Pocket rods seem to be all the rage these days and Tenkara USA has just thrown their hat into the ring with the the introduction of the all-new Ukiyo. This design is quite a departure from their current lineup, and lighter and shorter than anything they’ve ever produced, so I was curious to see what TUSA’s interpretation of an ultra-compact rod would be.
I was one of the lucky few to be able to field test the Ukiyo prior to release and had ample time to really put it through its paces, so I feel like I’ve gotten to know the rod pretty well.
So what did I think? Read on to find out …
Collapsed Length: 14.5″ (36.8cm)
Extended Length: 9.85′ (300cm)
Weight: 2 oz. (56.7g)
Number of Segments: 9
Weight on my scale with rod plug in is lighter than manufacturer specs
I actually had absolutely no idea Tenkara USA was coming out with this rod. All they told me they was they were sending me a “new rod”, so I figured it would be a standard 12 or 13-foot rod with a foam handle; maybe with a unique action or something. I definitely didn’t think it would be this! So you can imagine my surprise when I opened up the package and saw the Ukiyo for the first time.
The rod comes with a stretchy sock and a very handsome tube with stylized fishing graphics by Jeremy Shellhorn.
Upon first inspection, I was immediately struck by how light it was! And sleek! It truly was unlike anything I’d ever seen from Tenkara USA before. Just the overall feel of it says “solid quality”, and I was impressed!
The second thing that stuck me though was the handle. It wasn’t just unlike any rod from TUSA before, it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen on any rod before! But more on that below.
Hardware & Aesthetics
The Ukiyo is an understatedly beautiful rod; modern and classic as the same time. The deep royal blue blank “fades” into the lighter colored handle to a striking contrast that makes it look different that any rod out there today.
And throughout the blank, there are hidden little artistic appointments of trout and kebari.
Why is this noteworthy? Because it’s a sign of what kind of company Tenkara USA is. I have this conversation all the time; in fact, I just had one about it last night: the notion of rods as “works of art” has fallen out of favor and has been replaced with spartanism. I could go on about this, but suffice it to say I’m glad there are still some companies out there that care about little details like this. They just as easily could have not.
The end cap features Tenkara USA’s patented “Keep-your-plug” system which they debuted in 2013 with the Sato and Rhodo. This clever design allows you to store your rod plug in the end cap while fishing. Until now, they’d only incorporated the system in their zoom rods, so this is a another first!
The lilian and tip are standard-issue Tenkara USA and there’s spare lilian on the rod plug as usual.
The Ukiyo’s grip deserves its own section because as I mentioned above, it’s really unique. This is a flared graphite handle–no foam or cork. That design in itself is nothing new, but the texture is (at least to me).
When you slide your hand along the handle, it makes a distinct sound–like sanding. In fact, it feels like XXXX-fine sandpaper (but not so abrasive that it would sand your fingerprints off). It’s just enough to provide the right amount of friction for a secure grip when wet. And that it does.
It’s some kind of spray-on material. I really don’t know what it is and I’m sure Tenkara USA probably won’t give out that information publicly because it’s proprietary. Whatever it is, I love it and would like to see this same texture catch on in the industry for graphite-handle rods.
Maybe it’s just me, but I find the spray texture oddly comfortable. While I’ll always prefer a cork grip, I have to say, I find myself picking up the rod several times even as it’s sitting here on my desk, just to feel the grip. I don’t know why it’s so tempting to hold and fidget with, but if I’m going to be fishing a rod with a graphite handle, I’d want it to have this spray-on texture.
I also like the the taper. It was comfortable all day on the water and to me the diameter is just right for a 10-foot-ish rod like this (glove size: med.). Because it tapers to a wider butt section, it does’t cramp my thumb muscle the way some, more anorexic grips do. I also want to mention that the size of the Ukiyo’s grip would be a suitable size for any child who’s old enough to go fishing. My daughter is 11 at the time of writing this and it’s the perfect size for her.
In conclusion, if someone asked me about this rod, the the first thing I’d tell them about would be the action. The second would be the handle. Because it would be a disservice not to mention it.
