Tangles and Snags

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October 28, 2015

Tangles and snags can be one of the most frustrating aspects of fly-fishing. With experience we get fewer of them, but there are also things we can do to prevent tangles and snags from happening. And, when they do happen, there are things we can do to get rid of them quickly.
In this episode Daniel Galhardo discusses his observations on preventing and getting rid of tangles and snags. These techniques are applicable to tenkara as well as a rod and reel.

Transcript for the Tenkara Cast episode on Tangles and Snags


This is Daniel Galhardo and you’re listening to the Tenkara Cast, a podcast about the simple Japanese method of fly-fishing, tenkara. In the Tenkara Cast, we’ll be sharing information on techniques, history, philosophy, and tenkara stories from anglers all over the world. This podcast is brought to you by Tenkara USA, introducing tenkara outside of Japan since 2009. It’s only possible we create content such as this podcast and videos because of your support, so we thank you so very much for purchasing Tenkara USA rods, lines and flies. I hope you enjoy learning more about this simple method of fly-fishing.

Hey tenkara anglers, thanks for joining me on another episode of the Tenkara Cast, it’s a pleasure to see so many people coming back and listening to most of the episodes that I’m putting out. I’m super stoked about the level of support and I’m especially thankful for the great feedback I got on last week’s episode on techniques about tenkara. I was a little afraid it was gonna be a little bit too long, it was almost an hour long where I covered the main techniques that I used to present flies with a tenkara rod and it was a really good overview. I think I tried to give as much information as I could. I was afraid it was gonna be a little too much information, just me talking here but I immediately started getting some really great comments from listeners who emailed us or left their messages on Facebook, on our Facebook page or on our website, letting us know how they immediately used the information that I provided on the podcast and caught fish because of it. I was… I could not have been happier to get an email or emails from customers saying that they listen to it, and they kind of put what I had shared in practice.

That level of feedback is awesome, and kind of makes me… It gives me an idea of what kind of information you’re looking for, and it’s very useful. So if you have any more feedback, definitely send as an email, share on our Facebook page or on our website, tenkarausa.com/podcast. It’s always really good to know how you’re using the information, what you’re liking, what you’re not liking about the podcast, and if you do like it, I’d love to have you review in iTunes. If you can go to iTunes and if that’s how you listen to our episode, if you can take a few moments and leave us a review in there, that’s super helpful, so yeah, I really appreciate if you can take the time to do that. But I was kind of wondering, what else can I share that will be useful to your fishing, especially now we’re kind of like on the shoulder season, the weather is starting to change a little bit. It’s starting to get cold in some states. The winter kind of puts… Kind of slows down our fly-fishing quite a bit, so we don’t get out quite as much, but we still have some time of good fishing ahead of us, and I thought it’d be nice for me to share some information that will be immediately applicable to your fishing hopefully and if you haven’t listened to last week’s episode, go ahead and take a listen. It’s a little longer, so maybe you can listen to part of it one day and part of it another day, but the last week’s episode on tenkara techniques was pretty well-received, it seems like.

Main content

Today I’m gonna be sharing tips on preventing snags, freeing the line when it gets snagged on your rod, on trees and in obstacles in the water. And overall, just kinda how to reduce the frustration that comes with getting snagged when you’re fishing. Snags happen to the best of us. There’s… No matter how much experience you have, you will occasionally lose the fly, you will occasionally get caught in a tree. But the good thing is that it happens less frequently with experience. And my goal here is to kind of steepen your learning curve, kinda give you a lot of information so that hopefully you don’t have to learn all of this stuff just by experience because that takes a while sometimes.

So, hopefully, I’ll share some information on things that I have observed that work well when I’m fishing that kind of keep me from getting caught on trees behind me, trees in front of me, obstacles in the water, and getting caught on the rod itself, and then when I do get caught, one of the things that I realized recently is that I’m actually really good at freeing my fly. Not always, but in a lot of cases, freeing my fly from where it got caught, and hopefully what I share will be useful to you as well. So I’m gonna cover these.

