I was recently asked to make a rod suggestion for beginner tenkara anglers. In fact, this question often comes up at fly fishing shows, expos, during presentations and through the Zen Tenkara Contact Us form. I always pause and hesitate to response because to properly answer this question, I feel compelled to ask several other questions that will guide my response: The things I pondered are:
- Does the person have any fishing experience, fly fishing…spin fishing or otherwise?
- Where will this person be using the tenkara rod?
- What species will this person be targeting?
- Will this person be using it for fresh or saltwater?
- How big is the water they will typically be fishing in?
- What kind of cast will be required based on the water they’ll be fishing?
- And if they are experienced in fly fishing, what do they really enjoy doing…nymphing…dry fly action, etc.?
While this may seem like a long list of questions, it’s a relatively short interview that can be accomplished with a quick conversation. At Zen, we do things a little differently and view tenkara a little differently than most other companies. Our view or interpretation of tenkara is much broader than many and we have set ourselves apart by being the first company to intentionally design tenkara rods for big fish species including saltwater applications, nymphing tenkara rods, and even a tenkara spey rod. We have traditional offerings that are precise, delicate and pure, that flatter small waters and streams with exquisite presentations. However, we also design and offer our customers high performance rods that possess unrivaled backbone and strength, uniquely combined with accuracy, grace, and elegance. So, whether you’re targeting 6” brook trout or 6lb bonefish, we have a rod that delivers a sensational experience with unprecedented performance.
Going back to the original question, most novice anglers don’t begin their fishing careers with king salmon, steelhead, carp or bonefish. They usually start out on a pond or small stream hoping to land one of many abundant crappies or a small, hungry trout. Making this assumption, based on species rather than skill level, I would recommend the Zen Suzume or the Zen Zako as great options for these traditional small specie scenarios.
The Zen Suzume is an elegant tri-zoom rod that is simultaneously the smallest and longest tri-zoom tenkara rod available. It fishes at 7’7”, 9’3” and 10’8” allowing the angler to squeeze into tight places to comfortably monopolize pool and pocket water, while also commanding a long reach for those bigger, open places on the water with accuracy and ease. The Zen Suzume is ultra-light, ultra-precise and offers the epitome of traditional tenkara fishing. It is complimented by a variety of line options from Zen’s Traditional Furled and Tapered Uni Lines, Zen Floating Lines or a fluorocarbon tenkara level line. For those who desire the small water, traditional tenkara experience, The Zen Suzume is the ultimate in elegance and delicacy while not sacrificing strength.
The Zen Zako is a single length 12’ tenkara rod that offers the angler the broadest application of fishing scenarios while maintaining a traditional experience and ultimate, pure tactile experience. Initially, the Zen Zako was designed as our “small fish” rod. However, over time, and as it’s been put to the test by anglers around the world, The Zen Zako has proven to be an extraordinarily strong and durable rod capable of handling what other tenkara companies refer to as “big fish” but we at Zen, refer to as “decent fish”. The Zako can cast a broad range of lines from delicate fluorocarbon tenkara level lines, Traditional Furled and Tapered Lines, Zen Floating Lines and the soon to be available Zen Fusion Lines. Zako can even cast PVC fly line beautifully when weight matched correctly. This means that regardless of the angler’s fishing experience, the Zako can accommodate and allow the angler to feel comfortable, confident and be successful regardless of how they opt to use their tenkara rod.
The Zen Zako is also available in a “starter kit” known as Zen’s Grab-n-Go. It comes complete with Zako rod, rod sock, carbon fiber hard travel rod tube, a Zen Traditional Furled and Taper, Hi-Vis, Uni Thread Line, 1 dozen Sakasa Kebari Flies in a hard plastic, sealable container and an EVA Foam Spool for easy line storage and management. In fact, for your convenience we even attach tippet and the fly to the line, so you are ready to grab it and go fish immediately. Beauty, delicacy, precision and durability make the Zako an all-around fantastic option and one that will perform for years to come.
There are a few additional considerations: Depending on your overall fishing experience, lines can make a huge impact on your tenkara experience. The beginner should familiarize themselves with the options available which include Traditional Furled and Tapered Lines, Furled and Tapered Kevlar Lines, tenkara level line (colored fluorocarbon available in different diameters), Floating Lines, Fusion Lines, and regular PVC fly fishing line. All these lines impact the rod differently, require a slightly different cast and deliver different feedback to the angler. A “beginner” may find that a line that is more dense and somewhat heavier (Traditional Furled and Tapered, Kevlar, Fusion Lines and PVC Fly line), easier to cast, provide more feedback and allows the angler to feel the cast timing better. But again, their preference for this may differ depending on whether they are new to fishing or just new to tenkara and what their casting experience consists of.
Hi-Vis Lines or those with built-in sight indicators offer brighter colors and help the new angler with little or no fishing experience to spot the line on the water. While this seems easy to someone with lots of experience, often distinguishing a drab colored line from the multi-color environmental background of a river, can be in and of itself, a difficult task for a new angler. Also, lines with built-in tippet rings also help new anglers with ease of setup and help make threading almost invisible tippet easier, while protecting your tenkara line from an accidental snip when breaking your setup down or retying on tippet and leaders.
Finally, on the subject of lines, what type of experience are you looking for? A traditional tenkara experience or a simple fly fishing/fixed line experience can both be had using the same tenkara rod. It changes with the line and setup used and the way you fish it. If the intension is to have a traditional tenkara experience, then a Traditional Furled and Tapered Line is a fantastic teaching tool. It is meant to be kept off the water and if not, will absorb and retain water quickly resulting in a splash when it is cast. While this is undesirable, it is a great cue to newbies to keep their tenkara rod tips up and their lines off the water surface helping them achieve a drag-free drift of their fly. A furled and tapered line in a hi-vis color then, is a good teaching tool.
If the angler is looking for a simplified fly fishing experience, then pairing their rod with a Zen Floating Line, Zen Fusion Line or PVC fly fishing line that will properly load the rod offers fantastic feedback and a paired down, easy option for learning cast timing and technique, as well as hook set experience and fish management skills. Choices, choices. As I said earlier, Zen is different.
With 6 different rods in our line up and a range of line options for pairing, the original question can be answered in a variety of ways depending on the experience of the individual and the individual experience the angler is looking for. And there’s the key difference, at Zen we have designed rods that are unique and varied for a broad range of tenkara fishing experiences. We support your personal preferences and individual fishing goals. Looking for the sublime traditional backcountry small stream rod, we have it. Want a go-to tenkara rod for fishing varied waters, we have you covered. Ready to try surfcasting or some saltwater tenkara, we’ll walk you through every step and set you up in a rod that’ll perform and deliver. Tell us what you want to do, how you like to fish, and we’ll guide you into the right rod and line options to ensure both your success and even more importantly, your fun. Finding balance on the water and defining American Tenkara, that’s Zen and we’re here to support your fishing.