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JDM Spinning Rods

Spin fishing for trout in Japan is divided into "Area" fishing (stocked, managed trout ponds) and "wild" fishing (also called native or natural), which is fishing for wild trout in mountain streams. Some Areas are on streams, but the streams are a series of man-made pools constructed by building rock dams across the stream at intervals. Fishing the pools is essentially the same as fishing in a lake - there are no obstructions and minimal current.

There will be a gap between the sections.

For all the rods, though, there will be a gap between the sections. It is supposed to be like that. Please don't force it.

JDM Spinning Rods for Wild Trout

The rods used in Japan for fishing in streams are firmer and more tip flex than the Area rods. Even though the fish that are caught in Japanese streams are almost always much smaller than those caught in Areas, anglers have to deal with the current, which is often swift in the high-gradient mountain streams. Also, keeping fish out of snags is a concern in wild streams but not in managed trout ponds.

The lures also tend to be different. Many anglers use micro spoons in the Areas and "minnow" lures similar to the familiar Rapala or Pins Minnow in streams. Although spinners are extremely popular in the US, they are not popular in Japan. They do exist, but they aren't very popular.

I learned from talking to Japanese anglers that they feel catching trout with spinners is too easy. They impart action to their minnow lures, and learning what the fish want that day with respect to the strength and frequency for the rod tip twitches and jerks is seen as a challenge that makes trout fishing more interesting. I truly believe they would prefer to catch ten hard won trout than ten times that many if they came too easily.

Whatever lures you like to use, though, the JDM spinning rods for wild or native trout would be a better choice than the Area rods for stream fishing here in the US. Stream anglers here face the same challenges with current and snags as the Japanese anglers do, plus one significant challenge that most Japanese anglers do not face - the possibility for big fish!

The best stream spin fisherman I know of is Frank Nale, who lives in south-central PA. He regularly catches wild trout over 16" - which in Japan truly might be the catch of a lifetime. Granted he doesn't catch fish that size on every outing - or even every other outing, but nearly every outing at least offers the opportunity for a large fish. An Area rod can certainly tame a 16" fish in a lake with few obstructions, but in a river with current, not to mention rocks and logs, the firmer backbone of a native trout rod would be better - for hook sets as well as controlling and then netting the fish.

The nicest spinning rods for trout that I have ever seen are the Tenryu Rayz series of rods. The top of the line is the Spectra, which is what I call a "Wow" rod (everyone who picks it up says "wow" - seriously). In addition to the Tenryu Rayz Spectra RZS51LL, I currently stock several Tenryu Rayz spinning rods designed for wild trout.

The RZ53UL and RZ56L are more standard sizes for fishing wild trout streams in Japan - and will be just as much at home on small to medium sized streams here in the US. The RZ53UL is designed for light lures and light lines (1/32 - 3/16 oz lures and 1 - 4 lb lines), while the RZ56L is designed for heavier lures and lines (1/16 - 1/4 oz lures and 3 - 6 lb lines).

The Tenryu Rayz Integral rods, the RZI50UL-4 and RZI50L-4, are four-piece "travel" rods. I call them four-piece "convenient" rods! One of the things I have definitely gotten used to with my tenkara fishing over the past ten years is the extreme convenience of having a rod that collapses to about 20" or less. You can carry them very easily strapped to a backpack, and some collapse down to a length that will fit completely inside even a modest day pack. The Tenryu Rayz Integral rods break down to just over 16"! They will fit inside a backpack (and in your carry-on bag)!

For some reason that I do not understand, people seem to have a bias against multi-piece rods. Fifty years ago, when rods were glass and ferrules were metal, that feeling made sense. Now? Not so much. Technology has moved on and modern multi-piece rods are excellent. I guess my feeling on that also comes from fishing with tenkara rods, which often have 8 or 9 sections, and keiryu rods which may have 13 sections or more. They cast just fine. They fight fish just fine. It is the same with the Tenryu Rayz Integral 4-piece rods - they are wonderful rods that cast and fish just fine. And they are so much more convenient than even a 2-piece rod that if you try one you may never go back.

