How To Fight Big Fish - Taking It From Vertical To Horizontal

Please watch this video and look for the mistakes this T-angler made in fighting his big fish.

I believe he fought that fish in the same way that most of us would have fought our own fish. Now take a look at this video and hang in there through the whole thing. While catching large salt water Big Game Fish seems to have little to do with Tenkara fishing on the face of things, it will show you how to get a big fish in much more quickly on a Fixed-Line Rod.

In some ways, we fixed-line fishermen have a natural advantage built right into our tackle in that we can not give line to a fish, so it is relatively easy for us to put the rod into our hips and drive the rod down to force the fish off balance. Directing the rod and line parallel to the water in stead of up into the vertical air, and in the opposite direction the fish is headed will allow us to steer the fish in the direction we want the fish to go, preferably into the current if you are fishing in moving water to make the fish work harder. When you run out of line and rod length in one direction, change the rod 180 degrees to steer the fish in the opposite direction, continually changing directions to keep the fish off balance and wearing it down far more quickly than a vertical rod angle would. Using these fish fighting techniques will allow you to subdue fish you would not be able to land with the usual fish fighting techniques. Give it a try on your usual sized fish to be prepaired for when that big fish does come a long.

On large fish I’ll use a figure 8 method with the rod parallel to the water and work them into to shallow water, hopefully where the current is not as swift.

Rob, the Figure 8 technique sounds very interesting. Here is some more information on taking it horizontal, with a whole lot of Tenkara Big Fish Picture Pornography:

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And here is another fairly recent article a long the same lines:

First rule is - stay calm. :relaxed: I so seldom hook a really large fish I forget that rule, and the other recommended big fish techniques never come to mind.
Plus more often than not when I do manage to keep the excitement under control I hook them where there are many submerged large stones. Guide the fish away from one stone they become closer to another stone, and soon the fish gets under one of them and cuts the tippet on the stone. :slightly_frowning_face:


I would 100% agree with David’s note. That for me is rule #1.

Stay calm and stay focused.

The guy in the first video was not calm and inexperienced. That was a nice fish but not humongous. I goes without saying that video illustrates the worst way to handle and release a fish. Death squeeze then plop in the water. I think most decent tenkara rods can handle fish much larger. Even though he made some mistakes he still landed the fish with the help of his friend. The go-pro folk are distracted by capturing it all to document and probably have that racing through their heads. He also was obviously overwhelmed and complaining a lot. Don’t do that. Get zen on that critter.

above all else…
1.Be patient and focused.
2. immediately pick a spot for landing -soft water
3. consider soft pressure.
3. Dont pull out the net until the fish finishes its fight

As soon as the fish can be guided try moving to the shore. Be careful big fish do not like shallow water and if you try too soon, they will bolt. Try to find an eddy or soft calm water to land. If not try to find a deeper pocket near shore, the fish will feel more comfortable moving to it, than to a riffle.

Soft pressure. What is great about tenkara rod’s is its ability to throttle pressure. They are so soft that we can often throttle the pressure to enough where the hook will not disengage but slowly wear on the fish. If you lighten pressure, most of the time the big fish does not know its hooked, yet we can wear down their battery. The more pressure you give the more you may get back. Once I establish my hookset and find it is a bigger fish, I might slowly increase pressure to make sure the hookset is firm. I may even give another light hookset or two with the pressure applied, then I usually ease off pressure to see the behavior of the fish. Put them on the leash and just enjoy taking the big fish for a walk. My fish pet. Enjoy the feeling of its strength, yet slowly wearing it down.

Nets might be near useless with a big fish and if you try netting the fish too early the probability of losing the fish goes up especially if the net is undersized. The net that guy had is way too small and he should not have even unsheathed it…just make you way to the bank once the fish can be directed.

this thread has some great stuff.

this is my favorite.

I hear this horizontal thing a lot. Fight horizontal…like it is a rule. Like anything it is conditional and is a technique to consider. Depends on the fish behavior, the environment you are in, and where the hookset is. The hookset, is more of an intuition. I can often tell the hookset by feel, but not always. It is mostly something does not feel right when it is not in the corner of the mouth. Like the fish somehow has more control or I feel something different.

Vertical fighting is often a strategy uses to lift the fish’s head carefully out of the water. I forget the source but the notion is…a fish gulps air then it is not breathing properly and you can shorten the fight, but you have to be careful because this can agitate a fish. I only employ this carefully later in a fight with a big fish when I start gaining some control. Vertical is also less taxing on the angler and often is the only option because of obstructions. Like I note, if you throttle pressure and are patient you can land monster fish this way.

