What to do with over sized fish?

I live on a warm water river where I hope to practice my tenkara casting this spring. The river has loads of small fish but also 30” carp and 35” channel cats. Intuitively, if hooking a fish too large for the rod I would think to just point the tip at the fish and break the tippet. Or is there a better way?
Thanks, Harry

1 Like

I would just fight it like you would any other fish until it breaks the tippet. If you point your rod in another direction, I would think it would put direct stress on the rod tip and might break the tip. Just make sure you’re using tippet that’s right for your rod. Who knows you might land it.


Pointing the rod at the fish is a great way of severely jamming the top sections together. You won’t be able to collapse your rod.

I agree with playing the fish, but use a tippet that protects the rod. 5X will let you play a carp for a surprisingly long time on a standard tenkara rod but will also break when it needs to, protecting the rod.


Ryan and Tom, thanks for your insights. I wouldn’t be nervous about putting a Channel cat on a tenkara rod since even the large ones will generally just mope around a pool. Large carp are a different matter since they generally head for a different part of the country as soon as they feel the sting of the hook. I’ve purchased several decent American and Japanese rods along with some cheaper Chinese rods as spares in anticipation of a trip to the Wisconsin Driftless this spring. Perhaps I’ll just use the cheaper Chinese rods and 6X tippet until I gain a better feel for what tenkara fishing entails.



Harry, you may surprised how well a fixed line rod can handle big fish. Its ability to throttle pressure is really amazing if you are patient.

I forget if it is in the link above or somewhere else, but I think it was tenkara guides who noted that you should apply low but constant pressure on a big fish. The more pressure you apply, the more you will get in return.

I have used this tactic and a large fish gets confused because it doesnt know what is happening. When it feels the hook, it will move but not far, and will often move back to where it was holding/feeding. Definitely unexpected behavior, but similar to the phenomenon that happens when a fish gets unbuttoned at our feet it lingers a while before it lumbers off back to what it was doing.

Over a fight of a big fish, I will slowly increase pressure, often it is so gradual that it dosent know I am doing it. Lulling pressure, it is a slow and boring process but it works. The most important thing is that you keep focus during this phase, if you loose focus and relax or increase pressure too soon. You may drop the fish.

Landing cannot be rushed. When you think they are ready often they are not. Be prepated for a few false landings. Often they revive their fight when the get in tight to shore.

There is a fine line of doing this and toasting a fish. That is a personal matter and largely why I tend not to target large on fixed line.

One other thing, if they move try to move with them but try not to spook them. If they get spooked, it could be game over.

Good luck and have fun!!!

1 Like

Thanks for the video and comments, they’ve been helpful in showing the possibilities of tenkara fishing. At this point in my tenkara adventure my immediate goals are to learn how to cast and to experience in a small way what tenkara has to offer, both as a prelude to my trip to the Driftless area. Should the tenkara bug bite me, I see much travel in my VW camper in the coming years since my home waters of Manitoba are better suited to fly rod and reel. I’m still enjoying daily walks on my river but once it melts and should a large carp happen to take my offering I’ll show him the power curve and hope the tippet breaks before the rod shatters. :blush:

That seems like a wonderful adventure.

Some thoughts on how to tenkara can compliment your fly rod.

Try to consider tenkara as its own separate approach and philosophy and not as a replacement for your fly rod and reel. It can shine in areas that a flyrod may be more clumsy like in smaller water or confined areas. I would also try to use tenkara flies and techniques so the journey has more purpose and less overlap from your other fishing.

Initially pick days to fish one or the other. Trial by fire will force you to learn faster. If you bring both tenkara and a fly rod you may lean on you fly rod too much and not accelerate your learning. Pick the calmer days or small stream days to fish tenkara exclusively.

Just like your fly rod and reel it may take patience and years to fully develop skill and an understanding of its potential and how it may relate to your angling.

I am on my seventh year and feel I am still working on my casting and control. It may look easy but like everything there is some control that needs to be developed to really tap into the techniques. Be patient and have fun with it.