The Daiwa Wise Stream 45UL-3 and 53UL-3 are quite well suited for fishing small mountain streams. Their lure and line ratings fall right between the Tenryu UL and L rods.  They do very well with the minnow plugs commonly used in mountain streams in Japan, which are considerably heavier than the micro spoons often used in Areas. The heavier lures aid casting distance, but even more so, aid casting accuracy, allowing a softer, more controlled cast. Of course, the minnow plugs are also very effective!

Many of the JDM spinning rods designed for stream fishing are short, with 5' to 5'6" being common lengths. When fishing smaller streams, a shorter rod is easier to maneuver and easier to cast accurately. While there are a few Area spinning rods of that length, they tend to be limited to lure weights of less than 1/8 ounce. Thus, the Area rods don't give you what you will want for stream fishing - the backbone to give you solid hook sets and keep a fish away from logs and branches and the ability to fish heavier plugs.

The JDM trout rods definitely are not "all around" or "one-size-fits-all" rods. They are designed for a specific purpose - but for that purpose they are just wonderful tools.

Telescopic Spinning Rods

Most American fishermen have a pretty low regard for telescopic rods. I felt the same way until I first fished with a tenkara rod back in 2008. Tenkara rods are telescopic. The better ones produced for the Japanese domestic market are wonderful rods, with actions that are smoother and more sensitive than most high end fly rods. There is no reason to think that all telescopic rods are low quality just because the only ones that have been available in the US (until now) have been poorly constructed cheap rods. Let me assure you, the best JDM telescopic spinning rods are NOT poorly constructed rods! The Daiwa Wise Stream 50TUL is a nice rod that casts well and fights fish well.

In the years that I have been importing and selling tenkara rods and keiryu rods, I have gotten lots and lots of questions from backpackers. Some were planning very long trips on the John Muir trail or the Appalachian trail. They wanted to fish along the way, partially for fun but also as a welcome reprieve from freeze dried trail food. Some were just going out for a day or a weekend.

Some were fly fishermen and some were spin fishermen. They all wanted a convenient rod that didn't weigh a lot and was short enough that it didn't tower over their head when strapped to their pack, getting caught every time they had to duck under low branches. They wanted to have a rod that wouldn't get in the way when they were hiking.

Had a good quality telescopic spinning rod been available, I am sure some of the spin fishermen would have chosen it rather than switching to a tenkara rod - especially given the spinning rod's ability to make longer casts in the high mountain lakes.

Carrying the collapsed rod on the side of a pack works very nicely. You can slide the grip into a rod holder or water bottle holder and use the strap a little further up the side to hold the top part of the rod securely. My own backpack has rod holders along one side, and a telescopic spinning rod would be perfectly secure and ready to use in moments.

I had an email conversation with a guy who urged me to get in some telescopic rods. I told him I would be getting some 4-piece rods, and that they would break down to a nice short length. The guy said no. He was set on a telescopic rod because with it he could not only keep the reel attached but also keep the line through the guides and keep a lure attached. That way, all he'd have to do is open the bail and extend the rod. He'd be ready to make a few casts in seconds. If he got no fish at that spot, it would take only a few more seconds to collapse the rod and be on his way.

JDM Spinning Rods for Area Trout

"Areas" are pay-to-fish stocked trout ponds. There are a few of those in the US as well, but they aren't that popular. In Japan, where there are lots of anglers and not a lot of places to fish, they are quite popular and fishing pressure is intense.

Just as bass anglers' need for greater finesse gave rise to the Bait Finesse System, Area trout anglers' need for lighter lures and lighter lines has given rise to the XUL (extra ultra light) and even XXUL Area trout rods. They have a more progressive bend, in part for casting the light lures but even more for protecting the hair-thin lines. The rods and reels are rated for lines down to 1#  and lures down to .4 gram - less than 1/64th ounce.

