Gear Review by Mike Lutes
I was concerned when Matt Sment handed me the new Tenkara Rod Co Yari and asked me to take it for a spin. I mean, when we ran Badger Tenkara together, the running joke was that my primary job was to see if I could break our rods. I’m hard on gear and consumer items in general. I have a bucket of broken prototype rods in my garage (I occasionally fashion Frankenstein rods from the parts). My last two vehicles, a ‘97 Toyota Land Cruiser and an ‘04 Lexus GX 470, legendary for their longevity and reliability, died premature deaths at my hands. I even broke the self checkout at Target once.
The Yari, with a Kickstarter entry price of $275, is not exactly in my preferred price range for tenkara rods, a range I would summarize as “expensive enough to be of good quality but not so expensive that I will be terribly upset if I break it”. Still, Matt entrusted me with the rod and set me loose.
By way of background, the Yari, unlike most American brand tenkara rods, is made in Japan. Its composition is also different from most at a reported 83% carbon fiber, 17% fiberglass (I have no reason to doubt those figures, just no way to prove it). It is a fairly standard 360cm in length. It weighs in at 2.4 ounces. For comparison’s sake, I looked at some Nissin tenkara rod options on the TenkaraBum site, and the differences in weight for same length rods are slight enough not to matter.
When I first looked at the rod, I was a little disappointed. It certainly looks cool, but the quality of the cork looks…cheap. The Kickstarter page touts “high quality cork”. I’ve been fortunate enough to fish with a number of high end Japanese rods and I’m comfortable saying the cork on the Yari I handled does not compare. One would hope they reconsider the cork they are using once production ramps up.
My impression of the rod improved once I took it fishing. My first outing with the Yari was at the tail end of the Tenkara Angler Tactical Nymphing School. I was not a part of the school, but camped in the area to reconnect with friends from the greater tenkara community. I fished the Yari at a couple of medium-sized to large-side-of-medium Driftless creeks. I was immediately impressed with the way the rod casts. Most rods I try out seem to have a bit of a learning curve where I need to dial in my casting stroke and technique to get on target with the rod. Not so with the Yari. It was like a frickin’ laser beam. Cast after cast, the fly was landing right on target with a precision I have seen with few other rods, rods that cost as much or more than the Yari. I did find the cork grip to be comparatively uncomfortable, but my casting did not seem to suffer.
Fighting fish on the Yari was definitely fun. If you are used to stiffer American brand rods with more backbone, you may have to adjust your fish fighting technique. I hooked into several “TBDs” (typical Driftless browns, wild reproducing brown trout that average right about 10 inches), and each one took me for a bit of a ride. I was never worried about the integrity of the rod nor my ability to eventually land the fish, I just found I had to play the fish more, maneuver a little more than I do with the typical “6:4, 360cm Chinese manufacture” tenkara rod.
I would also point out that subsurface strike detection is not optimal on the Yari. Most of my trout fishing is done on a “typical” American brand 360cm tenkara rod with about 12 feet of level line (usually #4) and 4-5 feet of 4x tippet. This is the system I have developed for myself over the last decade plus of fishing Wisconsin’s trout streams. Matt and I joke that our strike detection has become a sixth sense, but really it just comes down to experience with a particular system.
With the Yari, I found I was less certain about subsurface takes and subsequently missed fish. I believe this difference is likely due to the softer tip of the rod. To be fair, they are not marketing it as a nymphing rod, but if you prefer nymphing, this may not be the rod for you. If fish with traditional kebari, wet flies or drys, I don’t think this will be a concern.
I don’t wish to enter the debate of what is and what is not tenkara (again), but I think it is fair to say that many tenkara anglers in the US are not strictly using their tenkara rods to chase trout and char in high gradient streams. A lot of us use them to chase panfish, bass and probably some other ill-advised fish species. As such, I thought it only fair to use the Yari on my favorite smallmouth stream. This stream has a lot of smallmouth in the 9-12 inch range, but I’ve caught many in the 14-17 inch range, which is pretty exciting on most any tenkara rod. I kept the level line on with about 5 feet of 4x tippet and tied on a bead head woolly bugger. The Yari was clearly not as happy casting a larger, heavier fly, but I was still able to cast accurately in a controlled fashion.
I hooked a few average size smallies, and was able to land them, but it was a bit of a wild ride. Don’t get me wrong, I love the way an 8 inch smallmouth can bring an exciting fight to a tenkara rig, but this just felt less fun and more undergunned.
I guess, then, in summary the Yari is a sharp looking rod that casts with admirable precision and accuracy. It has an action that makes landing fairly typical size trout interesting and exciting but does not feel undergunned. I would not recommend it as an “Amerikara” rod. If you want to fling heavy nymphs at trout or chase bass on streamers, you’d be better off with a Chinese-made rod at half the price. And I hope they upgrade the cork.
Mike Lutes is an avid tenkara angler, the former co-owner of Badger Tenkara, full time emergency physician and hack guitarist.
For more on the Yari, including the concept, roots in Japan, and other interesting information, check out our April 2021 interview with Drew Hollenback of Tenkara Rod Co.
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