I was recently able to test out the Stone Fly series of rods from Fountainhead and was actually surprised by the quality. By the price, you’d think that they are low end rods–and they are. But in this case, “low end” doesn’t mean “poor quality”. Here are some of my basic observations about this line of rods…
First, let’s get some specs out of the way. I tested all three models in the line. According to Fountainhead’s website, these are the specs for each model:
330 Fountainhead Tenkara Stone Fly Rod
2.7 oz 5:5 action
Open length : 11′ (330 cm)
Closed Length: 20.5 ” (50 cm)
360 Fountainhead Tenkara Stone Fly Rod
3.2 oz 6:4 action
Open length : 12′ (360 cm)
Closed Length: 20.5″ (50 cm)
390 Fountainhead Tenkara Stone Fly Rod
3.8 oz 7:3 Action
Open length : 13′ (390 cm)
Closed Length: 20.5″ (50 cm)
To my surprise, these rods actually cast very well. In general, they’re a little stiffer action than I prefer (especially the 7:3 390 model) but I have to say they cast a lot better than I thought. While the 330 is ranked as a 5:5, it felt closer to a 6:4 in my opinion (even though it clearly looks like a 5:5 on Fountainhead’s website). Since I’m used to fishing slower action rods, I did have to adjust my casting stroke a little to adapt to the rods’ actions. But anyone who likes faster actions would probably feel comfortable casting them right off the bat.
Hardware & Finishing Touches
These rods won’t win any beauty contests. They’re very spartan and that’s undoubtedly what helps keep the price down. If you’re looking for the sexy finishes and details of Tenkara USA rods, you won’t find them here. What you will find is a stripped down fishing tool that is more concerned about working than looking pretty. The finish is a matte black that won’t give off rod glare.
The handle is a comfortable shape and seems like decent quality cork. After inspecting all three rods, I didn’t find a lot of filler. It’s a typical reversed half-wells style contour with a slight bulge at the bottom if you prefer to grip your rod there.
I was kind of shocked to see that the lilian is attached to the rod with a rotating metal swivel. This is a feature normally found only on premium tenkara rods. Some say this increases tip breakage while others say it improves casting and eliminates line twist. I don’t have enough experience to weigh in on this but thought it was worth mentioning. UPDATE: The models I tested were older and apparently the new models have the lilian attached directly to the rod without the pivot.
The end cap is metal (I hate plastic ones) and features a coin slot for easy tightening and loosening as well as a drain hole.
While the rods are pretty stripped down aesthetically, they managed to get a few nice touches in there. Here is a close up of the winding check with some red accent wraps.
While I still think Tenkara USA rods offer the best combination of quality and value, I can see a niche for these rods. Kids, people on a limited budget, or even an experienced tenkara angler who just wants and inexpensive backup or loaner rod would find the Fountainhead Stonefly series a good option.
Another niche is for people who want to try out tenkara with a minimal commitment. That is why I bought my Stone Fly 360. I am very pleased with it even though I now also own an Ayu and an Amago.
Good point Paul. While Tenkara USA rods are very inexpensive compared to western fly rods, the Fountainhead rods are an even cheaper gateway drug.
Well, speaking as a guy who caught a lot of fish with his $50 Scientific Anglers flyrod combo, I’m for it ;-). After my nephew sat on that I did upgrade as far as a Bass Pro combo.
When I pull the trigger on tenkara it will probably be for some low cost of entry gear list. I’m not sure why. I end up spending a lot on some sports ($3K mountain bike, or is that cheap these days?). I guess I like to start easy.
I have the 360 and it is very nice. It has a lot more backbone than the TUSA Iwana so i can bring in bass and larger trout on it. One thing though is that the one that I have does not have the pivoting lilian atachment. Was that on all the rods?
Loften, they changed the design. I guess I got older models.
Do these rods have more brute strength than the TUSA rods?
What is the maximum recommended tippet?
I’m wondering specifically about tail water fishing and the ability to control bigger fish.
Not sure what the maximum recommended tippet size is. You’d probably want to ask the manufacturer. As far as brute strength, I think the Tenkara USA Yamame has much more power than these rods. While the Fountainhead rods are stiff, the Yamame is much more of a “big fish” rod and that’s what I’d recommend if you’re going after larger fish in tailwaters.
Been thinking about the 360 to build my Tenkara car kit around.
Good idea Tom!
Can I get A 390 rod from the uk?
I would like to get one but I don’t wan’t to pay the high tax rate from the US to Europe!
Alphonso, we (Tenkara USA) have a warehouse in the UK specifically for that reason. Any orders placed on our website are shipped from our warehouse there, shipping is only $14 and no taxes/customs charges.
I have both the 330 and 390. Nice rods that get the job done. I just wish they sold replacement tips instead of requesting you send the rod back for repairs…..not that I’ve broken one yet.
I’m interested, ive also approached the eastern band of cherokee indians about including this type of equiptment into their terms for fishing ebci controlled waters..
What would you say the Tradeoffs are between the Yamame and the 390? With the conversation we had last night would the 390 be a sufficient and less expensive alternative to the Yamame? Or would I be sacrificing too much with what I’m aiming for with saltwater tenkara?
Hi Stephen, well I don’t have the 390 here right now so I can’t really do a side by side comparison with the Yamame. Karel has the rod. Maybe he could do one?
Having fished the Yamame though, I would say it would definitely be a capable saltwater rod. I always purchase the highest gear I can for saltwater. I’m sure you get why.
very true on the gear quality issue. Yamame probably wins.
On Friday my Fountainhead Stone Fly 360 arrived in the mail. Color me excited!
Initial thoughts following reading several reviews were that they were all pretty accurate.
