Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion online about using data to choose a tenkara rod. This is driven by the fact that someone new to tenkara can’t walk into their local fly shop and test cast a variety of brands like they can with conventional fly rods–they just don’t stock them. In fact, you’d be lucky to find a brick and mortar store that carries more than one brand (if any). So, that leaves the beginner with no option but to buy online. Of course, people want to find the “perfect rod” right off the bat and so others (with good intention) offer information to help them make a more informed decision. :But this is also problematic:
- Beginners don’t know yet which action is right rod for them. They don’t even know how to cast yet! You can throw all the data you want at them and it won’t matter. They need to start out with a decent, well-established rod, practice their casting, and develop a style. They’re eventually going to get a new rod anyway once they learn the nuances and gain experience, so proffering data like this isn’t really helpful and can even lull them into a false sense of confidence. They need to feel the rod, not analyze data. On paper, a particular model could seem like a perfect match, but they might hate it when they get it in their hands and get frustrated.
- Tenkara has become too academic. Today, people are making charts and talking about things like Common Cents Databases, Rotational Moment, Rod Flex Index, power curve, and all other sorts of scientific minutia. Beginners come to tenkara because they expect it to be simple (our party line) and that it lowers the barrier-to-entry compared to fishing with a rod and reel. And now we’re turning it into a class at MIT. Frankly, If I were new to tenkara and saw all these charts and formulas, I’d probably just walk away and forget it. I don’t want to get a degree in physics or mathematics to figure out which rod to get. I just want to try a new sport and have fun. I feel like such information might be interesting to experienced tenkara angers, but it’s useless to beginners. In fact, I think it’s doing them a disservice by confusing and intimidating them. I’ve never once heard a beginner ask, “So what’s the rotational moment of that rod?”
- Buying anything online is a risk. Whether it’s a backpack, rifle, tent, or fly rod, you will never know if it’s a wise purchase until you use it. But luckily, most tenkara rod companies offer good return policies if you don’t like it (or you can sell it), so I say get some empirical advice from experienced anglers (i.e. not an equation), don’t overthink it, and make your purchase. Take a risk. Tenkara rods are a relatively low up-front investment but once you start actually fishing with it, you will better know what’s right for you (sans a database or PowerPoint presentation).
Part of the problem is that the market has become saturated with new companies and models. Years ago, there were only a handful of rods on the market so it made the choice simpler. And no one complained about it. We never talked about “rotational moment” and the like. You got a rod, fished it for a while until you honed your skills and then upgraded to a rod that suited your casting style better. One’s gear is an evolution based on empiricism–not an algorithm.
Here’s a little story … a while back, I thought about getting into metal detecting. I went into a store and they had all of these detectors lined up with spec charts behind them. If you ever want your head to spin over specs, try figuring out which metal detector to buy. I thought I’d just get one and wave it around the bottom of dry lake bed for fun. But there were so many dizzying differences between models, I figured it was more complicated than what I bargained for. So I gave up, walked out, and never thought about it again. Is this what we’re doing to would-be tenkara anglers?
In my opinion, such minutia is antithetical to the ethos of our sport. How can we claim tenkara is “simple”, then turn it into something complicated? I applaud all the anglers who did the hard work of compiling all of this information, but I think it’s more of an intellectual indulgence for the experienced rather than an aide to the newcomer. If someone asks you, “what is 2+2?” and you hand them a book on quantum mechanics, I’m pretty sure they’ll no longer care about the answer.
See my article here on how to get the best advice on choosing your tenkara rod (no slide-rule required).
Good article. I see the articles on common cents, RFI and Rotational Movement and my brain almost explodes. So then I email Chris Stewart and ask him what rod works for a certain situation and, problem solved.
Jason, I sincerely apologize if I’ve ruined your simplistic view of tenkara by asking questions regarding specific rods, and trying to find answers to those questions. I have an analytical and questioning mind. I guess that’s why I chose the profession I did. By the shear numbers of people who request links to my data, I suspect a whole lot of people out there have minds similar to mine. If it would make you feel less burdened, I’ll answer all the rod comparison questions I get by saying “I don’t know”, just go “take a risk”, after all, it’s only money. I’m sure that will make them feel less intimidated and keep their brains intact. But being less sarcastic, I think there’s room for both approaches. I think there’s plenty of room for the “take a risk” approach and the “here’s the data approach”. To each his own. After all, water seeks its own level. -Tom (the RFI and Rotational Moment guy)
Tom, I agree that there is room for both. I think it’s important to provide this information for experts who like to take a deep dive in into the technical but think beginners benefit from a more simplified. When I was a casting instructor, I used relatable analogies instead of technical jargon to teach the basic mechanics of that cast and that put my students at ease. Let them learn all the technical stuff later if they want. They just want to get out and fish! I once heard someone say that baseball is so boring that they had to make up all these stats and metrics just so you’d have something to actually talk about, LOL. I hope that is not becoming the case with tenkara. Anyway, having said that, you’ve done an incredible service to the tenkara community with your detailed reviews and I do commend you for putting together such a comprehensive set of data. I can’t imagine how much effort went into that and sure don’t have the wherewithal to even attempt something close. You’re a doctor and I’m a philosopher and while we may rely on similar aspects of logic, deduction, reason, or whatever, I think our minds just express it in different ways. And there’s room for both in the world.
