Japanese rods vs the American brands

Hi, I’m Randy and I’m new here. I’d like to hear from people with experience owning or fishing the Japanese Tenkara rods vs the American brands like Dragontail or Tenkara USA; am I missing out by not owning these Japanese rods.

As background, I’ve been Tenkara fishing for a month or so, but I’ve been fly fishing for well over 30 years. I’ve never been one to buy high end rods and reels, I’ve always opted for more reasonable gear that won’t make me die inside when I break it. For the last 3 years I’ve shunned my far more expensive carbon fly rods for the complete collection of $70 Cabela’s CGR fiberglass rods. I still catch plenty of fish, and nobody has more fun on the water than me.

Back around to the topic, what am I missing by fishing a Dragontail Shadowfire rod as opposed to one of the Japanese rods? I’ve caught far north of three hundred fish with my Shadowfire, probably north of four hundred. Largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, two catfish and a really confused carp. No problems at all. I’m hitting my spots pretty much every time using furled leaders that I make in my garage. I’m not missing hook sets. At all. Ever. I have only let a few fish get away once hooked, I catch them, and I land them.

If you’ve used both Japanese and USA brands of Chinese rods, what am I missing? I’m about to buy the Dragontail Mizuchi as my next rod, is there a Japanese rod that mostly hits those same zoom points that would be a better buy? And I don’t mean better from a money standpoint. I’m not a gawdzillionaire, but I buy less expensive because I choose to, not because I must.

Hey Randy,
You are not missing anything. Fishing, is the most important part of tenkara, not what rod or brand you fish with on the water. Yes, I will admit many of the Japanese rods are light and amazingly designed but the American rods are great as well. I might be way wrong on this assumption but I feel the American tenkara rods can take a little more abuse/punishment than the Japanese rods. However, this is not a statement set in stone. I generally use the Japanese rods for my small mountain stream trout fishing because they seem specifically tuned in to that type of fishing but several of my American made rods also do an amazing job on those same streams.
The main thing is enjoy your fishing and don’t worry about the brand. Work on the skills and techniques of tenkara will be time well spent. I’m glad you joined the forum, I’ve learned so much from the members. Take care.

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There are no Japanese rods with the same three lengths as the Mizuchi, so if that is what you want buy it and don’t worry about whether a Japanese rod would be better.

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It sounds like you’re having fun fishing the rods you have and the mizuchi is a great rod. The other plus to the dragontail is they are much cheaper to get parts.

I’d say on the Japanese rods there are differences in casting and such, but you probably have to get pretty nerdy on Tenkara to notice. I can certainly tell a difference between my Mizuchi and an Oni Type III. Both rods work great and catch fish. I do prefer one rod over another, mostly it comes down to the style of fishing I want to do and also the conditions and water type.

Sometimes fishing Kebari in Oni style works really well and catches lots of fish, sometimes it doesn’t. If I’m in the mood to do more tactical nymphing I’ll take a Tenkara Bum rod. For more Oni style I’ll use an Oni rod like the Honryu or Oni Type 1-3. I find a lot of times I really like keeping it minimal and will just put a Nissin Tenkara Mini in my pocket with just some flies, tippet, line and some clamps.

I suppose it’s similar to fly rods, I can fly fish with my cortland rod, but I really love how my sage rods cast. They both get the job done, but there is something a bit more fun and magical about those Japanese made rods that’s hard to explain.

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The answer to your question is…
It depends.
It depends on what type of waters you fish, what species of fish you’re targeting, what type of fixed line fishing you’ll be doing.
You’ll want a rod designed for your own specific situations. In my case, fishing for trout in fast high gradient streams usually using a single unweighted fly fished wet, casting frequently to small targets and using very short drifts, a Japanese designed and manufactured rod fits the bill. And in that my mixture of Nissin and Suntech rods perform better than anything else I’ve ever casted. Because that’s what they were designed for. I can’t say how they would perform outside of my parameters, because that’s not my situation.
I can say the quality of the materials and manufacturing skills are absolutely superb, but that aesthetic comes with a very real price tag, and it is an aesthetic, not necessarily an imperative.
Your mileage may vary.
Ten colors of tenkara.
Find your own measure.
All are different ways to say the same thing…

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I really agree with all the comments. Very practical advise.

I am not as well versed in rod selection or testing as most. If you ever are looking for specific utility in a rod be sure to reach out to @CM_Stewart or @tvdavisid … their advise and insight has never failed me. Their websites are basically the foundation of this community.

I think @Kookagee touches on how US designed rods tend to be designed for bigger fish. They may be less delicate and less precise than a quality japanese rod designed to target 10 inch fish in a headwater stream. I have heard the comment that a 16" native trout in japan is considered a trophy specimen.

