Big Trout Tenkara

After last year’s trip to Colorado, I realized that neither of my fixed-line Japanese fly rods were up to the challenge of landing trophy trout in big rivers. My tenkara rod for dry flies / soft hackles (Tenkara USA Sato) was not beefy or long enough to handle the bigger flies, currents, and trout that I commonly hunt in Colorado, and my Japanese nymphing rod (Daiwa Kiyose 390) didn’t quite have the length or tippet rating to tame these trout either. So, this year I came prepared. This year I would confidently land rainbow pigs like the one pictured above and know I have a chance with the true trophies of the Eagle and Colorado Rivers!

Pictured above are my 2 big water Japanese fly rods. The top rod is a Suntech Genryu Sawanobori 45, which is being touted by Chris Stewart ( as the best rod yet for Japanese nymphing. The bottom rod is a Nissin Pro Square 450 7:3, which is a tenkara rod designed for drifting dries and swinging wets but has the backbone to cast bigger flies and wrestle bigger fish. Both rods are in their collapsed positions, and both rods extend to about 15′ long. Most importantly, the Sawanobori is rated for 4x tippet and the Pro Square for 3.5x, which makes them significantly more capable than the 6x tippet rating of most tenkara rods.

Many people don’t realize how important the extra length is when fighting big fish in big water. These Japanese rods have amazing, long bend profiles, utilizing the whole length of the rod to subdue big fish. It’s difficult to describe but amazing to experience. These Japanese rods are very flexible; my new 15′ big fish rods are stiffer than most tenkara rods, but they still have much more bend than a standard fly rod of similar action. The flexibility gradually diminishes as the fish puts a deep bend in the long rod. It’s kind of like anti-lock brakes but smoother and more gradual. I am convinced that these long, fixed-line fly rods actually subdue fish more efficiently than standard, shorter fly rods that require fly line, which gives the fish more freedom and more slack to play with. Like I said, you have to experience it, but a 15′ fixed-line rod puts you in command.

Pictured below is my first big trout using a tenkara rod.  The  fish was fat and fiesty, and the current was raging. I couldn’t be more impressed by how my 15′ Nissin Pro Square tenkara rod controlled this 22″ rainbow pig!

I have been a dedicated freshwater fly fisherman since 1992, and since 2013 I have been  finding more and more applications for Japanese fixed-line rods. At first, I reserved my fixed-line tenkara rods for the small streams of the Mid-Atlantic where I have never felt the need for a reel loaded with line and backing. Even the 2 monster brown trout I caught from the North Branch Potomac (31″ & 29″) did not peel line or require a reel with backing and a decent drag. So, I began pushing the limits of the fixed-line rods, but I figured these rods just wouldn’t cut it out west where big, rushing rivers teem with big ‘bows, and where a good reel with plenty of backing seems necessary.  This year, however, I discovered that this isn’t true. With rods like the Nissin Pro Square 450 7:3 and the Suntech Genryu Sawanobori 45, I can catch big fish in big current with big flies!

If you want to tackle big fish with a fixed-line rod, my best advice is to visit Chris Stewart at He knows as much as anybody about fixed-line rods and can set you up with the right rod and gear to hunt big fish.