Why wasn't I hooking fish?

by Jeff
(Aberdeen, WA)

I don't know the waters in my region. I was never a fisherman, until a hiker friend said he'd barter fishing knowledge for my building him a bridge hammock. He got the hammock, but I'm still fish-stupid.

I got my Tenkara rod 2 weeks ago and wanted to try it everywhere I could. I caught pikeminnows up to 10" with a fly on about a #12 hook at a lake from an outrigger canoe. Then I went to a small stream today and cast the same fly and got multiple "bites" but never hooked a fish. After few dozen casts and multiple bites, I started a back cast and with the cast came flying a fish maybe about 2-3" long. I guess the fish in the creek were too small for the the hook. Maybe someone can confirm or deny that guess?

Maybe tomorrow I'll drive to the Hoh River and hike/fish some.

Comments for Why wasn't I hooking fish?

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Aug 31, 2014
Missed strikes
by: John @ Tenkara Guides LLC

One of the biggest reasons people miss fish strikes with tenkara rods is because they have slack line on the water and the rod is horizontal (parallel ) to the water and lines that are too long.

Here's a few things to try:

Shorten your line to approximately the length of your rod + 3-4 ft of tippet.

Keep your rod tip up and rod at approximately 45% to the water.

Keep your line off the water. Your line should be perftectly straight up and down. Only the tippet and fly in the water.

Watch the end of your line for any pause in drift or the slightest movement. That is the fish. If you are going off of just tactile feedback (feeling the strike) you are going to miss a lit of fish.

Aug 31, 2014
Thanks John
by: Jeff

Thanks for the tips, John. I have a 13' rod, used a furled line about 12' long, with a 2' tippet. I'm going out again today to practice casting from the canoe and maybe practice hooking, landing and releasing fish. The furled line seems a bit heavy, but then I think the rod is a bit stiff. In the common cents test it doesn't deflect 1/3 until I have about 133 gm on the tip (that's about 53 pennies)
The rod is what Wetfly placed into their package. That was a somewhat hasty buying decision, but I'm still having fun.

Aug 31, 2014
Actual tenkara fly distance!
by: Anonymous

So Jeff, after reading your posts and Johns comments i just had to tell you the truth! You will find that there are a lot of American/japanese "wanna-bes" out here. They find their American heritage dull and boring and have this false idea of superior, mystical japanese life style. Sometimes they first discover tenkara or martial arts or "whatever" and want to be "real japanese masters", what a bunch of BS! Heres the TRUTH. Tenkara is just another way of fishing. It was developed ages ago by guys who lived in the mountains, with MOUNTAIN streams and cold-water trout! They then developed ways to catch these fish for a living with what they had. Remember, this was developed for cold water MOUNTAIN streams and trout! NOT for warm water fish in lowlands ponds and lakes. So, if you have a 13' rod, with 13' line and 4' of tippet you are NOT casting 30' to a fish with your fly! John says you raise the rod at a 45 degree angle, line OUT of the water and the joint of the line/tippet just at the waters surface to watch/feel for a strike. Basic geometry math tells us that you ACTUALLY only have a casting distance of not quite 10'! from shore to fly!!! When you see videos on the web you are seeing casting into mountain streams, creeks, etc where success is sure because of "drift". If you want to actually cast 30'+ you must use a USA Western fly rod and line cause thats what they were made for, here in the USA and Britain.Why do you think the founder of Tenkara Usa moved to Colorado? Cause they have MANY mountain streams, duh!!!! Tenkara is NOT made for ponds and lakes no MATTER who tells you so, its all "smoke and mirrors"!!!!

Aug 31, 2014
It takes time
by: JDSmith


Just remember that you are new to tenkara and to fishing in general. It's gonna take some time to form a foundation of skills to build upon. Don't become discouraged too soon. John was wise to have given you some of the very basics of your foundation, and not to overload you with excessive information. You will have to practice with those basics as well as searching for new skills as you learn. Just go out and have some fun. Don't put too much pressure on yourself.

Another thing you might try is targeting various locations on the stream in search of bigger fish. If there are very small fish in the system, as you noted, that means that there are a sustaining population of fish in that stream (Fish and Game will very rarely plant fingerlings into the system), and there will be bigger fish holding somewhere in that system. Pay close attention to your time on the water. Take note of where, when, and why you are getting bites. The flies you use the locations they work and the depths the fish are holding are all clues you will make note of.

I hope some of this is helpful to you and your time on the water. Just fish!

