handle, a very high quality wood that is light-weight, durable and water resistant. This beautiful wood has very fine grain and rays that flows in the same direction as the rod. We designed a very short handle, which makes it feel more "delicate" and great in the hands. The wood handle is a great addition to a fishing rod that you will feel proud of.

We offer this rod in both 5:5 and 6:4 actions. Both rods are made with the highest grade carbon fibers we could find and have very powerful casting. The action of these rods are right on the mark at the 5:5 and 6:4 categories. The 5:5 is just slightly stiffer than the Iwana rods (our lightest and slowest) and the 6:4 just a bit slower than the Yamame rods (which are borderline 7:3)."
  • Weight: 3.4 oz
  • Closed length: 20 3/4 inches
  • Open length: 12 ft (360cm)
  • Handle length: 8 inches
  • Number of segments: 9
  • Finish:Glossy black



I'll be honest, I had a first generation Ayu and didn't care for it much. I thought it was heavy in hand and I rarely fished it so I sold it on eBay. That said, many people loved their Ayus, different strokes for different folks...

Description (10/29/2009)
"Our longest rod, the 13ft Ayu has similar action and finish to the Ebisu rods, but one extra foot. The Ayu 6:4 features a long premium cork handle that has been redesigned and is more ergonomic. The longer handle helps balance the rod and adds to overall comfort. The Ayu is one of the rods featured in our Tenkara Intro film (the one catching the larger fish). 
The rod is a mid-weight tenkara rod, and the most versatile rod we offer, great for catching most fish sizes while staying a bit further and casting precisely and softly."
  • Length: 13ft
  • Closed length: 20 3/4 inches
  • Number of segments: 9
  • Handle length: 11 1/4 inches
  • Weight: 3.6oz
  • Finish: Glossy Black, green stripes at end of each segment

Ayu II


This Ayu rod was only available for a very brief time in early 2013. Even though I didn't like the original Ayu that much I did break down and purchase one of these when Tenkara USA had one of their rare sales. Visually, it had a glossy carbon fiber finish, and I also think may have been one of the first tenkara rods to be made available with a length of extra lillian looped through the tip cap.

Description (8/16/2013)
"A redesigned version of the popular Tenkara USA AYU, this is a delightful new tenkara rod. The 13ft Ayu Series II still features a softer feel that has made the original Ayu a very desirable rod. But, now it counts on more backbone to handle larger fish with more ease, and a very crisp and more precise action. Casting the new Ayu translates into considerably more precise placement of the fly. Handling of fish, small or large, should prove to be fun and very effective. It also counts on a sleeker and more durable finish.
Further, we started incorporating a section of "lillian" material attached to the plug of the rod. The lillian is the braided material that attaches to the tip of the rod and allows the line to be connected. The attached lillian will make it easier to keep track of the plug (or connect it to your backpack/shirt/waders), and if necessary it can be used in field repairs."
  • Closed length: 22 3/4 inches (58.42cm)
  • Number of segments: 9
  • Handle length: 11 1/4 inches (28.5cm)
  • Weight: 3.6oz (102 grams)
  • Finish: Glossy Carbon



The Yamame was only recently retired a month and a half ago, so recently that you can still find it available for sale at many Tenkara USA dealers. Originally listed as a 6:4, this rod was later revised to a true 7:3 in December 2009. It became a favorite for "big fish" tenkara.

Description (7/12/2009)
"Named after one of the most prevalent fish in the mountain streams of Japan, this rod may be the most versatile rod we offer. This 6:4 rod is ideal for most fishing situations. Casting feels very precise and powerful. The faster action makes it well suited for slightly larger fish (e.g. 12 - 15 inches). These rods have a subdued matte finish, which was chosen for its "camouflage" effect. We took most of the gloss out of these rods to reduce any glare and their visibility to fish in places with more tree cover. This handle is very comfortable for slightly larger hands. Anglers with small hands may prefer the grip on the Ebisu or Iwana rods. The rod action is 6:4 borderline 7:3, a pretty fast and powerful rod as tenkara rods go."
  • Closed length: 21 1/4 inches (including 1/2" cap)
  • Open Length: 12 ft
  • Segments: 9
  • Handle length:10.5 inches
  • Weight: 3.6 oz
  • Finish: matte

While there were other small variations as many of the models were tweaked over time, these were the "once upon a time" Tenkara USA rods that I recall....well almost all of them. There was also the infamous Yagi rod adapter for Titanium Goat trekking poles too, but that's a story for another time...

Postscript (6/4/2015, 11:45pm)

After this blog post was published, Daniel Galhardo, founder of Tenkara USA made reference in the corresponding Facebook post to a prototype rod he had auctioned off that could certainly be considered a missing link between his first generation rods and the Rhodo & Sato zoom rods he sells today. As such, with a little digging, I am happy to have unearthed the...

Kawa Prototype


In what could be described as perhaps a 12'-13'-15' 3 way zoom version of the Ayu, there was very little information released about this rod, basically because it never came to market. A working prototype, the best sources remain the auction posting (which is quoted below) and a brief review in the TUSA forum by the eventual auction winner. The winning bid on this prototype zoom rod was $500 with the proceeds going to Hurricane Sandy relief.

Description (10/31/2012)
"The big one: A full tenkara set comprising of new Tenkara USA “not-yet-available-and-exclusive" prototypes that we plan on releasing in 2013. This set consists of a new 12ft-13ft-14ft17in zoom rod (this is a crisp but very soft rod, which we may or may not release in the future); 2 new level lines (super-high-vis orange and super-high-vis pink lines, 20ft each); the Tenkara USA strap-pack to hold all your tenkara items (available soon)." 


  1. The Iwana 11 is my rod. Sad to say my one and only Tenkara rod. I'll have to look (if I can find it) and see if it's a 5:5.

  2. I have two Iwana 11s, one with the handle which shortens it. They are now my "guest", and instruction rod (plus four other TenkaraUSA rids).

    Always wanted a Hane for no particular reason.

  3. I've owned all of these rods (including the Kawa prototype) except the Hane. I've tried the Hane but was never a fan of it. Too stiff and clubby for me. If I had to lament the passing of one TUSA rod, it would be the Ayu. That was truly a classic with a great personality. Nice action with good haptic feedback. I still have my original and in the words of Charlton Heston, "you can pry it from my cold, dead hands."