The Making Of A Tenkara Rod

I’ve always been a sucker for a really good rod. After fly fishing as a teenager and young adult with an Eagle Claw Trailmaster (which, by the way, was a pretty darned good way to begin), I started out with my old matched pair of venerable Fisher fly rods, one a 6’9” 3 WT, the other a 9’ 5 WT, the first “real” graphite western fly rods I ever had. For a number of years these were the best rods I could afford, and many trout were taken with them, both in easily accessed water, and many remote streams and high lakes across Colorado and the west. There were other fine western fly rods along the way, namely Winstons and Sages. Then, in 2009, along came tenkara. My western fly rods took a backseat, or some place even farther back toward the trunk than that, and in a way, I started over in a different personal fly rod evolution. I started looking for a really good tenkara rod.

I got started with tenkara with what was available at the time in the US. They were adequate rods, and as my tenkara knowledge expanded, I learned more and more about the high-quality tenkara rods coming from the big Japanese names in the tenkara industry…Nissin, Daiwa, and Shimano. I continued to hone my tenkara skills, and as those skills increased, so did my need for high-performing rods that could keep pace with my skill set and the type of water in the American west that I was fishing. I got my hands on those really good Japanese rods, somewhat stiffer rods, and they were just what I was looking for. They could do what needed to be done on the water I was fishing and the non-traditional techniques that I was using, which were distinctly different than a lot of the water and techniques in Japan that many mid-flex tenkara rods were designed for. Then I started to ask myself, what if a high-quality tenkara rod could come from the US, crafted to OUR design and specs? Could that even be possible? Do we even have the depth-of-knowledge, credentials, and infrastructure in the US to pull that off?

Enter Zen Tenkara. My association with Zen went back several years, when I spent some time showing Zen owner, Karin Miller, around the backcountry of the Cimarron River in Colorado’s San Juan mountain range where I was working as a professional tenkara guide. We caught fish, we laughed, we talked about tenkara for hours and days on end. In the ensuing years I forged a great relationship with the company, joining them a little over a year ago as a product designer. One of the first things I discussed with Zen was my dream of designing and producing the first-ever US-made tenkara rod. I greatly admired Zen for the innovative, open-minded direction they were going in, and I felt at home among other envelope-pushing like-minded folks. We started to look hard at what would become The Rod Project.

Around a year ago Zen announced our plan to build the first American tenkara rod. Our vision, based on my design, was a top-shelf, aesthetically pleasing, high-performance rod built from the finest materials and craftsmanship possible. What we learned was that this would require literally starting from scratch, even to the point of having mandrels machined because none existed outside of Asia (read more about that in a previous blog post). We also learned what a tedious, time-consuming, and expensive endeavor this would become. We had set the bar high for ourselves, and during the evolving process we’ve never compromised that. Although it’s taking a lot longer than we ever expected, we know in the end we’ll have a ground-breaking product that will live up to our expectations.

At the present time we’ve experimented with several different rod blank materials, with glass coming out on top, which would also be a first as far as I know. We’ve got the flex dialed in (it’ll be somewhere between a mid-flex and a tip-flex), and are presently working on the seating of the extended rod segments. Our components have been sourced, and are just waiting for final rod blank diameters to finish the build on complete prototype rods.

In all, this continues to be a labor of love for us at Zen. We’re taking the time to get it right, and investing our time, effort, and resources into something we really believe in. We’ll continue to provide updates as we pass the milestones ahead. Tight lines!


  1. Jean-Pierre DuClaire

    So, where is your current line up of rods made? China?

    • Hi Jean-Pierre and thank you for commenting. Our efforts to roll blanks in the US have been put on hold. While we did roll blanks and produce a number of prototypes, we weren’t happy with the results. The time, effort and money that it took to produce them was in way excess of the sales that would would result. Our manufacturer, not Zen basically walked away (with a lot more knowledge than when we started). So to answer your question, Zen rods are currently produced overseas to our specs and designs that are created in the US. We would have loved to complete our American Rod Project but maybe we were too far ahead of the market.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *