Rods Stories Tenkara

A Little Magic – Tanuki Pocket Ninja 240 Headwaters

Article by Eric Feinblatt

No one could mistake me for a great fisherman. I am not, and I know I’m not because I’ve fished alongside some great ones.

There was O-Lan of indeterminate age (I’d guess between 70 and 85), who fished the Imperial Beach Pier in San Diego, a stone’s throw from the Mexican border, every Thursday from 3 to 4:30 PM. She arrived, accompanied by her nephew/son/caretaker – I never knew which – porting a Cabela’s fold-up stool, a generic white 5-gallon bucket, about 30 yards of 12lb Stren monofilament wrapped around a Dr. Pepper can, a couple of size 6 hooks, various weights, a bait knife, some frozen squid and shrimp, and a jar of ‘juju’ juice that she sprinkled liberally on the bait before attaching it to her hook. She always staked out a spot facing south, ¾ of the way down the 1500-foot pier, and while everyone else was hoping to pull in some surf perch or corbina or spotfin croaker, O-Lan was the only one catching Halibut and White Seabass, which she did over and over and over again, week after week, to everyone’s astonishment and awe. “It’s the ‘juju’ juice”, replied her nephew/son/caretaker, to anyone who asked.

Prof (I never did get his real name) is a middle-age itinerant adjunct history professor scratching out a living at the various State University of New York schools in and around the NYC region. I met him at the Breezy Point Rock Jetty, terminus of the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens NY, where he stood out like a sore thumb. This place is a treacherous but spectacular autumn striped bass fishing spot, and while every other fisherman is ALWAYS decked out in green or yellow foul weather gear and heavy-duty metal cleats for safety, Prof ALWAYS sported a pair of beat-up KEDS, khakis, and a flimsy clear plastic poncho. He fished close-in, on both sides of the jetty, with an 8 foot Walmart special Ugly Stick set-up, and used only one lure in various colors – a 4-inch Rapala Saltwater X-Rap. He caught fish, all the time, when everyone else was coming up short. And even when the local diehards were catching fish, he consistently out-fished them 4:1. He even caught striped bass along the 30-minute shore walk to the jetty, where no one sees any action but bluefish.

Eventually, I learned his secret. Years ago, Prof invited me to go shad fishing with him along the Delaware River near Port Jervis, NY. We met at his home, and he brought me into the garage where his Thai wife – is this why he married her – had set up a makeshift Buddhist fishing shrine. All his lures were hanging on the wall behind the candle-lit shrine and, before he went fishing, he would take down the lures he was planning to use, place them in front of the shrine, and his wife would say a good-luck prayer. Needless to say, he caught shad, and I didn’t until he lent me one of his blessed lures.

A scene too strange for AI?

So, what do these two stories have to do with me and the Tanuki Pocket Ninja 240 Headwaters rod? Well, O-Lan and Prof used magic of sorts, which I don’t possess, so I reached out for what I thought would be the next best thing, and it’s kind of turning out that way.

I live a stone’s throw from the Catskill’s, in what’s considered a prime trout fishing region, but I eschew the Gold and Class One streams for the most part – the Delaware, the Willowemoc, and the Beaverkill, traditional and renown fly-fishing territory – preferring to drive an hour or so and hike into those dotted blue-line spots to fish for wild native brookies. Sometimes I catch them and sometimes I don’t. It’s careful and delicate fishing, and I was looking for a commensurately delicate rod. For the past year, my go-to rod has been the venerable, ‘gripless’, soft midflex, tip sensitive Daiwa Sagiri 39MC, but even at its shortest length, 340 centimeters, it’s often too long for the places I like to fish.

I bought a much beloved small zoom rod on a Kickstarter campaign that really fit the bill in terms of convenience and size, but it was simply too noodly for my taste, so I’ve been on the lookout for something different. Luong Tam of Tenkara Tanuki fame was teasing this rod during summer, and Lady Tenkara Bum (aka Amanda Hoffner) wrote a pre-release gear review of the Headwaters for this journal in September.

After some back-and-forth Facebook messages with Amanda to calm me down at the steep entry price, I took the plunge and bought the rod when Luong offered a very time-limited discount. I haven’t looked back. (As an aside, I am the only one to purchase the white Swimming Brown version. There were 15 initially available in this pattern and, as of this writing, there are 14. The 15 Trout Skin versions have sold out.) It was love at first sight and first handle.