Horizontal fighting is great if you have a jumping fish and a good mouth corner hookset. Low angle will almost always keep the fish in the water, and not jumping to shake the hook. Which is probably the #1 reason to use it, but I rare see that noted. An top jaw hookset might not be so good in horizontal fighting. Bigger fish have bonier mouths and side pressure can pull hooks if you do not have a good hookset. Like I noted about, I have a feel for when I think it is hooked well. Even catching smaller fish, try to keep mental notes on the feeling of the fight and where the hook is. Also, If you are fighting side and the hook comes flying out you can slap your rod on obstructions around you. Be conscious of your surroundings. Horizontal pressure is really helpful in guiding a fish. You are basically sliding them in their own medium. It is less provoking than vertical. When I bank land a large fish, I almost always try for side pressure. The tippet is not strong enough to lift the fish and the fish’s head and one shake can produce enough force to break 5x. Gentle landing.

I hope the barf of info is helpful.


Fighting fish horizontally is based on fish anatomy and the laws of physics. Just like humans, a fish’s back bone is not designed to bend backwards (dorsally up wards) very far, and it takes practically no muscle action on the fish’s part to fight the rods feeble lifting ability. In trying to lift a fish, the angler has to lift not only the fish against the force of gravity, but also the weight of all the water above it.

But the fish’s spine is designed to easily bend from side-to-side, which takes constant muscle action on the fish’s part to accomplish that, that a rod lifting action does very little to inhibit at all. But by applying side pressure, you really inhibit the fish’s swimming ability and its oxygen up take as well. The fish instinctively will tend to run in the opposite direction (get away from) the force that is being applied to it, which is where the steering of the fish comes into play. By steering the fish into the current flow, the angler makes the fish fight his pulling force and the force of the water moving against the fish until you run out of line and rod length in that direction.

Instantly flipping the rod 180 degrees in the up stream direction will steer the fish in the opposite direction - downstream, which will inhibit its ability to take up oxygen even more, shortening the fight and weakening the fish much more quickly until you run out of line and rod length in that direction, which may compose the Figure - 8 fighting technique that Rob spoke of.

In a lot of the Tenkara fishing videos I see on YouTube, T-anglers are being overly gentle in the playing of their fish, taking much, much longer to land a fish than is really necessary, which lessens the fish’s survival chances greatly. Once the fish is hooked, you should play it as aggressively as you can to get it unhooked and back on its own way in the water as fast as possible. I see a lot of fighting fish successfully getting below the T-angler in swift currents, where they are much more difficult to bring back upstream and pull over into more quiet water to bring to hand. If the angler aggressively moves the fish toward the softer water on the near bank while the fish is above him, the fish will tend to run upstream instead of down with the current, which is probably one of the better arguments for fishing upstream in the first place. None of this is written in stone, but offered up as possible food for thought and experimentation on how to better fight our fish and release them more quickly.


I fish is not a fixed object. I am not sure if the spine argument has anything to do why we apply upward pressure. Even side pressure is upward. The upward pressure keeps a fish from diving into hazards and breaking off our tippet.

I agree with this, stout tackle, horse em in and release them green.

I actually feel that tradtional flyfisherman take too long to land fish compared to even a novice tenkara angler. I always almost laugh when I see a fly fisherman take six minutes to land a ten inch fish. All kinds of posing during the fight…hahahhaa.

If the motivation is to land a large fish, horsing it will be a sure fire way of loosing it. There is a balance and like I noted…really big fish that can instantly snap you off…you need to be gentle with if you even want to have a shot of seeing them. If do not want to land them or tire them out… definitely put the hammer on them.

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This will load the entire book - The Technology of Fly Rods, by Don Pfillips. Please scroll down to page 47 and start reading at the heading “Landing the Fish”, on the next page will be shown two drawings - Figure 5- 7 and Figure 5- 8, which will illustrate how much pressure in pounds can be exerted at 90, 40 and 20 degree rod angles, and how many pounds pressure can be exerted at a 90 degree angle at a distance of 50, 25 and 10 foot line lengths. The section ends on page 49. I believe you will find the lack of angling power pretty surprising and the use of high pound test tippets totally unnecessary, considering these facts.

I think most fisherman fish pressure by feel, knowing their equipment. The document you posted is interesting but in my opinion too academic. I do not really analyze or think about equipment or fighting angle that way. Sometimes we do not have control over the angle…sometimes we do. I think there is more intuition with fighting fish that cannot be read and just has to be experienced. Similar to casting but not looking at your running line or rod and just your target. Practice.

