With the introduction (or should I say tease) of the upcoming DRAGONtail hybrid fiberglass zoom tenkara rod, I thought touching on “shorter” tenkara rods was a topic that’s a bit overdue. This article will focus on some of the options available at under nine feet in length, (~270cm).
What’s immediately strange when discussing “short” tenkara rods is that many remain as long, if not longer, than their western fly rod brothers. Nine feet isn’t really that short in the fishing world, however when the measuring stick for the average tenkara rod clocks in at twelve feet, you can see where this is going.
Why Go Short?
Tenkara rods are long for a reason. With no reel to hold excess line, the length of a tenkara rod (in conjunction with the length of the line) is what allows you to fish at appropriate distances. It’s also much easier to keep line off the water and maintain the infamous “drag free drift” with a longer rod. As a matter of fact, when people ask “which rod length should I buy?” – the answer commonly is “as long a rod as you feel comfortable fishing.”
Cutting my tenkara teeth on (the now discontinued) eleven-foot Tenkara USA Iwana several years ago, my personal favorite length of tenkara rods tend to be in the 320-340cm range, particularly for headwaters fishing. While those are shorter than the all-purpose twelve-footers, it’s what’s comfortable to me. You can certainly “choke up” on a longer tenkara rod to fish it shorter, but I find that generally messes the balance and feel in hand, at least with my casting style… results may vary.
Enter Tight Quarters
It appears the loudest cries for short tenkara rods are from those who enjoy fishing those off-the-grid blue lines in pursuit of native trout. That environment typically has thick cover, overhanging branches, and tight casting channels. Rhododendron country. These are the areas where fishing is intimate. The fish, often brook trout, are typically small and short tenkara rods can shine. As a matter of fact, you’ll find some of the rods mentioned below aren’t even tenkara rods by definition, rather keiryu or seiryu rods. Whatever gets the job done.
The following are overviews, not reviews, of some of the options on the market today listed by brand, along with a handy comparison grid. There may be other options available that have fishable lengths at or below 270cm, but these are some of the more commonly mentioned (and readily available). It’s as comprehensive as this guide is going to be. 🙂
While I previously mentioned the upcoming to-be-named hybrid fiberglass rod from DRAGONtail, it probably makes sense to mention its fishable lengths. It’s a 3-way zoom rod that is capable at 6.5 feet (200cm), 8.0 feet (245cm), and 9.2 feet (280cm). So make no mistake, this is definitely on the shorter side. Tom Davis recently reviewed and tested out the prototype. I suspect if you’re reading this, you’ve also already read that, but in case you haven’t, you can check it out HERE.
Additionally, DRAGONtail’s Mizuchi zoom rod, fishes at 7.9 feet (240cm) at its shortest length. This rod has received a lot of positive feedback since its introduction in late 2019, and might be a bit more versatile for the small stream angler than some of the other rods on this list, fishing at longer lengths of 9.5 feet (290cm) & 11.2 feet (340cm) as well.
Nissin makes wonderful tenkara rods. I personally fish their Royal Stage 320 in waters like this, but it’s technically too long to include in this article. Instead I’m picking the Tenkara Mini 270 to highlight here.
The Tenkara Mini is an ultra-compact 15-section rod that is 9 feet (270cm) when fully extended. The draw to the Tenkara Mini (and it’s cousin the Pocket Mini) is the portability factor. This rod collapses down to a miniscule 9.75 inches (25cm). You can take it anywhere, but it’s not a toy. It’s a fully capable tenkara rod, complete with cork handle and everything. One note, while not expressly mentioned by the manufacturer, re-seller TenkaraBum does suggest to use tippet no stronger than 7x to protect its upper sections. Keeping that in mind, you can still catch the “king” of your small stream without concern.
Red Brook Tenkara
The Ranger is Red Brook Tenkara’s latest rod model. It was launched as part of a Kickstarter in 2020, and recently has delivered and is available for “at once” shipment. At 8 feet (240cm), the Ranger is compact and has a “medium” action according to the manufacturer. This rod was specifically developed with backcountry fishing in mind, so it will be interesting to hear from the first batch of anglers that are able to fish it.
These are probably the shortest, and least expensive true tenkara rods you’ve never heard of. The Tenkara Gen are produced by Shimotsuke, a Japanese rod company that makes several different styles of fishing rods. They’re a little bit harder to get a hold of, but those that have, claim them to be really fun rods to fish. There are two models that meet the criteria of this post. A 7.9 foot (240cm) model and a 8.9 foot (270cm) model. Prices seem to vary depending on where you shop. I’ve seen them sharply priced on eBay, as well as offered in our friend Keiichi’s Tenkara-ya store. That said, high overseas shipping costs can eat into some of the value proposition.
