Article by Adam Wilner
After last year’s annual outing to Colorado, I realized that neither of my fixed-line Japanese fly rods were up to the challenge of landing trophy trout in big rivers. My tenkara rod for dry flies & soft hackles (Tenkara USA Sato) was not beefy or long enough to handle the bigger flies, currents, and the trout that I commonly hunt in Colorado, and my Japanese nymphing rod (Daiwa Kiyose 39) didn’t quite have the length or tippet rating to tame these trout either. So, this year I came prepared. This year I would confidently land rainbow pigs like the one pictured below and know I have a chance with the true trophies of the Eagle and Colorado Rivers!
Pictured are my two big water Japanese fly rods. The top rod is a Suntech Genryu Sawanobori 45, which is being touted by Chris Stewart (tenkarabum.com) as the best rod yet for Japanese nymphing. The bottom rod is a Nissin Pro Square 450 7:3, which is a tenkara rod designed for unweighted flies but has the backbone to cast bigger flies, even streamers and hopper / dropper rigs, and it has the capability to wrestle bigger fish. Both rods are in their collapsed positions, and both rods extend to about 15′ long. Most importantly, the Sawanobori is rated for 4x tippet and the Pro Square for 3.5x, which makes them significantly more capable than the 6x tippet rating of most tenkara rods.
Many people don’t realize how important the extra length is when fighting big fish in big water. The Japanese fixed-line rods have amazing, long bend profiles, utilizing the whole length of the rod to subdue big fish. It’s difficult to describe but amazing to experience. The rods are very flexible; my new 15′ big fish rods are stiffer than most tenkara rods, but they still have much more bend than a standard fly rod of similar action. The flexibility gradually diminishes as the fish puts a deep bend in the long rod.
It’s kind of like anti-lock brakes but smoother and more gradual. I am convinced that these long, fixed-line fly rods actually subdue fish more efficiently than standard, shorter fly rods that require fly line, which gives the fish more freedom and more slack to play with. Like I said, you have to experience it, but a 15′ fixed-line rod puts you in command.
Pictured below is my first big trout using a tenkara rod. The fish was fat and fiesty, and the current was raging. I caught him using the Nissin Pro Square with about 13’ of 3.5 level tenkara line followed by 3’ of 4x tippet. The fly set-up was a dry / dropper rig consisting of a size 14 elk hair caddis and a size 16 bead head pheasant tail nymph as a dropper. The trout hit the dropper. I couldn’t be more impressed by how my 15′ Nissin Pro Square tenkara rod controlled this 22″ rainbow pig!
I have been a dedicated freshwater fly fisherman since 1992, and since 2013 I have been finding more and more applications for Japanese fixed-line rods. At first, I reserved my fixed-line tenkara rods for the small streams of the Mid-Atlantic where I have never felt the need for a reel loaded with line and backing. Even the 2 monster brown trout I caught from the North Branch Potomac (31″ & 29″) did not peel line or require a reel with backing and a decent drag.
I began pushing the limits of the fixed-line rods, but I figured these rods just wouldn’t cut it out west where big, rushing rivers teem with big ‘bows, and where a good reel with plenty of backing seems necessary. This year, however, I discovered that this isn’t true. With rods like the Nissin Pro Square 450 7:3 and the Suntech Genryu Sawanobori 45, I can catch big fish in big current with big flies!
Here’s my quick review of the 2 rods:
Nissin Pro Square 450 7:3
I used level fluorocarbon lines ranging from size 3 – 4.5. The rod casted well with all lines, but I felt most comfortable with 12.5’ of size 3.5 tenkara level line followed by 2.5’ of 4x tippet. This set-up did very well casting a dry / dropper rig: a size 14 elk hair caddis with a size 16 copper john tied 20” off the back of the dry fly with 4x tippet.
Unexpectedly, the Nissin Pro Square turned out to be the perfect Tenkara rod for casting moderately weighted woolly buggers as well as damsel & dragon fly nymphs to big trout cruising a private pond.
The rod will cast nymphs just fine, but it is too flexible to get good hook sets consistently and confidently.
Suntech Genryu Sawanobori 45
As noted, Chris Stewart states that this may be the best fixed line rod for nymphing, and I can’t really disagree. The rod is super light for a 15’ rod, which allows you to reach out and nymph those deep runs for hours without much fatigue.
The rod’s real defining feature, however, is the stiffness; it’s crazy stiff, which allows you to quickly feel strikes. Energy is efficiently transferred from the fly ticking along the bottom to your hand on the rod. A soft rod dampens this energy, making strikes almost impossible to feel. This same feature allows you to set the hook on a fish in a deep, swift run the moment it inhales your fly. Aiding in the sensitivity is the fact that the rod handle is just the rod blank; there’s no cork or foam to soften the feel of a strike.
But, the stiffness makes it difficult to cast lightly or even moderately weighted nymphs. The Genryu Sawanobori appreciates considerable weight. With a tandem nymph rig consisting of a weighted size 12 copper john, a smaller bead head nymph as a dropper, a few split shot, and an indicator, the rod will perform great, even with 15’of 4x tippet from rod tip to fly.
However, if you need to cast lighter nymph rigs such as a bead head nymph with a midge or baetis dropper and 1 size 4 split shot, you’ll need some heavier line in your rig: Try 5’ of 0x or size 4 tenkara line followed by 5’ of 2x, then 7’ of 4x tippet. You’ll need the heavier, tapered line to cast a lighter rig. This is why I can’t totally agree with Chris Stewart. For me, the Genyu Sawanobori is just a bit too stiff for most of my nymphing. I like the action of the Daiwa Kiyose more and am thinking of trying the Kiyose 42 or 45, but they are only rated for 5x tippet while the Sawanobori is rated for 3.5x. I do like that higher tippet rating for big fish!
If you want to tackle big fish with a fixed-line rod, my best advice is to visit Chris Stewart at tenkarabum.com. He knows as much as anybody about fixed-line rods and can set you up with the right rod and gear to hunt big fish. He even carries a 20 meter rod rated for 3x tippet and designed to land salmon and steelhead!
Editor’s Note: I “found” this article digging through some old submissions from years ago (this one from 2017). I’m not sure why it was never published. I think Adam may have sent in two articles at the same time and I thought I’d save this one for later date, and unfortunately forgot about it. Sorry Adam!
Adam Wilner has spent the last 30 years pursuing his passion for fly fishing. In the last few years tenkara and keiryu rods have replaced his other rods as their advantages have become glaringly apparent.
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