I have a number of Japanese rods, but i mostly fish my tusa rods. Rhodo and Sato. I reach for them because they can take an incredible amount of abuse, cast fairly well, and are just great fish fighting tools. The casting percision is definitely not as refined or as crisp as some of my japanese rods. Just the same they have caught me thousands of fish and i had fun doing it.

If you mainly target the species you listed, you should definitely seek out the advise of other anglers who fish the way you do. Advise on equipment is linked to a lot of specific details on how an angler fishes. Can you share more info with us. Target species, type of water, types of flies, line length, and techniques you enjoy? If your water is windy it can also affect rod choice.

I like having a range of tools to enjoy. Some are work horses and some are thoroughbred racers.
Each have equal utility for their purpose.

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Randy welcome!

This question to me is one you have likely debated with fly rods as a fly angler for many years.

It sounds like you enjoy the full flex of the Cabela glass? Well, is an Epic or Douglas glass rod “better” than that one? This will be personal opinion of course…most who cast both rods will agree that the Epic or Douglas is indeed better…but what does that matter if you are having fun with your Cabelas and catching fish? It in many cases comes down more to “want” vs “need”.

I might be wrong, but most of the Japanese rods designed for “tenkara” are not simply fixed line rods…they are designed for the definition of tenkara which includes specifically mountain streams and trout or char…so not your target species as you listed. Of course you can use them for whatever you want…but just know they are not designed for that purpose. Likewise I don’t understand the Mizuchi to be designed for your target species and places either…again it is up to you how you want to use it. There are carp rods for fixed line fishing that are Japanese in design which perhaps you want to look into?

The price issue on Japanese rods is true…they cost more. There is though often used rods that come up for sale here on this forum so that is often a good option to try them.

Personally I like the slower more relaxed action of glass in a fly rod and likewise I too enjoy the more mid flex relaxed action of some Japanese rods. On the lower price point of the spectrum, but truly a great line of rods…I highly recommend the Nissin Royal Stage Tenkara rods. They come in 6:4 or 7:3. Even the 7:3 are softer than a similarly marketed US rod called 7:3…link to some info. Not $70 to $100 but when compared to a fly rod where you have to have a reel…the sub $200 is a great deal for a rod with a lot of years of design knowledge and experience.

As for taking a beating? I am not exactly sure where that “myth” comes from. I think because the Japanese rods cost more and replacement parts cost more people are more “nervous” to push them. I keep all my rods in my car trunk…all seasons. I have been fortunate enough to hook decent sized fish or fish in heavy current with all of them and put all of the rods into very deep bends that might look scary but they have never been damaged. All my rod breaks, on Japanese rods, have been from user error…stupid things I did to break tips or falls I have had.

Well I hope this and the other comments help a little. Keep having fun!

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@Gressak, I absolutely agree on those two gentlemen knowing their stuff. I consider them American Tenkara Masters. Both of them are very generous with helping and answering questions. Maybe one day, if I’m lucky, I will gain a third of their tenkara knowledge.

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Not sure if this relates to my notes, but if it does, I can assure you that it is not a myth with the rods I own. It really goes beyond hooking large fish or transporting the rod in a trunk. I tend to push my equipment a bit and am quite aggressive at pulling snags and beating the blank on rocks and trees. Defintely not nervous in pushing the limits of a rod. The few times I broke rods was because they just could not even handle my gentle treatment, yet those TUSA rods just keep on stepping up to more and more abuse. Hahahaha. You can ask Peder on how I treat my rods. I hear of guys breaking rods all the time and often the blame is on them…the end user. Yes, these are relatively delicate rods and some more than others.

Most of the fancy high graphite blanks, no matter the discipline are just less forgiving. A lot of the nicer tenkara casting rods have really small tip sections, this comes with a price.

Some people have noted the royal stage can take some abuse. I have not pushed mine as of yet to test that idea.

A lot of folk trash talk the american rod companies and some of it is warranted and some not. Part of this thread is to note what blanks tend to be good for some of those larger freshwater species that Randy notes. I am sure there are plenty of Japanese rods that can do the job, but I am not sure if they would be much better than what he is currently using, especially if he is happy.

Most rod differences are subtle. Of all the Japanese rods that I have cast or own, the only one that I feel is special and suites my expectations is the Royal Stage. The others just seem slightly different from the TUSA rods. Require a different casting stroke, or have some physical range difference. That Royal stage, just immediately and naturally casts better instantly for me. Like it is magic. I am not sure if I would pair it against a carp or a 5# largemouth though.

I really appreciate all of the feedback. I think that for me, coming in new but not new I had the advantage of a fly shop to go to for my first fly rod. I got to pick them up, take them out back for some grass casting and make an informed decision.