Although pay-to-fish trout ponds are not popular here, there are thousands of lakes that hold trout, and the Area rods are perfectly suited for them. For that matter, there must be hundreds of thousands of ponds and lakes that hold sunfish and crappies, and the Area rods are perfectly suited for them, too! And if you happen to hook a bass? If you are fishing open water, the rod will do its job and tire the fish. I've caught lots of smallies in Maine on 2 lb line.  However, if you are fishing with a soft Area rod and very light line around heavy cover, all I can say is I wouldn't use expensive lures.

Just as the Tenryu Rayz Spectra is the nicest rod I've seen for stream fishing, the Tenryu Rayz Alter is the nicest spinning rod I've ever seen for fishing lakes. The "Area" rods, designed for fishing lakes, are softer rods than their stream counterparts. Because you don't have to fight the current as well as the fish, you don't need quite the backbone you do for a stream rod. The progressive bend and a reel with a good drag will subdue good sized fish faster than you would imagine.

The Area rods in general, and the Tenryu Rayz Alter in particular, are just wonderful rods for crappie fishing. They are soft enough that they won't rip lures out of the papermouths.

JDM micro spoon and rainbow trout

There is another reason for the difference in Native and Area rods. In Japan, the most popular lure for native trout is a sinking minnow lure. The most popular lure for fishing in areas is a micro spoon. A rod designed for twitching a heavy sinking minnow needs to be firmer, and have a firmer tip in particular than a rod designed for fishing a micro spoon with a steady retrieve.

I have seen a couple YouTube videos of a Japanese angler fishing a mountain stream with a rod designed for Areas, using a micro spoon and a Smith AR-S spinner, both of which also were designed for Areas.

Tenryu Rayz Alter, a gentle stream and a small brown trout.

I have tried it myself with a Tenryu Rayz Alter RZA61L-T. An Area rod is perfectly capable of fishing micro spoons and small spinners in mountain streams. If the fish aren't too large and the current not too fast, an Area rod is not only extremely effective it's a lot of fun.

Tenryu has introduced an area rod that is also capable of fishing minnow lures in streams, the RZA60MLM-T. It is rated for line up to 6 lb and lures up to 7g (about 1/4 oz). I think I would use one of Tenryu's wild trout rods for high-gradient mountain streams, but there are a lot of streams in the US for which the RZA60MLM-T would be just ideal. If you are looking for one rod to fish both lakes and streams, this would be one to consider.

If you are fishing a lake for smallmouth bass over rocks rather than largemouth bass in weeds and timber, an Area trout rod will work - and better than you would expect if you just read comments on bass fishing forums about trout rods!

Shimano Cardiff Exlead AT S57SUL/R-GS

The Shimano Cardiff Exlead AT S57SUL/R-GS is a very nice rod without being fancy. The rod is rated for lures from .4 to 3.5 grams (1/70 to 1/8 oz) and line of 1 to 3# test.  The rod is 68.8% glass. It is soft and flexible, and is an excellent rod for trout and panfish.

For someone who is interested in the quality and styling of the JDM spinning rods (but at a modest price) the Daiwa Iprimi may be just the answer.

The Iprimi rods feature stainless steel SiC K guides and Daiwa's "Braiding X" which is essentially a pair of carbon ribbons wound around the blank in a X pattern. The Braiding X reduces rod twist, stabilizing the rod and increasing power.

The Daiwa Iprimi 60XUL-4 is an extra-ultralight 4-piece rod. With a breakdown length of under 20", the rod is easy to pack. I was surprised to learn how many people are into cycling and fishing. This rod would be an ideal rod for backpacking or "bike packing" or for travel. With the extra ultra light action, you can fish anywhere and have fun even if the fish aren't trophy size.

As soon as I took the rod out of the box, put an Iprimi 1003 reel (since discontinued) on it and gave it a wiggle, I had to break into a smile. This is going to be an absolutely wonderful rod for stocker trout (9-12") and panfish. It is sensitive enough to feel subtle bites and soft enough that even a modest fish can put a bend in the rod. If you don't have to battle heavy current or keep fish out of nearby snags, you can land fish quite a bit larger than that.

Looking at the pictures on Daiwa's website, I was a little concerned about the bright orange accents, but in person it just looks like a really sharp rod. I haven't been able to fish with an Iprimi much yet,  but I already think the Iprimi is going to be a winner. JDM spinning rods for $150? Oh, yeah!

