Best Tenkara Rods Reviewed: A Simplified Aesthetic for Small Mountain Streams
Tenkara fishing was developed in Japan’s trout streams. It is now gaining popularity in Western countries, particularly among hikers and backpackers at high altitudes. This is partly due to the simplicity and clean aesthetic of tenkara fishing: rod, fly, and line–the three elements of fishing stripped down to their core.
Best Tenkara Rod Reviewed
Length13’/24 3/8 ”
Handle:11 3/4″ “EVA foam
The Oni Type I is considered the best rod in tenkara by more than one expert. This is an impressive feat considering its competition. If you want the best, this could be the place to start.
The Oni Type I was designed by Masami Sakakibara and is meant for experienced tenkara anglers. It casts light lines. If they are running #4 or 5, less experienced fishermen may have trouble with this technique. These weights will be handled with ease by the Oni, but #1.5, #2 and #2.5 are where it will shine.
The firm foam handle is slightly concave at 1/3 of the top. This creates a great grip for casting. Although the Oni is not lightweight, anglers who have used it report feeling incredibly light while fishing, despite its 3.1 ounce weight. Its center of gravity is what you will find comfortable under your hand.
The Oni Type I’s sensitive tip allows for easy loading and unloading of the rod while casting or taking on the strain of a fish. This rod is rated at 13 pennies by the common cents system. That’s close to the line that divides tenkara and seiryu. It means that the Oni is eager for a bow. However, this does not mean that the rod is weak. You will find the rod’s true spine about 3′ away from the tip. This is where the power of the rod will take control, allowing you the ability to reel in 18 to 20 inch trout.
The Oni Type I is subtle, strong, delicate and powerful. It is the epitome no-nonsense excellence.
Tenkara Tanuki 325 – The Snow
Handle:9 1/2″ EVA foam
Tenkara Tanuki’s The Snow is a great example of surprising power.
The Snow uses the same high-quality blanks as the 325. They are flexible at the tip and sensitive until approximately 40 percent of the rod’s length. The rod’s backbone becomes more obvious and will grow stronger over the next foot. This means that the rod will bend easily under load but will still be strong when you push it to its limits. The Snow’s blanks allow you to cast light lines with greater skill than you think, but still give you the ability to muscle big trout behind rocks.
This rod has been reported by anglers to immediately improve their casting accuracy. From the softly contoured foam handle to delicate last segments of The Snow’s predominantly white blank, it is clear that this rod was designed to inspire confidence.
This rod is ideal for casting a dry fly and is suitable for small fish. This rod is only 1.9 ounces and will feel heavy if you have a hand that’s longer than your arm.
Tenkara Tanuki recommends that fluorocarbon lineweights range between #2.5 to #3.5. However, until you have a few seasons of casting experience, we recommend sticking with the heavier weights.
Length10’8″, 11’10″, 12’9″,/ 22 3/4″
Handle:Cork 10 1/2″
While the Sato is not an original design in tenkara, Tenkara USA’s Sato is notable for its meticulous design and quality construction. The Sato is three rods in one. It can be shortened to any length by the Rhodo’s smaller sibling, the Rhodo.
This may seem like a lot of unnecessary fluff to you, which is counter to tenkara’s simple aesthetic. Consider this: If you fish in different streams, which most people do, then you may find yourself spending a few hours fishing the areas where the vegetation requires a shorter rod. Later on, you might move to a larger pool.
The Sato can accommodate both conditions and eliminates the need for anglers to carry more than one rod. This zooming marvel is simple in that sense.
Tenkara USA has achieved a feat in engineering that is difficult to believe, according to users. The Sato feels almost the same regardless of how long you make it.
The action of the Sato is described as a 6 to 4, and you will notice a stronger backbone as you lengthen the rod. However, it will still flex to the same degree. Common cents testing revealed that the rod’s rating is 19 pennies, 20 and 21 pennies depending on how far you zoom in.
Casting is superb, even surprisingly so. The Sato is designed to cast very light lines. Consider #2, #2.5, or #3. A true master may be able to cast even lighter lines. The Sato’s performance is made possible by the contoured cork handle. It has a similar appearance to the Nissin Zerosum.
The Sato is a versatile, excellent rod that can be used for fishing with minimal equipment.
Length10’10”, 11’11”, 12’3”, 13’7″, 22 3/8″, 22 5/8″, (410 Air Stage 6 :4)
Segments:8, 9, 10,
Weight:2.5, 2.6 and 2.7 ounces.
