Aggressive Hooksets

Overly aggressive hooksets break rods. I actually saw one break and was alerted to a second by the sharp "crack" sound it made as I was fishing 50 yards or so downstream.

Discarded rod that had been broken by aggressive hook setRod broken by aggressive hook set

The break I saw happen (and very possibly the one I heard) was caused by an overly enthusiastic hookset on a strike. The fish was actually pretty small. It could not possibly have broken the rod on a run. I am certain that tippet size was not a factor. The fish couldn't have broken 7X tippet even if it was in heavy current. The break happened with the fish near shore in quiet water.

I am sure more rods are broken when setting the hook on a submerged branch or tree root rather than a fish. I confess I have done it myself -  twice. A very quick, very sharp and overly forceful motion of the rod can and does break rods.

One of my customers reported breaking three sections of a rod and getting the tip permanently stuck in the #2 section. The multiple breaks my customer reported were almost certainly caused by  an overly aggressive hook set on what turned out to be a rock. She was new to tenkara but had quite a bit of fly fishing experience. I strongly suspect she had her rod tip fairly low (as fly fishers often do) and her strike probably took the rod from just above horizontal to well past vertical. The rod tip (had it not broken off) probably would have moved 10 feet. The line was tight enough for her to feel a "bump" or see the line stop, so there could not possibly have been 10 feet of slack.

I feel it is important to stress that a forceful hook set is absolutely not necessary, particularly if you are fishing a relatively tight line with all or most of your line off the water. 

Consider this: from loose in a fish's mouth to firmly embedded in it's jaw, a hook has to move about half an inch. With an 11 to 15 foot rod, the amount of hand movement required to move the rod tip an inch is imperceptible. Granted, there will be some slack in even a "tight line" and the rod tip is soft enough that you need to move the rod more than a few inches to bring some backbone into play. Still you don't have to move the rod very far or very forcefully to set a relatively small, sharp hook.

I suspect many tenkara anglers are still used to much shorter fly rods, with a lot of relatively heavy, relatively thick line stuck on the water's surface, and lots of slack line in an attempt to get more than a few seconds of drag free drift. You need to move the tip of a 7 foot rod a long ways to pick up all that slack. You need to do it forcefully to overcome the friction and surface tension of the water holding the line. And you need to do it quickly before the fish spits out the hook. The result is a hook set approaching that of the bass guide who once told me "You gotta cross his eyes" when telling me how hard to set the hook.

With an eight inch trout on a small mountain stream and a 14 foot tenkara rod, you absolutely, positively do not have to "cross his eyes." Just lifting the rod should do. Quickly, yes. Forcefully, no.

Tenkara rods were designed to fish flies only a few inches under the surface and with a relatively tight line. An aggressive strike is just not necessary. Your strike does not need to be any more forceful than picking up the fly for a new back cast. Truly, a large percentage of my fish are hooked as I pick up for a new cast. And those fish never come unhooked!

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