Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Rods Stories Tenkara

A Tribute to Cheap Tenkara Rods 

Article by Mike Lutes

Several years ago, early-ish in the run of Badger Tenkara, Matt Sment handed me a SeaQuest tenkara rod to test out. It was a 12 foot rod, 6:4 action. Chinese manufacture. Pretty standard stuff and not too dissimilar from many of the more affordable rods that were popping up on Amazon and eBay. I did like the cork grip better than some of the competitors, so extra credit for that.

I put a 1-weight PVC line on it, some cheap 6-pound test “tippet” and made it my all purpose/back up/loaner rod. That rod quickly became my go-to “small stream, smallmouth bass rod”.

A Tribute to Cheap Tenkara Rods - Mike Lutes - Tenkara Angler

Like all my rods, it was treated with neglect bordering on disdain. It held up to the abuse until last season when I loaned it out to a novice and it broke on a snag. I was a little heartbroken that the “cheap rod that could” had met the end of its days. Parts support for these inexpensive rods on Amazon or Ebay isn’t really a thing. That rod landed countless smallies, some measuring into the high teens. It put up with the developing technique of several novices without complaint. But I had other rods that would fill the role, so I did not feel the need to replace it at the time.

Fast forward to earlier this summer, my daughter and I were out fishing for smallies. We managed to both hook sizable fish at the same time in the same run. Those two brutes tangled up our lines and in the ensuing melee, the mid section of my Badger Tenkara Classic snapped in my daughter’s hands.

I don’t blame the rod. If you’ve ever taught your kids to fish, you hopefully understand that you have to limit the “coaching” so they have a good time and want to fish with you again. I’d never coached her on how to land a big fish on a tenkara rod, much less how to deal with  “Oh, $%&# there are two incandescently angry hawgs tangled up together”.  

As luck would have it, I had planned a weekend of smallmouth fishing with Matt and a couple other buddies in just a few days. I ordered a new Classic from TAO Tenkara, but also hedged my bets and ordered a new SeaQuest on Amazon to make sure I’d have a 12 foot rod for the trip. I guess I shouldn’t have worried, as Tom at TAO got the Classic out in no time, but I will admit I was happy to have a SeaQuest back in my life.

The new SeaQuest is essentially the same as my 2015-ish era rod with the unfortunate exception that the cork is not as nice. But I paid $57 for it. It arrived with an extra tip section and a couple of other sections, a line holder, a braided line and three flies. For $57!! I’m not really a braided line fan, so I set it up with 1-weight PVC fly line. I actually prefer 0-weight, but it’s more expensive and harder to find. Maybe one of these days, I’ll spring for 00-weight.

It occurred to me that one could order a SeaQuest 12 foot rod, some cheap 1-weight fly line off eBay or Amazon, some 6-pound test and maybe half a dozen beadhead woolly buggers and be out the door for less than $100. That would make a fantastic set up for targeting most warm water species that are practical to pursue on tenkara gear and you’d have a reasonable-if-not-fine-tuned trout set up. Maybe it’s my frugality showing, but that seems like too good of a deal to pass up. But then again, I guess I didn’t pass it up. 

I did fish the SeaQuest quite a bit on our smallmouth outing. Conditions were tough, but we managed to land fish. The real big ones were mostly sulking, but I caught a few smallies in the 12-14 inch range. The SeaQuest was just right for the fish we were getting into. The smaller 8-10 inch fish were still fun. The bigger fish presented a challenge but the rod was certainly not outgunned. The casting accuracy of the rod is quite good, on par with some much more expensive rods.

I suspect the new SeaQuest will become my go-to “small stream smallmouth” rod and once again be my loaner/back up rod. Maybe I’ll even switch out the handle section with my old rod…

Mike Lutes is an avid tenkara angler, the former co-owner of Badger Tenkara, full time emergency physician and hack guitarist.

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1 comment

  1. I bought one of these (12’) back in 2018 for $89 (without any of the spare parts they include now) as my very first Tenkara rod. I got lucky in the sense that I knew nothing about rods at the time, but it still holds its own against the half-a-dozen or so I have in my growing collection. I taught myself Tenkara with this rod, and admit, it’s still my go-to rod for the type of water I most enjoy catching trout in. If I was just starting out again, and had $200 to spend on a rod- at the current $57 price listed- I’d buy 4 of these (well 3.5, I guess) and never look back! I’d have plenty of spare parts and a couple loaner rods for friends!
    I figure, it’s not going to be as light as some of the more expensive premium brand rods might (and should) be, but it’s well balanced and in my opinion the 6:4 flex/action is pretty accurate compared to the other ‘cheap’ rods I’ve tried that claim to be 6:4, but are actually way stiffer.
    I do fling little sub-5 inchers with it, but I think it does great on 8-14” trout.
    I have yet to know how it would handle a 20” trout, though!
    My 2018 version has lasted this long without any problems, and since have bought a second 12’ and a 9’ option that both appear to be made with the same materials and the build quality as the one I bought 6years ago.
    Also- I’ve never used a Japanese made rod, so keep that in mind if you plan on comparing this rod to something like that.
    I am very curious to know how it might compare, but am worried it would forever elevate my future rod expectations and hurt my tender wallet if I allowed myself to try a good Japanese made rod!
    Oh- I should mention, at least with the 9’ rod length option offered now, it uses the same tip section as the 12’- which is kinda cool if you like bringing out multiple rods- you’ll be carrying a spare tip and shorter rod all in one!
    I guess I sound like I work for SeaQuest- which I don’t! I’ve just been a big fan of this rod for years and have never seen anyone else ever mention it. I think it’s a great rod kit for anyone interested in Tenkara and wants a decent rod without the typical risks of going cheap.

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