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Choosing The Best Tenkara Rod For What You Are Fishing

Choosing The Best Tenkara Rod For What You Are Fishing

There are a lot of choices for tenkara rods, even in our lineup, and sometimes it can be hard to choose which rod to get. I am going to go through through a few scenarios and give you some details that will help you choose the best tenkara rod for you from our tenkara rod lineup.


Tight Overgrown Canopy Creeks

When it comes to fishing very tight canopy creeks you are really limited on which rods you can fish. There are three rods I would suggest, the Mizuchi, Kaida, and the fiberglass-hybrid FoxFIRE. These rods are multi-length rods. 

tight overgrown creek fishing with the Mizuchi tenkara rod

The Mizuchi zx340 rod will allow you to have longer rod lengths at 11ft all the way zoomed out and 9.58ft in its middle length for when the creek opens up or you come upon a beaver dam. The 9.58ft length also works great in most tight areas but when it gets tighter than that you can zoom it down to 7.88ft with a shorter line and really keep your cast tight and out of the branches. The Mizuchi is an excellent casting action in the longer 2 lengths but in the short length it is a bit stiffer so you can control fish easier and keep them out of brush in tight quarters.

The FoxFIRE zx280 rod is a much softer full-flex action tenkara rod that makes it easy to cast light lines in its very short rod lengths because the easy flex of the rod loads without the help of the line weight. This rod goes much shorter than most rods as well down to 6.6ft and the 2 longer lengths are 8ft and 9ft. This rod is specifically made for overgrown canopy and people who love full-flex soft action tenkara rods.

The Kaida zx320 Pack rod is a soft action rod with an action between the Mizuchi and the FoxFIRE rod. It easily casts very light lines at shorter line lengths for tight canopy. It's shortest length is 9.4ft which is short enough for most tight fishing but the FoxFIRE and Mizuchi's even shorter lengths might serve you better for lots of very overgrown canopy. it also zooms out to 10.5ft for longer reach when the canopy opens up. 

mountain creek tenkara fishing

Mountain Creeks with Small Trout

Most tenkara rods are great for streams and creeks unless it's overgrown canopy, they refer to the two rods in the list above. The only rod we sell that is not great for mountain creeks is the HELLbender, you won't feel the small trout very much on that rod. Tenkara rods 11ft to 13ft great on small creeks because they are usually surrounded by willow and brush that are about 8ft tall so with these rods your 45 degree upward back cast will go right over the top of these willows and you won't have to think about them, shorter rods may not give you this advantage.

small trout on a tenkara fishing rod - flopping brook trout

The Mutant zx380 rod is excellent for small trout because the action is a soft full-flex action lets small fish give you a lot of fight, upping the fun level on small fish. The 3 lengths (12.5ft, 11.5ft, and10.3ft) also give you a lot of choices to match how you like to fish the different water you come across, whether that is long rod short line or short rod regular line or whatever. It is also excellent at casting lighter level lines which ups your presentation to small spooky trout. This is probably my favorite tenkara rod for small trout fishing and with level lines.

The Shadowfire 365 rod is also a great choose at the most popular 12ft rod length it can be fished with shorter lines or longer lines to fit you style on a small creek and small trout will feel great on this rod. It has an excellent rod flex that that allows you to feel everything small fish do and casts level line size 3.5 very nicely for great presentation to skittish fish. 

The NIRVANA 370z rod is a lot like the Shadowfire rod with some premium upgrades that make it very sensitive allowing you to feel every head shake even if the trout is small. It is slightly longer than 12ft but it also gives you a shorter zoom length of 11ft if you feel like the shorter length is needed for the conditions around you. It casts level line size 3.5 very nicely for great presentation to skittish fish.

The NIRVANA 400 rod is my favorite rod over all and it does quite nicely with small fish in creeks. Many people shy away from long rods in small creeks but a 13ft rod with a 11ft to 12ft tenkara line allows you to really pick a creek apart with little effort. It has an excellent rod flex that that allows you to feel everything small fish do and casts level line size 3.5 very nicely for great presentation to skittish fish. And with the longer length rod you will have more control over those light level lines than you would with a shorter tenkara rod.