And as for the orange? I'll put the Sunline Area Meister line on it! Go orange.

It seems many American anglers have a bias against 3 and 4-piece rods. I can't comment on how the average American travel rod compares to the average 2-piece rod. For a JDM rod, though, I think the bias is misplaced. For a 3-piece rod, which has just one extra joint, or a 4-piece rod, which has two extra joints, you still have an extremely sensitive rod that will cast well and transmit every head shake. I truly don't think having more pieces is a major disadvantage.

Additionally, there is at least one significant advantage. No one wants to think about having to replace a broken rod section, and most anglers will never break their rod, but it does happen. Screen doors are a fact of life. A broken rod is not lost, though. Each section is replaceable, and replacing a section on a 4-piece rod is substantially less expensive than replacing a section on a 2-piece rod.

Not long ago I fished in Bennett Spring State Park in Missouri, which is similar to the Japanese "areas" in that it is a carefully managed, heavily stocked park. Right at the spring is a huge pool, where quite a few trout could be seen swimming around. That section of the park is fly fishing only, but their regulations only specify that a fly must be used, not a fly rod, fly reel and fly line. I sat on a bench at the pool and tied a simple fly on one of the C'ultiva JH-85 .7g jig heads and found that the fish liked it a lot better than the much smaller flies I had been fishing with a tenkara rod.

I can see why the very soft "area" rods are popular in Japan. The Iprimi 60XUL-4 was a lot of fun and more than sufficient for the size of the trout in the pool. The 4-piece rod fit in my suitcase, which is something no 2-piece rod could do. Convenience counts!

I have been a bit surprised at how micro fishing has taken off in the US (pleasantly surprised, because I sell micro fishing hooks for bait fishing). Most people who are getting into micro fishing use spinning rods rather than dedicated micro fishing rods like the tanago rods used in Japan.

Even ultra light spinning rods are overkill for really small fish. The lightest, softest, most sensitive spinning rod I've found is the Daiwa Iprimi 56XXUL-S (extra extra ultralight - solid tip), which is rated for lures as light as 4/10 of a gram (about 1/70 ounce)! Small fish are in almost every body of water. You don't have to book a trip to Patagonia to find them. With the right gear (a very light, sensitive rod) even the small sunnies in the town park are a lot of fun!

Ajing and Mebaru Rods

Ajing and Mebaru rods are covered in much greater detail on the Ajing and Mebaru Rods page, but as a brief introduction, they are designed for ultralight salt water fishing. Although most anglers in the US wouldn't think that "ultralight" and "salt water" even belong in the same sentence, it is quite popular in Japan.

Aji are what we would call horse mackerel, and Mebaru are fairly modest sized sea bass. The fish are different, so the rods are different.

Aji are open water fish and are constantly swimming. If a school happens to come up on your lure from behind, it is very likely that one will take it and keep swimming towards you. That is a very hard bite to detect, so ajing rods are extremely sensitive. They are relatively stiff rods (to be sensitive) with soft tips (to protect a very light line).

Ajing rods are quite popular in the US, but not for mackerel fishing! They are used primarily for bream,  fishing with light jigs and small plastics. The same ajing jig heads and plastics used in Japan for aji work very nicely here for sunfish of any variety.

Mebaru live around the rocks on the bottom. The rods used to catch them are softer and more mid flex than the ajing rods. Mebaru are not large, and the lines used to catch them are light. People here in the US use mebaru rods primarily for crappie fishing. The softer rod is a better choice for crappie as it is less likely to rip the hook out of the crappie's tender mouth.

The Tenryu Lunakia LK6102S-MLT was designed to work well for both aji and mebaru. It is a bit softer and not quite as fast as an ajing rod, and just a bit stiffer and faster than a mebaru rod. If you want one rod for crappies and bream (and smallmouth, and white bass and, ... and ...) it would be a good choice. The shorter Lunakia rods (the LK632S-LMLS and LK582S-LS are ajing rods (but they're still a lot of fun with sunfish).

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The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.