As Tenkara continues to gain momentum is the U.S., the number of choices in gear seems to have multiplied overnight. In particular, many new line makers have appeared giving Tenkara anglers a wide range of choices in color, length, and tippet connection.
A common question many people new to the sport have is which line is best. In this post, I’ll outline some of the pros and cons of different types of lines to help people make a more informed decision when choosing a Tenkara line.
Spoiler alert: The answer to the question above is that there is no “best” line. The best line is the one that works for you!
Types of Tenkara Lines
There are basically two types of Tenkara lines that are available in the U.S.: furled and level. Some prefer furled, some prefer level, and some switch back and forth between the two depending on conditions.
There are other types of Tenkara lines used in Japan (such as titanium wire); however, since these are hard to come by in the U.S. I’ll stick to furled and level lines since those are what most of us have access to.
Furled lines are often referred to as “traditional” lines since they are closer to the types of lines originally used in Tenkara fishing. They are made by hand with a twisting process (that I won’t go into here) and are tapered like a standard Western fly-fishing leader. They can be made out of many different materials including monofilament, thread, and horsehair.
Furled lines usually have a large, Kevlar loop at the butt end, which is connected to the rod using a girth hitch knot. At the tip end, there is either a loop (for a loop to loop connection to the tippet) or a small metal ring, which allows you to tie the tippet to the line using a clinch or Trilene knot.
- Nice Turnover
- Makes a delicate presentation
- Very easy to attach and detach from the rod
- Durable (I’ve had several lines last me years)
- Creates spray when cast that could scare spooky fish
- Becomes very twisted if you have to break off a fly from a snag
- Depending on the material, it can sink easily and ruin dry fly presentations
- The bulk of the taper means it may not cast as well in windy conditions
Unlike furled lines, level lines do not have a taper (as the name suggests). They are usually nothing more than a length of straight fluorocarbon that you attach your tippet to. It’s possible to make a level line out of monofilament, but most Tenkara pros will tell you that fluorocarbon turns over much better because it is denser than mono.
- Can be cut to any length you need depending on conditions and technique
- Very economical and can DIY
- No line twist after pulling out snags
- Lighter and thinner to reduce drag and keep more line off the water
- Easier to cast in the wind
- The knot used to connect it to the rod is a little more complicated than a furled line
- Not as durable as a furled line
- Can have line memory if wound on a spool too long
- If you want to make your own, high-visibility fluorocarbon is difficult to find
Once you’ve decided on which type of line to use, the next most important question is length. Again, there is no one “best” length. The right length will depend greatly on which technique you’re using and the conditions you face. It’s probably best to be armed with a few different lengths so you can adapt to different situations. Luckily, Tenkara lines (unlike Western fly lines) are relatively cheap so it’s easy to build up a good collection without breaking the bank. Here are a few considerations:
- A good rule of thumb for an all around length is that the line should be the same length as the rod or a little longer. Don’t forget to factor in your tippet length as well. For example, I usually use a 10.5 ft. line with a 12 ft. rod and about 2-3 feet of tippet. This is a good all purpose length for most situations.
- For lakes or streams where more reach or a more stealthy presentation is required, you might want to go with a longer line and more tippet. So if you’re using a 13 or 14 ft. rod, you might have a 13-15 ft. line with a 4 or 5 ft. tippet. Just keep in mind that a longer line and tippet might be more difficult to cast and may make it harder to land fish since you’ll have to pull more line in with your hand (forfeiting the tippet protection your rod offers).
- There are times when a line that’s significantly shorter than the rod may be the best choice. For example, if your Czech nymphing and want to keep all the line off the water, a 5 ft. line with 2-3 feet of tippet on a 13 ft. rod might work best, allowing you to keep the line perpendicular to the water while following the flow with your rod to create a drag-free presentation.
Since I mostly fish dry flies, I don’t care too much about colors because I’m watching the fly, not the line. But many Tenkara anglers who nymph or use wet flies prefer high-visibility lines so they can more easily detect strikes. Luckily, there are a variety of choices in color today.
Again, color is dependent on your situation. A clear line will not be visible if there is a lot of glare coming off the water’s surface. Likewise, a dark line won’t be very visible if you’re in the shade on dark water. If you need to see your line, you might consider carrying a few different colors and change based on the light and water conditions.
In my opinion, color is less important than length. I usually prefer more neutral, stealthy colors but certain techniques might dictate the need for a more visible line. It really comes down to personal style and preference, which is why you should probably try different colors to see what works best for you.
While there is no definitive answer on which Tenkara line is best, hopefully, this post gave you some things to think about before you buy your first or next line. I won’t bias you with my personal favorites. It’s more fun if you figure it out on your own. Plus, I think experimentation and trial and error makes us better Tenkara anglers (and just better anglers in general).
Sources for Tenkara lines:
Which type of Tenkara line do you prefer and why?