Aug 31, 2014
53 Pennies????
by: TenkaraBum

There's no way to know whether the fly was too large for the fish in the stream without knowing what fish are in the stream.

Now that you mentioned that your rod is a 53 penny rod and you were using a furled line, I suspect a combination of factors contributed to your not hooking fish (aside from the possibility that where you were fishing was in fact home to only small fish that couldn't easily take your size 12 fly). I think John is exactly right, you probably had too much slack in your line. A heavy line will try to fall straight down from the rod tip, and no matter what you do you will have quite a bit of line sag. Being inexperienced, you may not have seen the indications of strikes in your line - but a heavy line is not nearly as sensitive to subtle strikes.

I have three suggestions for you. The first and easiest is just to try a smaller fly and see if you can start catching some of the fish. The second is to watch the tip of the line like a hawk. Strike at the first hint that something disturbed it's drift. The third is to dedicate that rod to heavy nymphing or bass bugging, and buy a more sensitive rod. You don't have to buy it from me, but if you are going to try tenkara fishing, you ought to have a rod whose action is in there with tenkara rods, maybe a 23 rather than a 53.

Sep 01, 2014
Thanks, Chris (?)
by: Jeff

I gather from your reply that I conducted the penny test correctly.

Yes, the furled line did sag, and taking out the slack dragged the fly, allowing the line to sag again, etc.

"a rod whose action is in there with tenkara rods, maybe a 23 rather than a 53" Sounds good. I'd like the gear that works well together at the outset--I can expand as the need arises, if ever.

Re: the Nissin Starter Kit page quote: "The 6:4 rods are a bit lighter, cast a lighter line a bit more easily and ..." Interesting.


Sep 01, 2014
Penny Test
by: TenkaraBum

The penny test is pretty simple.

Measure the length of the extended rod to the nearest inch (or centimeter, depending on the scale of your measuring tape), not counting the lillian. Divide the length by 3. The result is the amount of deflection you will create by adding pennies to the rod tip. If your rod is exactly 12' (144"), the deflection will be 4' (48").

Clamp the rod so that it is horizontal and more than 48" above the floor. I use the top of a bookcase, with the grip weighted down by large books, shimmed with pennies so that the blank portion of the grip section is horizontal (eyeball accuracy - I don't have a carpenter's level). The tip will sag a bit from it's own weight, but that's fine, you measure the height and the deflection from the base, not the tip.

My bookcase is 68 1/4" high. For that 12' rod, I would need to add pennies until the rod tip (not the lillian) is 20 1/4" above the floor, which would give me the 48" deflection. I use one of the little plastic bags I send black Killer Bugger yarn samples in to hold the pennies, with some fly line backing looped through one of the hang holes so I can girth hitch it to the lillian).

If that's how you did it you did it correctly.

A 53 penny rod is seriously stiff. Unless it is a tip flex rod that rapidly turns almost completely rigid, you probably would not get much rod loading at all when casting unless you had a furled line or a RIGS floating line. I would still try to use a size 4 level line, though, and modify the casting stroke to mimic what a softer rod would be doing.

Your back cast would have to be pretty quick, but have a hard stop at a little past vertical (about 1 o'clock if you were facing the 9 on a clock face). Pause until you can feel the line tug on the rod (critically important). Immediately upon feeling the tug, start your forward cast, a little slow at the very start (to feel the line being pulled) but then accelerating rapidly until you get to 10 o'clock. After a very abrupt stop with the rod no lower than 10 o'clock, quickly raise the rod tip (no higher than 11 o'clock) as the line is still extending. The wider casting arc and raising of the rod tip will mimic the path that the tip of a softer rod would follow during the cast.

You should be able to cast a size 4 line that way. The line will be substantially lighter than your furled line, and although the casting stroke is more complex and requires more effort, the lighter line will allow you to catch more fish. I'd probably still only fish bead head nymphs, foam hoppers or bass bugs with the rod, but at least you should be able to catch fish.

Sep 01, 2014
41 pennies
by: Anonymous

41 pennies (102 gm) bring the tip of the 150" rod down 50" from the level of the horizontally mounted base, using the detailed instructions you gave above. The earlier number came from measuring a 52" deflection from the tip for a nominal length 156" rod.

41 is still at the rigid end of the spectrum, which may be too many standard deviations from the mean. This may not be a good rod for a beginner such as me.

Thanks for the casting advice. I couldn't often feel the tug on the back cast. Most of the time, I'd either watch the line or pause until I thought the line had played out behind me.