Flex profile5:5, 6:4
Nissin’s Air Stage Fujiryu rod is a great choice if you want to pay homage to tradition. The Air Stage is different from its competitors by having a cypress handle and avoiding foam or cork. While this has its advantages and disadvantages as we will discuss, there is no denying the rod’s performance in small trout fishing in high-gradient streams.
There are two options for Air Stage action, 5:5 and 6:4.
The 330 comes in two lengths: 10′ 10″ or 10′ 11.” The shorter version boasts a 5 to5 action and collapsed length of 22 3/8″. It weighs in at 2.6 ounces. The shorter 330 is 6:4 and slightly lighter.
Nissin’s 360 is available in a single 12’3” length. It can be used in 5:5 or 6, with a 22-3/8 “ collapsed length. The scale weights are 2.7 (5:5) and 2.9% (6:4) ounces. The 410 has a 13′ 7″, identical 3.2 ounce weights and a collapsed length that is 22 3/8 ” for 6:4, while the 5/5 is just a little longer at 22 5/8″.
Let’s talk a little more about the Air Stage’s action. You would expect a different performance from a 5 to5 and a 6-to-4, even though they are the same lengths. As you increase in length, your power increases, and the blank becomes noticeably more powerful as you move from 360 to 410.
The common cents scale gives the 360 in 5/5 a rating 12.5 pennies. The 410 in 6;4 costs 26 pennies to bend the same way. It’s difficult to distinguish between models without fishing them all. This rod is a great choice for small trout. The Nissin Air Stage is capable of handling some serious brutes in its longer versions, particularly when they are performed faster.
Casting is as good as you would expect. Wood handles feel more direct than foam or cork and this increases sensitivity from catch to cast. It’s less flexible on white-knuckled grips and you might experience a few hot spots if you’re used to more pliable materials.
The Air Stage’s models can all cast light lines in the hands of an experienced angler. However, it is also capable of casting #3.5 and slightly heavier line.
The Nissin Air Stage is hard to beat, especially if your preference is wood handles.
Length See below/ 22 1/8
Segments: 7, 8, 9, 10,
Weight: See below
Flex profile 6:4, 7;3
Zerosum by Nissin offers the excellence of tenkara: precision, quality and strength. Although it may sound exaggerated, it is really not. Tenkara USA’s Sato may look like a Zerosum, ounce by ounce, and inch by inch, but the Zerosum is superior in all respects, with the exception of versatility.
The Zerosum, like Nissin’s Air Stage is available in a variety models. There are four lengths available. The model numbers correspond roughly to the length in centimeters. You can choose between 6:4 and 7:3, giving you a wide variety of options.
Charts, which Chris Stewart of Tenkara Bum borrowed from him, are the best way to convey this information.
Table source: tenkarabum.com/nissin-zerosum-tenkara-rods.html
The Zerosum, aside from the collapsed length, offers a lot of variation in length, action and weight.
Let’s get into it.
Instead of breaking it down by model number, I believe the best approach to understanding Zerosum is differentiation through action.
The 7:3 rods have slower action than their rating would indicate, which is closer to what you would expect from a 6;4. This improves casting performance by using very light lines while still allowing for plenty of control over the fish when they are on. The 7:3s have a lot more backbone than their 6:4 counterparts, as evident by their common cents ratings. The 7:3s might be considered just.More powerful6:4s means that the backbone has more to offer when it starts to show strength than it does with the slower rods.
So, in this sense, it could be said that Zerosums in 7/3 are a different rod than their 6/4 brethren.
The 6:4s, on the other hand, offer a very flexible action. The 360 is perhaps the most versatile tenkara weapon, and it’s close to the Oni Type I. It offers incredible sensitivity, strength, balance, and sensitivity that makes it ideal for casting and fighting. The 400 excels in areas where the canopy is open or the stream is a little wider. It brings the same capabilities as the 360, but with more reach.
The Zerosum 360 and 400 are the best, especially in 6 to 4. Sakakibara chose the Zerosum 320 in 7-3, and we can’t fault his intelligence. We believe he enjoys casting very, very thin lines, and the 7-33 will help him do that.
The 7:3s can handle #3 level very well, and they can also work great with a weighted fly. When casting #2 or #1.5, they will show their true colors. They will still need a little more power to load so make sure you are aware of this when making your decision.
No matter what you choose, the rods’ already light weight just disappears in your hands!
