An Introductory Tenkara Rod Buying Guide
The Question of a Thousand Answers
It’s not uncommon to see this “first rod” question posted in social media. Often, it’s a Facebook group or Instagram post. Somebody wants to try tenkara out for the first time so they ask an innocent question about rod preference. What usually follows is chaos. Opinions come from all directions, and I’m not certain the would be tenkara angler ends up any better informed for their efforts.
In the spirit of helping out aspiring tenkara and fixed line anglers, I’ve created a short list of rods (and scenarios in which to use them). Again, this tenkara rod buying guide is just my opinion. And it’s free to you. So take it for what it’s worth. 🙂
The Simple Answer is Often the Most Obvious
If I knew nothing else about you as an angler, I’d probably tell you that you could pick any tenkara rod and be able to catch fish. Why? Because it’s true; it’s the technique that catches fish, not the rod. Plus, if you haven’t fished a tenkara rod before, or perhaps only borrowed your buddy’s for an afternoon, you’ll have little to no frame of reference or preference bias.
However more realistically, I would suggest considering the Rule of 12s, as outlined by Jason Sparks. (A great article to read to get your bearings on tenkara gear). The 12 foot tenkara rod is sort of the equivalent of the 9-foot, 5-weight fly rod. It’s the widely recommended “all-around” model. Long enough to fish large rivers and ponds, short enough to fish tight mountain headwaters. This makes it a great place to start for a first rod. Just get on the water and worry about specialization later.
Don’t Sleep on Customer Service
The second consideration I’d toss out there is to make sure you buy a rod from a reputable manufacturer that offers solid customer service. There are a lot of “cheap” rods that are tempting to use as you wet your feet in tenkara… but what happens when you break the tip being little too rough while collapsing your rod the first day? Is that random company you found on Alibaba or Amazon going to be able to send you replacement parts? Probably not.
While tenkara rods are very durable during the process of fishing, a lot of newbie breakage takes place due to user error while setting up or breaking down. The narrow tip section is very fragile if handled inappropriately. Don’t let lack of customer service or difficult-to-source replacement parts put a damper on your experience.
As such, when I actually list a few models to consider, I’m going to stick to the U.S. tenkara rod companies that seem to be universally well known for speedy customer service. To some this may sound scandalous… as we tout the performance of Japanese rods here regularly, but since the parts for those rods can either be costly or take additional time to obtain, I don’t typically recommend those for an angler’s first rod. (Sorry TenkaraBum Nation…)
Finally, What Do You Want to Catch?
If you don’t want to go the route of just choosing a 12 foot all around rod, it’s probably best to understand what and where you’re fishing and how you’d like to fish. Big fish or small fish? Small streams or rivers? Unweighted or weighted flies? Coldwater or warmwater? Without going down too much of a rabbit hole, you’d probably want to use a different rod for a 20 inch brown trout than you would a 5 inch brook trout. With anglers using tenkara rods for all sorts of things these days, (even in saltwater!), it helps to have a frame of reference.
Okay, I’ve Rambled Enough, on to Some Suggestions
Note, in this guide I’ll be trying to keep price points friendly near $150 or preferably less; definitely under $200. Remember it’s hard to get a new starter fly rod and reel for less. Tenkara is no different.
These are your “do-it-all” 12-foot (360cm) rods that will handle virtually any situation on the water you may encounter. I tried to note some rods around the friendly $100 price point, but would be remiss if I didn’t include the Tenkara USA Iwana. Informally, I would guess that at one time, more people used the Iwana as their first “real” tenkara rod than any other model. It was my first.
- Tenkara USA Iwana 360 ($170)
- DRAGONtail Shadowfire 365 ($84.99)
- Tenkara Adventure Outfitters Classic ($119)
Editor’s Note: Sometimes DRAGONtail offers refurbished versions of the Shadowfire for only $69.99. Definitely worth checking that out as well to get a great rod at an extreme value!
Small Stream Rods
Want to fish for average to small sized trout in mountain streams, possibly in a place where tight overhead canopy could obstruct your casting from time to time? Then perhaps an 8 to 11 foot rod might work best for you. These are three great value options for small streams and the fish that call those places home.
- DRAGONtail Mizuchi zx340 240/290/340 Zoom ($144.99)
- Red Brook Tenkara Ranger Backcountry 240 ($134.99)
- Tenkara Adventure Outfitters U.N.C. ($99)
Big Trout & Warm Water Fixed-Line Rods
Perhaps you don’t plan on fishing for small fish at all. You want to chuck meat at monster trout, or possibly toss a popper at some bass? If you want to stray from traditional tenkara toward fixed-line fly fishing (there’s a difference, and eventually you’ll learn what I’m talking about) and target big trout, bruiser bass, or even species of carp, these are some rods to consider.
- Tenkara Adventure Outfitters WISCO 2 400 ($145)
- DRAGONtail HELLbender 340/390 Zoom ($134.99)
- Tenkara USA Amago 410 ($180)
Now there are many other rods you could consider besides the nine listed above. Rods from different manufacturers, rods with different features (including the versatility of zoom lengths or that collapse down really small), and rods that sell for much less or much more. I’m sure we’ll even get some comments in response to this post noting brands and models I didn’t name.
My goal of this first tenkara rod buying guide was to keep this list short and generally inexpensive, with the idea of getting you off on the right foot of your tenkara journey. If you want to do your own research, feel free to check out our Tenkara Gear Shop for a more extensive listing of rods, or perhaps even our Tenkara Rod Madness “brackets” from 2021. However, beware of information overload and paralysis by analysis. It is real! If the primary draw of tenkara to you is simplicity, one of the nine rods listed above should certainly meet that need.
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