Don’t toss your tenkara rod in the water

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Daniel Galhardo

It’s a great rod, hang on to it.

There is word going around that should you hook into a large fish with a tenkara rod, the best option will be to toss the rod in the water. I am writing this short piece to let you know that, NO! Tossing your tenkara rod in the water is neither recommended nor necessary.

Frankly, I could stand to benefit from having you toss your beautiful tenkara rod in the water, and then buy another one from me. But, this advice is based on old lore and old technology, and I do not think it should live on.

A few years ago, a fellow who shall remained nameless here, told me about his first experience with tenkara. On his first outing with a tenkara rod he hooked into a good size fish. He was with a friend who had a bit more tenkara experience. As he saw the rod bending to a point he’d never seen a rod bend before he asked his friend what to do, and his friend advised him to toss the rod in the water.

Pike caught on tenkara

Pike caught on tenkara

As the nameless fellow continued to tell me, he tossed the rod in the water and watched it drift away for a few moments until it stopped. The pool he was fishing was shallow and the currents not strong. He waded out to it, picked up the rod, and to his surprise the fish was still attached to the fly. He fought the fish again, and again fearing the rod could break at any moment he tossed it in the water once more, waded back out to the rod, picked it up and continued to fight the fish.

This time, finally the fish came in, he told me. After hearing his tense account, I waited for the punch line. I expected him to tell me he had hooked a ‘gator, a fish taller than him, or a submerged log caught in bizarre currents. So, I asked him, “how big was it?”, to which he replied, 17 inches!

It was but two hours earlier I had landed a rainbow of 20 inches in size and brought it to hand within 3 minutes, without tossing my rod in the water! So, you can understand why I had a smirk in my face when I heard this.

Where did old lore of throwing the rod in the water originate?


Dr. Ishigaki fighting a good fish without letting go of the rod. The bend may look scary, but that’s part of the design of a good tenkara rod.

Back in the day, say some 300 years ago, tenkara and western fly-fishing looked nearly identical, with neither anglers in Japan nor those in Europe using reels. Fishing rods at the time were made of wood or bamboo. Those rods could break more easily than modern carbon-fiber or graphite rods. Those rods were also much harder to repair or replace. When anglers connected with a very large fish, they would have to make a choice: fight it out and almost certainly break the rod and also lose the fish; or toss the rod and hope for the best. I’m sure this didn’t happen very often, but it was a reality, due to the tackle used at the time.

Fast forward a couple/few hundred years later and materials have come a long way. Nowadays rods are made of carbon fiber, a much stronger material (particularly when well designed). We design tenkara rods so that they can bend deep and absorb the high pressure applied by large fish. Tenkara rods are still not designed to target large fish, but if you happen to hook into one, don’t despair, keep steady pressure, move downstream and to calm water with it, and land it without tossing your rod in the water. But, of course, if you choose to throw your rod in the water I will be here to sell you another one.

Here are just some videos and pictures of landing large fish with tenkara without throwing the rod in the water:

Daniel landing a 21” brown on tenkara on the Madison River:

Daniel’s wife landing a large rainbow:

Tenkara Guide Erik Ostrander with a large fish:

Daniel Galhardo
Gink & Gasoline
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17 thoughts on “Don’t toss your tenkara rod in the water

  1. The new book Simple Fly Fishing by Yvon Chouinard and Mauro Mazzo recommends this technique. They said that it originated from Italian trout fisherman. Apparently it wears out the fish in the current and then you just wade out and grab the rod when the fish is tired. I for one have no interest in tossing my Tenkara USA rod out in the river.

  2. Yea, throwing your tenkara rod in the water is perhaps the dumbest fishing advice to get flushed down the pipe. We catch carp weighing between 10-20 pounds with keiryu rods (a similar telescopic rod from Japan). Never thrown a rod in the water once.

    Tenkara Guides LLC

  3. This was also mentioned by a guide in a recent Orvis podcast. He also said it is the best thing to do to get a big fish to relax and return to his original position.

  4. I think you guys should be careful not to contradict yourselves.

    In a post on January 6, 2015, we read:

    If you love something let it go
    This is where it gets weird. Daniel (Galhardo) told me that if you have absolutely no other option but to break a fish off, you can just drop your rod in the water and the fish will stop running and return to its holding zone. The weight of the water will keep the hook in and you can wade back out and pick up your rod for round two, or three. I’ll admit that I was afraid to do this in a big Alaska river but when I hooked up on a big fish here at home, I gave it a try. My buddy Dan, who was already wondering what the hell I was thinking, thought I had completely lost it. But it worked and I landed the fish.

    • Joe, this is in now way a contradiction. This was a direct response to the post you mentioned. I’m not one of those guys who thinks I know everything. When Daniel told me he disagreed with what I wrote, I encouraged him to write about it. Sharing different points of view helps everyone. I simply misunderstood what Daniel told me. You can take this as a correction.

  5. The only problems are (1) he might not return to the original position and (2) wherever he stops may be in a spot you can’t wade to.

    I’ve never thrown my tenkara rod in after a fish but once, with all the excitement and the photos, I did forget to unhook my largest fish to date and when I released it the rod went with it. (Too busy high fiving to notice and only realized it when I couldn’t find my rod.) Luckily, it was a small enough stream that I was able to wade out to the rod and land the fish a second time, but where he stopped was nowhere near where I had originally hooked it.

    Having met the two gentlemen referred to in the original story, I strongly believe the guy giving the advice was pulling the other guy’s leg and couldn’t believe he actually did it. Yes, it was done hundreds of years ago, but the rods and lines were both weaker then and the large fish would have been a feast rather than released.

  6. I just landed ten nice rainbows 15-22″ this weekend and never once dropped my rod. It took some patience to let the fish wear out, but we landed them all.

  7. throwing your rod of any type in the river is never a good idea. bend that rod deep, move your feet and dont give in! keep the cork pointed straight up and down now matter how deep the rod goes. it will work, trust me. also, they talk about using super light tippets w/ tenkara cause it protects the line so well. I have found that i can actually get away with using a heavier tippet because you can keep every single inch of tippet off the water with a tenkara rod. put some 3x on there and reef em in like usual.

  8. Thanks. I always had an issue with this idea. You risk either losing the rod forever and spending hundreds to replace it or breaking a tip and spending tens of dollars. The choice is obvious.

  9. I’ve had a few fish jerk the rod out of my hand… I’ve had several fish grab the fly and jerk my rod overboard while I was doing something and laid the rod down… I’ve even landed a peacock bass over 4 pounds… but I don’t recall ever tossing my rod into the lake. LOL

  10. I watched a video where Ivan Chouinard recommended dropping your Tenkara rod in the water if the fish is too big to land. He said that he would rather retrieve it downstream than break it. I thought this was silly! What if you can’t find it?

  11. That was a very funny story. After he threw the rod into the water the first time you had me giggling, but when he threw it in again for the second time it was just too much for me. I think this article rivals some of Mark Twain’s best short stories. Thanks!

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