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How to Choose the Right Tenkara Rod

On July 9, 2012 • Comments (17)

Written by Daniel & Jason 

The number one question we are asked by new tenkara anglers is, “which rod should I get?”  It certainly can be confusing since tenkara rods come in different lengths and actions. We always like to tell people that they really can’t go wrong, any rod will work just fine. But, in order to assist you with understanding what our rods are designed for, we have put together the video below with Daniel walking trough the entire lineup of Tenkara USA rods. We have also put together the chart below the video, which we hope will help with the decision making process and some pointers about the key aspects of tenkara rods.

Since all Tenkara USA rods will work for most trout fishing and smaller fish scenarios it’s hard to pin each one down to a specific use or to match your exact preference. Further, we believe people will just grow into the rod they get anyways.

It was never our intent to make things more confusing, nor necessarily for people to buy multiple tenkara rods when we developed the 6 rods that are in our current lineup – as a small company things would be MUCH simpler if we only had to worry about managing inventory of one rod model. But, each of the rods in our lineup were developed to fill a specific niche or preference. However, there are certain applications where we believe each model shines and the following table attempts to simplify the rod selection process:

Tenkara Rod Chart - Choosing a tenkara rod

Three Easy Choices

If you wish we offered fewer options, you can easily narrow the choices down to 3 “all-arounder” rods: the 13ft-14ft7in Ito,  the 13ft Ayu, and the 12ft Iwana.

These rods are very easy for us to recommend, with the other rods in the lineup being considered more “specialty” tenkara rods.

The main difference between the Ito, Ayu and 12ft Iwana will be their length. So, if you fish wider streams and are looking for an excellent premium rod the Ito will be a great choice. If you’re fishing wider streams but don’t want to spend as much money on the rod, the 13ft Ayu is a great option. And, if you fish a mix of stream sizes, the 12ft Iwana is a great no-brainer.

If in doubt: just get the 12ft Iwana.

Bigger Fish – two more choices

We have developed two rods with more backbone if you’re always catching fish that are 17″ (43cm): the 12ft Yamame and the 13ft 6in Amago have more backbone and make landing the larger fish a bit easier. The main difference between the two is their length, with the Amago being a better rod for larger and more open streams, and the Yamame being the best tool for smaller streams.

Smaller Streams – one more choice (erhh, two actually)

The last choice in our lineup is if you’re fishing pretty small streams all the time. In that case we offer the 11ft version of the Iwana. You’ll have less reach, but if you’re fishing tighter streams that will be a good choice.

Actually, if you get the Iwana, you also have the option of purchasing a separate add-on handle to transform your rod into its shorter cousin. We only recommend you take advantage of this option after you have been fishing with tenkara for sometime and REALLY wish you had a shorter rod. In our experience it just takes a little getting used to the longer rods, but once you’re used to them they will likely work well.

Some further thoughts on what how we make our recommendations

Length, start here

The first question you should ask yourself is which length is right for the majority of fishing you plan to do.  Generally speaking, we always recommend using the longest rod you can get away with.  This will give you more reach, help you keep more line off of the water and give you more control over your fly (one of the main benefits of tenkara).

A 12ft (360cm) tenkara rod is a very standard length for tenkara. But, if you live near pretty small streams with low, overhanging branches, then a shorter tenkara rod (say 11ft / 330cm) might let you cast more easily under the canopy.

In either case, you should target your rod choice toward the waters you’ll fish the most. AND, keep in mind a longer rod will have the added versatility of giving you reach in more open sections of a stream, while having the ability to be “fished shorter” by holding the rod above the handle and potentially even collapsing one segment. Further, pairing a long rod with a short line is a very effective combination in smaller streams. Both Jason and I usually fish a 13ft tenkara rod (even on small streams) and you might be surprised how well it fishes in pretty tight quarters.

Action, this is more subjective

Action is primarily a personal preference.  Some people prefer stiffer rods, while others prefer softer actions.  There is no right or wrong here.

We tend to prefer softer rods (5:5 or soft 6:4) because they load easily, making for very effortless casting. Softer rods will also protect tippet well. Our rods will lean towards the softer end of the scale as we believe they are the best tool for tenkara. Two of our 6 rods are  stiffer. The stiffer rods will often have more backbone to put pressure on large fish and will be better at precise casting at short distances (though this can be made up for with technique and practice). The Yamame and the Amago, are both stiffer and also have a good deal of backbone and were designed with larger fish in mind.

