July 26, 2016

Tenkara Tuesday - My Fab Five Tenkara Rods

Welcome to Tenkara Tuesday...

In last week's Tenkara Tuesday, I mentioned that I had a new Tanuki rod on pre-order, and had also sold off several tenkara rods that just didn't "fit" me well. I didn't say what the rods were, but in the comments section, bolder_in_boulder asked the following question:

Well, even after a recent purge, I've still got a lot of tenkara rods.
Probably too many than I could dream of fishing with any regularity.

So bolder_in_boulder, I'll lump them into 3 groups...

New To Me Rods I'm Still Evaluating

  • Suntech TenkaraBum 36 - I like a lot about this rod. The feel in hand, the sensitivity, the cosmetics, and believe it or not, I also found it casts a floating line surprisingly well. I just haven't fished it enough yet. It's definitely a premium rod. Even if it doesn't go into my regular rotation, I'll probably hold on to it. It's the first TenkaraBum branded rod, a Japanese rod designed by an American. That's a pretty cool thing.
  • Badger (now TAO) Tenkara WISCO - If you've never seen this rod in person, it's an absolute beast. The handle section is absolutely Paul Bunyan-esque. I bought this rod thinking it would become my "inshore" rod, to go chase sea trout, small redfish, or anything off the beach or jetties. I've been horrible actually getting off my butt and hitting the salt, so the jury is still out.

Rods I've Held On To, But Don't Fish Often

  • Tenkara USA Iwana 11" - This was my first tenkara rod purchased way back in 2009. It started it all for me. I fished this rod almost exclusively for 4 years - from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, from Virgnia to Utah. It's well worn and went with me everywhere. Sure, it's not the best casting rod, nor is it the best feeling rod, but it was my first rod. It's here to stay.
  • Tenkara USA Ito - Call me crazy, but I never took to the Ito. So many other people love it, it's their favorite rod, but for whatever the reason - size, weight, the squared off butt cap - I just don't care for this rod. I pick it up once or twice a year thinking that I'll give it another try, but just haven't had the warm and fuzzies...yet. Maybe next year. 
  • Tenkara USA Ayu II - I bought this rod because Tenkara USA was having a Black Friday sale one year and at the time it filled a gap in my rod assortment. There's really nothing wrong with it. It's just an odd rod out. It's a discontinued model, so I hang on to it sort of out of novelty.
  • Tenkara Customs - I made a tenkara rod once upon a time using a Tenkara Customs blank and a Winn Grip. The rod is rather spartan, found it to be a nice bass rod, but I really, really like the grip. I actually acquired the grip before the blank. I wish more manufacturers would try this cork-alternative rather than foam. However I'm not sure anyone would want this rod if I tried to sell it, I didn't try hard to make it "pretty" when I assembled it.
  • Sakura Kongo Betuatsurae - This was my first "splurge" on a tenkara rod. I was really drawn to how small this rod collapsed, not to mention the beautiful faux-bamboo finish. It's a beautifully crafted rod, casts a tapered line quite well. I'm not sure why I don't fish it more often. Maybe I just don't have the heart to use it on lowly bluegill & bass. I considered selling it a few times, but I know I'll regret it if I do. 
  • Tenkara Rod Co. Cascade - Not going to lie, I'm not a huge fan of this rod. I like the short length, but the rod is just too stiff for my taste. Doesn't cast bad with a floating or furled line, but I've got a better choice in short rod (see next section). This will probably be the one I move on from next, there are a lot of people that do like this rod, it's just not my cup of tea.