The academic stuff is fine, but on the water the behavior of the fish and the environment determines the best course for how to fight and land a fish. It is an improvisation and it is what is so entertaining. Those skills and approaches can be very personalized and can only be achieved with experience.

Most of what i am trying to get to is that horizontal fighting is a tool but not the only one and not always the best.


It is what it is. The Laws of Physics can never be repealed. And no amount of denial is ever going to change that. The only question is: What are You, as an angler, Going to Do with this Knowledge?

Very true. But I approach this as an old tuna fishermen, where the use of a digital scale attached to a fully rigged rod and reel every single morning to actually test exactly how many pounds of drag you were achieving was routine.

Fishermen are notorious for grossly overestimating how hard they are pulling on a fish, and when I started fly fishing I was appalled at how long guys were “fighting” a fish, and how incredibly little pressure they were generating. Not to mention how often they were letting the fish rest.

If you know the actual measured breaking strength of your tippet (and that you’re using a tippet equal to or less than the rod manufacturer’s recommendation) by applying 1/3 to 1/2 of that unrelentingly to a fish you will quickly win your fight. I have caught 200+# tuna standup style from a stationary boat using 100# (tested breaking) fluorocarbon line in less than 20 minutes, it’s just unrelenting pressure that does it. Believe me, 30# of pressure feels huge when you first learn to do this. You quickly learn the rod angles that most efficiently generate maximum lift.

Anybody ever rig up their rod and tied the tippet to a digital scale to see how much pressure Is actually being generated? (Actually, you could do this with a traditional fly rod in order to get a feel for the pulling principles.)

There is a place for science and engineering in fishing. :wink:
There’s also a place for feel and experience too, :wink:

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I agree about general notes about pressure and knowing ones equipment. Most of the year I fish for striped bass and often land fish in the 20-40# class. I always thought that those were big until i caught the above120# bluefin on a stand up spinning reel rig. That fish toasted me. There is really no way to describe how strong a fish like that is.

So, big trout…are really no big deal. Talking tech about fighting fish that size and fighting angles to me is over complicating so many things…especially when we know tenkara rods can handle so much more pressure than advertised. I am sure i have applied nearly full tippet pressure on fish…which breaks the 1/3 rule.

What all fish share, no matter their size is that they will let you know when they are ready to land. Just like bluefin or any large fish, you do not apply more pressure when they run. You let them run…then apply pressure…repeat…until they give up. The shorter the fight, the less chance they will get away, but it is a balance. Haste and lack of focus on what a big fish’s behavior is telling you, will often lead to lost fish. I would consider it an art over being about science and numbers. When i fight big fish i am always responding to what a fish does. It is a conversation between two beings. I am not computing angles or calculating pressure charts.

Karl, i know about physics and never said I am a non believer. Hahaha…the world is not flat and i cannot fly. Yes, I am with you, brother. I am just trying to say there are more important things in landing big fish than fighting angle and physics, as even the most brilliant physicist or rod builder can make the worst fisherman.


Since I usually fish a line about the same length as my fixed line rod is long, and in stillwater a tapered leader about half again as long as the rod is long on floating lines, I do not have much line to give to a fish to allow it to run. I don’t measure or calculate my rod angles either, but I do find the ability to influence which direction a fish is going to swim in to be very useful under fixed line angling conditions.

I do not catch many big fish, once or twice a year if I am lucky. And certainly nothing that could be called big compared to what you guys have done. And where the angler is fishing with 6, 7 and 8X tippets, the straight up rod angle (of 90 degrees) is the best one to use because it is the least powerful and offers the most tippet protection, especially when you have no ability to let the fish run beyond your rod and line length.

I have friends that are still Western Fly tackle fishermen as I also once was, and in fishing with them from time to time, I have been surprised at how much faster I subdue the size fish we are catching on a fixed line rod than they do on their rod and reel tackle set ups, and I believe the time difference is precisely because I can not let the fish run like they can. Generally speaking, we are both using the same breaking strength tippets because that is largely a function of what the fish will take the flies being used on. The difference as I see it is that their fish are running line off of the reel, often several times, and then all that line has to be wound back on the reel, which takes time and allows the fish to regain some of its strength again in the process. I have come to believe 5X tippet is 5X tippet, and you ought to be able to land any fish on a fixed line rod with 5X tippet that you could land on any other rod with 5X tippet, if you handle things right, at least while fishing out of a float tube, which is how these comparisons have been made. But fishing from shore, I believe that all bets are off as there is so much less give in the tackle system using a fixed line rod compared to a rod and reel set up. But in my experience I have been able to land much bigger fish on a fixed line rod than I thought would be possible when I first started tenkara fly fishing, and a big part of that has been due to using side pressure to my fish where I can. Due to physical obsticles, it just is not possible to use side pressure in a lot of places.

