Netting/Hand-lining bigger fish

by Pete (UK)

Big net, small fish!

Big net, small fish!

This is my second submission to ‘Your Tenkara Stories’ in just a few days, but my request for information about tippet knot breakages was so comprehensively answered that I thought I’d go ahead and seek enlightenment on my other Tenkara bugbear: actually getting the bigger fish into the net.

On my Daiwa Keiryu X 42 (13’8”) I generally use a level line + tippet set-up of around 2-3 feet longer than the rod and bringing small and medium fish to net usually goes OK, particularly as the net I’m currently using is a cheap conventional fly-fishing model, which is about twice the size of typical Tenkara nets (so gives me a longer reach). However, with bigger Trout (15 inch plus) the fun really starts, and when I say “fun” I mean that if anyone had recorded some of these incidents and put them on Youtube I’m sure they’d have attracted massive audiences (and widespread derision).

As I see it, the bigger fish, especially in strong currents, put such a bend on the rod that, even after playing them out and trying to bring them into calmer water, they’re still too far away to net directly, which leaves me with no alternative but to attempt the dreaded hand-lining technique. In the past couple of weeks I reckon I’ve lost 60% of the fish I’ve tried to hand-line to the net and when you add this to the fish I lost through tippet to level line knot breakages (thankfully now solved by this blog) it’s getting a bit frustrating… I should add that I only use barbless hooks.

One beautiful specimen of around 20 inches was so close to me that I almost felt like scooping him up in my arms, but just as I reached for the net with my left hand (I was holding the tippet in my right) he thrashed on the surface and broke the tippet, this time at the clinch knot connecting the fly to the tippet, and was gone. Perhaps I was holding onto the tippet too hard? Then just yesterday, a somewhat smaller fish actually swam towards me and between my legs (I was wading so maybe he thought I was a tree root) at the last moment and, in the ensuing confusion, managed to wriggle free.

I’m very new to Tenkara and it’s only by complete chance that the rivers I’m currently located near (western Catalunya, Spain) happen to hold such large numbers of bigger than average Brown Trout. Next week I’m returning to my home city of Sheffield (UK) and rivers where anything in double figures (inches) is considered a very decent fish, but I’ll be visiting Catalunya on a regular basis and will no doubt find myself facing the hand-lining dilemma again. Is it just a case of practice makes perfect or are there any special tips I need to know?

Comments for Netting/Hand-lining bigger fish

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Mar 20, 2018
You are not alone
by: Chris Stewart


There are some tricks you can learn (and I would suggest that Rob Worthing of Tenkara Guides and Paul Gaskell of Discover Tenkara) are the people who could give you the best advice.

The best advice I can give is the simplest - use a shorter line! I had the same problem, losing one of the largest fish I had ever hooked (up to that date) when I could not reach the fish with the net and when it broke my 6X tippet almost as soon as I touched the line.

I immediately cut my line back to where I could reach the fish with my net (rod tip to hook no more than a foot longer than the rod). I've since lengthened the line a bit, but I still prefer fishing with a shorter line rather than a longer line. There are fish you won't be able to reach without spooking them, but there is an offsetting benefit. You will get better drifts and if you are stealthy you can still catch plenty of fish.

Mar 20, 2018
Head up!
by: Les Albjerg

Pete - Most of us would love to have more fish to the net! You could call them a long release if you want. One thing I have learned in my 18 months of fixed line fishing is to play the fish a little longer before bring them to the net. Second, if you can get their head up 10-15 feet out and then pull them straight into the net seems to work well. Watch a YouTube on Ayu fishing. I also agree with everything Chris has shared. One of the beauties of a zoom rod is "making the line short." I am turning more and more to my TenkaraBum Traveler 44 when I know there are bigger fish. I fish it at the 40 setting with the line about 6 inches to 18 inches longer than the rod at that setting. When I get a bigger fish, I zoom it out to 44 for landing giving me a much shorter line than the rod. Last bit of advice, make sure you are using high quality hooks. I always fish barbless too. All of the hooks on TenkaraBum are high quality. Tom Davis, a well known Tenkara fisherman here in the Western Mountains, always uses competition hooks. Since I have switched to hooks from Chris and competition hooks from Europe, my percentage of losses has gone down. Last but not least, it is just a part of fishing! The thrill of victory, and the agony of the fishing getting away at dee-feet!

Mar 20, 2018
Shorter Line
by: Pete (UK))

Yes I think it might come down to using a shorter line (or a longer rod!) but I was wondering if there were any tips and tricks that more experienced Tenkara anglers new about.
Once you think about it I suppose it's pretty obvious that as soon as you get hold of the line with your hand you're removing most, if not all, the shock-absorbing properties of the system and a big fish will invariably snap a light tippet.
I think I've read on the internet that you're only supposed to 'pinch' the line between the thumb and one or two fingers, rather than grab securely with the whole hand, so that if the fish kicks it can take line, but so far I haven't had the presence of mind to put this into practice.
Maybe I'll try to get Paul Gaskell to give me a few pointers. I've never met him but I believe he either lives in or is from my home city of Sheffield.
Thanks, Pete.

