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.
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEslqCVAL-Y
Tenkara Guide Erik Ostrander with a large fish: