Industry News Tenkara

In Support of American Tenkara Rod Companies

Article by Brook Blahnik

I often read on the internet and hear in fly fishing conversations about the importance of supporting your local fly shop. About the inherent goodness of supporting, with your dollars, the businesses and people who lend you their expertise and provide you with local fishing knowledge. The thinking goes that these local businesses help to foster a healthy, vibrant community of people who enjoy the pursuit of fly fishing – through guiding, events, workshops, etc… As a bonus there are usually some cool stickers (okay that last bit is mine). 

American Tenkara Rod Companies - Tenkara Anger - Dragontail Tenkara
Image courtesy DRAGONtail Tenkara

Point being… I agree with these sentiments. I think there is truth to all of that and I do, in fact, support my local fly shops. While it’s not with every dollar I have, I do try and stop in from time to time, purchase at least a few flies and get the low down on what’s new, what’s different and what’s up with the streams in the area. This is a very easy thing to do. It makes me feel good and I usually learn something too. 

I want to extend this logic and make an argument in favor of American tenkara rod companies. While they may not be local to you, they are local in the sense that they are American businesses with their company operations in the US (even if their products are manufactured elsewhere). They too are part of fostering a healthy, vibrant community of people who enjoy tenkara or tenkara-esque style fishing in the US.

Additionally many of these companies are putting out educational and instructional videos and/or supporting YouTubers and bloggers who also help to create community. Sure, some of these same videos might help them sell products – but so what? That’s what I call a win-win. A rising tide floats all boats. 

American Tenkara Rod Companies - Tenkara Anger - Zen Tenkara
Image courtesy Zen Tenkara

I have absolutely nothing against rods from Japan (or anywhere else for that matter). I know that tenkara is attractive to people in part because of its origin and rich history. Japanese rods get a lot of attention partly as a natural extension of people’s curiosity with tenkara itself. I’m fine with that. And it’s certainly true that many Japanese rods happen to be excellent in both quality and craftsmanship.

However, if we want American rod companies to survive and thrive, if we want their help in continuing to grow and build a community of tenkara in the US, then it seems to me it would help to throw just a bit of business their way once in a while. I don’t consider this charity, some of these rods are pretty darn good and very likely deserve a spot in your rod bag.

Additionally, the fact you can get a rod or a replacement part when you need it and it ships domestically to your door is worth something too. If you break something it’s a $15 dollar 7 day problem versus a $200 dollar 7 week problem. American rods are practical to own when you happen to live in America. 

I’m not suggesting you only buy American rods, nor am I suggesting you should give up your dream of getting that Oni Type I someday – I’m just suggesting that you may want to include an American rod or two in your collection if you don’t already own one. You might be surprised by the quality and customer service, and hey, it’s easy and it will make you feel good too!

American Tenkara Rod Companies - Tenkara Anger - Red Brook Tenkara Tanuki
Image courtesy Red Brook Tenkara & Tenkara Tanuki

Brook Blahnik is an avid outdoor enthusiast. He spends as much time as he can boating, sailing, camping, hiking and fishing. He grew up salmon fishing on Lake Michigan but has a new found passion for small water tenkara fishing. He fishes what he can, where he can, when he can – mostly in the upper Driftless of Wisconsin.

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5 comments

  1. I completely agree with you Brook. I own four Tenkara rods and all are from American Companies. They all work well on streams here in NM. I watch many YouTube videos and almost all show them using Japanese rods.

  2. I’ve bought many American made Tenkara rods, but once able to compare them to higher end Japanese rods, I was mostly dissapointed. Like cars, it’s tricky to call something American – were do you draw the line? If the graphite, cork handle or the manufacturing location are outside of the U.S., is that an “American” company?

    In the last 5 years, I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in the quality and performance of a select group of “American” Tenkara rod companies, some of which I own, and a couple of which I’ve been eyeing some of their rods waiting for the right match. I thought twice about naming them, but decided they deserve credit for moving the quality of “American” rods forward.

    Based on 10+ years of experience owning and fishing many, receiving direct feedback through correspondence, or reading feedback from highly skilled Tenkara fisher people who are friends, I think the following “American” rods deserve credit for pushing domestic quality forward:

    I’d have to start the list with Chris Stewart’s TBum rods, which were some of the early attempts to increase the quality of domestic rods, Badger Tenkara which has evolved into TAO (Tenkara Adventures Outfitters) and Dragontail Tenkara. Although, all three of these probably fall short of the premium rod performance category, all in varying degrees, are, at a minimum, above average, and have price points that make their performance levels an even better value.

    IMO, the only two “American” companies that sell “American” rods that some would say fall in the premium performance window are some of Luong Tam’s Tenkara Tenuki rods and Jeff Lomino’s Riverside Rod Co. rods.

    When “American” rods perform well and set correspondingly appropriate price points, people buy them. These companies have been selling a lot of rods in recent years.

  3. Depends on the company, I think. As the previous comment points out, in most cases we’re really talking about an American LLC selling a Chinese product. I have one such rod that, even at a “budget friendly” price point, was still overpriced for what the rod actually is. (Heavy, stiff, and slightly bent with low quality blanks.) There’s something to be said for rods designed and manufactured by people who tend to care about the craft and know the intended application of the product. You’ll pay for that quality. That’s how the market works. My American/Chinese rod was clearly designed with no concept of casting a light level line. My experience was that I initially bought the American/Chinese rod, was quickly disappointed, and then bought a very nice Japanese rod which is vastly superior in every way and makes me much happier. So, overall, I spent more money then had I bought the better product to begin with. That said, there are nice American/Chinese rods, but you need to do your homework. Whatever the country of origin, I say save a few more dollars and buy the rod you actually want, because you’ll buy it eventually anyway. You can always sell it on ebay if things don’t work out.

  4. Great article!

    I would expect nothing less from an American publication.

    I personally do not subscribe to this view because I don’t even think about it. I enjoy that tenkara is Japanese and I like visiting and fishing with my friends there. The Japanese have a long and rich history of keiryu and that’s what I subscribe to. Their equipment is developed with decades of experience and is a delight to use. I’ve learned about tenkara from them and I am grateful of their friendship.

    I think it’s great that you guys are reporting on the American companies and promoting them. You guys are doing a good job and I wish you all the success that you can generate.

    My path in following my friends is now well defined and seasoned with all the things necessary for me to enjoy.

    Obviously there is room for both and more.

    I applaud (I don’t know who I’m applauding) the American company that is rolling rods on their own mandrel(s) engineered from their own experience. That’s American, doing at home, creating it out of your understanding of physics on your own home waters. Much like the American bamboo craftsman and our American fly rod manufacturers.

    That’s the direction that deserves your best attention.

    So thank you again for continuing in that direction.

  5. Agreed. The thing i greatly dislike about Tenkara USA is that their rods are Chinese. The quality is fine as are most Chinese products. But having worked in American design and manufacturing all my life, i just know of too many instances where the Chinese have stolen American technology. I try to buy American, and Tenkara USA doesn’t offer anything i can’t get elsewhere.

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