Sep 01, 2014
That's more like it
by: TenkaraBum

As you noticed, actual length and nominal length are usually different, those last few inches of deflection sometimes take a lot of pennies, and measuring from the tip rather than the base inflates the rating.

A 12'6" rod that measures 41 pennies might make a nice rod for heavy nymphs, big bulky hoppers or bass bugs. It is not an "all around" rod to be sure but it is worth keeping for that specialty.

You should be able to cast a size 4 level line with that rod, but I'd still suggest getting a rod that will more easily cast a lighter line for when you want to cast unweighted or lightly weighted flies.

Sep 02, 2014
Distance etc.
by: Anonymous


Concerning distance etc with the rod Tenkara and other methods do require that you fish a bit closer but don't believe some of the math you see. I have cast and caught fish completely across medium large water that would have been impossible to fish otherwise. Those are cast 35 to 40 feet out. With a short fly rod 9' the drag would have killed the drift in a couple of seconds at best.

On ponds and pools you must use stealth skills and here I agree Western fishing might be an advantage at time but unfortunately on this low smooth water the fly line usually scares the crap out of them anyways.

Concerning strike detection, well I miss a lot and and sure I miss a lot I don't even see but I detect many more than I ever would with a Western Fly rod and fly line.

If you fishing further that 30 or 40 feet,get closer no matter what way you fish. Hero cast a generally not effective. So hang in there.


Sep 02, 2014
My T-fandom due to fun blows away this smoke and leaves you looking in the mirror.
by: Jeremy

Jeff many variables to know for sure why you didn't hook fish. Just keep at it and add more knowledge/time getting that hook in the water I say.

My lightweight telescoping rods work wonderfully from my Kayak & Canoe in large warm water lakes and rivers or in cold water streams on foot or paddling for Trout. Adaptations made with long rod & light line can be utilized for beautiful long casts of 40+feet w/ experience and the right combination of rod and line. A more comfortable set up w/ shorter lengths of line are easier to fish. This particular post of Jeff's reminds me of what 95% of my fishing for the last several years has been, Kayak/Tenkara. I like to travel into small running streams from larger waters fishing in the boat then on foot where the water runs swift and clear. The boat places your fly in an infinitely larger area making the T-rod useful as an adaptation for more than just cold mountain stream Trout. The drift in the moving water is simply fun and very effective.
The rod and line setup mentioned by John is the best place to start for a beginner. Using a simple balance of line around the same length as rod approach in the boat casting distances can be closed using the boat to attain the desired casting range.

Adaptations w/ telescoping rods continues to spread and will continue as long as people find fun places and fish and enjoy nature. Glad this site helps share fishing expertise strange though the negative post. What a strange response from anonymous to someone interesting in just trying to catch some more fish. Failure to share through a negative post makes me say please keep your limits in your own hand.

Good luck Jeff from WA

Sep 02, 2014
Casting distance revisited.
by: Anonymous

I just finished reading Rogers response to a earlier post. Roger, math is math. The numbers add up no matter what we think! 2 + 2=4, etc. Always! All anyone has to do is grab a 13' rod, 13' of line, 4 ' of tippet. Go out side, whether its your yard, a community park with a still pond and cast. Raise your rod to a 45 deg angle (remembering variables such as wind and direction, grass or water resistance, etc.)Make sure that the line and tippet connection is just touching the surface (OUT of the water or off the grass) Grab your stiff/retractable tape measure and SURPRISE not quite 10' AMAZING! Oh sure, you can cast the same set up, lay the rod on the surface of the water/grass, stretch out the line /tippet...13+13+4=30' but its no where accurate!? The line/tippet will eventually sink/sag, the fly will drop, wind and current will play with the line and you will NOT be able to detect a strike. What a ridiculous site that would be, some dude floating parallel to the waters surface, rod and line stretched out to try to get 30' out of his tenkara rod!!! As was said before, tenkara was created, made for MOUNTAIN streams, narrow, pooling places cause that was what they had to work with. Bring the same guys to ponds, lakes, wide rivers. They could only wade so far, maybe be limited to shore fishing and it would NOT be the same at all! They would use a way different setup. more line, reel, longer poles calling it "Keiryu, Dabu, pole dabbing? And remember the proof of all this is 90% of all photos/videos are mountain streams, rivers with guys wading far, guys in float tubes,boats, kayaks,boards, etc tryin for that distance. How many guys do you see standing ON SHORE casting to a shallow lake, pond, slow moving river and pulling out "whoppers"? NONE cause they stare down at the line and fly floating 6-10' from them and know they might get a minnow or a small bream (if there lucky) cause the little fish know staying close to shore and cover is safer than out there in the deeper waters! How many of the few really good tenkara guys live and work and post from lowlands that are for the most part de-void of mountain creeks, streams, etc?? You can count them on one hand. Tenkara IS good but its not the ultimate method for all types of fishing.

