These days, probably 85-90% of my fishing is done with a Tenkara rod. I still break out a “regular” fly rod a few times per year just to maintain some proficiency at it. This trip was a rare one where bringing a Tenkara rod was actually an afterthought. My buddy Joe asked me if I wanted to join him chasing muskies on a lake near our home. He spent the winter tying huge muskie flies and recently bought a new (20+ year old) boat. He didn’t need to ask twice. I rigged up my 9wt and dug out my “really big flies” fly box. I emailed him a day or two before the trip to tell him I would bring along a couple Tenkara rods just in case we decided to give up on muskies and catch some panfish.
As it typically happens with trips planned in advance, the weather did not really cooperate. A cold front dropped temps 10-15 degrees from the day before and winds were picking up. Joe got to the put-in a little early make sure all was well with his boat and discovered the outboard wouldn’t start Thankfully, trolling motor was in fine working function. We spent the morning casting our big rods, Joe a 10wt and me a 9wt. Joe had follows from two muskies and I had something big turn on a fly but that was it. The lake we were fishing is fairly featureless. The depth is pretty consistently around 7-8 feet and there are lots of weeds. As an angler who is very keyed in to targeting structure, I felt a little lost. But we just kept casting.
Eventually, Joe piloted the boat closer to a shore line with some woody structure. I thought it might be fun to catch some bass or panfish and switched to a Tenkara rod. I pulled out the WISCO, preferring it for the extra bit of casting distance it gives and secretly hoping for a big largemouth. We gradually made our way out to the weed beds again, but I just stuck with the WISCO mostly out of laziness. It really is remarkable how much more time you spend actually fishing versus messing with line when fishing Tenkara compared to standard fly fishing.
Joe and I were discussing bird hunting. I was lazily casting my line out and doing a slow twitch/pause retrieve. On a twitch a few feet from the boat, I felt some resistance in the line. I set and knew instantly I hooked into a heavy fish. It quickly surfaced and I shouted “Joe, get the net, I got a Muskie!”. He actually thought I was joking at first. The fish was so close to the boat I thought we would easily net it, but then it started to run.
The fish made a couple runs out in front of the boat. I thought there was no way I would land the fish. I was not worried about the WISCO, but I wasn’t sure about my leader and most worried about my knot to the fly. I kept lateral pressure on the fish while Joe stood ready with the net. It felt good to let a big fish “ride the rod”, if not slightly terrifying. For better or worse, the fish did not roll or thrash much, it mostly just pulled, more like a really heavy largemouth. I was able to get the fish in close again, but then it insisted on swimming under the boat. I was hand lining it for the most part at that point and thought for sure I would lose it. After three runs under the boat, Joe and I dodging each other, his dog and the gear in the boat, we got it in the net. To say I was shocked is an understatement!
While the fish was certainly not record breaking, I’m not aware of many (any?) adult muskies caught on a Tenkara rod. Matt and I have always been about “testing the limits of the Tenkara platform”. While I was not specifically targeting muskie with a Tenkara rod, landing one (and safely releasing it after a fairly short struggle) may help disprove the “Tenkara is fine for small fish” notion.
A word about the gear:
I was fishing the Badger Tenkara Wisco rigged with Badger floating line. Line length was about 14 feet. For tippet, I was actually using a tapered leader. That was basically a choice made of laziness. I recently purchased an inexpensive Redington 9wt fly rod package. It came with reel, line and leader. The night before our trip, I took the “factory” leader off the Redington and replaced it with a bite guard leader. I thought the “factory” leader would work well for smallmouth, so I looped it on the Wisco. I’ve included a photo of the fly. I don’t remember where I got it and don’t know what it is called. I just chose that one since largemouth around here seem to like purple flies (Mike’s simplified guide to flies: trout like black flies, smallmouth like white flies and largemouth prefer purple ones). I will say a brief word about knots. I use perfection loops to link my line to tippet or leader. Yes, they can be bit bulky, but they rarely if ever break. For tippet to fly, I use a non-slip mono loop for everything these days. I lose far fewer fish with this knot compared to others and I can tie it easily even with cold hands. If tied correctly, it allows the fly a good bit of action. Targeting big fish on with Tenkara certainly can be done with the right gear and some knowledge on how to handle big fish.