I kind of broke it down into three kind of main categories. First of all, how to prevent snags because I think if we can prevent getting caught on trees in front of us, behind us and that kind of thing, we’ll kind of reduce our frustration quite a bit. The second one is sometimes, especially when you’re beginning, casting with the tenkara rod, you might be getting caught on the rod itself. So you cast forward, the line gets caught and it’ll occasionally even happen to me, but how do we prevent that and how do we get the line back without getting the tangle too messy? And the third one is gonna be how to free your fly from snags.

So let’s go ahead and delve into this. Let’s go ahead and dig deep and see how to prevent the frustration that comes from getting caught and how to free your line. First of all, in terms of prevention of snags, the main thing is to be aware of your surroundings. And this is something that with time, it starts becoming much more second nature and I cannot over emphasize the importance of being aware of what’s around you, when you’re going fishing with a tenkara, long tenkara rod and your line and your flies. But it’s by far, the foundation of the whole thing here. How to be aware of everything? What kind of trees are around us? What is around us, like how tall are the trees around us and above us? And that kind of thing. So, when you get to a spot, let’s say we get to a spot on a river and there’s gonna be trees, some places we’re lucky there’s not a whole lot of trees, but we have to just kind of be aware of what is around us, and we might have canopy that is right overhead. We might have kind of medium sized trees right behind us. Sometimes we have very tall trees behind us and then we’re gonna have trees in front of us.

So just kind of looking around and seeing what is around us. Usually, when I get to a spot and I’m gonna fish or when I’m teaching somebody, we get to a little pool and we see a pool in front of us and a lot of times we’re so focused on that pool where the fish is gonna be, that we kind of forget to look around us. And my main recommendation is as soon as you take the step and you found the firm footing where you’re gonna be casting from, go ahead and take a look around. First, you’re gonna look in front of you, where are the trees in front of you and then you’re gonna look over your head right above. Is there any canopy that’s coming above my head. And then I’m right-handed, so usually, ’cause I’m casting with my right hand, I’m gonna look over to my right shoulder like at a kind of diagonal level. Is there any kind of branches that are coming over on my right side and above me a little bit? And then I’ll look behind me. What kind of tree is behind me? If I’m left-handed, I’ll probably look the other way, just to my left, kinda like over my left shoulder and then behind me. So what that does is that allows us to determine what kind of casting we’re gonna be doing and what kind of adaptations we might have to do with our casting.

So the typical tenkara cast is an overhead cast where you’re gonna move the rod up to a vertical position, typically shooting the line up, and then you’re gonna move the rod forward and down, like your rod tip down. So it’s this 12:00 o’ clock. If you’re looking, let’s say you are observing my arm and you’re on my right side, for you, you’d be like a 2:00 o’ clock so, 12:00 o’ clock to 2:00 o’ clock position. Now that’s the typical cast, when I’m gonna go straight overhead, that’s my favorite cast. I typically try to do that as much as I can. But when I become aware of what is around me, I might have to tweak my casting a little bit. So first of all, become aware of what’s around you and then adapt to it. The main thing is gonna be looking for the openings. Where are the openings that are gonna minimize the tangles that I’m gonna have? Where are the spots where I can cast and not get caught on trees? One of the beautiful things about tenkara is that we have this fixed length of rod, fixed length of line. We’re not stripping extra few feet of line here and there, and it’s also much easier to control the rod than it is to control line because line is gonna be flailing all over the place.

So the cool thing about it is if I make my rod travel in a certain direction, the line is typically gonna follow that really well, and it’s gonna be easy to kinda keep the rod and the line in this kind of path, that if I’m casting into openings, I’m gonna not get caught quite as much. So let’s say, let’s talk about specifically what kind of tweaks I’m gonna do to my cast depending on the obstacles that I have over my head or around me and behind me. First of all, if there’s trees that are kind of sending branches over my head and let’s say it’s kind of like relatively dense kind of forest and there’s not a whole lot of openings, one of the first modifications that I do to my cast is instead of coming all the way back to 12:00 o’ clock with the rod pointing straight overhead and then have, of course, either hitting the branches or having the line go straight into those branches overhead, the first thing that I can do to prevent snags is do a shorter casting stroke.

