A simple guide to microfishing

A simple guide to microfishing

We wouldn't say microfishing is taking the angling world by storm. Yet there is no doubt that it is getting plenty of attention these days. At this point microfishing has been covered by Field and Stream, Hooked Magazine, Game and Fish, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune and even The Nature Conservancy.

Yet most people, including many anglers, are still unaware of the details of microfishing. We know from first hand experience. If we had a dollar for every time a person along a small stream asked if we were trying to catch bait we'd already be living in luxury cabins in Alaska. So with this guide we want to explain the ins and outs of microfishing.

What is microfishing?

Microfishing is essentially fishing for small or micro fish. What exactly counts as a "micro fish" is up for debate. Some may say its anything smaller than a panfish. Others might say it is any fish of a certain length. For our purposes lets just say that microfishing means targeting fish that are too small to be reliably pursued with what might be called standard fishing tackle. 

Honestly, there's even some wiggle room there. Because a lot of micro species can actually be caught on a regular rod and reel. We've probably all caught a creek chub or shiner when fishing with a fly or small lure. But using purpose made microfishing hooks can make targeting micros more fun and effective.


Microfishing hooks are not just small hooks. Even tiny fly hooks in the size 20-30 range are actually meant for catching trout of significant size. Microfishing hooks are different. They have very small and specially sharpened hook points that can penetrate the little mouths of micro fish.

There is actually a full range of microfishing tackle available. It ranges from rods to lines, floats, rig storage and more. We sell a lot of it here at Angler's Emporium. Yet the beauty of microfishing is that you can start with as little as a length of line and a small hook. Chances are there is a waterway near you that is swimming with plenty of micro fish too! There are hundreds of species of fish in the United States. A lot of them stay small. If you want to catch those fish, microfishing is a great option.

What about tanago fishing?

You may have heard microfishing referred to as "tanago fishing" on the internet. Or you may have noticed that many of the micro fishing products we carry have the word tanago in their titles. Let us explain.

Tanago fishing is actually a particular type of microfishing practiced in Japan. Tanago fishing targets small fish called bitterling that are commonly referred to as tanago in Japanese. Tanago fishing is not the most popular type of fishing in Japan by any means, but it does have its followers. They can be as obsessive as any other anglers you'd find. There are books, magazines, websites and a whole lot of tackle designed around tanago fishing in Japan. We've brought some of that to the US.

microfishing rod

While many anglers are out to catch a trophy, those who pursue tanago want to catch the smallest fish they can. The ultimate goal for many tanago anglers is to catch a bitterling that fits between the edges of a 1 Yen coin. To put things in perspective, a 1 Yen coin has a diameter of just over 3/4 inch. Now that's tiny!

Nearly all hooks made to penetrate the mouths of tiny fish are made for Tanago fishing in Japan. No one else really makes these kinds of products. So most micro fishing hooks are called tanago hooks. Ultra small line is also made specifically for tanago in Japan. So that is also called tanago line. But tanago products can work for any micro fish. That's why we sell them even though there are no bitterling or tanago to speak of in the United States. 

Microfishing around the world

Microfishing has of course been practiced in various parts of the world for some time, though it doesn't always carry the title. For example, you could probably say that kids catching small gourami and walking perch on cane poles in Cambodian irrigation canals are microfishing. But they would likely just tell you that they're fishing.

The same applies to the United States. Some of us were fishing for minnows and madtoms in small streams decades ago. We didn't have any special name for it at the time, let alone specialized tackle. We just fished for what we found. It was microfishing nonetheless.

 microfishing in thailand

These days there are anglers who intentionally set out to go microfishing. Their ranks are growing in the United States, but microfishing is also becoming a popular pursuit in places as far and wide as Malaysia, South Africa, Norway and Canada.

Those who practice microfishing outside of Japan seem to put less emphasis on the size of the fish they catch. Rather than seek out the smallest specimen of a particular species, they might want to catch as many different species as they can. Or they might seek out particular species that are difficult to locate or catch. Others look for really beautiful and colorful fish like darters and rainbow shiners. Some just want to catch whatever they can in the closest waters possible. It's all possible with microfishing!