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Karl, I actually think and others have noted that because most tenkara rods are pretty soft compared to a traditional fly rod , a fish is less apt to break off. There is far more flex vocabulary in a tenkara rod becaus they don’t need to cast a heavy line. If a rod and reel angler does not have the touch for hand pressure on the reel, the rod is often too stiff to insulate sudden lunges of the a fish. I have heard many seasoned flyfisherman really do not rely on mechanical drag, they apply their own. Where on a tenkara rod the variable pressure it is automatically built in. I like rods with a little slop in them. Not just in tenkara but in fishing the ocean. Moderate bending rods are great fish fighting blanks but usually not as crisp in casting or sensitivity. I prefer to forfeit those aspects and gain fish fighting.

G, I fish a Nissin SP 390 Seriyu rod from time to time. It weighs 1.5 ounces and is an 8 penny rod and has a lot of the flex vocabulary you have spoken about, but most of it gets used up pretty quickly in certain situations. It does not handle a lot of wind well, or cast heavy flies well. On a deep fished fly, the hook set is very weak - you apply a brisk lift and the rod mostly just bends, with out the hook deeply penetrating a fish’s mouth. For doing gentle presentations with dry or wet flies, it is a very hard rod to beat and an absolute joy to cast. None the less, I have caught some surprisingly big fish on it. But not without a fair amount of fear for its well being. But so far it has held up just fine, better in fact than some supposedly much better quality rods costing considerably more money. Its carbon fiber content isn’t the highest by any means, but it fishes quite well just the same.

I used it to fish a little headwaters brook trout stream last fall. Most of the fish run 4 to 7 inches, with a 9 inch brook trout entering the trophy class on this stream. I was fishing it with a 7 foot long #3 level FC line, plus 2 feet of 6X tippet tippet, which was too short for the low water conditions as there were places where the water level was 4 or more feet below the ground level I was standing on. There were spawning brook trout in the 12 to 13 inch size range to be caught that I usually never get to even see, and I caught more than few of them.

Trying to lift those fish straight up out of the water was nearly impossible and the rod bent into a half circle, putting the line way out of my reach. I had to pull the fish as close as I could to the bank, and then lay the rod flat on the ground and walk up it to grasp the line to raise and unhook the fish by hand. It all worked out OK, but it wasn’t much fun. For sure this is a rod that fish are not apt to break off from rod rigidity. And there is a lot more fish control than it sounds like there would be with a rod this light, but I believe it is a rod that should be, more or less, totally devoted to fishing small fish waters.

In my Western fly fishing days, I always set the drag just tight enough to prevent reel spool over-spin that would result in line loop tangles, using hand pressure on the exposed spool rim to control fish when needed. I preferred Scot G Series rods over the others I tried, which were soft tipped rods, with a moderate mid sections and substantial fish fighting butt sections, and capable of casting just a leader with no fly line outside of the guides.

2010 was a high point in my fly fishing life to that point: I fished 22 hike into high country lakes that I had never fished before that year, releasing a total of 1,339 fish over 31 angling days or portions there of, testing 20 different fly patterns, i.e. 650 trout were released on 4 different Sheeps Creek fly patterns; 241 fish were released on 5 different Chironomid Pupa patterns; 92 fish were released on two different midge emerger patterns; and 5 trout were released on a wet damsel fly nymph pattern. Fish released on dry flies (including both lakes and streams) came to 452 fish, and 431 of those fish were caught on terrestrial fly patterns: The Two-Toned Beetle pattern - 10, the Foam Spider pattern - 55, the Pink Butt - 55, Green Butt - 4, plus 20 trout on a Floating Damsel Nymph Pattern. At that point I felt I had taken my fly fishing just about as far as I could and I was ready for a new and different challenge - enter Tenkara Fly Fishing.

I came to Tenkara some what reluctantly (at that point I had 10 different fly rods and 5 fly reels, with all the different floating and different sink-rate lines and extra spools and Shooting Heads it took to support my stillwater fly fishing) and it took about two years of trying Tenkara fishing off and on before Tenkara took hold for me. Tenkara’s distance casting limitations on lakes are what made me reluctant to commit 100% to it in the beginning. But with time and more experience, I found that I could catch just as many or more fish with Tenkara tackle than I had been able to catch on Western stillwater fishing tackle. Now fixed line fly fishing is all that I care to do. One of the things I enjoy most about Tenkara style fishing is the intimate feelings you experienced in the playing of fish, which I find to be much more intimate than Western fly fishing is that I have used in the past.