And I’ll talk a little bit about other techniques as well, but this is the main one that I use. Of course, if I’m going to a place that has a lot of trees… Let’s back up a little bit, talk about the equipment. On average, a tenkara rod is 12 feet long. My usual tenkara rod is 13 feet long and I kind of stick with it. But if I’m fishing in a place with a lot of trees, I’m gonna keep a line that is no more than the length of the rod. And that’s kind of important when you fish in places with a lot of snags, not having a super long line because as I said a second ago, it’s easier to control the rod than it is to control a lot of line. So if there’s a lot of trees around where you’re gonna be fishing, keep the line about the same length as the rod or even a foot or two shorter, and then your feet or your tippet will be extending about two feet beyond the rod, possibly. But just don’t use super long lines. Okay. Now going back to my casting, how to modify my casting, what can you do here?

So the typical cast is gonna be overhead, straight in front of me, you’re keeping everything straight in front of me, stopping at 12:00 o’clock. If there’re trees that are kind of shooting branches over my head and making a canopy of sorts, I’m gonna modify my cast so that the casting stroke is shorter. Instead of coming all the way back to 12:00 o’clock, let’s again assume that you’re looking from my right side, you’re looking at my profile and so you can kinda picture the clock face. Instead of coming all the way to 12:00 o’clock, I’m gonna move my rod and maybe stop it at 11:00 o’clock or so, or actually, sorry, got confused. If you’re looking from a right shoulder, instead of coming to 12:00 o’clock, I’m gonna stop the rod at 1:00 o’clock approximately. So stop it a little bit sooner with a little bit of an angle, that way the line is gonna go a little bit more straight up as opposed to straight and back a little bit. And you can even stop it a little bit sooner, so you can stop it like in 1:30 for example. As long as your line is short, you have a lot of room to kind of play with it. The second modification that I’m gonna do is have a quicker cast. So shorter casting stroke but also quicker cast, which is possible if you have a short line. So I’m gonna go very short casting stroke and just kind of a little flick up and down very quick.

That’s the first modification when there’s a lot of trees and trees that are coming overhead. The next thing that I’m gonna do, and by the way I usually don’t recommend choking the grip on the rod like holding the rod higher up or making the rod shorter in most situations, in some situations when there’s a lot of canopy, then yes, you can choke up on your grip, maybe have one segment on the rodding side to make it shorter. But what happens is, I usually prefer to have a longer rod relatively to the length of the line. And that combination allows me to control the line much more effectively, in my opinion. But, you can of course have shorter rods and it’s good to have shorter lines in those cases. The second modification or the second thing that I’m gonna try to do is look for openings. Usually, there’s gonna be some kind of opening where you can cast your line into. So if let’s say there’s a couple of long branches right over my head and they’re kind of straight over my head, but hey, when I looked over my right shoulder, I saw that there’s a nice opening a few feet of opening in there and instead of casting straight overhead, I can just cast my rod at a little bit of a diagonal kinda level casting to that opening.

So that’s another thing that you can do and you can combine casting to that opening over your shoulder with a shorter casting stroke and a quicker casting stroke as well. And then the last one, sometimes I don’t do this very often, to be honest, but casting kinda like sidearm casting. Keeping the tip of the rod over the water over the whole time, that can be very useful if you’re in a very dense kind of situation to avoid getting caught on trees behind you or above you. Now, the next thing too is to be aware of, and this happens a lot with when you’re starting off casting, what is causing some snags. Of course, the main cause of the snags is, when we cast right into a branch and sometimes we can’t really avoid it ’cause we’re focused on the water but what else can be causing snags on trees especially behind us. So one thing that I’ve started noticing, sometimes I take people out to places where there’s not a whole lot of trees, not a lot of overhead canopy, but there’s some kind of shorter medium-sized trees behind us. And in theory, and as you get more experience, you’re probably never gonna get caught on those trees behind you ’cause they’re kind of low hanging like, you know, maybe about the length of your rod or something.

