Techniques Tenkara

Avoiding Tenkara Frustrations

An excerpt from tenkara – the book (April 2017) by Daniel Galhardo

Any sport comes with its own set of frustrations as you learn it. Fly-fishing is no different. Line will tangle on branches, flies will snag rocks and sometimes knots that take us a couple of minutes to tie will appear perfectly tied in the two seconds you got distracted.

Despite its inherent simplicity tenkara is also not immune, but the good thing is that there are fewer elements to frustrate you and some easy things to learn that will help you avoid and occasionally deal with them.

There are three general principles that will assist anglers in reducing and dealing with potential frustrations, and thus increase the enjoyment of their fishing:

Be aware – being aware of things that can snag your fly and avoiding them will go a long way in reducing the most common frustration to any angler: snags.

Whether you just arrived at the stream, turned your body toward a rising fish, or moved a few feet upstream, take a second to look over your shoulders to identify where the line will travel and pay attention to where your fly will land to avoid snags.

Keep it simple – yes, that’s the theme of this book, but it is worth mentioning here again.

When you have fewer elements in your rig (e.g. one fly rather than multiple) and carry fewer things with you, there will be fewer things to tangle up, to drop, and to forget. I have found that keeping my systems simple have greatly eliminated frustrations while I fish. Perhaps it is obvious, but simplify and things will just feel simpler.

Learn – there are tricks that will help you avoid snags and tangles and then tips on how to deal with them. The following paragraphs should help with both. From then on just know that frustrations diminish quickly with your own experience.


When I talk of tangles I am specifically referring to the line getting caught up on things. Below are some tips on avoiding and dealing with the most common types of tangles.

Tangles during setting up: When you start extending the rod, rather than let the line completely go and form a belly in front of the rod tip (which is what will get caught on the shrub), keep the on one of your hands as you extend the rod. Make sure the line is running between your fingers or hand rather than tight which would cause the rod tip to bend and potentially break. This will keep the line in control at all times.

Tenkara Frustrations - Daniel Galhardo - Extending Rod
Holding line on one hand while extending the rod

Tangles while moving: When putting the line away for the day or to move through brush give preference to the spool or on-the-rod ways of managing line. Loose coils of line around the hand work ok but will cause more frequent tangles.  If moving a short distance keep the rod extended but make the line form a spiral around the rod by making the tip spin.

Tangles on rod: The main reason line will tangle on the rod is if the line falls behind the angler during his backcast. Make sure the pause in your backcast is very brief; almost instantly move the rod tip to cast the line forward. The second cause for line tangling on the rod is easy to address and very common: moving your entire arm forward when casting. Move your forearm at your elbow up and down, avoiding moving the entire arm forward, on the forward cast.

TIP OF THE YEAR: If the line tangles on the rod, there is a very simple trick that will get the line free 8 out of 10 times it happens: simply lift the rod tip up to point it to the sky. Most often the line and fly will slide down to your hand and often free itself before you even touch it. If it doesn’t come down to your hand or free itself automatically keep it pointing up and collapse the rod to bring the tangle to you.  Avoid, at all cost, the temptation of shaking the rod or pointing the rod tip down as that will worsen the tangle.


Snags, which I define as the fly getting caught on things, will happen less and less as you gain experience. There is no real secret to avoiding snags but being aware of your surroundings and then modifying your cast slightly to fit the obstacles above, behind or in front of you.

In case you do get the fly snagged I have noticed there are different ways to get your fly back from many cases depending on where the snag is or what type of object is the cause of the snag.

Snags behind or above: We don’t have eyes behind our heads and so it is easy to get caught on trees behind or above us. Develop a habit of looking up and over your shoulders whenever you arrive at a new spot, move your body position (e.g. facing upstream to facing across stream) or move slightly up or down stream. Once you know where the branches of trees are you can modify your cast to fit the situation based on what I shared on the casting chapter.

Snags in front: When there are potential snags in front of you, it may be a good idea to start with the fly landing closer to you and then progressively getting the fly closer to the intended spot. The more familiar you are with your rig the more you can go straight to your target while avoiding the potential snag.

When we misjudge the distance to our potential snag, the fly and line will end up going over a small branch. The best way to get your fly back is to treat every cast in front of you as a successful cast, where you stopping the rod in front of you and don’t pull it back.  Very slowly and calmly pull it back and the fly will usually slide over the snag rather than catch it. If you pull it fast, the hook will do what it is designed to do.

Tenkara Frustrations - Daniel Galhardo - Hung Up Branch

Snags at the end of a pool:  Don’t forget to look for potential snags at the end of a pool when you are fishing. We must recast before the fly hits a snag, such as a branch. If the fly gets snagged, remember to pull it back in the direction it was coming from (usually upstream) rather than up or downstream.

Getting the Fly Unstuck 

Your fly will eventually get snagged. It happens to the best of us. When it does, there are two things you can do: Free the fly or break it off.

If your fly gets snagged on a branch or rock take a second to observe how it is caught, which direction it was coming from and what kind of object snagged your fly.

First, see if you can notice the direction the fly was coming from and pull the fly away from the direction it was traveling. Try a couple very quick and snappy flicks with your rod pulling away from the snag. It’s important that the first tries be very quick but not strong attempts to pull the fly loose. A slow and firm/strong pull, or a long pull just makes the situation worse as the hook will set deeper into the wood.

It is usually easier to get the fly back from thinner branches of deciduous trees like oaks and willows, so I try a bit harder with those trees. I usually give up more quickly and move to the next step when my fly catches an evergreen such as a pine or spruce tree. If the fly gets snagged snagged on a rock try several very rapid shakes;  getting the line to shake rapidly can often free the fly from rock snags.

Tenkara Frustrations - Daniel Galhardo - Up in Tree

If all else fails you may need to break off the tippet. To do so, collapse the rod until you can get the tip of the rod inside the handle segment. You may need to walk in the direction of the snag, and occasionally raise your arm to be able to collapse the rod. Place a finger on the rod opening to keep all the pieces inside, and pull on the line to break off the tippet.

It will be rare, but if you can not collapse the rod to put the tip inside and pull on the line with your hand, then you may need to use the rod to break the tippet. This is pretty rare. To do so, point the rod at the snag and pull it in a straight line to break off the tippet. It’s important to do this only if absolutely necessary as segments can get stuck together.

Daniel Galhardo founded Tenkara USA in 2009 and introduced tenkara outside of Japan. He strives to ensure tenkara touches and inspires people to simplify their fly-fishing experience.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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