You can’t do any of that with Tenkara. Rob Worthing did a presentation at my fly fishing club and he spoke really highly of Dragontail (and others) so I was pretty set on buying their stuff, but I still hesitated.

None of these rods are particularly expensive so I’m going to experiment with a wide array of both Japanese and US brand rods to see what I like. I only get about 20 trout days a year so I have to fill in with all of these closer-to-me opportunities, so my rods all have to be multi purpose to an extent.

Again, I really appreciate all of the feedback.

Randy and All, we are all individuals. We all come in different sizes and shapes, with different reaction times and individual casting styles. When you find that magic rod that sings in your hand, it is because the design elements of that particular rod happen to match up well with your individual quarks. Not necessarily because one brand or model of a rod is necessarily superior to or particularly better than any other rod make and model that’s out there. It just happens to be a better or the best fit for you that you have been able to find so far.

One of the reasons that there are so many different makes and models of rods is because the designers tend to build rods that match their personalities, temperaments and fishing interests. Different fishing environments require different fishing tools, as do different species of fish as well. Different angling techniques also require different angling tools to work at optimum levels. With so many different variables involved, is it any wonder that finding a rod that fits your needs is a daunting task? For the most part, this isn’t anything anyone can give you good solid advise on. Without being able to cast the rods you are interested in or you think you might like, rod selection is pretty much a crap shoot. Going to fly fishing shows, where you can handle and cast prospective rods would be your best course of action if doing that is possible for you. Otherwise, it’s just a buy, cast and hope exercise, and a big part of the reason of why I presently have 11 fixed-line rods.

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For what it’s worth, I think it is a myth that Japanese rods are more expensive than American brands made in China. The higher end offerings from Tenkara USA, Tanuki, and even Deagontail, run about the same price as a decent Japanese rod. You can also get very nice lower end Japanese rods for around the same price as the less expensive American rods. If you shop around you can pick up something like a Royal Stage for $100-$130. They are often that price on Amazon.jp or Rakuten. Of course if you buy it from one of them you will not get nearly the customer service and support you will if you were to buy it from a vendor here in the U.S…

My point is, the price myth is just that. Look at how much a TUSA Sato costs and then see how many Japanese rods you can get for the same price from Chris Stewart. Your only option is to try every rod yourself or trust other people’s reviews. Just remember, they are not the same fisher you are and they are probably fishing different waters.

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I think most people note how expensive replacement parts are…not the rod.

But you are right, a number of sources can get you a great rod for less than a usa company.

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I’m not concerned about how much parts cost, I’m concerned with being able to get access to them. I like that with Dragontail (and probably others too) I can order what I need online (if I ever do break one) and I’ll have it in a couple of days.

Choose what ever rod you want.

If you want advise from people, you will get opinions and fishing politics.

Tenkara is from Japan, it has a long rich history ever before it escaped Japan. They had it figured before we started selling rods, marketing and politics.

I like Japanese designed rods however, I have a Discover Tenkara Karasu 4m rod that kicks ass. Designed by British fly fishing experts, experience matters.

Buy what you want.

Everything else is opinions, fishing politics and marketing.

Except in the experience department.

Buy from people that have a long history in fly fishing and Japanese Tenkara and you won’t go wrong.

Good luck and have fun!

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What company actually makes that Karasu rod @Adam_Trahan? I’m curious about that rod and am considering getting one, although I don’t know if I can. I saw Discover Tenkara has them on their site, but not sure if they ship to the US. Of course I don’t really need yet another Tenkara rod.

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@cc121 -

I know I’m not Adam, but I can respond as I have both rods. Yes, they do ship to the US and at least when I bought mine, shipping was quick and they were well packaged.

Due to a nondisclosure agreement, the guys at DT cannot tell anyone who the manufacturer is (I don’t know who makes them). But I can confirm from a reliable source, they are made in Japan.

They are amazing rods and I feel they were worth the money, but that’s my opinion. Not everyone agrees, but they never will. I love mine.

You can also do a search here on the forum and find more info.

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Yes, they are made in Japan but due to legal reasons they cannot say which company made them.
Presently, DT is out of Karasu 360 and 400 rods. I hope I get my hands on the 360 rod in the future.
Many people seem to really like these rods. Oh well, one of these days.

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I didn’t know they were currently sold out. Thanks, Mike.

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@Peder Yes, I signed up on a waiting list to be notified when they become available again. I keep checking every once in a while to see if the 360 cm is in stock. I did purchase the 400 cm from Chris Stewart when he was carrying them but that resource has dried up. I recently e-mailed Paul at DT but they haven’t gotten back to me yet. I understand they stay so busy that there is just not enough hours in a day to answer a knucklehead’s question. I just need to be more patient and count my blessings that I can fish, I have good health, and I have an awesome family. Sometimes I need to remind myself that the little things are just that; Little Things. Take care Peder.

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