January 7, 2016

Opinion: New Rod Development Podcast

I really enjoyed this podcast during my drive home from work last night.

While not particularly long, if you don't want to listen to it, Daniel struggles with question of whether it's really worth it for him to develop new rod models each and every year like most other fishing rod companies do. The cycle takes place to satisfy the demand that consumers (and in turn, retailers) have for what is percieved to be the latest & greatest in gear.

He claims keeping his product line short & streamlined aligns nicely with his tenkara philosophy of simplicity. Why try to develop additional rods when the five models he currently offers each serve a purpose, fit pretty much every tenkara fishing scenario, and fish well? Sort of a battle of novelty vs. function.

As an entrepreneur, it must be difficult to see others garnering attention and market share with their new rod launches. Several rods from Tanuki, TenkaraBum, Tenkara Rod Co.Oni, Badger, and Dragontail, (just to name a few), have premiered since Tenkara USA last released a pair of new rods in late 2013.

Now I don't really have a quick fix for Daniel. In the end, he might not really need to do anything. However since he was asking for opinions, perhaps these are a few ideas that might help him generate some buzz around his rod line without reinventing the reel wheel.

What's Old Is New Again
While Tenkara USA has 5 rods in its line at the moment, it has sold many more models that it has retired over the years. Perhaps rather designing a new rod, a limited release of an old favorite might be in store. One of the retired Tenkara USA rods with a somewhat cult following is the wooden-handled Ebisu.

Tenkara USA Ebisu

An "Ebisu Classic," possibly with a minor tweak or two based on the learnings since it was first on the market, seems like it would be a home run. Oldies can be goodies.

Pimp My Rod
Is there a way to make all of those tenkara rods you have sold into the market "better"?  One idea I've always thought would be interesting (although perhaps not cost effective) would be to offer replacement handle "upgrades" for the most popular models. A Sato handle segment upgrade to a bamboo handle, or a wood like the Ebisu mentioned above. Others may be drawn toward some of the synthetics on the market, such as the camo patterned foam handles found on the Oni rods or the Winn grips found on fly rods such as the Redington Vapen Red.

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I don't know much about rod materials, but I know there are a ton of different grades of components such as carbon fiber and cork. Ways to make rods lighter, higher performance, or even just more attractive. Tenkara USA's rods are very nice and extremely premium in function. I love mine and fish them about 90% of the time, but I don't think there is a true "premium," spare no expense, rod in their line. The cork grips alone tell me that. Who said simplicity needs to be spartan?

I don't drive fancy cars, so I might not be the target customer of a Sato+ Lexus Edition, but it would probably appeal to some. I've never fished a Tanuki, but damn if that rod isn't pretty.

What Else Can You Simplify?
I know Daniel preaches the concept that tenkara is about simplicity, and it can't get more simple than a rod, line, and fly. However, tenkara fishermen still bring other "stuff" to the stream, be it as part of their fishing gear, or simply to enhance the experience. Quick drying apparel, streamlined waders, adapting sawanobori shoes to the American market, even a line of bento boxes for streamside meals (that's sort of a joke), I don't really know... I don't think one would need to go crazy, but there has got to be other ways to streamline fly fishing outside of eliminating the reel.

Oh, and in a related aside, why don't you have Jeremy Shellhorn create a few new t-shirt designs? I've been wearing the same Tenkara USA shirt for a few years, I'd have a drawer full of tenkara shirts if I had more options. Let us be your billboards, ha!

End of day, it's all just food for thought, hope it doesn't create any indigestion.


  1. Ha! Ooops typo... Some really good ideas here! I hope TUSA takes all of them into consideration.

    1. It would definitely be cool, although a lot of work!

  2. How about rods that don't break all the time? How about rods that don't feel like pool noodles or broom handles? How about rods that don't have silly gimmicks that don't work, like the butt plug holders on the Sato and Rhodo that get pulled out on branches? How about calling a warranty what it is - a parts replacement program?

    It's silly for me to have to contact TJ every time I use a TUSA rod. My preference would be to pay for a better product that didn't need good service to support it. Breaking rods with clients, with news anchors, with first time fishers is silly. Never have I ever broken another brand of rod so frequently as TUSA.


    1. Sorry you've had such bad experiences. Not sure what to say, I haven't had the TUSA products fail as you describe.

  3. Good post Mike. My experience is kind of the opposite of Erik's. I've fished every model TUSA has ever produced and have never broken one. In fact, I've never broken any tenkara rod period. So for me, durability isn't an issue. But I love the idea of different handles. I'd love to see a tenkara rod with the Winn grip.

    1. Thanks Jason. I know you've been a proponent of the Winn Grips for a while. Have you tried one from Tenkara Customs, they do feel nice in hand.

  4. Hey, first thanks for the site. I really appreciate the work you do with it (and the magazine) it really adds to my love of Tenkara fishing.

    I thought Daniel's show was interesting, and I appreciated the insight into his world. He's obviously not interested in releasing a rod for the sake of having something new every year, and I think his weariness of making something new just for the sake of having something new on the shelf is commendable.

    You guys who've posted are all respected voices in the sport, so you're way more knowledgeable about the Tenkara trade...but I'm kind of surprised at this point that TUSA hasn't gone in the direction of making a premium USA built rod, for example something like C.F. Burkheimer produces. At the same time I realize that of the main reasons I bought a Tenkara rod was it's affordable cost...but I can't help but wonder the skills that Burkheimer has learned from making rods himself aren't being applied to rods made in China. I think a lot of relative newbies like myself have imagined some rod manufacturer in China willing to build a whatever and put whatever logo someone wants on a rod.

    I really respect what Daniel's done, and primarily out of that respect I just bought an Ito (and I really enjoy it), and I have no doubt he played an enormous role in designing the specs of his rods (so believe me when I say I'm in no way trying to disrespect his rods, HUGE respect)...but and the same time I can't help but wonder why he's not either hiring/teaming up/or himself trying to make rods on his own. Cost I'm sure has a lot to do with it. But again, as a relative newcomer to Tenkara, I can't help but wonder who the Burkheimer of the Tenkara world will be?

    Cheers all,

  5. Yeah I was thinking the same thing - because at this point it's clear he's not going to offer a Japanese made rod. I commented on the TUSA page withy feedback.