The Ukiyo in Action!
Terminal tackle used for testing:
Line: 13′ Tenkara USA level fluorocarbon line
Flies: #20 midges, #20 dries, #12 weighted sakasa kebari, #12 unweighted sakasa kebari, #10 Shetland Killer
I fished the Ukiyo on several of my local haunts–waters very familiar to me where I knew I’d be able to test it in a variety of situations. And I enjoyed every minute of it!
The Ukiyo is a perky rod with quick recovery that is apparent even just from wiggling it. But on the water it means faster load times and a quick action that to me, is ideal for dry fly fishing.
While I fished a variety of flies with he Ukiyo, a fair amount were dries, since I happened to encounter surface action on the days I had it out. On several occasions, there were fish rising all around me which required fast reaction times, and I was able to easily switch directions and consistently make pinpoint deliveries of my fly to the next rise.
There’s little tip wobble, which means little energy is wasted at the end of the cast, and there won’t be “ripples” in your line that adversely affect your aim. So that explains part of the Ukiyo’s accuracty.
It’s an agile rod for sure, but in addition to that, this rod will throw tight loops. I got excellent line turnover, with the line unfurling in that classic shape you see in every magazine picture. And I was able to shoot a cast under obstacles with (relatively) low clearance quite easily.
I actually side cast a fair amount (a legacy from my rod and reel days) and happen to have a kind of fast casting stroke naturally, so this rod matches my casting style well.
I caught plenty of fish on the Ukiyo, but nothing over 11″ so far, so while I can’t attest to its ability to handle anything larger, I can attest to one thing: fighting even a small fish on the Ukiyo is a hell of a lot of fun!
I love it when you can really feel every wiggle and tug of the fish–it makes me feel even more directly connected. And isn’t that why we’re all out there? And why we choose tenkara?
On a more practical level though, the above translates to sensitivity, so if you prefer tactile strike detection, you’ll really appreciate the Ukiyo. In addition to the high-modulus graphite, there’s no dampening effect from foam or cork. The flared handle is basically an extension of the blank so you feel every tap on the tip and pull of the line.
I only use visual strike detection, so while some will love the sensitivity for indication, I love it because I feel the little micro-movements of the fish and the feeling the hookset on the Ukiyo is exciting!
I mostly fished small dry flies and either unweighted or slightly weighted sakasa kebari and that’s where the Ukiyo is at its best. I say this because while it’s capable of throwing a weighted nymph, it’s not what I’d call a “nymphing” rod. This rod wants fast-paced action–not to lob weight and wait forever for a fly to sink four feet down. And I believe you can only truly appreciate this rod’s action if you fish with actual tenkara flies, wets, or dries. In other words, classic small-stream flies for a small stream rod.
For those who like short, snappy rods with a faster action, and/or like to feel everything that’s going on at the tip of the rod for strike detection (and like to be prepared), I think you’ll be extremely happy with the Ukiyo.
And as a former ultralight backpacker, I can tell you what you probably already know: this is ideal as a UL backcountry rod.
A 15″ Superstar
All of this performance is packed into a tiny wand that will fit pretty much anywhere: a backpack, glove box, bike frame bag, or anywhere you want to be prepared to take advantage of fishing opportunities as they arise. Leave it in your car, or take it on a non-fishing trip “just in case”.
Bonus for me: it fits perfectly in the elastic side straps on my Yonah pack! And I’m sure it does in many other packs that have rod holders.
Despite it’s small stature, this is most decidedly not a “backup rod”. It’s a full-fledged, small stream superstar that just happens to be ultra compact. I don’t see any compromise in action here in order to achieve its size.
The Ukiyo is the lightest and most compact rod Tenkara USA has ever produced. It’s quick, compact, and sleek; like a small, zippy sports car eager to see action. Tenkara USA may not come out with new products very often, but when they do, they’re always worth the wait. And the Ukiyo is a solid addition to their already time-proven lineup of rods.
If you have any questions about the Ukiyo, please leave them in the comments section below or email me.