A Better Tenkara Rod Rating System

Tenkara Rod Rating System

All tenkara rods suffer from the same action rating affliction 

For as long as I can remember, describing fly rod action has always been problematic. The typical adjectives used such as “fast”, “medium” and “slow” are not only inadequate, but also subjective. What does “fast” mean? And does it mean the same thing to you as it does to me? At some point, there was a push to further parse the meanings of these adjectives by combining them (eg. “medium-fast”). But the subjectivity problem remained so that didn’t really help. Now throw tenkara rod ratings into the mix and the confusion escalates. But I think we can do better…

When tenkara was introduced to the West, the strange numerical rating system might as well have been an alien language to those used to simple adjectives. What does 7:3 mean? 6:4? Does it depend on the length of the rod? If you think about it though, the Japanese rating system might seem more objective because it tells you where the rod flexes–a measurable quantifier. While that’s true, it’s still not completely accurate. Rod action is more nuanced than just where the rod flexes. It is also influenced by how much the rod flexes in that section.

Here’s an example. Take the Tenkara USA Ito and the Tenkara USA Ayu Series II. Both rods are 13 ft. and rated 6:4. But they are completely different animals. While both might flex at the same position, the Ito is far “softer” than the Ayu. Overall, the Ayu will feel a lot stiffer. Yet on paper, the action of these rods looks the same. We need a system that not only addresses where the rod flexes, but also how easily that portion of the rod flexes (i.e. loads and unloads).

Probably the closest thing I’ve seen to a “perfect” system is the Orvis Flex Index. It uses both of these parameters to more accurately describe rod action. The first part of the designation uses the words “tip flex”, “mid flex”, and “full flex”. That gives a good initial basis that a human can use to filter their general preference.  This is then further refined with a number such as 5.5, 6.0, 9.0, etc. to give you a better idea of how soft or stiff the part of the rod that flexes most is. So for example, a mid flex 6.0 and mid flex 9.0 both flex in the middle of the rod, but the 9.0 recovers (unloads) faster than the 6.0 so it will feel “faster”. Get it? If not, read a more eloquent explanation on the Orvis blog here.

Some people have talked about doing away with the Japanese numerical system used to describe tenkara rod action. But I propose we keep it and just refine it closer to the Orvis model. So maybe something like “6:4 – slow”, “6:4 – medium”, and “6:4 – fast” would give a more accurate description of the nuances of a 6:4 rod. The same would apply to 5:5 and 7:3 rods.  The number tells you where the rod mostly flexes and the following word tells you how soft or stiff that specific section of the rod is. I’m sure we could use an even more detailed numerical designation for the second part as Orvis does, but that just might turn choosing a rod into a mathematical nightmare (isn’t all math a nightmare?).  I think the best option is to adopt a system that combines something measurable and objective with something human and accessible.  Something we can interpret without having to have a phd.

Ultimately, the only way to tell if you’ll like a rod action is to actually cast it. But when that’s not possible, or when you need to convey tenkara rod action on paper or in conversation, I think a system like the one outlined above gives enough information to paint a more accurate picture of how a given rod will cast without ever touching it.

Do you have suggestions for a better tenkara rod rating system?

 

Author: Jason Klass

Jason is an avid fly angler and backpacker. As a former fly fishing guide originally from Western New York, he moved to Colorado and became an early adopter of tenkara which perfectly suited the small, high altitude streams and lakes there. He has not fished a Western-style fly rod for trout since.

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19 Comments

  1. Great post. We’re moving in this exact direction. It will be relatively similar to what you describe, but it is still being refined, so I appreciate the input.
    Daniel
    Tenkara USA

  2. Great post Jason.
    However, it is importante to pay the attention to the tip segment also. The rod can be fullflex with stiff tip, like all Shimano LLH and ZL tenkara rods, or fullflex with soft tip, like EBISU.

  3. I would sugest using 2 diferent numbers.

    1st one would be the flex ratio (action index) expressed in % numbers from tip down.

    2nd would be based on ccs system and would tell how much weight (in grams) that rod would need to be flexed at 30% of the blank an this number would also give us an idea of its sensitivity.

