Choosing a tenkara line
The purpose of a tenkara line is to cast the virtually weightless fly. The casting of the line is one of the defining characteristics of fly-fishing and thus tenkara. Tenkara lines are specifically designed for tenkara.
Line length will be between 8 feet and 25 feet, and tippet length will be between 3 and 5 feet long.
The main qualities we look for in tenkara lines are the right weight and visibility. The tenkara line must be heavy enough to cast yet light enough that the line will stay entirely off the water once the fly lands. A line that is too heavy will immediately sag under the rod tip and be picked up by the currents it touches. Very light lines will be more difficult to cast but offer the advantage of staying off the water for a longer distance. A balance between the two is ideal.
The tenkara line must also be very visible so the angler can keep track of it. Line visibility is important to see where the fly landed and will greatly assist in detecting subtle strikes from fish taking the fly underwater. The tenkara line will be a few feet away from the fly, separated by the tippet. The tippet, on the other hand, should be nearly invisible to minimize detection by fish.
These are all considerations Tenkara USA takes when developing lines specifically for tenkara fly-fishing.
The length used is determined by the angler and sometimes dictated by the water one is fishing. There are no exact formulas here, but typically we recommend starting with a line length similar to the length of the rod plus 4 feet of tippet. With more experience, and when a larger or more open body of water calls for it, gradually experiment with longer lines.
Personal preference often comes from the priority given to specific characteristics of the line. For example, some anglers may gravitate toward the tapered line primarily because it casts more easily and softly. Others may lean toward the level line due to its versatility and very light weight. Since neither line is very expensive, we suggest trying both lines to see which matches your casting style and preferences.
However, if you only want to get one type of line to start, we recommend a tapered line about the same length as the rod. A tapered line will take but a minute to get used to casting. If you want the flexibility offered by a line that can be cut or joined together, I would recommend the level line. With a level line, you will need to have a faster back-cast (not powerful, just speedier) to make the line move well; it will take just a few minutes to get used to how the line casts.
Do tenkara lines float, or are they sinking lines?
Tenkara lines should have a fairly neutral buoyancy or be slowly sinking lines.
As it’s probably becoming clear by now, tenkara fishing is different from western fly-fishing. We can easily control where the fly will be fished by changing the angle of the rod tip upward or downward. Thus, if we want to fish a fly on or near the surface we just need to keep the rod angled upward and the line off the water. Then, when we wish to sink the fly deeper (some- times on a second pass in the same pool), we can simply lower the tip of the rod and allow more line to go down following the sinking fly.
If you come from a western fly-fishing background you may be used to floating lines. And while there may be lines marketed for tenkara that are also floating lines, I have stayed away from them and do not recommend them. The main reason is the versatility of a sinking line that allows you to fish with a fly on the surface or deeper without needing to change lines.
Tapered Line as the name implies, the tenkara tapered line is tapered, starting with a thicker end and becoming thinner as it gets closer to the fly. Tapered lines are either furled (twisted) out of multiple strands of line, or extruded out of a single strand of nylon or other materials. These lines are handmade by the angler or bought at specific lengths. Originally tapered lines were made out of horse-hair or silk and made by twisting several strands of line together, tapering down from several strands close to the rod tip to fewer strands nearer the fly. Normally a single strand of silk gut was then used as the tippet. Nowadays we can make them out of a variety of materials.
Tenkara tapered lines are not usually marketed in different weights; their main difference will be the length of the line. The angler will choose the length of line based on the streams she’s fishing. When fishing tighter streams a line about the same length as the rod will be helpful. In larger and more open streams a line longer than the rod may be desired. Level Lines As the name implies, tenkara level lines are of level diameter throughout their length. Level lines come in a spool; and several lines can be cut from the spool at desired lengths.
Tenkara level lines can be considered the more modern version of tenkara lines. They are extruded, meaning they are made into a single filament. Arguably one of the biggest advantages of level lines is that, because of the level diameter and single-strand construction, they can be cut to whatever length is desired, and if necessary two lines can be joined together. Tip: Once you cut the desired length of line off a spool you should never have to cut the end of your line to replace tippet. The knot we suggest to tie tippet to your level line will consist of a cinching fisherman’s knot that will slide against a small stopper knot at the end of your line. (Knots used for tenkara)
Whereas the options available for tapered lines consist mostly of different length options, tenkara level lines are available in different diameters and as a result different weights . The lines we offer at Tenkara USA are designated in half weights: 2.5, 3.5, and 4.5 . The half-weight designation is partly to avoid confusion with western fly lines and partly because we have personally found half weights offer the best range available.
The larger numbers denote heavier lines. A heavier level line will be easier to cast but will sag more under the rod tip. The lighter level line will be easier to keep off the water but may be harder to cast, especially in windy conditions. The middle weight (3.5) is always a good option and the best way to keep things simple. I use the 3.5 level line nearly exclusively. The 2.5 line can be fun to use and offers great presentations of the fly but is difficult to use in windy. The 4.5 level lines will sag more but come in handy in windy conditions.
Lastly, while most tenkara rods will cast all lines pretty well, the stiffer rods will typically do best with heavier lines. For example, the Tenkara USA Ito, Rhodo, and Sato cast the 2.5 beautifully, so any of the level lines may be used with those. Whereas the Amago, being a heavier rod, does best with a 3.5 or 4.5 line.