Tenkara rods are relatively soft compared to western fly rods, and all our rods have soft tips to assist in casting very light lines.  So if you’re used to a fast-action western-style fly rod, you might prefer a slightly stiffer action tenkara rod like the Iwana 6:4, the Yamame 7:3 or the Amago 6:4.


Fish Size, last consideration

All tenkara rods are made for the average trout and other smaller species of fish: 8″ – 18″ (20 – 45cm).

All tenkara rods will handle the occasional 20+ incher (50cm +). So, if your targeted fish size is within those ranges, fish size should have little bearing on the rod choice: ANY ROD WILL WORK FINE.

If you’re constantly catching fish that are over 17 inches (43cm), then we have two tenkara rods that have more backbone (stiffer and with more mass): the Yamame and the Amago. We consider those more specialty rods and they sell very well in places like Montana and Idaho.


With each rod being so versatile, it would be hard to make the “wrong” choice. Hopefully, the chart and video above will help.  If you’re still struggling with which rod is right for you, feel free to post here, or email Jason at He will be happy to help you make the best decision on your first tenkara rod.

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Tenkara USA Rods – A Liquid Asset

On July 3, 2012 • Comments (3)

“A liquid asset has some or all of the following features. It can be sold rapidly, with minimal loss of value, any time within market hours.” Source: Wikipedia.

It is very rare to see used Tenkara USA rods for sale. Just take a look on Ebay for “tenkara” and you’ll notice a number of other tenkara items, but it’s rare to see one of ours being parted with. In the rare instances when a Tenkara USA rod is put up for sale, it goes in a flash and most often at a price not much lower than the original. In other words, Tenkara USA rods are a highly liquid asset.

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What’s a tenkara rod?

On June 10, 2012 • Comments (23)

Consider this a public service announcement. Since we introduced tenkara outside of Japan in 2009, a number of rods have appeared in the market, being offered as tenkara rods, and a number of people with passing knowledge of the method have jumped on the bandwagon to offer their “alternative” to tenkara. This has translated into every kind of telescopic rod being marketed as a “tenkara-style rod”, whether it is designed for tenkara or not.

This greatly concerns me. There is a reason there are rods specifically made for tenkara. There is a reason I design rods for tenkara and rely on feedback from tenkara teachers in Japan for making our rods the best possible tools for tenkara. And there is a reason you can visit any tackle shop in Japan, or open the pages of the larger Japanese fishing magazines, and find tenkara rods next to cheaper telecopic hera rods (for carp), telescopic keiryu rods (for stream bait-fishing, generally trout), and telescopic tanago rods (for “micro-fishing”); yet just like a fly-fisherman in the US wouldn’t use a spinning for for fly-fishing, no tenkara angler would use the other rods for tenkara. In sum, there are reasons the rods look different and are marketed for entirely different purposes.

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Tenkara Rod Racks

On November 14, 2011 • Comments (1)

A couple of weeks ago I was browsing an online forum and saw our good friend Troutrageous! posting a plan for a tenkara rod rack. He is a passionate angler and wanted to proudly display his tenkara rods. Though I hardly ever post on forums, I knew a good solution to this one!

Quite sometime ago I was trying to figure out a good method for selling our rods through fly shops. The solution to this problem alluded me for quite sometime since tenkara rods don’t display well next to western fly rods and their portability is a feature that I wanted to display that properly. While I worked on concepts for our Point-of-Sale display I would visit a lot of stores of different types to look for inspiration. In one of these outings, to a major sporting goods store, I noticed a pool cue rack in one of the aisles. The picture on the package automatically made me think of displaying tenkara rods in one, either for my own office or for the POS in our dealers. I bought one, brought it home, and in the same evening had another concept in mind. I got to work on that concept and never installed the pool cue rack.

That original inspiration came in handy when I saw Mike’s (Troutrageous!) post online. I suggested he look into pool cue racks, and next thing I knew he had one neatly installed at home! He bought one for $9.46 and with that created a neat tenkara corner in his house.

Tenkara rod rack

While we never quite expected so many of our customers to own multiple rods – though we should have known better – the tenkara rod rack concept has inspired a couple of other folks to do the same and create some very neat displays.

Jason Klass, of Tenkara Talk, followed suit creating a display for an impressive 10 tenkara rods! He installed in his a corner of his “man cave” and made a neat display also with the net, and rod cases and books below:

Tenkara rod rack display

Today I was happy to see yet another passionate tenkara angler doing the same. Karel Lansky of Tenkara On The Fly went over to WalMart and acquired his own tenkara rod rack. He, like Mike, adorned the display with one of Joel DeJong’s prints – a great addition to any corner dedicated to that spiritual thing we call fishing! Here’s Karel’s display:

Tenkara rod rack by

This is way cool!