Mar 20, 2018
by: Pete (UK))

Les, you raise some very interesting points here.
I'd never considered using an adjustable length rod as a means of making landing easier but it makes good sense (I should say that I don't actually own any adjustable length rods).
As for hook quality, I can only hold up my hand and say "guilty": when I got back into fly-fishing the summer before last, possessing absolutely no equipment from my earlier foray into the sport, I felt an irrational need to rapidly build a substantial selection of flies (because I saw other fly fishermen with boxes and boxes of the things out on the river) and the easiest way to do this was to go cheap...
Now in my first year of Tenkara fishing I'm just using those same flies, in fact what I'm doing is probably more accurately described as Czech Nymphing with a Keiryu rod rather than Tenkara. When I said "barbless" I actually meant that I've removed the barbs from barbed flies, although I'm very thorough in this — the hook has to go into and out of the denim on a pair of Levi 501s without the least 'bump' before I'm happy. However, I recently ordered some purpose-made barbless hooks to use with 'squirmy wormy' material (got the idea from the 'Chenille Worm') and I can immediately see the difference in quality. These hooks are altogether finer and sharper, and the angle of the point looks like it will be harder for the fish to shake off when the going gets tricky.
I don't yet tie my own flies but hope to get into it in the future. In the meantime, all my future Kebari/fly purchases will put quality before quantity.
Thanks, Pete.

Mar 20, 2018
Big Fish Problem
by: John Evans

Just do what I do to solve the problem--don't hook any big fish! Seriously, for what it's worth, I think the tendency is to rush landing a bigger fish because you're excited. What happens to me is that I get anxious, then I rush the process, and that spooks the fish into one last, mad dash--which busts the line. So . . . the bigger the fish, the calmer I try to work them. You have to control the excitement and fight the urge to act too quickly. Slow and steady wins the race.

Mar 20, 2018
Big fish
by: Tony Schollmeier

I use the shortest line I can get away with (usually 0.5-1 meter shorter than rod length)

Getting the head up so the fish is off-balance can be huge when you can do it

When you can't I like getting to slack water, swinging the rod straight upstream, as in parallel to the bank and pointing upstream and lower angle rather than high overhead. Usually taking a a few steps downstream at the same time. The effect guides the fish upstream and closer to your side of the river. If you go straight back the fish is too far downstream. If possible I try and get to where I'm below the fish so everything naturally lines up with the fish as close as possible

Mar 20, 2018
landing larger fish
by: Clyde(Savannah, GA)Your Name (REQUIRED!)

If all the above doesn't work, your final move would be to BEACH the fish(unless the beach is full oyster shells or brickback that might be harmful). A careful beach move is a very humane move to end the battle if done well and quickly.

Mar 20, 2018
by: Terry Farmer

All good advice above but I feel compelled to add the following. Most of my fishing is catch and release. My favorite landing circumstance is a self release at my feet. The hooking and playing are done and I’m always quite pleased if the fish spits the hook and "gets away" on his own. I also applaud long distance releases. I just laugh and congratulate the fish. It’s just a matter of perspective. Broken lines aren’t any fun however. I hate to see a fish swim away with a hook, or worse, hook and line still attached. A good netting technique is important.

Mar 20, 2018
Line length...
by: Tony Schollmeier

To clarify, I fish 6.x meter rods most often and usually with lines 0.5-1 meter shorter than the rod

With 4.x meter rods I usually go 0.5 meter shorter than the rod or rod length.

Longer rods are easier to prevent getting straight-rodded on the initial run. The initial run (longer lines are better) vs landing (shorter lines are better) becomes a situational balancing act that requires experimentation.

For me it seems like each rod has a sweet spot for line length and everything longer/shorter than that is a trade off that take on a situational basis

Mar 21, 2018
play longer
by: Brandon

When you hook a bigger fish, let it take a couple extra runs to take the snap out of the netting or unhooking. I use about or just shorter (up to 12inches) than the length of my rod of level line without a tippet ring, only a figure 8 knot. I do break off at the tippet to level line occasionally, it's usually when I rush my attachment knot. I do not own a net and can't rember using one, I hand all of my fish and have caught a few that were touch and go. I feel that patience and understanding of the equipment(practice) will make your fishing trips more fun and productive.

Mar 21, 2018
by: Pete (UK)

Thanks for all the ideas. The clear message seems to be line length in comparison to the rod. That and trying to 'line the fish' up so it's in the best possible position before reaching for the net...
The other point which strikes a note with me is the one John Evans made about staying calm and not rushing things. I'm a life-long rock climber and have always prided myself on being able to stay reasonably cool in tricky situations, but hooking a big fish on a skinny rod seems to send my anxiety levels through the roof. I really need to learn how to calm down a bit.
Thanks again all...

Mar 21, 2018
by: Vern

I hooked a large brood trout that went about 18" and lost it while trying to land it. Broke my heart. When I hooked a similar sized one from the same hole with the same fly (same fish?), I kept my rod up and beached it. I was not going to give it a chance to get away. Beaching beats a net when available as an option.

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