    So it would look more or less like this:
    Action 45% , ccs 30 grams

  4. That’s an interesting rod, second from the bottom: 11-12-13ft multizoom T-USA 5:5-6:4 rod with your NAME ON IT! Pretty sweet, Jason. What’s it called? The Klass special!? ;)

    -Tom

  5. Oleg, that is exactly what I’m suggesting in this post.

    Blatt, that seems like a good system but way too much math for someone as dumb as me to comprehend. That’s what I’m trying to get away from. I’d like a half and half system–partially scientific and partially human that everyone can relate to. But thanks for the contribution. It will help us come to a consensus and that is exactly the type of feedback I’m looking for to do it!

  6. Hi Tom, oops! Good eye! I just lined up a bunch of rods for the photo without thinking about it. I hope I didn’t let a cat out of the bag. As far as I know, that rod was a prototype zoom rod Daniel was working on. I have no idea if it’s going into production or not. I better shut up now. I can see the tenkara mafia slapping some rod tubes into their palms out my window…

  7. Pretty cool collection, would you post on some other rods if they were loaned to you to try out?

  8. Hi Curtis, not sure what you mean. You just want me to post about all the rods I’ve tried

  9. Jason,

    I’m not sure if we’re on the same page, but what I read from the Orvis flex index system is that the number further dials in where along that particular section (full, mid, tip) the flex starts. I feel that the current rating used in the tenkara world suffices as far as telling the potential buyer what kind of flex he/she is in for, but there needs to be some way of telling the power of the blank. With western rods, you can get an indirect clue from the blank’s line-weight rating (i.e. a 10.0 tip-flex Helios will have very different power between a 1-wt and 8-wt). In the same way, if there was a way to measure the tenkara rod’s power rating in terms of how much weight it takes to bend a certain amount, then that would be awesome. Additionally, if there was a casting recovery index that would be really great too.

    So in summary – keep the flex profile, and add ratings for power and casting recovery. For an idea similar to what I’m talking about, take a look at the scott fly rods website. They have ratings for flex profile and recovery speed, and you’ll know how “strong” the rod is by looking at the line-weight it’s designed for.

  10. Hi Albert, that’s kind of what I was trying to get to with the more subjective fast, medium, and slow ratings–a further designation that would give you an idea of how quickly the most flexed portion of the rod loads and unloads. Maybe I didn’t describe it well. :(

  11. Feel is such a subjective thing. To be able to convey how a rod feels on paper or over a phone assumes both parties have similar experiences to draw from. So if you go messing with a system no matter how imperfect you blow the whole perspective.
    Having said that I like your idea, but the more technical the more accurate. So there ya go for what it’s worth.

  12. A friend has an apt and simple analogy for the tenkara rod and the single factor which has the most effect.
    A tenkara rod is like a paint brush…what it does depends on whose hand it is in.

  13. LAH, I agree. I remember hearing a story about how one time Lefty Kreigh took an el cheapo fly rod, cast the entire length of line into the backing, then handed it to someone and said, “here, take this piece of shit”. A competent caster can make any rod perform. But it might not have the nicest feel.

  14. Hi Jason,
    Great article. I’m wondering if you feel zoom rods might be the wave of the future for Tenkara rods. The shop I work at in ESTES PARK, Scot’s Sporting Goods in the summer has a lot of new fly fishers that come to fish RMNP from all over the country.
    A lot of them really take to it, but wonder about fishing back in their home rivers & streams. It appears to me that the zoom rod option might be a solution to buying one rod for this location and another for some other area when they go home. At first blush it appears at least to me that a zoom rod might fill the bill for some of these folks.
    Tenkara certainly is the best of the fly fishing world for the traveling fly fisher. I’m traveling to Florida in April and plan to try something that might sound a little outrageous, but I’m taking my 13 ft Fountainhead along with some custom level lines I’ve made and I’m going to try for Pompano in the surf. Last year I had decent luck with spinning gear with fish no farther than 10 to 15 feet from where I stood in the surf. That got me to thinking, why not try Tenkara in the same situation.
    Thanks for all your great ideas &blog.
    Bob T.

  15. LAH I agree with your friend. Good quote.

  16. Jason, thanks.

    I can’t find any specific details on the orvis site about the orivs approach so I can understand it better. I’m just finding the single page which describes outcomes, not method. Is there something else I can access which details the method please?

    craig

  17. I posted a somewhat lengthy dissertation in favor of the “common cents” system last week, but it evidently did not come through :-(

  18. You suggest appending slow, medium and fast to the bend ratio describe a soft to firm continuum. For the novice, this makes no sense. Just sayin’.

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