The Mizuchi zx340 rod is a great choice as well. It has the 11ft length that gives you most of the advantages of a common tenkara rod but it also has two shorter lengths that allow you to shorten up quite a bit if you come across some tight canopy (see above info on that). It has an excellent rod flex at the two longest lengths that that allows you to feel everything small fish do and casts level line size 3.5 very nicely for great presentation to skittish fish. 

The HYDRA zx380 rod is also great for small trout creek fishing. The long length is probably a bit over kill for very small trout but the short length 11.5ft zoom is excellent for small trout, this is the length I would use it in for small trout and use the long length for wider water and medium-small fish or bigger. It casts Level line size 3.5 nicely for great presentation. 

The FoxFIRE zx280 rod with its very soft full-flex action is great for very small trout to medium sized trout but it may be a bit short for what most people want in open casting areas but if it is overgrown it is a great option. 

The Kaida zx320 Pack rod with its soft action is great for very small trout with it's slightly added fiberglass to some of the sections. The 10.5ft and 9.4ft lengths are fun sizes that fit most creek fishing situations, plus it is short enough collapsed to fit in any backpack you take hiking up to these creeks. 

river fishing with a tenkara rod

Wide Creeks & Small Rivers with Small & Decent Sized Trout

This is where long tenkara rods are king and the 12.5ft and shorter tenkara rods just come up a bit short most of the time. 13ft length tenkara rods with a 13ft long line or longer allow you to cover more water without moving much so you stay incognito more. I like a 13ft rod with a 14ft line in wide creeks and for rivers I like the same length rod with 16ft line.

The NIRVANA 400 rod is my favorite tenkara rod for these types of water. It's long length gives me plenty of reach to stay secluded from the fish and hit all kinds of spots. It also allows me to stand on one side of a river current and reach over and ride the dead side of the current on the other side, highly effective drift. It also handles good sized trout quite nicely without worries. It is also has a lighter swing weight for a long length rod so you can use it all day.

tenkara fishing open creeks with a long tenkara rod

The HYDRA zx380 rod is also great in this wider open water giving you plenty of reach in it's longer length and enough backbone to handle decent sized trout you might find. It's swing weight is higher than the NIRVANA 400 and is less smooth as well but if you want the zoom section to switch from this wider water to tighter casting it is a great all-around choose.

The HELLbender rod is also great for these waters if you think there is some monster trout in the ranks and you want to have the best chance of landing them. It has the highest swing weight of all our rods and is not the best at casting lighter lines or feeling smaller fish you might catch.

The all-around NIRVANA 370z rod is a bit longer than 12ft so it gives you more reach than a Shadowfire rod but it is not as long as a 13ft rod, this makes it a decent choice for open water.

The all-around Shadowfire 365 rod is not going to give you as long of reach as the rods above but it will handle just fine in wider water and will give you the ability to land some medium sized trout or a lunker if you play the fight just right. I will typically use a longer line with a 12ft rod like the Shadowfire rod to make up for its rod length when I need more reach in open water.

fishing tenkara on mountain lakes and still water

Ponds & Still Water

Tenkara can be deadly in ponds and still water during the times of day when the fish are cruising the banks for food. With very little top water disturbance with each cast you can sometimes get three casts in on fish as they cruise by without alarming them. Just about all our tenkara rods will work for still water but a rod 12ft or longer is best to give you more reach to cast out from the bank. Depending on the size of fish in the pond I would use one of the following in order of my favorite for still water: NIRVANA 400, Hydra zx380, NIRVANA 370z, Shadowfire 365, and if the fish are lunkers the HELLbender rod.

I would use a line that is a foot longer than your rod to a line that is 4 feet longer than your rod to give you better reach. Since still water has no current even the lightest line will sag into the water without any current to hook into, this makes furled or tapered lines a great choose for still water. You might even use a PVC line.

large rainbow trout on the NIRVANA 400 tenkara rod - Big fish tenkara

Big Fish Tenkara

When it comes to big fish tenkara rods there are two factors I consider. The big one is rod length, fighting big fish on a fixed line rod shorter than 12ft puts you at a disadvantage, you want that long length to give leverage to control the fish. I like a 13ft rod. The second factor is backbone in the rod, not many tenkara rods are designed to handle big fish. I have 4 rods for you to consider: HELLbender, NIRVANA 400, NIRVANA 370z, and the HYDRA rod. You might also checkout the tactics on this Big Fish Tenkara article >>.