Of course, maybe I should have just bought all the pool cue racks, renamed them tenkara rod racks and sold them along with the rods! Let us know when you do yours!

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Tenkara rod plugs

On August 8, 2011 • Comments (3)

A combination of post-trip lack of inspiration, moving to a new house/office and adopting a new high-energy dog have kept me completely away from writing on this blog. To the readers of this blog, my apologies for not having provided you with recent posts on tenkara. Many of you have written asking for more, and I probably responded I would when inspiration hit. Today I spoke to my grandfather and he told me he missed my posts; that was good motivation to see what I could write about. So, I decided to open my picture album of photos from Japan and see what I could find.

Alas, the first picture of the album is of Dr. Ishigaki showing his fishing rod with a custom built rod plug. This is a great picture for a few reasons. First, several people may lose their rod plug and need a replacement (btw, we do offer replacement parts here). Second, Dr. Ishigaki works closely with a major rod manufacturer in Japan on designing their rods. In such capacity he has access to all spare parts and about as many rods as he wishes. And, even though he’s not a craftsman, he chose the fun route of making his own wooden rod plug. He chose the fun route, and made a small wooden plug by quickly carving a small twig to fit the rod. On top of the plug he drilled a small hole, and attached a small wooden fish he had.

Dr. Ishigaki really enjoys starting conversations with others about tenkara. Thus he may use a beautifully carved wooden fly box, line holder and nipper holder and he likes using very exquisite tenkara nets. He knows those items are not necessary for fishing, and he doesn’t need to carry them. However, each and every one of these items provides an opportunity to start a conversation with a stranger, a student, or someone who may have shunned the concept of tenkara.

The wooden plug is one of the simplest things to make and add customization and personality to your tenkara gear. Next time you lose yours (hopefully you won’t, by dedicating a pocket specifically for it), see it as an opportunity to carve your own. You can make one in about 5 minutes, or spend an evening making it instead of tying flies. Besides being asked if you broke your rod next time you show up at a stream with your 20″ collapsed tenkara rod, people will sure be intrigued by that wooden plug at the end of your broken rod.

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Tenkara in Japan – live

On June 18, 2011 • Comments (3)

I thought I would not log on at all during the weekend, but found a few minutes of online time before heading to bed.

This morning I drove to Kaida-kogen, an area very popular among fishermen, for a tenkara class and fundraiser event with Dr. Ishigaki and Kurakami-san.

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Iwana 12ft, series I, back in stock Limited quantity

On April 12, 2011 • Comments (0)

After the incredible surge in demand over the last month we quickly sold out of one of our most popular rods, the Iwana 12ft. To meet the on-going demand we brought back some of our series I Iwana from the Canadian warehouse. These were just added to our inventory and will be available until sold out, probably within the next 2 weeks.

If you had been waiting for the 12ft Iwana, now’s the time to get it. This is the first iteration of the Iwana rod, which has a shorter handle (9 inches instead of the current model 12″ handle). It’s a very nice rod, and what created the following for the Iwana. The Series II, which has a longer handle, and better quality cork, is expected back in our inventory approximately the first week of May.

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Iwana handle upgrade. Now available

On March 15, 2011 • Comments (0)

If you purchased one of our Iwana rods prior to last year, you may now get the upgraded handle for your rod. The Iwana is an ultralight fly rod, for sure.

Based on feedback from anglers in Japan, we redesigned the handle of the first version of the Iwana rod, improving its length, contour and cork quality. Instead of buying  a new rod for $147.95, you may simply get the upgraded handle for your rod for only $36. One of the many advantages offered by the design of tenkara rods. The upgrade handle is available here.

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Tenkara rod, Iwana redesignFeedback from tenkara masters

On December 15, 2010 • Comments (0)

While Tenkara USA is a fully independent company with no commercial ties with a Japanese company, we are very fortunate to have established very strong relationships with tenkara masters in Japan. These relationships,  particularly with our masters Dr. Hisao Ishigaki, Yoshikazu Fujioka and Sakakibara Masami (aka Tenkarano-oni) can be seen in every single one of our products, and is something no other tenkara company can enjoy. That is our true competitive advantage.

Today I’m happy to release our redesigned Iwana tenkara rods. The Iwana is currently our best-selling rod, and redesigning something that is working that well is always a risk. However, this rod incorporates meticulous feedback acquired from tenkara anglers in our last visit to Japan. The feedback was honest and important enough to warrant the tweaks we made.  The main focus of this release was the new handle design. The handle is probably the most important design component of a tenkara rod. It provides comfort for a full day of constant casting and manipulating of the fly and balance to the rod. Our new design allows the angler to comfortably grip the rod in different positions, including the very end of the rod with a rounder finish.  This new release also features better quality cork, a longer handle (unanimously suggested by all tenkara anglers we met in Japan for improved balance), and a redesigned metal cap which will not come loose while fishing.

