disclaimer: It occurred to me only after posting this story that I should make sure that one thing is clear. The rod that is reviewed in the following post, though very similar to a tenkara rod – is not marketed by the manufacturer as a tenkara rod.
Yes – this is a cautionary tale and please heed the following warnings. If you are not interested in fun – do not read on. If you are not interested in beauty and grace – do not read on. Do not read any further if you have a dull mind filled with thoughts only of largesse and of grandiose things and of mankind’s attempt to shrink the universe, and to strip it of all its wonder and wildness to fit its own needs. If you are interested only in facts, dear Reader, then please stop reading now. For facts are cheap and easy to come by – but truths are another matter indeed. Truths lie in the interstices, in the implied spaces between the facts, and are harder to suss out. Somewhere under the rocks, in the benthic regions, covered with latin names and chitin, lies the beginning of truth. Often the truth is hidden from us until we start to turn over rocks. But sometimes it emerges like an angel, and sometimes it is eaten by a trout. In the interface between worlds – watery and terrestrial – that is where the fisherman finally confronts the truth. Some of us want to come to this meeting in a different way, in a less encumbered way. A new wind is blowing through the valley along the stream bottoms and it is a “gentle breeze” – it is the Soyokaze. If you choose to read on you may find yourself, like this author, swept along in that breeze never to return….
If you’ve made it this far, I apologize for the introduction. I haven’t had anything that I wanted to say lately – so I have a little pent-up wordiness. Recently and at long last I finally got out for some small stream fly fishing. And by small stream, I mean small stream in the Eastern sense. Here in my neck of the woods most small trout streams are also brushy, tight, and canopied. Those three words – brushy, tight, canopied – are not music to fly fishers’ or tenkara fishers’ ears. Some streams are even what you might call “tunneled”. That is so overhung with trees and rhododendron that it’s like fishing in a tunnel of verdure. Fly rods can be hard to handle in these places, unless you go to a very short fly rod. My small, brushy stream fly rod is a 7-ft 3wt. But with my recent tenkara obsession, I’ve attempted these types of streams with 9.5, 11 and 12′ tenkara rods. Let’s say that those experiences where a bit frustrating. It’s nearly impossible to get a cast out with those long rods on the types of streams I’m talking about (the 9.5 footer isn’t too bad). If you do get a cast out then, you get the tip stuck in the overhanging branches when you try to set the hook…it is trying.
A very short tenkara rod is what I wished for. But we all know what good wishing is, after all “If wishes and buts were cherries and nuts, it would be Christmas all year long.” Surprise, surprise – it is Christmas time. Sometimes wishes do come true (I’m wiping a small tear from the corner of my eye). My wishes have been granted in the form of the Daiwa Soyokaze 24SR 7-ft 8-inch tanago rod. What is a “tanago” rod? The term “tanago” is used to describe several species of small minnow-like fish in Japan. However tanago fishing, in the west, seems to be taking on a more generic meaning, something akin to “micro-fishing”. It is generally a bait fishing method utilizing tiny bait hooks and tiny floats.
But to my eyes this “tanago” rod is basically the same as any tenkara rod. I don’t know about the specifics of the rod’s design. But it is, in every noticeable way, a tenkara rod. The only notable difference that I can see is the handle, or lack thereof. Unlike the tenkara rods that I’ve used, the Soyokaze does not have cork or foam grip. Instead the “grip” is simply the widened, roughened, non-skid section of the rod-butt. I thought that this might be uncomfortable – but the rod is so light that I didn’t notice any problems at all with the small diameter handle. The TenkaraBum site, which sells the Soyokaze, has a more thorough and technical discussion of the Soyokaze’s design – HERE.
The Soyokaze is available in 4 lengths, 6’6” ($57), 7’8”($65), 9’0”($72) and 10’2”($82). All rods collapse to a mere 19” and weigh only 1.13, 1.38, 1.69 and 2.15 ounces respectively. As you can see in addition to their light weight, they are also pretty light on the wallet.
So how does it fish?
How does it fish? That’s the question isn’t it? Well – first a little digression. Many folks will tell you that a 7’8” tenkara rod is too short. You can’t keep very much line off of the water, tenkara-style, with a rod that short. You can’t cast very far with a rod that short. You have to get too close to the fish, it will require too much stealth, etc. Well – yeah. That may all be true, but on small brushy, canopied streams that is not a problem. On those small wild brookie streams, you have to get super close anyway because of their very nature. They’re too tight for long casts anyway. You have to be super stealthy anyway or you’ll spook those fish from a mile a way. So those complaints are not really valid for the places I’m talking about. I did consider trying the 9′ model, but I already have a 9’4” and an 11′ tenkara rod – so I figured I’d go smaller.
So what’s the verdict? I’ve been waiting to say this since the beginning of the review – I love it. I love this rod. I found it an absolute joy to fish with. It is so light – you hardly even notice it. It will cast a super-light line for very delicate presentations with ease. I used a TenkaraBum hi-viz hand-tied 7.5′ light weight tapered line with about 3′ of 5x tippet. The short rod and short line made casting among grabby shoreline rhododendrons and overhanging branches much more do-able, than with your typical tenkara rod. Fly fishing on these types of small brushy streams is never going to be easy. It requires a level of patience and concentration that I don’t always have. If you’re not willing to go slowly, pay attention to your surroundings and tread lightly you are going to be frustrated and unsuccessful – with any length rod. But with the 7’8” Soyokaze I found myself extricating the line and rod tip from overhanging branches much less frequently than usual. It still happens – but that’s small brushy stream fishing for you.
So what about the rod being too short? Unless you never mature beyond the self-centeredness of a child you realize that a happy, peaceful life is all about compromise. And so it is with fly fishing. You cannot have it all. You give up this to get that. And so, yes, the 7’8” rod is a compromise. But, for small brushy streams, it is a much better compromise than a longer rod, in my opinion. As streams move on downhill their nature often changes and then changes back. They speed up and slow down, widen and narrow. So even on small brushy streams there are occasionally nice, open pools that you could easily fish with a long 12′ tenkara rod. On these pools with the 7’8” rod I found myself at something of a disadvantage, compared to a longer rod. However, I could still fish these pools – and I could fish the other much tighter spots. So, in the end I found that the 7’8” rod opened up more of the stream to me than it closed down.
Ahh – but can you land big fish!? This is the question put to tenkara anglers the world over. Would I take the Soyokaze 7’8” rod to lake Erie for some lake-run steelies? No, of course not. But am I confident that it can handle 99.99% of the fish that I’d find on the streams that I’d use it on? Absolutely yes. Remember that on small streams, even big fish don’t have many places to run. There are not generally big heavy currents to plunge down – in short fighting big fish on small streams isn’t the same as fighting the same fish in a bigger river. On this trip I didn’t land any monsters, but I landed a couple of decent browns – the bigger running about 12 or 13” (as with many anglers I’m pretty bad at guesstimating the length of fish that I catch so take it with a grain of salt). I brought those bigger fish in with no trouble at all.
The cautionary bit. I told you that this was a cautionary tale – and so it is. After fishing with and falling in love with the Soyakase 24SR, I have found myself surfing on over to TenkaraBum’s Daiwa Tanago Rods page a little too often. I find myself wondering what the 6’6” would be like or what about the 9′ or 10’2” rods? I’m finding reasons to buy them all. After all they’re small. So the cautionary part is this – if you buy one Soyokaze you are going to want them all.
Disclosure: I originally borrowed the Soyokaze 24SR to test and review – but after a day of fishing with it I bought it outright from TenkaraBum.