Tippet protection while hand-lining?

Good day and Happy New Year!
During a period of insomnia last night, I thought about this tenkara-related issue that has popped up a few times this past summer and was hoping for possible tips.

When fishing with a longer line and I need to hand-line to bring the fish in, I recognize that by grabbing the line I eliminate the tippet protection benefits of the rod itself. I had broke off a couple fish as the tension on the line between my fingers and the fly is too great.

Wondering if anyone has any ideas or techniques that is helpful during hand-lining to reduce the risk?


I hand-line by wrapping the tippet around my four fingers. Therefore, my fat flesh becomes the sponge that absorbs some of that. I also work very hard to emulate Tenkara no Oni, who always gets fish out of currents just using the rod and into gentle, slow water, where he then hand-lines in the fish. I wonder if strong currents/ battling strong flows may be exacerbating your problem.

I think it’s something you have to develop a feel for. I remember breaking off large fish constantly before I got it down. I don’t wrap the line around my fingers but rather keep it loosely and mainly place my hand on the line and apply pressure bringing in the fish. When the fish fights back I immediately loosen up and let it run back onto the rod if necessary. Hard to explain, maybe someone has a good video on it.


Landing fish hand-lining is a totally different mindset than bringing a fish to net on a short line.

I tend to prefer shorter lines that do not require handlining as I feel it is better for the health of the fish. Bring them green to the net and release them as energetic as they were when I landed them.

Sometimes even with a short line, I handline because the fish are so big they cannot fit in the net.

So long line hand line or short line handline, part of the best technique for me is to identify when the fish is ready to land. This requires patience as it will take longer than it takes to shortline a fish to net. The best identifier is that I can easily lead the fish and can tell that I have broken it’s will. The time this takes is individual to the fish and to the water in front of me. A key identifier to this is if they are comfortable being in shallow water near the bank. They can still be pulling, but not frantically trying to flee. There is not a fish that is not completely spooked by shallow water. You dont want to completely toast them either, but if they can be guided into this danger zone then they can probably be easily and quickly handlined. In deeper water if you are wading, I just wait until their desire to run subsides.

Sometimes I start to handline and see the fish is not even close to ready and I just let the line slip through my fingers until all the weight is back on the rod. Identifying a good landing spot is really important. Soft water or a small eddy in hard water are good places to consider. In deeper water I try in the eddy i create. Depending on the size of the fish, I will even walk through a bit of water just to land the fish.

The key to all of this is focus and deliberate relaxed action. Neither rushed nor too casual. When I handline I always consider landing the fish improbable as I fish barbless and the fish has the physical potential/upperhand to get away. Thinking this way it removes any anxiety from the situation and really increases the probability of success. Really gentle tension is all that is needed and the fish rarely puts it together it could simply run directly at me or go airborne.

The general hold is loose in the free hand, so if they do run the line will slip through my fingers. Feed each retrieved length to hold in a couple fingers on the rod hand. If the fish lunges the fingers release the lengths in sequence. Sometimes just letting the line slip through the retrieving hand a couple inches is all that is needed. It depends how green they are. You really need to use a light pressure so the fish does not react. If the fish is still really green, you are better letting the rod tire it than force it to handlining too soon.

Super important tip. While it is fine to lift the head slightly out of the water when engaged on the rod, as the rod can absorb sudden lunges. I try to minimize any lifting of the head of the fish and try to pull at a lower angle. A fish with its head out of water can get agitated easily, causing a lunge or even a jump. Both will often result in a lost fish, but not always. A slow deliberate pull closer to the plane the fish is on is much better.

I hope it helps

  • I try to fight the fish upstream of me first and allow the current to bring the fish to the net to avoid hand lining altogether, or at least have the current help reduce the line tension while grabbing it.
  • I don’t wrap the line around my fingers.
  • I use a light grip to allow the line to slide if needed or I just let go altogether.
  • I do not lift the line up, but rather parallel to the water surface if the fish is near the surface.
  • target little fish:)

As someone said…more of a feel that requires practice.

Wow! Awesome responses everyone. I really appreciate the time and effort that went into the replies.
Those are the tips I was hoping for. I now have a better sense of what was causing my failures - rushing and not allowing the line to slip when needed. I think my own pressure to get the fish into the net and back out into the water ASAP contributed to the breaks and lost fish. There are some subtle techniques I had not considered, such as angle of the tippet.

I really hate the hand-lining phase, so like some others have said, I try to avoid it if possible by using a long-handled net if I’m fishing solo (99% of the time). The other advice about planning ahead, knowing when to go for it, and how to fight the fish is all consistent with my experience.