But what’s happening, like there’s two main causes that I’ve noticed get… Where people get caught in trees immediately behind them when the trees are not really tall. The first one is when people perform the back cast, and then they stop a little bit too long on the back cast. So you come to 12:00 o’clock and your line is kinda shooting up but if you stop for a second there, like in fly-fishing, if you’re coming from a fly-fishing background you’re taught to stop, let that kind of line roll behind you and then you shoot it forward. In tenkara we’re dealing with much less line, so we have to get rid of that kind of habit. And if you’re completely new to fly-fishing period, just be aware that you’re gonna move, it’s a very quick pause, it’s gonna be very well defined pause on the back cast, but it’s gonna be quick, so you’re gonna be up and down, up and down. But sometimes people come up, stop, down on the forward cast.

And what happens is, the line that you shot up above you, and this should have been totally clear from the trees when you stop for a second, the line’s gonna start falling. And then sometimes it’s gonna get caught on the trees behind you. And then you try to cast forward and it snags. So just be aware that your pause on the back cast, should not be very long. The second reason that I see people getting caught on trees behind them is that they stop, sometimes they stop too long but sometimes they move the rod too far back, so instead of stopping the rod pointing up and shooting the line up above, they go with the rod too far back, and then the line shoots, behind them. So it’s easy to prevent those kinds of snags and trees behind you. Just move the rod a little bit faster and don’t move it quite as far back.

Now, that’s kinda talking about preventing snags and trees behind you and above you. But let’s talk about the other kind of two snags that we see very often. And those are usually gonna be in front of you. There’s gonna be snags on trees on the other side of the stream, and then there’s gonna be snags in obstacles in the water. So, when it comes to trees and branches on the other side of the stream, there’s two kind of… You know, we have to be aware of what’s out there for sure. And those are usually easier to be aware of ’cause you’re looking at them. But there’s two main things, just being aware of also how long your reach is, and that kind of thing. And also obstacles in the water, just be aware where the obstacles are.

When we’re fishing in mountain streams, there’s gonna be branches in front of us and sometimes, it might take a little while for us to kinda figure out how much or how far our reach is gonna be, but the main tip that I have is, on your first couple of casts, stop the rod tip high on the forward cast. So, a lot of times we have a tendency to try to maximize our reach and we kind of stop the rod almost parallel to the water getting the maximum reach we can. Then you get caught on trees in front of you. But stop the rod tip high on the first couple of casts and then start lowering the tip of the rod in your forward casts, to kinda see how much distance you gain every time. So, just kinda developing that awareness of your reach is important. And then also, obviously, close in the water. So, we’re talking about prevention here, and later on I’ll talk about how to free it as soon as you see things happening. But obstacles in the water are really important. A lot of times, especially I’m picturing here in my mind, mountain streams. Mountain streams have this nice, little defined kind of pools. Let’s say that we’re fishing a small pool that is 8 feet long, right, medium-size kind of pool, not a super long run but not a super short one.

You cast your fly at the head of the pool where the water is coming in and you let the fly drift. And then below that 8 foot long pool, there’s another pool that looks kind of good, 4 feet long. So, one of the things that I see very often is, we see these two pools and they’re very well-defined, they’re like very, they’re individual pools and sometimes people wanna fish both of them in one cast. And then in between them, where the water kinda plunges, maybe they didn’t realize there was a branch, or a log, or a rock, or a couple of rocks kinda sticking up a little bit. And very often when I’m taking people out the first time they will get caught in between the two pools. So, to prevent snags, first of all be aware where can your fly get caught when it’s travelling, either in one pool or from one pool to the other.

So, being aware of those obstacles in the water is really important. Sometimes we see a log, but maybe we think that our fly is gonna go above it or something, and oftentimes it doesn’t. Usually, what I like to teach is, fish the separate pools separately. Fish the 4 foot pool below you and the 8 foot pool in front of you distinctly in different casts. So cast to one and then you cast to the other, as opposed to letting it drift. And that’s primarily to kind of avoid those obstacles that are most likely gonna snag your fly, whether it be a branch, whether it be a couple of rocks that are gonna get your fly caught.