I agree the best means to select the best rod for our use is to try out several varieties. Unfortunately most of us are not near enough to a store that has multiple options to try out or rich enough to buy many varieties. Therefore I rely on the vicarious experience of others to make a selection that I need to try for my self. Some have worked out well and others not so much. After initial experience, the relative measurements Dr. Tom provides are extremely helpful as a guide. I appreciate the information provided by all the bloggers. Tenkara has become my main fishing method as old age limits my sight and mobility. Thanks
Excellent look at all the data that nerds like me enjoy. Maybe this is a reminder that I need to remember that tenkara first has to be fun and enjoyable before I worry about material science engineering concepts. Actually, the reason I took up tenkara in the first place was due to its simplicity.
Thank you Jason for reopening my eyes to simplicity and not be so data driven. Maybe some things in life, like tenkara, just need to be simply enjoyed. ( However, I do enjoy the data but I will keep that to myself).
Jason, please continue to help us reexamine our sport as it matures and evolves.
You walked out of a store because you couldn’t cope with the “dizzying differences between models”? You must get dizzy very easily. I can’t even describe how disappointed I was in this article, and in you.
Dean, I only had a casual interest in it anyway so just like walking out on a first date because you can already tell they have way too much baggage, it was easy. And to paraphrase John Gierach, computers don’t fish or even know what fishing is. And if someone has to use math to explain why the rod you’re casting is a good one, it probably isn’t.
Jason, good article. I see this issue played so often in many aspects of life. I think we all have a thirst for knowledge and believe the more we read the more we know. As being new to Tenkara a little over a year ago I have anguished over….what length rod, which kind of line, which rod material, or which fly pattern. On the subject of flies (I have been tying on and off for over 40 years), it seems that Tenkara flies have taken off as an art form first and foremost, and whether they are fish catchers is an after thought. Not that art is bad, I think fly tying is an art form unto itself. As we all know there are many fishers in the far East who fish with only one or two patterns and adapt their presentation as needed. Perhaps this can be said for Tenkara rods as well. The simplicity of Tenkara is what brought me to this fishing style, yet I often catch myself digging for more technical data and more gear instead of going out and learning to fish with what I have. As we to continue down the technological highway, we need to remember it just a long stick with a piece of string tied on the end.
Hope you can make it to Tenkara Camp in the Great Smoky Mountain NP the end of April.
Interesting concept, especially for beginners. I enjoy some data though as experience tells me whether I might like the rod in question or not.
For others they just want to go fish and not delve into the intricacies of the sport, so different strokes for different folks.
So, two points of view, both valid then.
I think you bring up some valid points on how we take something simple and over think it.
Also, in your defense, I think Tom Davis and Dean sounded like a couple of asses.
Actually, Tom Davis is one of the nicest people you could ever meet.
Great article, thanks Jason.
From a viewpoint similar to yours 15 or so years ago (here in Europe Tenkara is widely unknown, only a handful of enthusiasts fly fish reel-less) I agree: the simplicity is one of the strongest factors that pull people towards this style.
But Tom is right also, as the market grows one has to have means to compare products. An extensive collection of data can do that and because there are not really industry standards someone has to collect figures, do tests and put everything together and into an usable format.
As a beginner I really appreciate Tom’s analysis and data, some people aren’t necessarily seeking simplicity. I understand that data analysis isn’t for everyone, but for some of us it is enjoyable (in fact I would argue for more data on the location of the lever moment for different rods as a way to quantify preferred location of flex, but that’s a whole new dataset to compile and analyze). Is Tenkara becoming too complicated? Not if you don’t wish to engage in the analytical aspect as Tom and I do, if the charts over complicate it for a person, they can simply ignore it and move on. If that scares them away from the Tenkara modality of fixed line fishing that’s ok too. There’s no need to protect an ethos, it’s an enjoyable pastime and how that pastime is enjoyed will vary between participants. In the end, we can all just get along by recognizing that humans have autonomy of choice, and they will use whatever information they consider appropriate to make their choices.
I’ve been fishing Tenkara for one year now. I’ve found Tom Davis’s videos and blog very informative. As a beginner,a motivated beginner, knowledge is not detrimental. The ‘data’ adds insight as to why. In no way have I found it takes away from the wonder. It adds to the understanding of the experience. Just as why I should cast to that spot first, doesn’t overburden me with information. Tom’s empirical presentation is in contrast to the myriad of opinions which fly is best. Experience and knowledge go hand in hand.
As someone new to fishing, I appreciate Tom’s contribution to my experience and wonder.