When I came to Tenkara, having worked as hard and long as I had done on the fly patterns I had developed, I had no desire to throw all that effort away to fish with Kebari Fly Patterns. I already instinctively knew that they would catch fish just fine, there were a lot of similarities between Kebari fly patterns and my Sheeps Creek series of fly patterns. I tried traditional Tapered Lines first, moving on to hand tied tapered Fluorocarbon tapered lines, and eventually settled on Level FC. Lines for all of my stream fishing, using mostly dry flies on running waters. On the lakes and ponds, after trying all the lines I tried on streams, I went back to using Floating PVC coated Fly Line style Tenkara lines for Stillwaters, with nylon/ FC. Level Tenkara Line constructed tapered leaders. The PVC line handles wind and floating flies on lakes better than the more traditional Tenkara Lines do. For really windy conditions, I use a Titanium Tenkara Fly Line. I have given you this not so brief personal history to demonstrate how much time and effort I have invested in my Tenkara fly fishing to date. I am a new member to this board but, I have been at it for a considerable length of time now. Am I opinionated? Definitely, but those opinions are based on doing a lot more testing and research than most anglers do, both Tenkara and Western fishing…Karl.

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Thanks Karl. I like your backstory. Thank you for sharing.

It is always interesting to hear. We all have different backstories, but share the same passion for angling and this tenkara thing we do. Each one of us has also invested a bit of time and thought to our approaches as well. Some influence in approach is from educational resources and some from dedicated time on the water…cause and effect. Some academic stuff can take years to work out and understand. I also think that angling approach is a real extention of our being. There is a bit of personality and artistry in how each one of us approaches the water and the fish.

Regarding equipment.

There is no perfect rod, it is always a trade off in attributes. Those low penny rods are often a joy to cast but so much more challenging in all other aspects of fishing.

The line i fish floats. If you are interested, message me your line length preferences and i will build you a line to try.

Much of the engineering of tenkara, tenkara rods, kebari, and tenkara technique is linked to high gradient stream fishing. It is all definity worth exploring as i feel there is alot to learn in those methods. Probably a lifetimes worth of skill. There are things that i am just starting to experiment with now that are really eye opening. I only note this because you mention that you use only traditional fly patterns. Most kebari styles have specific utility and their function is linked to their effect when manipulated. I think even if you are content with your current method there is always something enriching about injecting variation in technique or mixing disciplines. Like my tenkara informs my saltwater lure fishing. Whoa, when i got into this i never thought tenkara would improve my saltwater angling…pretty cool.


G, thank you so much for your willingness and kind offer of building a line for me. The fact that it is a floating line I find to be most interesting. Although I don’t generally use them much, I carry some tapered furled FC lines I made which sink that actually cast better in a good wind than Floating PVC lines do. I use them when its too windy for the fish to take dry flies, so the fact they sink is not an issue. One of the problems I have experienced with twisted and woven lines is that they pick up a lot of debris in certain situations, and even more if they are treated with floatant. What are your floating lines made of (lighter than water Polypropylene?) and how do you construct them? If we are not giving away trade secrets here…Karl.

They are dyneema, made from saltwater fishing lines. The line on its own will float without floatant, and can be pulled subsurface if the the vertical current is strong enough to drag it down.

I suspect that it is lighter than your fluorocarbon line and probably less wind resistant. Fluoro might be hard to beat in wind, as would the titanium.

@dwalker has fished a 4.5 meter length of the 80# that he noted he could load with water to give it more weight, then false cast it out when he wanted to lighten it. The line tends to repel / shed water.

I tend to fish shorter lengths that do not touch the water. and like it mostly because of it’s visibility. I like using the end of the line as an indicator. The visibility of the end really helps when dead drifting and in subtle takes. It also has no memory so, is unspooled straight. No stretching or coiled lines.

I do fish LL but it is rare. This line is heavier than LL but most of the time I feel the minor draw that I get on the heavier line is more than a fair trade to get the other benefits. Because it is white it is visible no matter the environment, and white has been noted to be stealthy from some folk as the sky will often read as white.

this is a thread that notes it all. The only thing I do differently these days. I make a taper with a 60/40 instead of a 60/20/20.

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Here is a brief example of Side Pressure being used against a Bone Fish on a BIG Tenkara Rod.

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