Sometimes those are kinda easy to free, but sometimes I see a lot of people who are new to fly-fishing, getting caught on these kind of obstacles, and just being aware of what’s in the water. One thing that you can do, too is, let’s say you wanna let it drift and go into the next pool. As this starts getting close to the obstacle in the water, just lift your rod and make sure that you know exactly where your fly is, and see if it’s above the log or just a little bit to the side. You don’t necessarily have to cast but be aware, just kinda manipulate your fly in a way that it’s not gonna get caught. Or my suggested method is, as soon as it gets caught to that… As soon as it gets close to that obstacle, just cast again to the pool or to the pool below you. So just being aware that preventing snags I think, in my opinion, is all about environmental awareness in terms of what is around you, awareness of your surroundings.

Now, the next part that I wanted to talk about is the line getting caught on the rod itself. So when, especially when people are starting off, with tenkara, I see this really very often. You go to cast and they’d line or the fly hits the rod itself and gets caught and gets tangled. It’s a big mess. Raise your hand if you’ve seen that happen on your rod. And I suspect a lot of you probably raised your hands right now. But there’s very easy ways to prevent it. We just have to learn what causes that, and there’s also like a really easy way to, as soon as you see it happening, not making it worse or kind of potentially freeing it right away. So, let’s talk about the line getting caught on the rod ’cause that’s something that causes a lot of frustration, as well. So understanding what happens there, like what is causing your line to get caught on the rod itself? So, in my observation, there’s two things that are gonna be causing the line to get caught on the rod.

The first one is on your back cast, you know where you’re supposed to be throwing the line. It goes back to what I covered a minute ago. If you stop too long on your back cast, you’re allowing the line to start falling behind you. And then when you go and move your rod forward, the line’s gonna come and hit the rod and get caught. So if you’re experiencing a lot of that problem, just on a back cast, instead of doing stop and let the fly drop and then go forward, just do a very quick stop. So let’s say “up Down” “up Down”. That’s the kind of rhythm for a cast, “up Down”, as opposed to “up Stop Down”. That long pause allows the fly to come down, get caught on the rod. The second reason that I’ve seen the line getting caught on the rod pretty often is when people move the arm forward. So keep your arm relaxed, close to your body. You don’t have to be tucking a book in under your arm, or anything like that, for your cast. But you’re gonna go up and down just using, lifting your forearm and then breaking your wrist. Sometimes, when people are starting off, I noticed that they have this tendency to punch forward… Like, move the arm forward; extend the arm in front of them when they go perform the forward cast.

So rather than keeping the arm close to their body the whole time, they keep their arm close to the body when they go back, and then when they go forward they extend the arm in front of them… They extend the arm completely. That’s gonna make the line more likely to get caught on the rod itself. Very easy to prevent it, just keep your arm close to your body when you do the back cast, as well as when you do the forward cast. Now here’s the little tip that’s probably gonna make this podcast most valuable to a lot of you today. When… And this is something that I just learned a few months ago, and I am including that in my book on Tenkara, that I’ve been working on. It’s a new chapter that I had to go back and start working on, because it’s something that I’ve noticed helps a lot of people. If you notice that your line got caught on the rod itself, a lot of times people have two tendencies. They’re either gonna like, they’re gonna point the tip down into the stream, or they’re gonna shake the rod. Those are two horrible ways to deal with the situation, because it makes the line get more and more tangled. Here’s the tip of the day… Drum rolls here. I cannot do drum rolls. But when you see the line getting caught on the rod itself, all you have to do is lift the tip of the rod up. Point the rod up above your head.

In my experience observing people recently, and with my own self, I would say eight, possibly even nine out of 10 times, when you point your rod up the line’s gonna slide right back to your hand, and you’re gonna be able to completely get it free without any frustration. So as soon as you see the line hitting the rod do not point it down, do not shake the rod. Calmly lift the rod up, point the rod up above your head, and most often, the line’s gonna come straight down to you. If it does not… And again, in my experience, eight out of 10 times, at least, it will… But if it doesn’t, collapse the rod in kind of a slow way. Because if you try to do kind of fast, it makes the line kind of go around. It’s almost like shaking the rod. But collapse the rod kind of slowly, and then work with that little tangle that you got on the tip of the rod, really close to you. Just avoid having the rod extended, and go work on the tip, because that could cause all kinds of problems, as well.