Some like to long line tenkara, but generally I feel I loose a level of control in both my presentation and fighting fish. Short term, save long lining for your fly rod and reel. Use a casting line and tippet combo that puts your fly at the butt of the rod or 1/4 rod length beyond. I use a 3-4’ length of tippit. Imagine all the things scaled down. Your casting range and also instead of having and controlling your casting line on the water, you are just controlling your tippet or a small segment of tippet

This is a classic cast. In the second video his casts are aggressive. He may be overcoming wind, but on a still day think of the cast being propelling the fly forward but gravity turns over the line and fly. Sort of floats it down to the water surface.

When in dense cover without a back or side cast, bow and arrow casting is key.

These are not all the ways to present but most of them. In addition to these, I will deep drift and swing kebari. Sometimes drift and skate too. That is the fun of it. We can experiment and have a ton of control. Note how he can iterate effortlessly on a small section of water with control and little disturbance.

1 Like

That journey you describe is very familiar; it’s a perfect duplicate of the process that lead me from hardware fishing to fly fishing years ago. Then, 7 or 8 years ago I was fortunate enough to rent a house on the Guadalupe River in the hill country of Texas for a couple of winters and my love affair with stream fishing began.
Shortly after that I bought my first tenkara rod from Chris Stewart but after some limited experiments with goldeye and pike fishing, I put the rod aside.
Since that time I’ve been fishing almost exclusively with u/l fly fishing equipment. I was content with this until a small blurb appeared on an u/l fly fishing forum I frequented about a Tenkara getaway in the Wisconsin Driftless area. That aroused my interest again but COVID and life managed to delay this trip until this year.
I wrote earlier “if the tenkara bites me” and wonder if that statement is still true. I’ve already purchased 7 rods and have 1 on order.

1 Like

The only problem with that approach is that you do not know for sure what tippet will break before the rod does until it is too late. The assumption that 5X is safe is a common assumption but it is not true in all cases. I have had several reports of rods rated for 5X that broke while the angler was using 5X tippet.

I would say that 30" carp and 35" cats are too large for tenkara rods. Personally, I would not go over 6X in a stream where there was a reasonable chance of hooking a fish of that size (unless fishing with a carp rod or salmon rod actually designed for fish of that size). If I did hook a fish of that size I would gracefully (and immediately) accept defeat and point the rod tip directly at the fish. I am fairly confident that 6X would break before permanently jamming the sections, but I would surely have a non-skid bit of shelf liner (Tip Grip) and a rubber band or two in case with me on the stream in case sections did jam.


I would stick with Chris Stewart’s advice AND I would fish light flies that stay near the surface. I am not a cat/carp expert but that should reduce the risk of hooking one quite a bit if not entirely. There is a ton to practice and learn with light flies. You can add weighted fly practice somewhere else. Or lawn cast beaded flies to get the feel. The sighter/drift stuff done with beadheads and a mono rig on rod and reel is the same.


This is likely the approach I’d be most comfortable with and I still have the bit of shelf liner you sent with the rod I purchased. I’ve inadvertently hooked and landed both a 30” carp and a 34” channel cat on a 2wt rod in this river and I wouldn’t want to hook either on any of the tenkara rods I now own. Both fish involved excessive line management and the carp had me running to avoid being spooled.
In recent years I’ve gotten more relaxed about my fishing and can enjoy smaller fish much more than I used to.

Agreed, 6X tippet it is until I’m on water that doesn’t hold these behemoths. Adam, I’ve targeted and caught 30”+ carp on #16 wooly buggers and inadvertently caught a 30+” channel cat on a #16 pheasant tail while high sticking a current seam for large crappies.

1 Like

Chris, I agree. That’s solid advice. Better safe than sorry.