Sep 02, 2014
Great to have so much input
by: Jeff

Hi Chris,

First, thank you for this "forum" and your helpful replies. And thanks also to all who have commented here.

Second, the rod I have may or may not be suited to nymphing, as the tip section is flexible. As a angler with no other rods, I can't compare it to that of a Shimotsuke 3.6 or a Daiwa Kiyose SF. It might make more sense to have an "all-around" rod and add a rod with a stiff enough tip section for nymphing later.

My rod is interesting. 41 pennies and a flexible tip section. I could keep it for nymphing, bass bugging & foam hoppers, but would I be wiser to look for a rod designed for that?

Thanks Jeff

Sep 02, 2014
Do an exercise to scale and report back!
by: Chris Stewart

Math is indeed math. Geometry is geometry and your geometry is wrong. Make it easy. Unfold a newspaper and get a yardstick. From the lower right corner, measure up the right side 4". That is the height above the water of the butt of you tenkara rod if you are standing on shore. (Sitting in a kayak, the rod butt is closer to the water and casting distance will be longer.)

From that point, measure 13" at a 45 degree angle. That point is your rod tip. From that point, draw a 17" line (representing line equal to rod length plus 4" tippet) down to where it intersects the bottom of the newspaper. Measure the distance from that point to the lower right corner. In reality, there is a little bit of line sag, so the 17" should be a curved line rather than a straight line.

Immediately after casting, the weight of the line will cause it to sag, and will pull your fly towards you, but the above exercise will approximate your true casting distance.

Do the exercise and report back the distance. Until or unless you do that, you have lost the right to post anonymously. (The posts will go up automatically, but they'll be deleted as soon as I see them.)

Sep 02, 2014
Assignment completed!
by: Anonymous

I took your challenge and included 3 witnesses. Wife, Mother-in-law and friend. We got together and followed your instructions exactly. Wife is a retired teacher and our friend is a college math professor. Using YOUR instructions we discovered and triple checked our findings. (All very scientific!) Our conclusion? Given the formula you gave us that cast would be less than 12" 7/8". little over the 10' I originally stated. As my Professor friend pointed out this does not take into consideration wind factors, top and below surface currents and line weights, and types (furled, level line, etc). Less than a 24" difference! The tenkara folks need to start posting accurate facts and also if tenkara is for all types of waters then more real photos of shore pond/lake fishing. You must concede that you all prefer streams and small rivers because THAT is what tenkara was made for and is good for. ps-I will be interested to see how much of this accurate post will find its way into your site and how much will be "edited". Either way, know that i enjoy tenkara, western fly fishing, bait fishing, etc. Each has its place and purpose!

Sep 02, 2014
Last word on this topic
by: Chris Stewart

I have no idea how you can come up with 12 7/8"

I strongly suspect that when people talk about the distance they cast, they are talking about the distance from were they are standing, not the distance from their rod tip.

Following my instructions, with a 13' rod held with the rod butt 4' above the water level, cast so that the forward cast is stopped when the rod is at a 45 degree angle, a fly at the end of a 13' line and 4' tippet will hit the water about 20' from where you are standing.

If you are wading in knee deep water, so the rod butt is only 2' above the water's surface, the fly would hit about 22' from where you are standing.

If you are in knee deep water and are fishing with a 20' line and 4' of tippet (which I never do, but some long line tenkara anglers do), your fly will hit the water about 30' from where you are standing. Thus, a 30' cast is well within reason for tenkara gear.

I frequently fish with tenkara rods in ponds, either standing on shore or fishing from a canoe. I occasionally fish large lakes from a boat. It works. I catch a lot of fish and have a lot of fun. That tenkara was developed on small mountain streams is really irrelevant if you enjoy fishing with a tenkara rod.

It is certainly true that a western rod will cast further, but that doesn't make it more fun and that doesn't make a tenkara rod unsuitable. No one is claiming that tenkara is the ultimate method for all types of fishing. A lot of people are claiming that they like it well enough that they use it whenever and wherever they fish.

I claim the last word on this discussion. No more comments will be posted.

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