Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Rods Tenkara Video

Big Fish Tenkara Rods: A (Fairly) Comprehensive Guide

Perhaps it’s the change from Spring to Summer, or maybe it’s the longing for something “more”, but I couldn’t help but noticing many people in social media asking about “big fish tenkara rods.” The question usually looks something like this:

“Hi, I’ve been fishing tenkara for trout, but what rod would you recommend for bigger fish, like (insert species here)?”

Well that’s certainly a loaded question. Especially since those species can vary geographically. A big fish to one might be a largemouth bass or carp, while to another it might be a steelhead. Heck, some may consider certain saltwater species in play. Whatever the quarry, you’ll want to size up your equipment to specifically target big fish.

Big Fish Tenkara Rods - Tenkara Angler - Jon Hart Carp
Photo: Jon Hart

About This Guide

This guide will summarize the offerings from most of the major manufacturers, providing an overview as to what is currently available all in one place. This guide will not wade too deeply into the various rods developed in Japan for other fixed line disciplines, simply because those rods are getting harder and harder to obtain and maintain.

Please use this guide as a tool, not an endorsement, as the perfect rod for you will be based on your preferences, budget, and target species. But enough of the small talk, lets look at some big rods!


Zen Tenkara

Typically we do these lists in alphabetical order by manufacturer, but in the case of this list, I figured it appropriate to mention Zen Tenkara first.

While catching big fish on fixed line rods is not a new concept, Zen Tenkara was possibly the first American brand to go all in and “overbuild” a rod with the sole purpose of catching big fish… in all types of water. Now this means tossing aside kebari for heavier flies and lures, as well as bypassing level lines for beefier PVC lines, so a stout rod is needed to get the payload to the fish.

The result was the Kyojin, a rod I was first exposed to back in 2014 and honestly found to be a redwood of a fixed line rod. Big, a bit heavy, but clearly built for battle. And battle it did, with anglers (including founder, Karin Miller) picking up victories against carp, shark, bonefish, redfish, and bass.

Big Fish Tenkara Rods - Tenkara Angler - Zen Tenkara Kyojin II
Zen Tenkara Kyojin II

Today, the Kyojin (8:2) has been refined and evolved into the Kyojin II (6:4), a slightly more forgiving and flexible rod that is 12 feet long, yet still weighs 4.9 ounces, and sports an almost 16-inch two-handed handle. Even with those changes, there’s nothing petite about the Kyojin II. In its description, Zen compares the Kyojin II to an 8-weight traditional fly rod. What a beast!

I’d also note that Zen makes another rod, the Taka, that also is compared to an 8-weight. So while I rightfully went long describing the O.G. Kyojin, the Taka should not be ignored.


DRAGONtail Tenkara

DRAGONtail Tenkara has been making quite a bit of noise in the “short” rod market with releases of the Mizuchi, FoxFIRE, and Kaida. But it doesn’t mean they don’t have a model that can take on BIG fish. I mean have you ever seen some of the photos of the trout that Brent Auger catches?

Tenkara Rod Buying Guide - Tenkara Angler - DRAGONtail Hellbender
DRAGONtail Tenkara HELLbender

The HELLbender 7:3 zoom rod is their answer, and has two fishable lengths at 340cm and 390cm while being rated for 3x tippet. This is a rod that I personally own and use for largemouth bass in Florida. I find it handles casting weighted flies well and isn’t bulky or stiff to the point where it removes the fun from catching smaller fish. You know, bluegill bycatch. 🙂


Nissin

Nissin makes some of the most popular Japanese designed rods available today. One of the more robust is the Zerosum Oni Honryu Tenkara rod, which is a single length rod, but available in either a 395cm or 450cm configuration.

Big Fish Tenkara Rods - Tenkara Angler - Nissin Zerosum Oni Honryu
Nissin Zerosum Oni Honryu Tenkara Rod

The “Oni” in this rod’s name comes from the fact that it was designed by famous tenkara angler Masasmi Sakakibara, (aka “Tenkara no Oni”). According to Nissin, the goal was to create a rod that is capable of catching big fish in the river’s mainstream (honryu), yet not tire the angler’s arm after a full day of fishing. Another rod I personally own, I can vouch that the Oni Honryu is quite successful in achieving that balance!

I’d note, at time of publication these rods can be a little hard to locate, but if TenkaraBum or Tenkara-Ya doesn’t have availability you may be able to find one on eBay or Amazon Japan.


Riverworks Rod Company

Riverworks Rod Company makes it clear what sort of rod you’ll be getting when you purchase their MONSTER 395cm fixed line rod. It really doesn’t even pretend to consider “tenkara” techniques into its design, as it is a two-handed rod originally developed for Steelheaders. The MONSTER wants nothing more than to toss meaty streamers on a PVC line.

Big Fish Tenkara Rods - Tenkara Angler - Riverworks Monster 395
Riverworks Rod Company MONSTER 395

Coming in at 6 ounces and with an 8:2 flex profile, according to the RRC website, “The MONSTER 395 is a very high tech piece of engineering for the big fish, big fly junkies that require a serious rod for doing battle with serious fish.”