Fit and finish is spot on to the other reviews and I can’t really add much other than I believe that the should place a coat of epoxy or lacquer on their brand/logo and model area as it appears to be silkscreened on there.
I don’t know why other than perhaps it has a tactical look to it but I really like the subdued finish on the rod.
Several of the reviews including Jason remarked on the quality of the cork. I can’t say that it’s any worse than most of the “average” rods out there now. Mine does however have a (roughly) dime sized patch just below the mid swell. The nice thing with cork is that if you are not satisfied with the feel you can just let it wear down over time or (if you’re the antsy type) grab yourself some 360 grit sand paper and wet sand it down to your liking.
My Stone Fly 360 did come with the pivoting/swiveling Lillian. I’m not sure if it’s perhaps an older model Paul had there or if perhaps there is a design change that is now part of an improved model.
So, I’m sure everyone is wondering how did it fish? Well, I set it up with an 11′ 6″ CutThroat Tenkara leader, roughly 6′ of Orvis Super Strong 5x Tippet and a size 18 Caddis I had handy.
First impression – after 4 or 5 false casts to figure out the mechanics of the Tenkara cast, my first “real” cast hit the water like a falling Cottonwood seed. Read as – Ever-so-softly. I was absolutley floored! [Around 15 years ago, my first ever Western fly cast hit the water with all the grace of a cinder block into a mud hole.]
I quickly ran out of light Saturday evening with only a couple light hits. I did quickly notice that strike detection on this soft of a rod is going take some getting used to.
On Sunday morning I got up, grabbed some coffee and walked down to the pond to do some more casting and hopefully land a fish. Mother Nature decided she would give me some wind to play with, and I was not in the least bit happy with her decision!
I found casting this a bit tougher in the given wind conditions compared to my 4w Redington which is my normal goto rod. Again, something I have to learn to work with. So what was hopefully going to be a good morning fishing turned into what can only be stated as a half-assed attempt at Tenkara-come-dapping. I did however manage to set on a 4″ Bluegill who thought she was part Tarpon. Very pleasant experience even if she did weather vane and throw the hook.
Looking forward to more trials soon.
Overall I really enjoyed the casting, the fit and finish is (IMO) above average for this price point in any rod.
Rod: Fountainhead Stone Fly 360 http://tenkaraflyfish.webs.com/tenkararods.htm
Line: CutThroat Leaders Tenkara 11′ 6″ HiVis
Tippet: Orvis Super Strong 5x Tippet
Thanks for the review Rick! That will definitely be helpful to anyone who reads this post.
i’m new to tenkara…and fly fishing in general. do i want the 360 or the 12′ iwana?
Hi Mike! The Iwana is probably the most popular tenkara rod right now and for good reason. In my opinion, it’s well worth the extra money. But of price is an issue, then the Fountainhead is a good alternative.
thanks for the advice jason. price isn’t as much an issue as value. i reckon i’m trying to reconcile question is whether the iwana is twice the rod since it is twice the price. i purchased one yesterday, then found the stoneflies while lookng around online. now i might gotta da buyer’s remorse…but maybe not.
Hi Mike. I don’t think you will be disappointed. And when you compare the price of the Iwana with Western fly rods, it’s a steal!
OK so it’s been nearly a year since my review above, figured it’s time for a follow up.
The rod has held up well, it even took a trip to Florida with me and caught a few panfish there as well. I did make my own “travel case” for it out of 1 1/2″ PVC and a couple end caps.
Looking at my journal, I’ve had 81 days on the water and 68 were using this rod exclusively. It’s hard to say what the biggest fish has been. Come to hand were multiple 2lb+ Largemouth Bass, and several Smallies pushing 12″ and a slew of other panfish in all sizes. I landed 2 small common Carp probably ~2lbs each as well.
I will say that the Smallies were probably the biggest challenge to the rod and every time I expected it to give but it held it’s own. I’m sure just like with Trout the trick is to get the fish into slack water as quickly as possible…
I am very happy with it, it’s held up well. It even survived several hits from a couple large(!) common Carp up until the tippet broke.
If you’re on a budget or don’t want to spend a lot to try Tenkara, I truly believe this is the way to go.
In my case, I will keep the 360 and hopefully for Christmas Santa will bring me a TUSA Yamame or Amago to add to the arsenal.
(I have only used furled leaders from Cutthroat and Moonlit, I plan to try some level line next season)
Great, thanks for the follow up Rick!
You don’t have to look like you just stepped out of an Orvis catalog or pay $200 for a rod to have fun fishing. I thought Tenkara meant simple. To me simple means less expensive. My first Tenkara style rod was a B&M crappie cane pole with 10′ #2 fly line and 4′ tippet. Caught a lot of trout. My first and only Tenkara rod is a Fountainhead ($55). I’ve caught my biggest Trout on it using a Prince nymph.
Where can I buy one of these?
Hi Rich, you can buy them here: http://tenkaraflyfish.webs.com/tenkararods.htm
I have been using a Fountainhead 330 as my primary rod for a couple of years. It has enough backbone to readily cast furled lines and 14′ lines made from reel backing line. It is extraordinarily well priced, and $100 will let you get started into Tenkara. I have found no reason to search out more expensive rods, though I have had and resold one TUSA rod. Welcome to what will rapidly become your new passion!
Jason, I have a 360 Caddis rod and fished it for the last 5 years. I have caught trout, bass, bluegill and catfish with it. Even though I have upgraded to Tenkara USA Amago and Rhondo, TFO Softhackle and Cutthroat and Suntech Kurenai rods I still enjoy the Caddis. It was my first fixed line rod that I learned the techniques of Tenkara fishing. I would recommend it to anyone interested in getting into this style of fishing.