Choosing a tenkara line
Tapered lines are made at specific lengths and easier to cast. The nylon tapered lines will be the lighter of the tapered lines. Level lines are the lightest option, and allow for tenkara anglers to cut whatever length they choose; they stay off the water easily but are slightly more challenging to cast. All tenkara lines are designed to very slowly sink when in the water but can be kept off the water for good presentations. At the end of the tenkara line, approximately 4ft of tippet is used (no need for a leader).
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 heavier line will immediately sag under the rod tip and be picked up by the currents it touches. A lighter line will be more difficult to cast but offers 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 line length used to catch fish in tenkara fly-fishing is determined by the tenkara 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 rod length 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 casting line. For example, some tenkara 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 fly 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, we 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 visible line off the water. Then, when we wish to sink the fly deeper (sometimes on a second pass in the same pool), we can simply lower the rod tip 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, we 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.
A tapered line, as the name implies, is tapered, starting with a thicker end and becoming thinner as it gets closer to the fly. Tapered lines are either furled lines (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 silk or horsehair lines and 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 different lines 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 tenkara 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. Tenkara level lines are the same 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 line length off a spool you should never have to cut the end of your line to replace the 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. Compared to the lightest line, 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 middleweight (3.5) is always a good option and the best way to keep things simple. We use the 3.5 level line nearly exclusively. The 2.5 level lines can be fun to use and offer a delicate presentation of the fly but are difficult to use in windy conditions. The 4.5 level lines will sag more but come in handy in windy conditions.
Lastly, when it comes to choosing a tenkara fishing line, it is worth noting that while most tenkara rods will cast all tenkara 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best tenkara line length can vary depending on various factors, including the type of fishing you plan to do, the size of the stream or river you'll be fishing in, and your personal preferences. In general, your line should be the same as your rod length. If fishing in smaller streams or areas where there are lots of overhanging trees, a shorter line is beneficial. On larger rivers or when longer casts are required, a long rod and longer line are advantageous as it allows for better reach and the ability to cover a larger area.
There are two main types of tenkara lines: level lines and furled lines.
• Furled tenkara lines are tapered lines made from multiple strands of material twisted together.
• Tenkara level lines are lighter, untapered lines typically made from a straight length of fluorocarbon.
Each type of tenkara line has its advantages and is suited for different fishing scenarios. It’s a good idea to try out different lines to determine which one works best for your fishing style and the specific conditions you'll be fishing in.
The purpose of the tippet in tenkara fishing is to provide an extension of the main line and to attach the fly. The amount of tippet you use on a tenkara setup can vary depending on several factors, including your fishing conditions, the size of the fish you're targeting, and your personal preferences. Generally, tenkara anglers use a length of tippet between 3 to 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 meters). Using a longer tippet allows for a more natural presentation of the fly and provides some additional distance between the fly and the main line, which can help prevent spooking fish in clear water.
Traditionally, tenkara fishing doesn’t involve the use of fly lines and reels. Instead, it relies on a fixed-line setup, where the line is directly attached to the tip of the tenkara rod. This is one of the defining characteristics of tenkara fishing. However, it is possible to adapt a tenkara rod to use a fly line by simply attaching a fly line to the tip of a tenkara rod.