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Big Fish, Big River Tenkara

by Ryan Jordan
(Bozeman, Montana)

Madison River Brown

Madison River Brown

Chris --

First and foremost, thanks for the all the time you spend on your website. I find it to be an invaluable resource about the state of tenkara.

Second, I'm pleading with you to help me reverse the myth that tenkara is an inappropriate methodology for fishing big rivers for big trout.

Out here in MT, we are catching trout regularly to 24" on rivers like the Madison, Yellowstone, and Missouri. Bigger ones are getting away, but we are figuring it out. The Tenkara USA Amago, in particular, has opened the door to the application of tenkara fishing on bigger waters, because of its ability (backbone and length) to divert the energy of a running trout appropriate by steering the run and/or capitalizing on existing current for a fish running upriver. On smaller streams, we use the Hane, which has a strong backbone for fighting big fish. The Hane is particularly suited for big browns on the small spring creeks here. (In those cases, get your running shoes on.)

Next week I'll be crafting a story to be published at my website about the applicability of tenkara for big fish in big rivers. I'm also working on a technique video that shows fish fighting and landing techniques for big trout with strong currents.

There's a neat photo of Daniel with a nice big brown caught on the Madison last week using the Amago in my Flickr album here:

Feel free to use any of those photos on your site.

Looking forward to seeing you in West Yellowstone in August.

Take care,
Ryan Jordan

Comments for Big Fish, Big River Tenkara

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Apr 29, 2011
Big water, big fish
by: TenkaraBum


Thank you very much for your submission. I think we are all just now learning what tenkara rods are capable of doing.

I think the idea that tenkara is for small fish in small streams comes initially from Japan, where the Amago, Iwana and Yamame don't get much bigger than 16" and most are much smaller than that. The entire approach to tenkara was with the idea of catching smaller fish.

Add to that the general idea (held by people who have never done it) that you can't land a big fish if you don't have a reel and drag to wear it down. People who have never fished with tenkara rods have no idea how well or quickly the progressive resistance of the rod will wear down a nice fish.

Even experienced tenkara anglers who have not hooked large fish may not believe that you can stop a large, wild fish. I have been very surprised at the effectiveness of the rods, and although my best fish on a tenkara rod was much smaller than what you have been catching (17.5"), it was fought and caught with the little 11' Iwana. I am sure you are correct that the Amago can subdue much larger fish, and is THE rod for bigger water and bigger fish. And the Hane certainly has the backbone, though I haven't fished it as much as the Amago.

There have been a few fish here and there, like Simon Hayes' salmon and Daryl Martens' bull trout, that made me think that these rods are a lot more capable than generally thought. If you are regularly catching trout to 24" then you are absolutely right, the small stream, small fish mantra is a myth.

Most anglers don't get the opportunity to catch fish of the size you're catching, so to a large you are the one pushing the envelope. I am sure there are special techniques required to prevent breakoffs, and I am very much looking forward to your article. (And hoping to put some of those techniques to work in August!)

Jun 13, 2011
Stonefly 390 going to the Snake
by: DanO

I have a Stonefly 390 I am getting this week. I will have about 3 weeks to work with it before heading out to Jackson Hole for our annual 11 day fly fishing trip. I regularly have landed 20+ inch cutties on my 3 weight, so I will see what the Stonefly and #5 tippet will handle.

I will have a report and some photos after the trip to share.


Jun 13, 2011
Stone Fly 390 on the Snake
by: TenkaraBum

DanO, if you can keep the rod bent so they are fighting the rod, the rod will protect the tippet to a surprising degree. Also, if you can keep them from heading downstream in heavy current, you should be able to land some of them although probably not all. On the other hand, you may land some that would have been lost on conventional gear - especially conventional gear with the drag set too light. I think it is easier for a fish to break 5x tippet if it is dragging the full length of a PVC flyline behind it as it goes around rocks.

I'm looking forward to the trip report and pics!

Jun 26, 2011
Rod fail
by: DanOonymous

Seems I will be delayed in my assessment of Tenkara rods for big Snake River Cutthroats. I received my rod and took it to a family pond which holds hybrid bluegills and some medium sized bass. I used your #5 line and 5x tippet.

I got a hook up on my first cast, began to play the fish, and instead of the tippet breaking, the lilian came off the rod tip sending my Kebari, line and lilian off with the fish.

I have corresponded with the seller, who feels the rod performed as it should have with 5x tippet, so I am returning the rod and hoping I can pick another rod which will break the tippet and not the lilian if I get a bigger fish than expected.


Jun 26, 2011
Lost Lillian
by: TenkaraBum


That's really not what I meant about the rod protecting a 5x tippet.

I'd have to say I pretty firmly believe the tippet should break rather than the rod, and I'd also have to say that I view the lillian as part of the rod. It's one thing to lose a fly, it's something else entirely to lose hook, line and lillian!

Instead of a size 5 level line, it could just as easily have been a pesca alla Valsesiana line that takes $50 to buy and four weeks to receive.

I have heard from time to time of people losing a lillian but I haven't paid attention to whether they happen across the board or more often with one brand of rod. I'll try to keep better tabs on it.

Jun 26, 2011
by: DanO

Ok, thanks, so I'm not crazy. I think it was just one of those rare things where the lilian was not on tight enough. The rod was one which has had good reviews over the last year.

I have not given up, and I think the next Tenkara rod I get, I will see about a little extra glue or epoxy on the lilian, just to be sure. But I may wait until a big fish ("Steelhead ready"?) rod comes out that is backpacker friendly. If one could handle 3x tippet, I would be in heaven. I know it is not Purist Tenkara, but it would suit my needs here in NW Indiana.



Mar 29, 2014
Yes it's true
by: Spaztazman

You can land big fish with tenkara. In Alaska
last year I landed 5 fish over 22 inches in one day. The amago was amazing. Fish never knew I was
there. The fight was like trying to walk a dog
on a leash. Big ones like 24 inch bows never felt
the hook set until it was too late. Trick is to hold them in the current and then let them walk you upstream. When the moment is right I grab the line let the fish come back down the current to me and into the net. I used a tenkara line 13 1/2 feet with 9 ft leader on 5x fluoro. Big bows and dollies can be had but it's tricky. In all I caught 300 trout in 4 days. What a blast.

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“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” - Benjamin Franklin

"Be sure in casting, that your fly fall first into the water, for if the line fall first, it scares or frightens the fish..." -
Col. Robert Venables 1662

As age slows my pace, I will become more like the heron.


The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.

Beware of the Dogma

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