So that was the tip of the day, I think, that some of you are really gonna appreciate. Pointing the rod up will eliminate a lot of problems if you get caught on your rod itself. But now let’s talk about, if you are not able to prevent snags… Either on the rod itself, or on the trees around you or in front of you, and obstacles. What do we do? How do we free our fly most easily? That’s something that I’ve realized I’m actually really good at. ‘Cause I will get caught. I mean, sometimes I’m just focused on the water in front of me, and I forget to look at what’s around me. Sometimes I’m distracted, and I’ll make my back cast a little bit too slow. Luckily, it doesn’t happen quite that often anymore, but sometimes I have to deal with freeing the fly from obstacles… Either for myself, or for people that I’m with. And I heard somebody recently commenting like, “Oh! How do you do that?”

Because it actually happens very often when I go out with people, and they get caught, and they’re having a hard time freeing their fly, and I get the rod, and in a second I get it free. So how do we go about doing that? So first of all, we have to calmly, as soon as you get caught we have to understand where you got caught and how you got caught, I think, in my opinion. That’s gonna be important… That kind of awareness. Did it get caught on trees, did it get caught on obstacles in front of you. What kind of tree is it? Is it a very thin branch or thick branch? ‘Cause everything is gonna be just a little bit different. But let’s first talk about… So I already talked about the freeing the snag from the rod when it gets caught on the rod itself. So, I’m gonna focus on trees, as well as obstacles in the water. First of all, let’s talk about trees above us or behind us.

If the tree… If the line gets caught like it lets you do your back casting, it gets caught on the back cast. The first thing to do is understand what kind of tree and what thickness or branch did it get caught on because I’ve noticed a couple of things. In my opinion or in my experience so far, there’s different ways to free flies from different snags. If it’s an evergreen tree, a tree that is always green like a pine tree. You’re not gonna like this. But in my experience, a lot of times, that’s gonna be a lost fly. I don’t give up super easily. But knowing that it’s an evergreen, a pine tree, in my experience, it makes it a little bit harder to free the fly as opposed to a deciduous kind of tree like an oak or willows and that kind of trees. Because I think the branch, the flexibility of the branches, and that kind of thing makes a difference. So that’s how you do your backcast on a deciduous kind of tree like with thinner, wispier branches. If I get caught on a wispy branch…

Actually, let’s backtrack a little bit. Before I talk about the types of trees that you get caught on, the main technique when you get caught on your backcast is to do a super quick, but very little power kind of flick. So you get caught, sometimes we have a tendency to jerk a ride like we just put this power on it, but go slowly making a rod arch. And all you’re doing when you’re doing that is you’re making the fly get caught more stuck on the branch depending on how you get caught up there. So the main thing here for any backcast snags is to do… A backcast above you and that kind of thing is to do a really quick flick away from where you got caught. So it’s a very quick and like a wrist kind of flick to get it free. Now, let’s go back to what I started talking about, the evergreens and deciduous because there’s a little bit of a difference I think. With the deciduous trees, a lot of times they’ll have wispier, thinner branches. And the snapping technique is really, really good. And oftentimes, just this really quick flick away from where you got caught is gonna free it. Whereas in the evergreens, like the pine trees.

In my experience, a lot of times, I’ll still do the quick flick, but sometimes, it doesn’t get free quite as easily. I don’t give up quite that easily. The rods are actually fairly strong as long as you’re not doing this forceful long pull, as long as you’re doing a quick flick, the rods can take it fairly well. The main thing to avoid is just this big, long, forceful pull, just a quick flick to try to get the line tightened and free to fly. With the deciduous trees, I was gonna say like I probably… I would say, about 70, 80% of the time, I’ll get my fly back just by doing this quick flick. Let’s say, 70%. With the evergreens, the quick flick maybe 40% of the time, I’ll get my fly back by doing that. If that doesn’t work, the next thing that I’m gonna do is collapse my rod entirely, put my thumb on the rod to keep the rod tipping side, the main segment. And then I’m gonna be holding the line on this point. And at this point, it’s… I don’t know if any of you flew kites as kids, but you have this jerky motion with your line sometimes when you’re flying a kite, make you do all kinds of motion. So I get the line, and I just do almost the same thing, just quick little flicks.