big trout fishing with the HELLbender tenkara rod

The HELLbender rod is made for bigger fish specifically, in fact it is not great on small fish. It has a lot of backbone that can handle 3x tippet easily and many of our clients use 2x tippet without issues. This thicker stiffer backbone paired with the almost 13ft length makes it a rod you can comfortably apply some force to control larger trout and bass. I would use this rod for good sized bass and 15-26 inch trout. If you main purpose is catching BIG FISH then this is the "Big Fish Tenkara Rod" for you. It is also easier to cast big flies with the HELLbender rod than the majority of tenkara rods.  It is made of IM12 carbon fiber to give it high strength.

The Nirvana 400 is a great rod if you want to catch big fish but also want a lighter swing weight rod, it is substantially lighter than the HELLbender and 10cm longer being a little longer than 13ft. It is rated up to 3x tippet but has a less backbone than HELLbender but has a higher strength than most tenkara rod and lots of length for leverage. This rod will handle trout great up to 20 nicely and anything over that will be up to your still or situation. It is made of IM12 carbon fiber and a premium carbon weave to give it high strength.

The NIRVANA 370z also handles some nice sized fish. It is slightly stiffer than the NIRVANA 400 but it is also shorter so loose a little leverage in comparison. I would use this rod for trout up to 18 inches but it will handle bigger if you play the fish right. This rod is quite popular for bass as well. This rod is rated for tippet up to 3x. It is made of IM12 carbon fiber and a premium carbon weave to give it high strength. This rod has some harmonics as well and will sing quite loudly when you get a nice trout on, makes you giddy.

big trout on the Hydra tenkara rod

The HYDRA zx390 is softer than the rods above but it will still handle some good trout and decent bass. It is softer but the long 13ft length gives some extra leverage. This rod rated for 4x tippet and should handle trout up 18-21 inches just fine. This rod is made with IM10 carbon fiber and is probably the weakest of the rods mention above.

Nice small mouth bass on a Tenkara rod

Warm Water Tenkara

While most of out tenkara rods will work for warm water the Mutant zx380 and FoxFIRE zx280 are not good choices because they don't handle bass well. The most popular rods we sell to warm water areas in order of popularity are: HELLbender, NIRVANA 370z, NIRVANA 400, and the HYDRA zx380. The other rods like the Shadowfire 365 and Mizuchi rods will do an alright job but the rods listed above will be much better for the bass you might get into. The HELLbender not only great for taking on bigger bass but it also chucks some big warm water flies nicely. The NIRVANA 370z will cast the bigger flies as well.


Casting Very Light Tenkara Lines

All of our rods cast size 3.5 level line great, except for the HELLbender that prefers size 4 or 4.5 level line. And they also cast size 3 level line good but there are some rods that cast the size 3 great as well as size 2.5 level line. These rods are the Mutant zx380 and the FoxFIRE zx280. They have a full-flex action that loads the cast without the weight of the line so casting very light lines is much easier with these two tenkara rods.


Casting Heavier Flies

Most tenkara rods do not cast big heavy flies well. We have two rods that handle this well, the HELLbender and the NIRVANA 370z. Paired with a good casting line most tenkara rods will handle normal sized bead head flies fine. Be careful casting weighted flies with a tenkara rod as it changes you cast and if it hits your rod it will create a weak spot, read this article for more info >>.

The HELLbender is my go to for streamers as it does it better than any rod I have used. It has the stiff strong backbone to chuck heavy things and if you pair it with a powerful furled line it will do it even better. I use up to size 4 cone head streamers on the HELLbender.

The NIRVANA 370z does will casting small streamers and great with weighted nymphs. Definitely not going to cast as heavy as flies as the HELLbender but it will cast some size 6 cone head streamers.

NIRVANA 370z tenkara rod for all around fishing

All-Around Tenkara Rods

In tenkara a 12ft rod is a fairly common length and does most everything except overgrown canopy very nicely. So a rod around that length is a good choice. The five "all-around" rods I would suggest in order of most recommended is: NIRVANA 370z, HYDRA zx380, Shadowfire 365, Kaida zx320 Pack, and the Mizuchi zx340 rods. All of these rods can handle decent sized fish, are great with small sized fish, and have rod lengths that work for most situations. If price is a big factor go with the Shadowfire. If you want some shorter lengths as well go with the Mizuchi.