Note: There’s also a limited edition version of the MONSTER 395 available with a brown trout printed handle section.


Tenkara Adventure Outfitters

Next on the list is the Tenkara Adventure Outfitters WISCO2. At 400cm and with a 7:3 “low flex” rating, this big fish rod also boasts a 14-inch handle that allows the angler to effectively fish both single and double handed. Similar to other rods in this list, it excels casting a PVC line.

Tenkara Rod Buying Guide - Tenkara Angler - WISCO 2
Tenkara Adventure Outfitters WISCO2

Originally released in 2015 as the WISCO, this newer iteration was refined to include a slightly shorter handle and a bit softer flex based on angler feedback. I’ve seen photos of this rod handling quite a few large fish since, so those changes must have worked!


Tenkara Rod Co.

The big fish rod offered by Tenkara Rod Co. is called The Rocky. The Rocky is similar to the HELLbender in that it is a zoom rod and can be fished at two different lengths. The Rocky’s lengths are a bit longer, checking in at 12.5 & 14.5-feet respectively. This is currently the largest rod in the TRC lineup.

Big Fish Tenkara Rods - Tenkara Angler - Tenkara Rod Co Rocky
Tenkara Rod Co. Rocky

Described as “fast action” in profile, when the Rocky is bought in a package it includes a 13-foot furled line and 4x tippet. According to TRC, “if you are looking for a tenkara rod that drinks protein shakes, it’s the Rocky!”

Bull trout caught with The Rocky

Tenkara USA

Tenkara USA’s primary option for bigger fish is the Amago, named after one of Japan’s native trout. The Amago certainly isn’t the beefiest rod on this list, but at 410cm and 3.5 ounces, it is long and sturdy enough to take on sizable trout as well as medium to large warmwater species.

Big Fish Tenkara Rods - Tenkara Angler - Tenkara USA Amago
Tenkara USA Amago

The Amago is likely a good option for anglers that want a longer rod to fish larger water, but aren’t exclusively seeking big fish. However, they can take comfort in knowing that should a 20+ inch trout take their fly, they will not feel outgunned during the fight.


Wasatch Tenkara

Okay, I’m not going to lie, I struggled a bit to suggest a rod from Wasatch Tenkara. It seems like anglers are using all of their models to catch big fish! Although, I guess if you’re bold enough to call one of your rods RodZilla, that’s the one for this list.

Big Fish Tenkara Rods - Tenkara Angler - Wasatch Tenkara RodZilla
Wasatch Tenkara RodZilla

Like the Zen Kyojin, the Wasatch RodZilla is intentionally overbuilt from the start. RodZilla is a long zoom rod with two fishable lengths of 16 and 17.5-feet. And I don’t recall any rod on this list is quite as hefty as RodZilla’s 7.9 ounce weight. We’ll call it “husky” to be kind. RodZilla also has a stout 8:2 flex profile.

I’ve never fished a RodZilla, but there’s already some good footage of what it can do. This video on the carp flats from Flicky Flies being a recent example.


A Grid of Big Fish Rods

So that’s a lot of carbon fiber & cork to swallow. And if you’re like me, perhaps you just want to look at the numbers in a handy chart format. If that’s the case, I hope this summary grid makes the “Big Gulp” a bit easier to consume.

BrandModelLength cmWeight ozFlexMSRP $
Zen TenkaraKyojin II3604.96:4$265.00
Zen TenkaraTaka400/4604.57:3$275.00
DragontailHellbender340/3903.47:3$134.99
NissinOni Honryu3953.06:4$250.00
NissinOni Honryu4503.56:4$270.00
RiverworksMONSTER3956.38:2$359.00
TAOWISCO24054.57:3$145.00
Tenkara Rod Co.Rocky380/4405.07:3$205.00
Tenkara USAAmago4103.56:4$180.00
WasatchRodZilla490/5307.98:2$200.00

In Closing

To conclude, I hope this article was a little helpful in pointing you in the right direction when it comes to universe of readily available “big fish” rods. Whether or not you consider these “tenkara” rods, or simply fixed line rods, any selection from this list, when paired with good technique, should help you bring that bruiser of a trout, bass, salmon, carp, or species to-be-determined to net. (Yeah, you’re probably going to want to invest in a bigger net too!)

Oh, and if you have a favorite big fish 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 fixed line rods out there, so I’m certain there’s more than a few good models that might be out of circulation or are now hard(er) to find that I overlooked.

Big Fish Tenkara Rods - Tenkara Angler - Brad Trumbo Pink Salmon
Photo: Brad Trumbo

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2 comments

  1. Dont forget the Zen Sagi and Suimenka with a FRAE Rating of a 7wt. These rods both handle just about anything thrown at them. They offer a different feel and enormous power and control for their size. Zen DOES big fish rods.

  2. some of the keiryu (and carp) rods are also well suited to large fish

    I have a 5.4 meter Fieldmaster Suguru long H thats rated for around 4x tippet, and i’ve caught steelhead, lake run browns, and chinook to 32 inches on it. All on a rod that weighs 3.4 ounces.

    Plus it can throw size 4-4.5 fluorocarbon level lines fairly well

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