The Shimano Tenkara Rods introduced within the last few years are soft, full flex rods that are just a joy to fish with. There are two models that are at the top of Shimano's line up and are among the best tenkara rods designed for the Japanese domestic market.
The Shimano Keiryu (Mountain Stream) Tenkara 34-38 ZL is a variable length (zoom) rod that can be fished with the rod at either 3.4 or 3.8 meter lengths. Perhaps the most surprising aspect about the rod is that it is firmer at the shorter length than it is at the longer length.
That is unlike nearly all other variable length rods. Normally, the longer length is firmer because there is one more section, and it is the thicker, stiffer section near the grip. The way a variable length rod works is clever. When any tenkara rod is collapsed, all the smaller sections are nested within the larger sections, and all of them are nested inside the grip section.
When a variable length rod with two possible lengths, like the 34-38ZL, is extended, the first section above the grip can be extended, resulting in the longer of the two lengths or left within the grip section, resulting in the shorter of the two lengths. When it (the "zooming" section), is left inside the grip, it is held securely so it doesn't rattle when you cast the rod.
The more you think about it, though, the more the Shimano Keiru Tenkara 34-38 design makes sense. Japanese anglers prefer a slightly firmer rod for fishing smaller, tighter streams, where casting precision is at a premium. A slightly firmer rod can generate slightly higher line speed, which produces more accuracy. The silky smooth casting of a softer rod is more highly valued on larger streams, where pinpoint accuracy is not as critical.
The Shimano Keiryu Tenkara 34-38ZL is also designed for the way Japanese tenkara anglers fish and the fish they catch. The rod is very clearly a rod intended for fishing unweighted flies. It is almost magical when casting an unwieghted fly. With a bead head nymph, though, the magic is gone. You can do it, but it just doesn't feel the same.
It is also a rod for smaller fish. Although you can land larger fish with the rod, it is wonderful with the 8-10" fish that most Japanese tenkara anglers catch. With one twice that size, your heart will be in your throat.
The Shimano Honryu Tenkara 44 NP is a new honryu (main stream) tenkara rod. Despite its length and its classification as a main stream rod, this is a finesse rod, not a force rod.
At first wiggle the rod will seem too soft to handle trout of any size. However, Dr. Ishigaki has caught 18-20" trout with the prototype, and one of the first people here in the US to have one of the production models has caught bass to a couple pounds. He said the rod does bend easily, but you get to a point on the power curve where you are in control.
It is surprising how easily and quickly a long, soft rod can tire a large fish.
Both the Shimano Honryu Tenkara 44 NP and the Shimano's Keiryu Tenkara 34-38 ZL share the same basic grip design, which is a camel shaped (two humped) black EVA foam grip with just a couple inches of cork at the front of the grip. Both rods rods have the same classy, understated paint job. Other than their extended lengths there are two main differences: The 34-38ZL is a zoom rod and the 44 NP is not, and the 34-38ZL collapses to 28 3/4 inches while the 44 NP is a surprisingly long 40 3/8 inches.
If you are a backpacker, the long collapsed length of the Shimano Honryu Tenkara 44 NP could be a deal breaker. If you drive to where you fish - or at least close to where you fish, it needn't be. Most tenkara anglers were fly fishermen before taking up tenkara. Most fly rods when broken down are longer than that.
Although the long collapsed length is a possible disadvantage, the lighter weight and smoother bend profile that results from fewer, longer sections is a definite advantage. This rod is one of the smoothest rods you'll ever cast. It is probably the most full flex. You can't punch a cast with this rod, you'll overpower it. You have to let the rod do the work. It truly is a finesse rod.
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The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.