Despite some limitations, a Tenkara rod is an amazing way to catch America’s favorite gamefish.
Bass fishing deliver’s eager strikes, incredible fights, and tons of fun. It can also increase fish-time because of their easy access to most anglers.
Tenkara was originally developed for trout, but can be more than suitable for bass within a certain context and with certain equipment.
With that in mind, I wanted to share my own method of fishing for bass on Tenkara. With very few Tenkara angler’s targeting bass, these methods are simply a result of personal trial and error and are still being refined.
Tenkara Rod I Use:
When targeting bass on Tenkara, I use the Dragontail Hellbender Rod. The Hellbender is a zoom rod that can be fished at either 11.3′ or 13′ respectively. It’s a stiffer action rod with high-density carbon graphite and a larger diameter shaft than what’s seen on most tenkara rods.
Despite this, the rod is still quite lightweight and has enough sensitivity for catching smaller fish; but with the stiffness and backbone for throwing larger flies and aggressive “jigging.”
Although your trout rod may have the stregnth to land fish in the same size range of most bass, the added stiffness/backbone of the hellbender allows me to get a strong “hookset” as well as cast accurately near vegetation with bigger flies.
Bass Flies I Use:
Although the Hellbender allows me to cast even the heaviest of flies, I still prefer more moderately sized crayfish, baitfish, woolly buggers, and poppers. I’ve also had good success with larger dry flies usually intended for trout as well. My go-to favorites include a black #12 wooley bugger, #10 muddler’s minnow, and a #10 dragonfly pattern.
Due to the weight of my chosen bass flies, and the frequency of fishing topwater flies in bass fishing I almost always use level line when hunting bass. Being able to go from a wet fly to dry fly with no other equipment modifications is important when big bass are suddenly spotted in the shallows of my local creek. The likelihood of spooking these fish (for me) is much less when equipment modification is kept to a minimum when changing flies.
My default line for the creeks/small rivers I fish is a 3.5 mm 12′ level line with 2-3′ of 4x tippet.
Tips for Landing Big Fish on Tenkara:
Landing a large bass on Tenkara (even with the Hellbender) requires more skill and technique than on a modern bass rod or even a western fly rod. This added challenge of having no reel and thus no drag to rely on is an added challenge and part of the art of Tenkara. The goal has never been maximum efficiency.
Despite this, we of course want to land every fish we catch, right?
Here’s some things I’ve learned after countless drop-offs and broken tippets.
- Fight the fish in the direction he chooses after the initial hook set. Keep line tension on the fish but also try to minimize strain on your rod/tippet. By doing this you lesson the likelihood of a break-off during the fish’s biggest burst of energy. This of course is not always feasible depending on the situation.
- Wait for the fish to face you before pulling him in closer. My fish fighting philosophy on Tenkara is to simply keep tension on the fish (to keep him hooked) and wait for the fish to turn toward me before pulling him in closer.
- Recognize when you need to litterally run toward the fish. (Water conditions permitting) I’ve had enough fish break off to know when I need to ease line tension immediately, on a big bass this sometimes means chasing the fish downstream in order to relieve the pressure. If course this isn’t always possible depending on your wading situation.
- Don’t “hand-line” too early, just because the fish is close in proximity doesn’t mean it’s automatically time to “hand-line” the fish the rest of the way in. Be sure to have command of the fish and avoid any sudden shock loading of the line. This should never be confused with fighting a fish to exhaustion.
- Most Tenkara anglers fish with a net, however some of the big bass I’ve caught don’t fit into my net. This means (for me) grabbing the lip of the fish before pulling him out of the water, usually the fish will give a “flop” of resistance at this time possibly dropping off. My advice is simple, when you reach out to grab the fish’s lip, make it count. (Of course not hurting the fish or reaching in too deeply)
Only Fish for Fish You Can Land:
This is something I seldom thought of prior to fishing Tenkara, but I think it’s important to bring up.
Although sometimes unavoidable, I try to reduce the fish I leave flies embedded in. This sometimes means not targeting fish that you don’t have the equipment to catch. There have been times I’ve seen fish that are bigger than the rating of my tippet, and although it’s tempting to cast their direction and hope for the best, it’s better to avoid fishing to them altogether. (In my opinion at least)