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DragonTail Hydra zx390 Tenkara Zoom Rod Review

DragonTail Hydra Zoom Rod Review

The DragonTail Hydra zx390 is an adjustable-length zoom Tenkara Fly Fishing Rod which can be fished at two different lengths: 13 ft and 11.5 ft. Zoom rods have become popular because they give you two rods for the price of one: a longer rod for landing bigger fish and a shorter rod for fishing smaller streams.

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of a zoom rod, so I accepted DragonTail’s invitation to review one. Having a multi-length Tenkara rod is an attractive idea for fishing bigger rivers and wider rivers, where the added length of an adjustable rod gives you more reach and a stiffer base gives you more backbone for landing bigger fish.

The DragonTail Hydra Tenkara Rod
The DragonTail Hydra Tenkara Rod, shown with snap-on line winder.

Specs at a Glance

  • Make/Model: DragonTail Hydra zx390 Zoom Rod
  • MSRP: $139.99
  • Material: Carbon Fiber
  • Handle: Cork
  • Rod Weight: 3.2 oz
  • Length Extended: 13 ft and 11.5 ft
  • Segments: 9
  • Length Closed: 21″
  • Case: Included, 6.5 oz

The Hydra Rod is well-manufactured with a comfortable cork handle, well fitting segments, and the end cap stays nice and tight. In addition to the case, the rod comes with a rod sock, which I promptly misplaced and never carry, and a protective tip cap. The locking mechanism between the short and longer length positions is marked with some bumps in the black matte finish and holds fast when set. I’m not sure I can explain exactly how it works but it’s easy enough to figure out by feel.

DragonTail also sent me a huge care package of furled lines, level lines, line cards, foam line holders and a snap-on line winder (which is just great). They really have quite nice Tenkara accessories and you should check them out.

I mainly fish in medium-size streams and small rivers, where I can usually cast from one bank to eddies along the opposite bank without getting my feet wet. I like to move around frequently and change positions to reach different features working my way upstream or downstream. I prefer streams and rivers with a noticeable gradient, working pools, eddy lines, and runs, but shy away from lakes or ponds because they’re too boring to fish. New England streams don’t generally have dense fish populations, so you need to probe a lot of different locations before you get a strike. I rarely wear waders because I hike or bushwhack into streams and they’re too bulky to carry.

This being New England, we have Brook Trout, Brown Trout, and Rainbows, but they never reach the giant proportions of their western counterparts. The fish in these mountain streams tend to run on the small side, rarely exceeding 12″ in length. They’re small and feisty, but less choosy about the flies they’ll take since there’s less food for them to eat in the narrow streams and cold water they inhabit. I can usually fish a caddis, bug, flymph, or a terrestrial and land a trout. I tie my own flies instead of buying them because I catch more fish that way, although Reading Trout Water had something to do with it too.

A big brookie caught on the DragonTail Hydra
A big (New England) brookie caught on the DragonTail Hydra

When I fish with the Hydra, I usually keep it fully extended, because the added reach is nice to have, except on streams with a dense canopy. Since, I fish on smaller streams and rivers, the things I look for in a Tenkara rod are precision casting and the ability to detect subtle strikes on my line. I fish with barbless hooks (for catch and release) and it’s important to pull up the tip quickly to set the hook before the fish gets away.

The Hydra took me a while to get use to because I normally fish with a lighter 11′ rod. But once I dialed it in, I found the Hydra a very precise caster with a 10′ orange flourocarbon line with a 3′ to 6′ foot tippet. With the Hydra, I can work all the rocks in a pool, the holes under a cascade, or the eddy lines along a run, effortlessly from the opposite bank, which provides me with a lot of stealth so the trout can’t see me.

The Dragontail Hydra is a long rod with a soft action

The Hydra has a lot of backbone and when I land large trout I can muscle them around pretty effortlessly. But when I hook a smaller trout (under 6″) and give them a pull, they’ll launch out of the water like a cannonball, more often than not flying off my hook and back into the river. I don’t mind (that much), but then again, I don’t have to live on what I catch.

With the Hydra fully extended to its 13 ft length, I’ve found it very hard to feel smaller fish nibbling on my line. It’s frustrating and I’ve lost many smaller fish because I can’t feel that telltale tug. It’s not an issue with bigger fish, because there’s no disguising a take from them. But New England mountain streams have a lot more small fish than big fish. While the (tip) action on the Hydra is soft so it bends easily, a fully extended Hydra doesn’t transmit the subtle take of a small fish in an unambiguous way, making it difficult to distinguish between normal line movement and a fish hitting the hook.

When fished with its shorter 11.5 ft length, the Hydra is much more playful and effective in propagating subtle hits back to the cork. But it’s still more sluggish than my other fixed-length Tenkara Rods because it’s much heavier. Net net, I think the Hydra is simply too much rod for small trout under 6″ in length. While the added length over my existing rods is very nice for being able to fish wider streams and rivers, I can compensate for the missing length by tying on a longer tippet and repositioning myself more often.

I think it’s worth emphasizing that I fish in New England, where the mountain streams are far less fertile than out west and the fish are usually around 6″ in length. When testing the Hydra, I fished it in small rivers where I knew larger trout would be present and it performed well with bigger trout, where the take was obvious. If you fish in such water, the DragonTail Hydra will probably be a good rod for your needs. But if the fish you’re likely to catch are on the smaller end of the spectrum, the Hydra is overkill and I’d recommend getting yourself a lighter fixed-length 11′ Tenkara rod instead.

The author received a sample rod for this review.

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6 comments

  1. Awesome review! I love Dragontail Rods, I have 2 and I’m thinking of getting a 3rd. Their quality way surpasses their pricing. I actually sold my other, more expensive rods because of this. Are those the Buff Aqua gloves? I have a nice net but for backpacking I think the gloves would suit me better. Love your page.

    • It’s a Buff water glove, silicone coated so it won’t hurt the fish. Buff has dropped the style and they’re now called Buff Aqua Gloves. About $30/pair. I just got a new set because that old glove is on its last legs. Size up, they run small. I wish Dragontail has sent me a fixed length rod to review. They *do* make very nice gear.

  2. Great review Philip!
    Must say I have not fished with the Dragon Tail but another mark; varie length tenkara rods for some obscure reason I do not understand seem to all have a distinct lack of sensitivity compared with fixed length. That said they really do have their place for the roving, backpacking angler fishing a variety of streams and rivers on one outing. An example would be a 5 day section of the Te araroa Trail in the southern Alps NZ. Small brooks, small rivers, braided broiling busters of snow fed river and tarns and lakes are all capable of being fished with the single rod. Choosing the fish by sight fishing the clear water avoids break offs too.

  3. That is a good-sized Brookie for the size of the stream. Nice!

  4. DragonTail also makes a Komodo Zoom which is 10.5ft/9ft rod. It fishes well in the Smokey Mountains which has a similar fish ecology to what you describe in Maine. It might be a better choice if DragonTail wants to let you review another rod. The Komodo does not have the length of the Hydra but the Komodo action would better suit the smaller fish.

    I do like Komodo Zoom but I have found that I tend not to use the zoom much and just reposition myself. In fact I tend to fish a Badger UNC rod which is a 9 ft fixed length rod more often.

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