I’d like to thank all the folks who responded to my question. I truly feel I’ve got a better handle on the possibilities and limitations of tenkara fishing from the information in these posts. In an effort at full disclosure, I do have a beefier Chinese rod that might see a 5X tippet if I spot any of those larger shadows in the pool. Other than that, it’s 6X tippet and point the rod at any fish that challenges the breaking point of the rod.

1 Like

I have been thinking about the last few entries and want to share some considerations.

I personally I have never broken a tenkara rod on a fish. Last year, I hooked a 28-30’ class rainbow and my thought was not, “this fish is out of my league, how do I break it off?” I tried to flight it and it broke off on its own.

I do agree we should know our rods ratings and own durable rods. If a rod is rated to handle 5x, I am going to expect it to perform.

I have only had one rod break. It was not on fish, it falls under user error. Same rod actually broke twice on me at the tip section, so I had it repaired and sold it.

You will not know the extents of your equipment or your skill unless you test them. There really is no adventure in fishing or building skill, if we do not try to find those extents on our own. I can say without a doubt it is surprising how well a tenkara rod handles big fish and some I have actually landed. It is a legitimate experience that you will rob yourself of if you intentionally break off. Most rods are 200 bucks. Most sections 40 or under. You have to factor in the risk reward, 40 bucks is a small price to pay for some fun.

I dont fish to avoid other fish. To me that just seems like a horrible prospect, fishing in fear and changing presentation. All my big fish have been incidental and on blind casting. I agree, Targeting large fish a is not practical. Our hook to land ratio will be really low. At least for trout, they tend to avoid us and with tenkara the deck is stacked in their favor.

If I were to hook a large fish that out classes me and it bolted off, I would point the rod in hopes it would break off without rod damage. That just has not happened to me yet.

An 18" trout is a nice fish but not large when we consider a 30" class fish. If an angler is not careful, I am certain that one could easily break a rod on a 18" fish. Some anglers may not have the skill to fight /land a fish of that size in current. The only difference with a 30" class fish is that the probability of landing drops lower. The probability is laughable if we are using gear appropriate to 14" trout.

If I were to hook a large carp, I would engage on it to see what would happen. I am also the type to touch a wall that has a wet paint sign on it. I have found that most often the warning is not accurate.


Harry - Check out this video on fighting big fish with fixed line rods - Understanding the Power Curve Landing a Big Fish with Tenkara. - YouTube

I would also recommend the Dragontail Hellbender rod if you don’t have one. Inexpensive and will manage/land large fish like cats and carp, but still allows a small fish to put a bend in the rod.


All this said, @CM_Stewart and @tvdavisid have waaaay more experience with an array of rods. My quiver has always been humble.

I suspect @CM_Stewart leans to caution because anglers may fault the rod for failures and may be sensitive to the challenge in reconciling that and Warranty claims.

Rod failures are 99.9999% our fault. There are companies who support a no questions asked replacement, but we should not confuse rod failure with design flaws unless the same model breaks in a similar way more than once with may different anglers.

If I break a rod on a large fish. I am not going to expect a warranty replacement. I may inquire, because companies like TFO have a no or low questions policy, but I would not expect it. Frankly, what TFO does is nuts. Too bad they dont make tenkara rods.

@Free2fish I would reach out to Chris and inquire on the rods in you lineup to identify any known repeat claims. I am pretty sure he does not carry problem rods.


The only rod I have stopped carrying because of an unusually high breakage rate is the Nissin Pro Spec 7:3 360. I have stopped carrying Shimotsuke rods because replacement parts occasionally did not fit. Other than that, I have dropped rods because of slow sales or just to shrink the business.


Search YouTube for guys fishing for salmon (and other large fish) in Japan with fixed line rods. No there will likely not be any english subtitles, but just seeing the visuals will be an eye opener as to just what IS possible.
Every single one of them stop the first flight of the fish by sticking the rod straight up as high as they can.
Here’s the fun part… It’s not just the salmon guys doing that!
Once you’ve stopped that first run it’s just wearing the fish down.
It’s actually not as daunting a task as you’d think. Once you’ve done it your confidence will go way up.