And that might allow me to get my fly back without potentially breaking the rod. So usually with the quick flicks with the rod extended, I’ll do it like three or four times, and then I’ll collapse the rod, pull the line, and jerk on the line a little bit, trying to get it free. With the evergreens, maybe I’ll get another 10% of the time, I’ll get my fly back. But very often, I just give up a little bit more quickly when it’s on a pine tree, and I’ll just pull the line straight and break off to tip it. I will lose a fly, unfortunately. It happens. With the deciduous tree like willows, and oaks, and just thinner branches, just doing this really quick motion, will get it free fairly quickly maybe 30, 40% of the time. So just so that you know that if you get caught on an evergreen tree, you’ll lose your fly more likely than not.

So it doesn’t help you that much, but the techniques here, quick snaps, and then pulling on the line. Now, let’s talk about trees in front of you. So this is one that I like. It’s a little bit hard to execute, but it’s something very useful for you to know. Sometimes when you cast forward, let’s say, you have a bunch of branches in front of you, and there’s this really good looking spot, but it’s tied. You have to get a casting exactly in this tiny little spot, but unfortunately, your fly goes over this branch that you were trying to avoid. It will happen. This technique takes a little bit of a calm nerve to not make things worse. So when you cast forward and your fly hits that branch that you’re trying to avoid, the way to prevent getting actually caught on the rod is to stop. So you cast forward, a fly goes there.

A lot of times, novices will have… Not even novices, I shouldn’t say that. Pretty much anybody has a tendency to as soon as they see their fly hitting the branch, they immediately wanna pull their rod back. And in that case, the hook is gonna do what it’s designed to do. When you pull it back, it’s gonna hook something. That’s how you hook a fish. Now how do we avoid that? It’s a little bit the same as preventing a small little fish from taking your fly when you’re… Or from really getting hooked when you’re targeting a big fish. And I’ll talk about that some other day. But as soon as you cast forward and you see that the fly went right into the branch, stop the rod tip right where you stopped it on the forward cast. Do not pull back. Just avoid the temptation to pull it back thinking that you’re gonna get it free ’cause most likely, you’re not.

So another really kind of good tip here for today is, if you have the calm nerve to stop your rod tip on a forward cast in that one position, then your fly is just gonna dangle there for a second, and then you can slowly kind of pull it back. But you wanna make your fly stop and just kinda dangle there, and then pull the rod slowly back towards you. And very often, it’ll just gonna come right out. I’ve noticed that probably 80% of the time, when I’m getting caught on branches in front of me or potentially getting caught, I actually avoid a snag just by stopping the rod right there and then calmly pulling back. It’s hard to execute just because it kinda takes you overriding your intuition to pull the fly right back.

So you have to stop and then let it kinda do its thing and then pull it back to you. Besides trees in front of you, let’s talk about obstacles in the water, because there’s a few different things that we can do here. But the main thing is to understand how your fly got caught in a particular spot. So let’s say you’re fishing, let’s go back to that example. We have an 8-foot pool in front of me and a 4-foot long pool downstream from me, and I get caught somewhere in between. The first thing is understanding the direction that the fly was traveling when it got caught. So it’s pretty simple, really, but sometimes not the most intuitive thing like… Actually, let’s say that we’re fishing a pool above, like upstream from us and the fly is kind of traveling and then it gets caught somewhere. So let’s ignore that example of the 8-foot pool and the 4-foot pool. But we cast upstream, the fly comes down, gets caught either in a rock or on a log. Sometimes we might have a tendency to pull it back towards ourselves. But understand that the fly got caught because it was traveling downstream and it got in this angle where it maybe got stuck between two rocks or it got stuck on a log or something. If you pull it towards yourself, you’re making things worse.