 Budget tenkara fishing rods ShadowFIRE tenkara rod

Budget Friendly & Beginner Tenkara Rods

While you get a lot for what you pay for in our DRAGONtail rods compared to our competitors who charge much more for rods that perform similarly to DRAGONtail rods (we feel ours out perform many rods that are much higher priced), the Shadowfire 365 is one rod that is definitely very budget friendly.

The Shadowfire 365 rod is an all-around rod that is that out performs similar 12ft rods price $70+ more. At around just $100 it is an excellent deal and it does not fish like an budget rod. The rod flex casting is well balanced throughout for precise light line casting or tapered line casting, it also balances the pressure on the rod well throughout the rod when fighting fish. It does well with small fish and medium-sized fish as well. There is not another rod near it's price range that performs as well as the Shadowfire rod and we offer replacement parts for all the parts individually so you are not SOL if you break it.


DRAGONtail Parts Availability & Warranty

All of our rods are covered for immediate defects, we replace these defective parts free of charge.


love tenkara fishing and brook trout

Tell Us How You Use Your DRAGONtail Tenkara Rods in the Comments Below 

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Steven Hahn - April 6, 2023

While I am new to Tenkara, I have four Dragontail rods. I haven’t had the opportunity to use the Mizuchi yet, I have put the Shadowfire 365, the Foxfire and the Nirvana 400 through the paces. Mainly going after coastal cutthroat in the South Fork McKenzie in Oregon. Fine rods at a fair price. Thanks Brent at Dragontail.

Steve Shroyer - April 6, 2023

I own the Mutant ZX380 and the Shadowfire 365. Both are very nice rods but serve different purposes for me. I fish for trout in Minnesota Driftless Area streams where most fish are only 8-12". Both rods are fun with fish this size and can still handle bigger ones (especially the Shadowfire). The Shadowfire is more of an all-purpose rod than the Mutant. I prefer the Shadowfire for nymphing during the cold season because it easily casts up to a size 12 tungsten beadhead nymph with a 3.5 level line and has enough backbone to get a good hookset when fishing several feet deep. The Mutant is my favorite warm season rod for more traditional tenkara style fishing with a 3 or 3.5 level line and small unweighted or lightly weighted flies fished shallow. It will work with heavily weighted nymphs, but not as well as the Shadowfire because it’s full flex. I mostly use it at the middle length but will zoom it longer or shorter as needed.

Bren Frakes - April 6, 2023

Would you please post a comparison matrix of your rods that summarizes weight, length, zoom lengths, cost, etc. Thanks!

Jacob - April 6, 2023

Since I only have access to small, overgrown streams and ponds, my first rod choice had to be the Mizuchi. It performed better than I had ever hoped. I discovered fish in places I didn’t even know they existed. I caught 6" Fallfish and 2lb bass on this rod and it performed flawlessly. I Decided I wanted a softer action rod for the smaller panfish and creek fish, so I opted for the Foxfire. Glad I did. What a unique rod. Every bluegill feels like the fight of your life. Thanks Dragontail for the awesome rods.

Ray Russell - October 19, 2022

Just got back from my local pond using the FoxFIRE 280. Fun rod to use on bluegill and a few small bass. Thinking about getting a longer rod when the DNR stocks ponds and rivers.

stephen zachary - October 19, 2022

Enjoying my nirvana 400 for sac a lait and just ordered foxfire for smaller fish and in tight quarters. Keep up the great work , I love all my dragontail rods.

Arthur Urban - November 18, 2021

I own the Nirvana 400 and Shadowfire 365. Love both though I just really like the way the N400 casts. So smooth. And any tap you feel is a fish; so set!

Neil Young - June 22, 2021

i use my hydra for warm water bass and sunfish. i love it. it has caught many. i did catch one largemouth bass that gave it a good test. the rod was really singing. i kept the hydra at a low angle and successfully landed the bass. that was exciting!

Stephen zachary - June 22, 2021

ponds and bayous in southeast LA. Mostly from bank or kayak. the 365 works well from a kayak.

Stephen zachary - June 22, 2021

love my shadow fire with pictures line for warmwater tenkara.

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