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Freeing stuck segments

On September 29, 2010 • Comments (6)

While Dr. Ishigaki was visiting he showed us a very cool method for freeing two segments that are stuck on a tenkara rod (or any telescopic rod). It’s very simple, and effective, particularly if you have pieces that are stuck very tight or one of the thinner segments is stuck. I still recommend the tapping method in the field or for most cases as that will normally take care of most cases. However, the rubber band should be used  if you have a hard time freeing the pieces:

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Tenkara bamboo rod

On June 15, 2010 • Comments (12)

There is something to be said about using a natural material as a tool.  Particularly if this is simply crafted. Particularly if the focus is not on manufacturing it, but on selecting the best, most natural and suitable material there is, and simply touching it up to make it a long-lasting tool. Such is the tenkara bamboo rod, as well as the original tenkara net (more on this later). Non-split, non-manufactured, very rare, just incredible.

Dr. Ichihashi, tenkara bamboo rod maker

I had briefly seen a tenkara bamboo rod when Ishigaki sensei visited the Catskills last year, and I had read about it, but had not, until now, had a chance to feel a real tenkara bamboo rod. Then, I got to feel each of a group of some 12 rods, “feel them and pick the one that fits you best”, said Dr. Ichihashi, 市橋 寛, a local pediatric doctor who has been crafting tenkara bamboo rods forseveral years. What? Pick one? How could I? These are just incredible. But, how can I possibly say no and mean it? I had to feel the rods, I found my match, or as the cliche goes, it found me. All I could say was “domo arigatou gozaimasu”, while bowing very deeply for such generous gift, and hoping a gift of a hat and shirt could express a little gratitude.

Gorgeous handles, made of natural bamboo, or wrapped.

These are not the usual cane-pole rod. Yes, they are cane, but their action, weight, balance, are all those of a fly rod. The tenkara bamboo rods are made with 3 or 4 pieces of bamboo. Each rod uses 3 different species of bamboo, selected to be used as the rod butt, the middle of the rod, or for the tip. Plus the handle, which is often made from bamboo rhizome (roots). The selection and matching process is long. Dr. Ichi Hashi goes on his “expeditions” to the hills of Gifu prefecture, not far from Gujo, and selects the best bamboo for his rod. He does this during the late fall/early winter, when the humidity level in the bamboo is at its lowest. Then, he’ll dry the bamboo for up to 2 years in the attic of his clinic. At that point he’ll match the bamboo pieces to be used for the different segments of the rod. He’ll then clean the inside of the rod, opening the nodes to allow the thinner pieces to slip in; he’ll wrap the ends of the segments to strengthen then and lacquer them. And, finally, apply his mastery to finishing each rod. It’s pretty incredible that his rods look like they are all made from one single bamboo, the nodes often look identical, and the taper is flawless.

Incredibly, the nodes of these rod were perfectly aligned. A hard feat.

A 4-piece rod. Pieces are alternated to fit inside a thicker one.

Dr. Ichi Hashi also enjoys fishing with his bamboo rods the most, and I can see why. They are generally slower rods, but like our tenkara rods they come in a variety of flavors, there are the very thin/light rods that are soft (5:5) and there are those that feel stiffer/faster (6:4 or 7:3) , there are some rods that are slightly heavier, but can also be slow (5:5) or faster (6:4 or 7:3). Regardless of their action or weight, one striking feature of bamboo tenkara rods is their recovery. This is also different from the good’ol’cane pole.  Since a tenkara bamboo rod is made for casting a line, the bamboo selected and used for them has great recovery. When you shake them (e.g. cast) the rod will flex as much as it’s made to flex, but it will recover and stop shaking promptly, thus it does not dampen the cast.

Dr. Ichi Hashi has extended me a serious invitation to come spend time with him learning how to make tenkara bamboo rods. There are not many people who make these nowadays. After feeling these rods, I believe there is a lot to be learned from them that can and should be applied to modern rods. Plus, how could I say no to that, when at 14 years old I was trying to learn how to select bamboo to make a cane-pole? Dr. Ichi Hashi, please expect me in Gujo again in the near future. And, domo arigatou gozaimasu.

To learn more about bamboo rods (is this a tenkara rod? and the point of divergence), click below.
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