Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Rods Tenkara

DRAGONtail HELLbender Tenkara Rod Review

This review is not for a newly released or anticipated tenkara rod. Rather, it’s one that’s been around a while and has earned a fan base the world over. What rod am I referring to? The DRAGONtail Tenkara HELLbender! This rod has become a fan favorite over the past many years, and I just thought it’s time for my take on this beloved rod.


Released in 2015, the HELLbender is a tenkara rod designed to handle large fish and cast large flies, yet still have enough flexibility to cast unweighted kebari well and have a fun fight with smaller fish. It is a zoom rod with two fishable lengths, 340 and 390 cm (11’ and 12’ 9”). Its overall coloration is black, but there are olive green accent bands on all but the top two segments. The finish is a non-reflective matte.

The handle is good quality cork, with a double hump or hyotan gourd shape. It is 30.5 cm (12”) in length, and the diameter is comfortable in the hand.

The rod comes with a tip plug and a universal rod cap. The butt cap is black nylon plastic and has knurling to aid in removal, as well as a coin slot. There is no decompression hole.

The lilian is red, and is attached to the tip section with a micro-swivel. The tip section can be removed through the second section for complete rod disassembly. This allows for complete cleaning and drying of all sections of the rod.

My Measurements:

Nested Length60.5 cm / 23.8 inches
Extended Lengths342 cm / 11′ 3″
388 cm / 12′ 9″
Weight (without cap)94.3 g / 3.3 oz
CCS29.5 pennies
32 pennies
RFI8.6 / 7:3 Fast Tip Flex
8.2 / 7:3 Fast Tip Flex
Rotational Moment7.8 (at 390 cm)
Tippet Rating3X


Casting the HELLbender requires a moderately quick casting stroke, but it doesn’t require much effort. Even though the HELLbender is classified as a large fish tenkara rod, having an overall weight under 100 grams makes it have less startup inertia than many other large fish tenkara rods. Also, since its length is 390 cm, it has less air resistance than others which are longer. Both of these factors make casting the HELLbender easier than many other large fish rods.

I typically use a #3.5 fluorocarbon level line with the HELLbender, but a #4 works well too. Many other fans of the HELLbender opt for heavier furled or even PVC lines, particularly if large, air resistant flies are being used.

I really like the HELLbender as a tight-line or contact nymphing rod. It has good reach for covering water, and because of its tip flex action, its hook sets are fast and decisive. It also fights fish well, allowing you to land larger fish in a shorter time than you’d think.  It does have a moderately high rotational moment, so at 390 cm it can feel a little tip heavy. But this is generally true of all rods designed to handle large fish. It’s just the way they are built.

DRAGONtail HELLbender Tenkara Rod Review - Tenkara Angler - Tom Davis

I’ve caught everything from 6 inch trout to 12-15 pound carp with the HELLbender. Many other anglers prefer it for warm water species, such as bass or even pike. Basically, it’s a fantastic all-around rod.

12-15 lb carp, fought in moving water using the HELLbender. Video link.


The DRAGONtail Tenkara HELLbender is an established tenkara rod with a well deserved following. It’s a robust rod able to handle large fish, and yet it’s equally fun with small panfish or trout. It will cast a heavy PVC line nicely, and yet still cast a light level line without much issue. The other nice feature is that the HELLbender can usually be purchased for less than $150 USD! It’s a great rod, for a great price. It deserves a place in everyone’s rod collection!

Share your Experience: Have you fished the HELLbender? What’s your favorite way to use it – targeting trout or bass, with hopper/dropper or streamers, on rivers or lakes? What’s the largest fish you’ve landed with the DRAGONtail HELLbender tenkara rod?

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1 comment

  1. Around Idaho Rivers, I end up using this rod quite a bit fishing some very untraditional tenkara flies for large trout. Although it is not exactly true “tenkara fishing” per se but the same fly manipulations and line control I use in the mountain streams are still effective with streamers, leaches, and nymph flies on the river.

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