Tanuki was one of the first domestic designers to embrace shorter tenkara rods, and currently offers two that fit the bill. The first, the Golden Trout, is a very short, very soft, and VERY colorful rod. Designed to pursue small stream golden trout in California, this 2-way zoom model checks in at 6.5 feet and just under 8 feet. The soft action is to amplify the fight and make the smallest of fish feel like a monster.
The second rod Tanuki offers is simply called the 275. At slightly over 9 feet, I thought this rod was still worth mentioning as once in hand it will certainly fish shorter. It appears the standard model of this rod is currently sold out, but a red camo variant is still available as of this writing. This rod has actually taken on many different colors over the years, so if you’re looking for an aftermarket or used model, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t look exactly the same as the ones in the links.
Tenkara Adventure Outfitters
TAO’s entry into the small rod category is the U.N.C., which is an abbreviation for unnamed creek. For TAO (or formerly Badger) rod enthusiasts, this model is a bit of a cult favorite. Heck, bucking the small stream trend, a Brazilian angler even uses this model for peacock bass and baby tarpon! The U.N.C. is an 8.5 feet (260cm) fixed length model, with an attractive matte olive green paint job. It’s also one of the more affordable models on this list, with an MSRP of $99.
You certainly can’t talk about fishing rhododendron-choked streams without bringing up the extremely popular Tenkara USA Rhodo. This 3-way zoom rod is similar to the DRAGONtail Mizuchi, in the fact that it qualifies for the parameters of this article only at it’s shortest length, a smidge under 9 feet (270cm). However, it’s a very widely used rod, and arguably the best performing zoom rod in the Tenkara USA lineup. I’ve personally fished a Rhodo for many seasons and have enjoyed it greatly. It’s a small stream workhorse.
Tenkara Rod Co.
The guys at Tenkara Rod Co. have developed an 8 foot (240cm) rod called the White Cloud. It replaced the similarly pint-sized Cascade in their line a few years ago, and people, including our own Jason Sparks, seem to give it positive feedback. They claim this is their softest rod as well, one that is ideal for fish in the 6-12 inch range. Personally, I find the all black cosmetics handsome, in a stealthy sort of way.
I suppose the Tenkara Bum Traveler 27 is actually not a tenkara rod, but instead, a keiryu rod. Don’t let that bit of nomenclature stop you from looking into using this rod with tenkara techniques, as it excels. Right at 9 feet (270cm), Chris Stewart is clear in describing this rod as not a soft tipped brook trout rod. Sure, you can catch brook trout on it, but it also has enough rigidity to allow you to also cast nymphs and/or fight slightly larger fish in faster current without concern. This rod is produced in Japan, by Suntech, a small-company known for high quality goods.
I think the name says it all here. The Tiny Tenkara rod lineup is going to be the shortest on this list, by a wide margin. We’ll start with the original Tiny Tenkara rod, which is a diminutive 5 feet (150cm) long when fully extended. Besides being a functional rod, it’s just really cute too. Being so short, it’s also a bit stiff, requiring casting with slightly heavier lines. It does bow and arrow cast quite well in really tight surroundings.
The original also has a bigger 8 foot brother, aptly named the Tiny Ten 2. It’s the more enjoyable casting rod of the two, and will give you a bit more of a recognizable experience on the water. Both Tiny Tenkara rods are affordable, with MSRPs of $60 & $80 respectively.
Last, but not least, Zen Tenkara’s Suzume is that brand’s small stream zoom-rod, with fishable lengths that fit this article’s parameters. On the short size, the Suzume is a 7.7 foot (235cm) rod, which then can scale up to 9.3 feet (285cm), and 10.8 feet (330 cm). Unlike other manufacturers, Zen employs a Fly Rod Approximate Equivalency (FRAE) rating of a “3-weight”, to give the angler an idea of what this rod can handle. It is described as “extremely accurate, strong, yet very delicate for the most precise and beautiful fly presentations imaginable.” It also includes a spare tip, in case you want to push it to its limits.
A Grid of “Off the Grid” Rods
Wow, that was a lot of info. I know, because I typed it all. However, I know many of you prefer visuals, so I also compiled this grid of most of the information included above for easy reference.
|Brand||Model||Length 1 cm||Length 2 cm||Length 3 cm||MSRP $|
|Tenkara Rod Co.||White Cloud||240||$155.00|
|Tiny Tenkara||Tiny Ten||150||$60.00|
|Tiny Tenkara||Tiny Ten 2||240||$80.00|
To conclude, I hope this article at least helped establish (or narrow) the field of short tenkara rod options for you. Sure, some of us may start with a twelve foot rod and never see the need to change. But for those looking for a bit more specialized gear for those tight streams and wild trout, there are more than a few options of length and pricepoint available today.
Oh, and if you have a favorite sub-9-foot (270cm) rod that I happened to miss, mention it in the comments below and tell us why you enjoy fishing with it. There’s a world of telescoping rods out there, both past and present, so I’m sure there’s more than a few good models that I overlooked.
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