Don’t be a Jerk: Tenkara Rods, Hooksets, Snags, and Breakages

52025887 I have suffered from two rods that have broken on the hook set. It is a dumbfounding sort of feeling. It leaves you a bit incredulous. “Really?!? what the %$@$&!!*”, you think to yourself – or perhaps shout out loud (hopefully away from the ears innocent children).  Both times the hook set was actually done on a snag and not an actual fish.  That’s one good reason to fish unweighted flies with the tenkara rod I suppose. – less snags. There a loads of other ways to break a tenkara rod too. Some of us break a lot – others do not. I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a bit over enthusiastic sometimes on the hook sets. And I don’t shy away from really brushy overgrown streams with lots of overhanging branches. Nor do I shy away from the occasional bead head wooly bugger (a great way to break a rod!). I get snagged a lot. Above and below the water. I need to get a post up on all the best ways to break a tenkara rod (and how to learn by my examples). Snags and rod breakage have been on my mind lately. And I just got the latest TenBum’s Timely Tips (sign up for the newsletter)  from Chris Stewart of TenkaraBum.  I was glad to see it.  It outlines much of what I was thinking and it is a must read for tenkara anglers. After you read his thoughts – I’ll add a few of my own – so here’s what he has to say.

TenBum’s Timely Tips

I’ve written about this before, and I’m pretty sure I’ll write about it again some day. I got an email today from a customer who had just broken his rod on a hookset on a 12″ fish. He said “Surely the rod can take a normal set on a fish that size.”

The short answer is no, it can’t.

The problem is that a “normal” set with a fly rod is not at all the same as a “normal” set with a tenkara rod. Tenkara rods aren’t designed for a normal fly rod set, they can’t handle it, and to be brutally honest, a normal fly rod set just isn’t necessary.

Fly fishermen are used to setting the hook with an 8’ rod and 30’ (or more) of line stuck in the surface tension, probably with quite a bit of slack between rod tip and fly to minimize drag. You really do have to set hard to get that much line up off the water and pull out all that slack before you can move the hook point the 1/2” it takes to actually set the hook.

With a 12’ tenkara rod, though, moving the rod in the same arc moves the rod tip substantially further – 50% further. With tenkara, though, you don’t have 30’ of line, it’s not heavy, it’s not stuck in the surface tension, and there should be almost no slack. You don’t have to move the rod far at all to move the hook 1/2”. It does have to be quick, but it certainly doesn’t have to be forceful and it doesn’t really have to be much of a “set” at all. I’ve gotten to the point that my sets are little more than just line tightening. Often almost questioning “are you a rock or a fish?”

I know it’s something many people don’t realize, and it’s also a hard habit to break. I saw a guy break a competitor’s rod on a hookset on what could not have been a 10” trout. I asked him why he struck so hard. He said he didn’t strike hard at all, but I saw it and if the rod hadn’t broken it would have pulled the fish clear out of the water. If you’re pulling fish out of the water – even small fish – you’re striking too hard.

One last point, absolutely, positively do not whip the rod to try to jerk a snag free. It won’t free the snag but it will break the rod.

-Chris Stewart

Thanks Chris.

First of all see that very last sentence there? Yes you absolutely can break a rod that way. Trust me. Trust me. And it will not even seem like you’ve done enough to break it. The tenkara rod can take a pretty good bend from a fish or even from a snag – but statically. What I mean is that putting a deep gradual bend in the rod while landing a fish – within reason  – is usually perfectly okay. But that snapping shock of trying to rapidly and repeatedly pull a snag free from a rock or tree – you know what I mean, we’ve all done it with fly rods for years – well that is a very bad idea with a tenkara rod.

Also – keep the tippets light folks. I would not recommend anything over 5X personally.

Also – here’s a suggestion to help with the hook set.  And this will help with preventing shock and breakage from fish and snags, as well as help keep you out of the trees. So here’s the tip – instead of setting the hook by flicking or moving just the rod tip by rotating your wrist and/or elbow, do this – set the hook by moving the whole rod up while not rotating it at all.  You move your whole arm, and the whole rod along with it, upward in the same plane. This will generally keep the hook set more subtle because you’re not taking advantage of the mechanical multiplication of the long rod. You know? 10 degrees of rotation at the grip results in a lot more actual translation at the tip than the at the butt. Also by lifting the whole rod without rotation, you avoid sending the line up into the trees on missed strikes, and avoid sending the rod tip into those low hanging tree branches. And smacking that tenkara rod tip on low hanging branches is another excellent way to break a rod!

Not all tenkara rods are the same – and actually some of the more expensive rods may be more susceptible to these problems, due to lighter weight, higher modulus graphite designs (just speculation). Any way I’ve broken more expensive rods than cheaper rods – maybe that’s just my bad luck though.

So however you achieve it – strike responsibly my friend!

5 Comments on Don’t be a Jerk: Tenkara Rods, Hooksets, Snags, and Breakages

  1. Great post, Anthony. Good advice well stated. ~Paul

  2. Great post Anthony! I haven’t broken a rod on a hookset (yet). I usually only fish unweighted flies and have lightened up on the set over the years. But I remember when I first started tenkara, I was pulling fish out of the water left and right.

    • Thanks Jason – I figure it’s good to let the new folks know and – remind some of us (me) that tenkara rods are not western rods and they need to be treated a little differently.

  3. Have not broken a rod from hooksetting. However I have broken the tippet off most likely from being too aggressive. Will definately try the approach of keeping rod and arm on same plane rather than hinging the wrist. Thx.

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