Rods In My Regular Rotation; The Fab Five

  • Tenkara USA Sato - This has become my everyday tenkara rod. The lengths of this 3-way zoom rod pretty much make it perfect for any scenario. Shrink it small to avoid the canopy, extend it to fish a little more open water - I've caught brookies to largemouth on this rod - fished level, furled, and floating lines - weighted and unweighted flies - the versatility is hard to match.
  • Tenkara USA Rhodo - This is the current "short rod" in my collection of tenkara rods. I don't have any of the smaller Japanese specialty rods, so when I know I'm going to go out and fish tight conditions or small water, the Rhodo and some 2.5 level line are my preferred combination.
  • Tenkara USA Ebisu - Can you tell I'm a Tenkara USA guy? I love the wooden-handled 5:5 Ebisu. Like the Ayu II it's a discontinued model, but it's so soft and responsive (which sounds like a contradiction) that it's an absolute blast to fish. It's a tad on the heavy side compared to my other favorites, but if you ever see one available on the secondary market, snap it up.
  • Tenkara Times TRY 360 - I think this is the most underrated tenkara rod on the market. I'll come clean, I didn't want to like this rod, the cosmetics are horrible, but it fishes so well that I love it. It's ridiculously light and casts level line like a dream. If it was re-branded as something different, with a sexier paint job, tenkara anglers would go crazy for it. I'd fish it more, but when I go out with Lilly, she always picks this rod.
  • Dragontail Hellbender - This has become my big fish rod of choice. It's a zoom rod, but I pretty much fish it at it's fully extended length at all times. It tosses streamers like beadhead woolly buggers and Clouser minnows extremely efficiently. When I know there's a chance to hook a nice sized bass, I bring this rod

So the observant tenkara fanboy will probably notice something odd, "hey where are all the Japanese rods? No Nissin, no Shimano, no Daiwa, no Oni?" 

I have nothing against Japanese rods (note the Suntech TenkaraBum & Sakura Kongo are on the list), I just never took the plunge in a big way. Call me crazy, I like to support the folks I know. People I've become friendly with online, people I've met in person...had conversations with...shared beers....stuff like that. Although I am damn tempted to try the "magic" of an Oni some time. Maybe if they #savethecamohandle. (Ha!)

*EDIT: I have since purchased an Oni Type III; holy crap... if you're fishing intimate water, what a rod. Just sexy full-flex goodness. Save your pennies and get one, it jumps to the top of this list.*

In the end, there's really not a bad rod in the list above. These just happen to be my current preferences. You might have a differing opinion of my choices, and you know what, that's fine, we're all different. Nothing that I wrote above should be an indictment of your favorite rod(s), either as angler or manufacturer. Ten colors, you know? I'd love to hear about your personal favorites in the comments below.


Are you a tenkara angler? Do you have a story, pictures, video, fly recipe, or simply a fishing report from one of your recent tenkara adventures? If so, I'd really enjoy hearing from you for an upcoming Tenkara Tuesday post! Feel free to send an email HERE, I'd love to publish your original contribution.


  1. Very nice break down on your rods. Thanks.

  2. Any thoughts on Tenkara for kids? I have not found a set up that seems to click for me... But I'm thinking it would be a blast for my 5 year olds.

    1. You know that's tough. My daughter started tenkara fishing when she was 8. She was big & coordinated enough to handle a 12' rod (the TRY) without issue. The one thing I might recommend is that one of the lightweight floating lines (like the one sold by Three Rivers Tenkara) is extremely easy to cast. She was having problems casting my rod with level line, as well as another rod I put a furled line on. Since she switched to floating, no problem at all, it almost casts itself. Less time fussing, more time fishing!

      TenkaraBum.com sells a "kids kit." If it falls into your price range, I think that would probably be a good option. I've never used it, but Chris is an exceptional curator of rods.

      Otherwise, pretty much all of the major brands offer a "short" rod these days. As you can see above, I love the TUSA Rhodo, but it might be a bit pricey for a 5 year old.

    2. Awesome - Ill check that out. Thanks for the ideas!

  3. Good evaluation. Of my dozen Tenkara rods. I usually rotate between my BadgerTenkara UNC, TFO Cutthroat, and Iwana 9'3" (shorter grip section). There is no bad Rod. They all catch fish. I consider collapsed length and weight for backpacking in the Blue Ridge Backcountry.

    The BadgerTenkara UNO wins in both respects.

    1. Thanks Al, definitely value your feedback as I know you've fished quite a few rods in your time tenkara-ing as well. I've read a lot of good things about that little UNC.