So in that case, you just have to understand that the fly got caught by coming downstream, you wanna pull the fly upstream from the obstacle. That’s number one, understanding that you wanna just pull it into the direction it was traveling from. So if the fly is coming downstream and it gets caught, pull it upstream from the obstacle. And that’s probably almost every situation when it gets caught, it’s gonna be as simple as that, just pulling it upstream from the obstacles. Now there’s other things that you can do as well. So let’s say you’re fishing something, you know, like mostly across from you, and you’re trying to pull it into the direction it was travelling from, but it’s not doing anything. Here’s a little trick that I picked up recently to try to free it from stuff in the water. When it gets caught on a rock and you cannot seem to usually just pull it out, try shaking the rod very, very rapidly. Just shake it, shake it, shake it. Keep the line tight and shake it very rapidly. And sometimes that’ll free the fly from the obstacle as well. And then the third thing, sometimes, let’s say you’re upstream from the obstacle and maybe you’re pulling the fly up towards you, and it got caught.

The third method that you can try is just relax the line into the water, let the current take it downstream from the obstacle, and then sometimes that… Letting the kind of line being pulled will kind of free it. So those are the three kinda main things to do when the fly gets caught in an obstacle in the water. Sometimes you’ll not be able to retrieve it by doing any of those things, but you do have a good chance to get it back by trying those. If you’re not able to free your fly just using the rod in those cases, then you have to collapse the rod, kinda like what we did with the tree above us, collapse the rod entirely, put the tip of the rod inside, put a thumb in there, and then pull on the line directly. I like to do a couple of more tricks on the line to see if you’ll free it, but sometimes just pulling straight out to break the tippet, which is why we recommend using 4X tippet or less on our rods about 6 pounds or so, or less, so that you can break it by using your hands.

Well, I think I covered most of it. It’s one of those things, it’s a little tricky covering audio without showing it. I don’t have a video of this right now. I might try to work on some photographs ’cause we have to do that for our book that’s coming out next year anyways. But. Yeah, if you have other tips on how to get the fly back and how to prevent snags, how to prevent getting caught on things, and how to free from snags, definitely share it with us on tenkarausa.com/facebook. But, hopefully this will be useful for you to kind of get less frustrating time in the water, getting fewer snags, preventing snags to begin with, and then how to free it when it does happen, because it will happen. I hope that helped. I hope that was a useful episode. If you found that it was useful, let us know. Share an email with us or leave a comment on our page, leave a review on iTunes, and that kind of thing.


42:46 DG: I’d like to extend a special thank you to Nick Ogawa, also known as Takenobu. Check out his music at takenobumusic.com. We’ll be posting links to any references we made in this podcast, such as Takenobu’s music on our website www.tenkarausa.com/podcast. And, until next time, on a Tenkara Cast.

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4 Responses to Tangles and Snags

  1. Richard says:

    I have a tendency to revert back to western techniques, not that they are better, but I guess out of frustration….Focusing on my presentation and staying true to the one fly approach,

    Patience is a virtue not easily acquired, but I’m working on it..

    Thanks for all the insite

  2. Roger says:

    I am 71 years old..new to fly fishing with a Tenkarta fly rod….I bought a Dragon Tail Shadow Fire 360…& set up ..LevelLine..4x leader
    I am just learning how to cast…I am in the grass for now….you answered my problem with snag on rod tip…I have been pausing to
    long…..I start my cast at 12 o’clock try to stop with abrupt at 10 o’clock as to load the rod & shoot the line forward…..I think I need to
    be quick on the cast like to snap it forward..not hard…arm is at my side……Lot more practice..practice….

    Only water close to me is a city pond with pan fish….I may have to try some popper’s at a later point

    Thank you for your podcast on Snags

  3. Anthony Orona says:

    This episode of the Tenkara Cast is one of the best, I’ve listened to it at least six times through. I’ve got to say that I particularly enjoy these longer episodes, with lots of general Tenkara instruction as well as Daniel’s personal experience. I like his approach of preventing snags first and foremost. The explanation on the (rod tip snags), was particularly crucial my personal experiences. I’ve spent many days on the water, teaching friends and family members how to fish with a Tenkara rod. One of the most frustrating elements of my casting instruction has been observing the line getting caught on the learner’s rod tip during a cast and having no idea as to why this was happening to them. Now I’ve got a better handle on how to remedy these casting snags and thanks to the “tip of the day”, hours of frustration have been easily avoided during these past two months! All that to say, the information shared on this particular episode is extremely valuable for any Tenkara angler.

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