I’ve found that what qualifies as a “small, overgrown stream” often has little to do with the stream itself and more to do with the rod one uses to fish it. What could be considered a small, overgrown stream with a 13-foot (400-cm) rod suddenly becomes quite open and easy to fish with an 8-foot (240-cm rod).
I have a few rods that can fish in that 8- or 9-foot range, namely the Zen Tenkara Suzume, Dragontail Mizuchi, and Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 270. I would consider many of the streams I fish with those rods to be small and overgrown, but I sometimes come across streams that are even smaller and/or more overgrown. I’ve seen some people online debate whether or not any kind of tenkara-style* rod shorter than 8 feet (240 cm) is necessary, but I’m a believer that it occasionally is. So are Tom from Teton Tenkara (see The Short Game — separating the men from the boys) and Chris from TenkaraBum (see his thoughts here on the 6-foot/18-cm Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 180).
Those even smaller, brushier streams do exist, and some do have trout in them. I want to fish those streams and catch those fish, and I want to use a rod best suited for the task. I want a 6-foot (180-cm) or shorter rod.
I bought two of those rods this year. The first rod I have in this category is the Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 180. It’s a Japanese-designed (made in Korea, I think?) keiryu rod, I believe, and it’s the top rod in the above photo. I fish it in this video and this video. I bought this rod new off of eBay, but they’re now hard to find in this size and may be discontinued. Being a keiryu rod, it was designed for fishing live bait with split shot. Keiryu rods are generally stiffer than tenkara rods.
The second is what I’m calling Generic Yellow Bamboo Rod. You may have seen rods of this style on Amazon or AliExpress for as little as a few dollars. I actually have four of these rods, each in a different length, but it’s the 180-cm (6-foot) version I’m going to focus on here. It’s the middle rod in the photo above. I bought it from AliExpress for $3, including shipping (the price has since gone up a bit). Its coloring and design give a not to bamboo rods, but it’s made from a chunky fiberglass or carbon fiber of some sort. It says “Made in Japan” on it, but it was certainly made in China. I fished it in this video (along with a couple other rods). I think these rods are made for bait fishing in lakes and ponds, not for fly fishing for trout in streams. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be used for tossing flies at trout in moving water, right?
I’ve found both of these rods to be good enough for my purposes. They are short, aren’t so stiff that they were unusable, and can bring in a decent (8–11 inch) trout. The Kiyotaki looks and feels nicer than the Generic Yellow Bamboo Rod, for sure, but the difference in the actual fishing wasn’t as great as I thought it would be. Of course, take all of this with a massive grain of salt, because I’ve only fished each rod a couple of times. My thoughts will likely change as I fish these rods more. I fish these rods mostly with the bow and arrow (aka slingshot) cast.
Tanago rods are not suitable for this kind of fishing. While short, they aren’t beefy enough. Chris at TenkaraBum puts it well here:
There seems to be a misconception in the West about what tanago fishing really is. Tanago fishing is NOT fly fishing for trout with 7 or 8′ telescopic rods on small streams. It is fishing for tanago (a type of [very small] fish). In Japan it is done with bait and with rods that could be as short as 20 or 30″ although most are a bit longer.
So in other words, the kind of rod I’m looking for here is for tiny streams but not tiny fish.
Well, as of this morning, when the USPS dropped off the mail, I now have a third rod in this category, the Tiny Ten. At about 5 feet (150 cm) long, it’s about a foot (30 cm) shorter than the above two rods. It is the bottom rod in the photo. I have not yet found myself actually needing a 5-foot rod in a place where I’m fishing a 6-foot rod, but for some streams, every little bit of length off of the rod helps.
My first reaction to opening up the packaging and taking the rod out was Holy cow, this thing is tiny. I know, I know, tiny is in the name, right? Of course it’s tiny. But I didn’t realize just how tiny it would be. It’s the size of rod my 19-pound dog would use if he had opposable thumbs. It’s so dang cute. Even if you have no interest in fishing with a rod of this length, it’s almost worth getting just as a tenkara souvenir. I’ve never seen anything like it, and that’s because there is nothing else like it.
Now, the one consistent thing I’ve read online about the Tiny Ten is that it’s stiff. Broomstick stiff. I haven’t fished with the thing, and I probably won’t be able to until the other side of winter (April), so any real impressions of how it actually handles will have to wait until then. But what I can do now is see how it compares to the other two short rods I have, the Generic Yellow Bamboo Rod and Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 180. Just how stiff is the Tiny Ten?
To figure that out, I pulled out the pennies. Let’s once more quote Chris from TenkaraBum on his Common Cents Database page:
The system was designed to compare fly rods by measuring how much weight is required to load the rod without overloading it.
So in other words, the “penny rating” of a rod is a measure of how stiff a rod is. It’s a way of comparing the stiffness of different rods. I used it to measure how stiff my three short rods are compared to each other. Here are the stats, as measured by me:
Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 180
- Weight with tip plug: 0.78 oz (22 g)
- Weight without tip plug: 0.71 oz (20 g)
- Collapsed length: 15.16 in (38.5 cm)
- Extended length: 72.5 in or 6.04 ft (184 cm)
- Penny rating: 16 pennies
Generic Yellow Bamboo Rod
- Weight with tip plug: 1.06 oz (30 g)
- Weight without tip plug: 0.99 oz (28 g)
- Collapsed length: 15.25 in (38.7 cm)
- Extended length: 67.125 in or 5.6 ft (170.5 cm)
- Penny rating: 22 pennies
- Weight with tip plug: 1.34 oz (38 g)
- Weight without tip plug: 1.2 oz (34 g)
- Collapsed length: 8.7 in (22 cm)
- Extended length: 60.5 in or 5.04 feet (153.7 cm)
- Penny rating: 32 pennies
So, let’s finally answer our question. How stiff is the Tiny Ten? Well, again, let’s compare the penny ratings:
- Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 180 – 16 pennies
- Generic Yellow Bamboo Rod – 22 pennies
- Tiny Ten – 32 pennies
So it would appear that, as far as the pennies go, the Tiny Ten is exactly twice as stiff as the Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 180 and about 1.5 times as stiff as the Generic Yellow Bamboo Rod. Admittedly, the Tiny Ten is shorter than the other rods. How will that actually translate once I have a trout on the end of the line? I’ll let you know in about four months.
What have your experiences with the Tiny Ten been like? I’m especially interested in hearing from those of you using it to catch trout.
* I’m going to use the phrase “tenkara rod” here to refer to all of these, but whether or not these sub-240-cm rods are true tenkara rods is a different discussion for another day.