  4. Nice comparison. I would love to see more of a follow-up on the Tenkara Customs rod and how it compares to others. I have one (with cork) and it's currently my only tenkara rod. I've landed up to 20" wipers in heavy current, but it's not overkill for a 12" trout. I can't decide whether to get a lighter or heavier duty rod if I get another.

    1. Hmmm...yeah, I probably short changed the Customs rod, but you actually did a good job summarizing it in your comment. I think it's a solid, all-around blank. Not the lightest (nor heaviest), and probably a little on the stiff side in comparison to some of the other rods on my list. Not sure what sort of fish you like to chase, but if you're going after all species - from trout to bass - I'd think it would be a more than enjoyable option. A 20" wiper is impressive! Doesn't sound like you need another rod to me.

      I tend to be more of a "trout" guy, so if you enjoy that sort of fishing, particularly in smaller streams with smaller fish, I'd suggest you give one of the shorter rods a try. The Customs rod is substantial and fishes like a fishing rod, some of the shorter rods fish like magic wands...they are so light in hand and cast a level line with a flick of the wrist. Even the smallest trout put a nice bend in them. (They also make bluegill feel like whales).

      Because of that, the Customs rod is more of a warmwater bass/bluegill rod for me. I usually pair it with a floating line.

    2. That's good to know about the smaller rods. I've read similar things elsewhere, but never in comparison to the TC rods. I'll have to try the floating line sometime; I've had good results with #4 level line, once I upgraded to fluorocarbon from the free stuff they throw in. The rod is just about right for most of what I encounter here in Kansas, but I find myself wishing I could properly tackle the large-ish catfish that like to run off with my streamers. And on the other end, it would be nice to have more of a fight when I chase bluegills or get a chance to fish for trout. Can't have it all in one, I guess!

  5. Thanks for assembling this, Michael. After some trial and error, I've ended up with the TenkaraBum 360, my old favorite Ebisu (first rod, bought on CraigsList several years ago, from a south Denver guy who also turned me on to Chris at TenkaraBum), and a funky little Kiyotaki rod I only use on the tiniest and most closed in high country streams. I might've gone with the Sato and/or Rhodo, but the sales guy, and guide, at the local Boulder distributor is such a snobby so-and-so (words deleted to protect Lilly...) that I've looked elsewhere.


    1. Ooh, a Shimotsuke Kiyotaki? FUN!!! I've almost pulled the trigger on the 24 once or twice. I think they make even smaller versions, cant imagine going smaller than that!

      Hope that Boulder distributor isn't @ McGuckin's. I could wander around that store for days.

    2. The rest of McGuckin's is a handman's / homeowner's / gardener's wet dream!

  6. Just bite the bullet and get an Oni Type I.
    It's not hype, there just might be something special there when the man recognized by most tenkara masters in Japan as the greatest living tenkara angler in the world spends 3 years developing the Oni Type I.

    1. You're probably right. Not doubting the rod at all, not sure I'd use it enough on it's intended quarry here in Florida... I would like one though...

  7. Diana Sagiri hands down was my favorite rod....I still kick myself for selling it.

  8. When I'm back in the market for a Tenkara rod, this will be the post I revisit. Nice write up on all of the rods. Looking forward to hearing more about that Wisco once you get off your butt. :)

  9. I bought the kids kit from Tenkarabum a month ago as a way for me to try tenkara, and with the idea that my 4yo could use it in a couple of years (he's loving fishing with a cane pole and worms right now!)
    The kit came with the Kiyotaki 27 and it's a great rod for tight streams we have here in New England. I've since bought a Nissin Royal Stage from Chris (the gear junky force didn't take long to kick in!) and still use the smaller Kiyotaki all the time where it's better suited.
    (Still figuring out how to get my name to show up)

  10. I've been really enjoying catching up on your blog. After a slow few years I've got back into Tenkara. I have a micro fish rod, a Wet Fly Kodomo 8ft, and I'm looking to add something wider streams and the occasional big fish. Would suggest the WISCO or the Hellbender for the occasional carp in the 20" range. I'm guessing that's the largest fish I'd find in my usual haunts.