Tanuki Pocket Ninja 240 Headwaters

I wasn’t even sure what to do with the rod since I had never felt something quite as light before. It actually was delicate – not breakable delicate like the even lighter HM 30R Kurenai – but delicate as in full of finesse. This was sure to be my magic! I rigged the Headwaters with 8 feet of 2.5 level line, 2.5 feet of 7X tippet and a Lady Tenkara Bum’s Black Sakasa Kebari and hiked down to a tiny creek about 10 minutes from where I live.

It was the beginning of October, and the temperatures were still abnormally high on the East Coast, so I didn’t need to think about beadhead nymphing. There’s only about 50 yards of accessible and fishable area in this portion of the creek – no one really fishes there – and, not having even practiced casting with the rod before I took it out, I lost 3 fish in quick succession because I was simply too giddy and couldn’t get the hang of setting the hook. But at least I didn’t get snagged in the overhanging trees and, though this was a first for me, I figured I better practice some more at home.

I switched to 6X tippet and a pheasant tail – 7X is just too fiddly for my worn-out eyes and graceless fingers – and walked up the road to a neighbors’ pond to practice casting. I started to get the hang of it, snapping the line back a bit faster than I’m used to, then following through at normal speed. But at the 5th or 6th cast, unexpectedly (because I wasn’t really fishing), a largemouth bass took the pheasant tail and I freaked. I was standing on a dock, didn’t have a net with me, and there was no way I was going to bring in this fat 14+ inch bass and risk breaking the rod, so I cut the tippet. Not nice, I know.

I went to the creek twice more, was getting pretty accurate casts but no fish. I like to tell myself that it was that transitional season when the fish were neither high nor low in the water and I just didn’t know how to fish them. But it didn’t matter to me. I just loved getting to know the Headwaters rod. Then I invited a ‘pro’ fly fishing acquaintance to accompany me to a stream I’ve always wanted to fish. Of course, his boots cost more than my rod, but what the heck. He struck out, and I caught a tiny 5-inch brookie on a size 14 killer bug that Chris ‘Kiwi’ Kuhlow tied for me (he used to tie for the TenkaraBum store), that felt like a not-so-tiny brookie which I guess is what this rod is all about.

As the water cooled, I switched to some small bead heads, but my casting took a hit. It just didn’t feel right. The snap back in the cast overpowered the rod, and my accuracy tumbled. I switched to bow and arrow casts, which worked fine, but these are casts of necessity for me, not pleasure. I was a little stumped and disappointed. Then I decided to abandon the 2.5 level line for 3.5, and everything began to fall back into place. I practiced on my lawn with the black sakasa and, frankly, casting was much easier and organic than with the lighter line. No more snapping back to get the line to load, just a smooth and tight back and forth action. (I’m sure this snapping had more to do with my novice abilities, and less to do with the attributes of the rod.) I practiced some more with a size 14 futsu beadhead and, though lacking the finesse and balance of the lighter kebari flies, I didn’t feel the need to revert to a bow-and-arrow cast.

The water temperature has dropped now, and I decided to hike down to the creek near home. Uncertain what to fish with, I went with Chris Stewart’s Overhand Worm with a wide-eyed hook and a split shot on the tippet, which I have never tied or tried before. It took only 2 casts to hook into this beautiful brown. This was way more fish than I expected, not the usual 8 or 9-inch brookie the Headwaters in meant for, but the rod didn’t miss a beat, and it never crossed my mind, while bringing the fish to net, that the rod and I couldn’t handle these size fish with confidence. Like I said, it’s magic. My kind of magic without juju juice or ceremonial benedictions.

I’m not sure what lies ahead for the winter months. I think I’ll stick to a 3.5 level line and use the lightest beadheads or split shots I can get away with. Come spring I’ll switch to 3 level line or maybe give the 2.5 a go again. The rod’s forte is certainly casting unweighted kebari, so warmer weather beckons. Nonetheless, this is the rod I’ll always take along with me. It’s such a joy to hold and behold. Is it the very ‘best’ rod for me? Well, that’s always going to be the one I want to fish with. And for now, it’s the Tanuki Pocket Ninja 240 Headwaters I’m turning to.

Tanuki has kindly provided a coupon code for all Tenkara Angler readers!
Save 5% off your purchase at their website using code TENKARAANGLER

Eric Feinblatt likes to fish. He picked up his first tenkara rod in 2019 after re-locating back to upstate New York from Perth, Australia and hasn’t looked back.

This article originally appeared in the 2022-23 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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  1. There are people we meet in life who become part of our own stories. Loved hearing about yours.

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