I never grab the line very tightly, I try to be in a position to let go if needed. I know this is against what some folks say, but depending on the rod and the position I’m in, I will sometimes make a ring between thumb and a finger to trap the line and still use the bend of the rod as a cushion to keep tension on my barbless fly so that slack can’t develop (while bringing another point of control on the line itself). I try to avoid a sharp bend. I’ve landed several 20+" trout and a few in the 25-28" range and haven’t broken a rod on a fish (yet) doing this.

I do avoid putting any pressure on the rod much above the handle, I feel like that point of pressure is a big risk to the rod. My forearm was burning this afternoon holding it and I even pressed the handle to my temple briefly to rest it – not because the fish was that much of a fighter, but because I was really slow at unhooking my net from the sling I carry it on (big nets have their own problems).

This afternoon I caught a ~20" great lakes steelhead (actually caught this one twice and one closer to 17" in the same hole) and was in a situation where it went into some bamboo-like dead foliage hanging over the bank (line/rod were starting to get tangled)…so I gently let the rod down and hand-lined it into the net with a tangle to deal with after I unhooked the fish – amazingly it worked – but this was shallow water and relatively modest current. So much of how you need to work a fish has to do with depth, current, and obstacles – and some of that you can keep in your favor (not just at the location, but as others have mentioned, line length, rod length, etc). During lake run season, I have settled on 6lb fluoro line (6lb invisx from seaguar) for tippet most of the time. I think I can fight the fish a little faster and keep them out of wood – so it is 4x-ish.

Good luck!

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Learn to pinch the line in your fingertips.


@Paul_Gaskell if you are out there can you share the link to the hand lining video? There was one with a fake fish to show the options and techniques and then a live action catch by JP I believe. I cant seem to find it.

If the video is no more then I will try to describe their suggestions.

Option 1 is to go hand over hand with one hand still holding the rod. So one hand pulls up while the other grabs the line below and pulls up and so on. The grip is simple pinch so you can let line slide out.

Option 2 is to grab the line and pass it to the rod hand to be pinched between hand and grip. You then slide more and more line through the hand holding the rod if the fish is not ready for the level of tension then one can let line slide out.

Personally I have yet to catch on a long line a big enough fish to break so I probably would mess it up if and when it happens. :joy:

Hi Adam - that sequence was within the (now discontinued - due to our previous cameraman spitting his dummy and revoking rights to footage) “Discovering Tenkara Vol. 1 DVD”.

We will have to re-create that in future (and we have plans to do so, but that is part of a fairly complex pipeline of western fishing content and new tenkara content…starting with re-vamping the DT website which we are working on in parallel with FD projects).

The big thing is to make sure that your fingers act as a “slipping clutch” or “drag” - so that you dont clamp down onto the line when a fish runs (and have it break the line).



Thanks everyone. I like the analogy of the fingers being utilized as a clutch or drag system. I realized through the conversation that my main problem was holding the line too tight. Simple solution!

personally I’ve found that lightly pinching the tippet in a way that if the fish pulls significantly the line slips from my hand works well:

  • I can land the fish quickly if they only pull a little
  • the line slips out of my fingers if they need to run

takes a little practice, but you’re finger tips are so sensitive that you’ll quickly work it out

I always liked the cigarette method, where you hold the line between your index and middle fingers. Enough pressure to line in but almost impossible to break tippet.

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This is key.

If you grab the line, hu can’t let go fast enough.

If you learn to pinch the line, you have a second or third chance.

You want to land the fish quickly but not too hot.

…and a good net helps but some people don’t need one.

Holding the fish upside down while removing the hook helps. That sort of disorients the fish, tends to subdue them without hurting them.

Paul nailed the “slipping clutch” concept. The line over your fingers with a light touch and ready to let go if the fish bolts. And I learned another new phrase that will come in handy. “Spit the Dummy.” I asked my adult daughter if she knew the phrase, she did not, but when I told her she said, “You mean what I do at least once a day?” Welcome to my life…:slight_smile:

This is a great tip! It’s demonstrated in this DT video by Dr. Paul at 11:25. *It’s interesting that Mr. Sakakibara uses the hand over hand technique at 16:36.

Plaese Click on the Blue Lettering above to transfer to the thread showing the Discover Tenkara: Long Line Tenkara Tactics Video to view the Strip-In-Method @ 11:25 into the video. You will have to scroll down a few entries before the video window appears under Brian’s Post.