Handle:11.8 inch EVA foam with cork details
Shimano is synonymous with quality fishing equipment, and their products are well-known in America. Their Honryu Tenkara, which is the longest rod in our list, is Shimano’s “mainstream” model. This does not refer to mass production, but larger water and larger fish.
As you would expect, the overall build quality and quality of the components is exceptional. Everything is perfect, from the contoured handle to delicate lillian. You’ll instantly know this rod is serious business when you grab it.
You’d be wrong to think it was a brute. The Shimano Honryu Tenkara44 NP measures 15 pennies (or 16.5, depending on whom you ask). It bends quickly under strain and can also load and unload well when casting. This rod can throw level lines, but it is slower and more measured than shorter rods.
Shimano recommends that you use a heavier line to avoid turnover problems. This rod is a favorite among anglers. It casts with incredible precision and grace, according to all reports.
Shimano claims that the Honryu Tenkara44 NP has a 6:4 flex profile. However, this rod feels fuller than the one in your hand. You can cast or control a fish with this rod feeling more like a 5 to 5. The Shimano, like the Oni Type I offers anglers an amazing backbone when put through its paces with large trout. Although it bends easily, its willowy curve gives trout several pounds more power than the Shimano.
The Shimano Honryu Tenkara 44NP is a great rod for anglers looking for more power or length, but still want a soft, smooth action. The tip will feel heavier than other rods this length.
Does that make a difference? Only you can decide!
Handle:11.8 inch EVA foam with cork details
Two anglers from the UK named Paul Gaskell (Discover Tenkara) and John Pearson (Discover Tenkara 400) were the inspiration behind Discover Tenkara’s Karasu360 and 400. Kazumi Saigo and Paul Gaskell wanted to create and manufacture the best tenkara rigs. This is a powerful endorsement, and the Karasus definitely delivers if you are looking for a high-end tenkararod.
There are two lengths of the Karasu, one for each leg, and one for each. It’s difficult to gauge a rod by a scale. The most important thing is its feel, not its absolute weight. Both Karasu rods are virtually invisible in the hand because their center of gravity remains in the grip. This allows for effortless and beautiful castings, which we’ll talk about in a moment.
The heart of every rod is its blank, and the Karasus are a study in productive contradictions. They have a sensitive, delicate tip that bends easily and controls wobble as well as kickback. The backbone’s power is displayed gradually, but with gentle authority.
This may sound a bit vague, but it means that the rod feels stronger than it actually is. It inspires confidence when fighting large trout, while also allowing you to cast light lines. Most rods have a trade-off. Being able to cast #2 can often mean that the rod is too soft to provide good hooksets. Karasu is a different story!
Casting with Karusus is, by all accounts, among the best in tenkara. Both lengths are 18 and 21 pennies respectively and provide enough backbone for dry or moist flies.
Here’s the problem: Kazumi Sagigo chose the 360 over the 400. We can only guess his reasons. Regardless of the rod design, 4 meters worth of carbon fiber will feel tip-heavy, even though they are both balanced. This, along with the Shimano Honryu 44 NP Shimano Tenkara 44 NP, may be a deal breaker to some anglers.
Tenkara: A Very Short Overview
Tenkara fishing has evolved over the past 200 years. It is similar to Western fly fishing in some respects, but different in others. While Western fly fishing requires a reel and a rod that is more conventional, tenkara provides anglers with a simpler and purer experience.
Tenkara rods can be flexible and firm, strong but delicate and yet sturdy. They offer a direct experience of the water, its fish, and their environment without any reels, guides or other extras.
Modern tenkara rods can be rolled in one piece. They are free from ferrules and have telescoping sections which allow them to fold down for storage and easy transportation. They are designed to cast lightweight flies and their materials, designs and details make them reel-less.
Fly anglers will notice a design difference in tenkara rods compared to fly fishing rods. This is because the rod has a flexible fiber at the end. This feature, called a “lillian”, helps increase casting distance by giving the rod more action. Tenkara fishermen attach their mainline to the lillian using either a girth hitch, or a variant of the double loop slip knot depending on what line they have chosen.
It’s basically what you would expect from fly line: a length tippet tied to main and a wet fly at business end.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a Tenkara rod
While we don’t pretend to be experts in tenkara, we have thoroughly researched these rods.
Line choice and weight
There are two types of line that can be tied to tenkara rods: furled, tapered and level.
Tapered, furled lineIt is tapered towards the fly, as its name implies. This line is most commonly found on a tenkara rod and allows for more delicate castings and subtle techniques.