Today, a reader requested that I do a post about my opinion on zoom rods. For those of you who don’t know what zoom rods are, they’re rods that can be extended to different lengths with sections that lock into position. I’m no expert on zoom rods and I’ve only tried a few, but as with many topics, not being an expert doesn’t stop me from having an opinion.
At a superficial level, it would seem the main advantage of a zoom rod is that by making the rod longer, we can increase our reach and compensate for the inability to shoot line or, conversely, make the rod shorter allowing us to cast in closer quarters or under a tight canopy. I have found this sometimes to be true, but not always.
For example, if the rod zooms out in one foot increments, chances are, zooming it out one foot is not going to make much of a difference in terms of reach. But two or three feet might. Similarly, if you’re under a tight canopy, making the rod one foot shorter might not be enough to avoid getting caught in the branches. So the benefits of reach and diminution kind of depend on the design of the rod.
BUT…I think there is another value to zoom rods that is often overlooked: the ability to dial in the action to your own preference. Adjusting a zoom rod to a different length inherently alters the action (sometimes slightly, and sometimes very conspicuously). Have you ever tried a non-zoom rod and thought it was pretty good, but you wish the tip were just a little softer, or that it had a little more backbone? Zoom rods give you different options by altering how much weight is in the handle vs. off the tip and let you essentially change the action of the rod.
I’ll use the Tenkara USA Sato as an example since that’s a rod I’m fairly familiar with. This rod can be fished in three lengths: 10’8”/ 11’10”/12’9”
. For me, the rod casts best in the non-zoomed and middle positions. When it’s zoomed out to full length, it doesn’t seem to fit my casting style as well. But I’ve heard other people say the opposite–they like the rod best when zoomed out to the two longer positions. Either way, a zoom rod gives you the ability to kind of customize your casting experience and find what’s best for you.
And what you think is “best” might vary from day to day. I remember years ago Shakespeare made a spinning rod with an adjustable action. You could twist a knob on the butt cap that would make the tip of the rod stiffer or softer. It was great because you could calibrate the rod to give more line protection when fishing lighter line, or make it stiffer for more sensitivity. Zoom rods are the tenkara equivalent of that. Sometimes you might find a rod performs better in different positions depending on wind or what weight or length of line you’re fishing that day.
While some might consider zoom rods to be “gimmicky”, I think they’re actually quite versatile and have an important place in the modern anthology of tenkara rod designs. Now if I could just find that magical rod that zooms from five to fifty feet, I’ll be all set. 😉
In the same realm one thing I like that I have yet too see anyone mention is that really you get 4 actions. In the middle length you have the option to pull out the middle section or leave it in and just extend the upper length of the rod. Awkward to explain but was quickly evident to me when I first cast the rod.
Excellent point. I haven’t tried this yet but I will.
thought provoking post, jason. i agree that the action differences a zoom rod has can be a notable advantage.
i was recently asked by a prospective tenkara angler about the sato, and i have a slightly different take on the benifit of zooming rods. in addition to the basic reach advantages and to the advantages of altering action you noted, i find that the zoom enables me to tune the “shape” of the presentation, whether it be a angle of the drift or the arc of at the end of a drift, without having to move (or when i am unable to move) me feet. likewise, the number of specific points one can land a fly increases a great deal when you consider all the points created in an circle that is one foot smaller and/or larger than what a fixed length rod might give you. this is especially helpful when standing on a rock in the middle of the rocky, pocket-filled stream, when hiding being a tree, or when sneaking through a meadow.
the zoom is also great for bank fishing a warm water pond as again the ability to exploit the shape of your presentation are in your favor. as some who fish for gills and the like will know, dancing a fly through a section in a line or zigzag left to right might yield a number of fish, but then they seem to figure it out, so you go right to left till they stop biting, and then away and to you, and then in a circle and so on. with a zoom rod, i can create these shapes in an increase number of locations on the water. when i fish one of my zooming rods, i find that i zoom it to each of it’s levels quite often.
all this said, i still enjoy fishing my unzoomable yamame.
I began tenkara fishing exactly ONE WEEK ago tomorrow (after 25+ years of “traditional” Western flyfishing). My first rod is a zoom rod, a Suntech FieldMaster that I bought from the Tenkara Bum. I’m not experienced enough with the casting characteristics of my new rod to discern any significant difference in the rod’s action at the different lengths. BUT, I do know that on the three days I have fished the rod, I found myself periodically adjusting the length to all three settings at various times and for various reasons. For instance, I initially started to use the rod at its shortest length on a small creek. I quickly found that it was easier to land fish if I extended the rod to the longest length. (This is due to the fact that the longer rod allowed me a bit closer “access” to the hook-end of the rig, with less hand-hauling of line.) As stream-side and overhead vegetation got thicker, I conversely found myself shortening the rod.
The rod seems to balance best for me at its middle-of-the-road length, so I’ll probably start my fishing day at that length. I’ll shorten it and lengthen it as necessary during the day. I’m glad I started with this rod!
I like the zoom rods. I don’t have to carry 3 rods, just one! Jason, i like your thought about the difference a foot makes. Maybe some manufacturer should try 2 foot sections? Might be a good idea!
I think the Ito zoom of 19″ is pretty good. I imagine there might be a design limit as to how long you can make each zoom section before it adversely affects the rod’s action or balance.
The length of the zoom that can be achieved is limited by the length of the rod when collapsed. To get a two foot zoom, the grip section itself has to be several inches longer than two feet.
On more wide open streams, it a one foot or 16″ zoom doesn’t matter much. However, if you fish brushy, overgrown streams, a foot difference in rod length can mean the difference between a great day and a day of frustration.
I’ve noticed, on recent trips, the zoom feature can give different advantages with the presentation. Such as the pause and drift. The fly is at a certain spot in the width of the river but when the rod is zoomed can be at another. Another advantage is when you are trying to keep the fly adrift on the surface for moments the zoom feature can come on handy with longer lines! I also have found the zoom feature does not yield a great reach in casting. Once I read this article I tested it and sure enough, the zoom length on the Ito wasn’t equal to the amount of extra reach I got in my cast.
Thanks Jason, good review. I’m not an expert in any sort of fishing, but when I find that there are tight places or over hang I tend to lean more on what I think they call the bow and arrow cast. When landing fish, it’s a different story when there is over hang or a tight spot. Then I have to rely on using my brain and boy does that hurt! I personally don’t think a zoom rod is necessary, “think outside the box”. Makes you a better caster or fisherperson . Again, this is coming from the most inexperience fisherperson in the world! Just my two sense!
I have been using a zoom rod for a while now, and despite I like it, and appreciate the versatility, I always use it full length if I can because no matter how good the lock is, there is something in the folded segments that makes the cast unpleasant to me, and that doesn’t change between several brands I tried.