Although there are some things that I am not sure I could teach someone on landing big fish on Tenkara rods (that are more of just instinct in the moment that you learn with experience) there are some basics that I can share with you that make a big difference. Here are my top 3 things to focus on for fighting big fish on Tenkara:
1. Fight Horizontal Not Vertical
First and most important in my opinion is to fight more with the rod horizontal instead of keeping the rod up high like you would with small and medium sized fish. If you have seen Rob’s (from Tenkara Guides LLC) Big Fish Presentation then you know what I am talking about.
When you hook into big fish (at least a big fish for the rod you are using) the first thing you need to do is turn that fish before it gets the upper hand on you. Many people make the common mistake of just pulling the rod straight back and staying vertical, this leaves all the leverage to the fish with no pressure pulling his head to one side or the other giving the fish the best chance to over power you. Where if you just lower the rod to the right or left so it is horizontal you change the angle that your line is pulling that fish to pull his head to turn to the side you you lowered your rod to, thus ending his run.
Picture this in your mind. If you are fishing a 13ft rod and you lower your rod all the way to the right it is like you are 13ft over to the right pulling on that fish. Then if switch the rod position to horizontal left it is like you are 13ft over to the left pulling on the fish. This gives you a total of 26ft from side to side that you can battle and control the fish, which makes for a whole lot less moving (if any) to stay with the fish.
Once you have the fish turned off his getaway run, I find it best to go with the fish. So if he goes right, you drop your rod to the right side and use his energy to curve him closer to you (and vise versa if he goes left). You may have to modify this a little to keep out of possible snag ups. Work the fish side to side until you can get it in a position to net or land the fish.
2. Keeping The Rod At The Right Angle
There is a certain at which a Tenkara rod distributes pressure best and keeps you in control, Tenkara Guides LLC refer to this as the Power Curve (see TenkaraGuides.com article). This will be different for each rod and it is up to you to find and know that sweet spot on your rod. Keeping your rod in this sweet spot while fighting a fish will not only better keep you in control but it will also keep your rod safer from over stressing at a pressure point.
I like to keep my HELLbender Tenkara rod at about a 10-30 degree angle behind me, with a softer rod I might increase that angle so know your rod and adjust. Where you get into trouble is when you get to far out of that sweet spot with a lunker on the line.
If you have the rod angled way too far back it puts most of the pressure on 1 or 2 sections of your rod instead of distributing the pressure though the whole rod, in other words you increase the chance of breaking your rod.
If you let the fish pull your rod angle too far forward then you are not using the bend of the rod and you put all the pressure on the tippet, which hopefully beaks protecting your rod. If you get into this position where your rod is at a forward angle out of the sweet spot then stepping forward (if terrain allows) can help you get back into the sweet spot and regain control.
3. Hand Lining Big Fish
If you are fishing a line that is to long to get the fish close to you to land you are going to have to hand line that big fish, and that can be troublesome without a good technique. When you grab that line you remove the shock absorption of the flexible rod that protects the tippet from breaking when the fish pulls. There are different methods for dealing this and not everyone does it like me but what I do works good for me.
When I grab the line (with a big fish on the line), I grab it lightly. I hold it tight enough that I can pull the fish closer but loose enough that if it makes a run for it the line will slide through my hand like you drag on a reel would let it release with excess pressure. I have become quite good at this over time and feel comfortable even when having to hand-line a 26in rainbow fatty.
What Rods Do I Use For Chasing Bigger Fish?
I mostly use the HELLbender rod and the Tanuki 425 rod for big fish now but I have used many other rods in the past that work great. The rods I would recommend would be the DRAGONtail HELLbender 390, Tanuki 425, Oni Honryu 395, NISSIN ZX450 (not a Tenkara rod but performs like one), and the NISSIN Royal Stage 400 7:3. This is my recommendation list as of 3/10/2017. There are other rods that other like and I have not fished all the rods in this category but I have fished many of them.
Now For Some Photos Of Large Fish I have Caught on Tenkara Rods