Microfishing gear

Of course people keep on fishing as they always have. Though now there are those of us who seek out micro species intentionally, using specialized gear that is actually meant for catching tiny fish. This enriches the angling in many ways. It makes us more effective at our objective. It also brings a little more excitement into the process.

Catching a five inch panfish on a heavy action surf rod isn't much fun. That's one reason manufactures make ultralight rods. The same goes for micro species of fish. Even a three inch dace can put a bend in a microfishing rod. Part of the fun comes from the pursuit, but a lively fight is also enjoyable. Matching tackle from hand to water also makes things easier.

microfishing rod lilian

We sell microfishing rods in a range of sizes and varieties. Some are quite inexpensive. Others cost as much as a good spinning rod. The price reflects the quality, but to be honest they'll all do the job. In Japan, some shops sell specially crafted micro fishing rods that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. We haven't taken things that far (yet).

If you do pick up a microfishing rod, you'll notice that it doesn't have a reel or guides. Instead it has a short cord connected to the tip. That is called the lilian. Microfishing rods are fished using a fixed length of line. The line is usually about the same length as the rod. You tie your line to the lilian at the tip of the rod with a level line knot. It's all a lot easier than it sounds.

A microfishing how-to

If you want to catch micro fish with no special tools or investment, just head to a stream with the smallest hook you have. Bait it with a tiny piece of worm or a little ball of white bread and start fishing. Or use a small fly. There's a good chance you'll catch fish.

The next step up would be to purchase a pack of snelled tanago hooks. These hooks come tied to a length of clear leader line. You can simply attach the free end of one of these leaders to a swivel at the end of your line and start fishing. Add a small float or split shot if you need casting weight, but be aware that a lot of micros can be found right at your feet. Micro hooks come in different varieties. The main differences are in the points of the hooks. They're all small, and they all catch fish. So don't stress too much about picking "the right" one.

You can either fish a weightless rig and watch for bites or use a float or sinker. It all has its place. You can experiment to create the kind of rigging you need to catch the micro species you are after. Some fish like darters tend to stick to the bottom. Others like shiners are happy to take bait from the surface. We sell everything from micro fishing floats to tippet clips to put your own micro rigs together.

If you'd rather just right to the fishing, take a look at our microfishing rigs. We sell microfishing rigs from both Owner and Marufuji. They're both very well made, so selection mainly comes down to a matter of taste. These rigs are complete and ready to fish.

micro fishing rig

The microfishing rigs we sell have a loop on one end to attach to either your micro fishing rod or the end of your line. Next, they have a small micro fishing float. Below that you will find a series of little indicators. These can help you detect bites from small fish that swim to the side rather than moving your float. Finally there is a little weight and a microfishing hook. All you have to do is bait up and cast out and you'll be fishing.

When it comes to bait you can use a wide variety of things. As stated above, a small piece of wax worm or a tiny ball of white bread both work well on most micro species. You could also make your own dough bait or use a tiny fly. Little pieces of scented soft plastics like Gulp! Maggots or honey worms are also very effective and easy to carry.

We carry microfishing bait that is specifically formulated to catch micro fish. You just put a dab on your hook. It works well, but to be total honest it is not necessary. Like the microfishing line we carry it is something to look into if you are serious about microfishing, but you can absolutely catch fish without it.

That ought to summarize microfishing, or at least get you started. We love microfishing as much as anyone. That's the reason we make these products available. So if you have any questions feel free to contact or just leave a comment below. We'll do our best to help.  

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The warmer months seem to be best for micro fishing in most parts of the world. Many species will slow down when the water cools down in fall and winter.

Angler's Emporium

Is there a good time of year to focus your microfishing?


Hi Ernie. You can buy it all right here at Anglersemporium.com

Angler's Emporium

In the United States I find it difficult to find hooks and light lines to buy. Any suggestions on where to buy equipment and tackle in the U. S. ?


We are happy to announce that we now carry micro fishing line markers. You can find them under “microfishing” on the site. Thanks!

Angler's Emporium

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