Maybe we need to revise the term “fixed-line fishing” slightly. While it is accurate to describe tenkara as a “fixed-line” method of fishing, it should be noted there is more flexibility and versatility in tenkara than most people think. One example of that is how I normally use our tenkara level lines.
Yesterday Jason wrote a great post on traditional tenkara lines. The traditional line and the level line have their unique feel and I like to recommend people try both to see what they think. I personally use level lines exclusively, primarily because of the ability to use different line lengths and adjust it if I want to. That’s what this post is about.
I greatly enjoy fishing with a line that is attached to the tip of my rod and the length of which is generally fixed. This provides me with three main advantages: first, I know exactly how much line I have. Because of this I can easily stay away from trees behind me by (a) avoiding the temptation to strip one extra foot of line from my reel, (b) doing a very short casting stroke if there are lots of trees behind me, or (c) backcasting into a different direction or into openings in the canopy.
Second, tenkara is very quick to setup, just tie the line to the tip of the rod, and voila! You’re now fishing. And, lastly, having a fixed length of line is pretty relaxing in my opinion, I can move about in a stream without managing line with my other hand, without line slipping down through the guides of my rod, and I can very effectively cast to the spot I desire without trying to gauge the distance to it.
With that being said, when I fish I move a lot. This alone would not require adjusting line length often. But, throughout a day of fishing I may start fishing a large stream in the morning, find myself in a tighter tributary in the afternoon and then return to an open and wide section in the evening. I also enjoy fishing with a long tenkara level line.
So, what lengths of lines should someone like me carry for a day of fishing?
I consider myself a very simple-minded angler and really like to keep it super simple. I hate carrying a bunch of stuff with me, and no longer even carry a bag for my tackle, though I do enjoy using a net. My entire tackle of line spools, tippet, fly box, and forceps + nipper must be confined to the pockets found in my waders, or those in my pants. That is what attracted me to tenkara to begin with.
While I strive to carry as little as possible with me, sometimes I do wish I had a different length of line with me. It’s not like I’m changing lines all the time, but certain fishing areas may call for different line lengths.
There is a recent discussion in our forum where someone was trying to figure out the best line lengths to cut the 65 spools of level line that we sell. I say, start with one or two lengths and go from there. Keep it simple.
To this end I’d like to take away some anxiety people have about what line length to carry with them by pointing out something that is likely already very obvious: the level lines may be cut, joined, cut again and joined…
For the most part a tenkara angler will be very happy by carrying only 2 or 3 spools of pre-cut lines. For this I would suggest carrying a 10 or 11ft line (maybe a spool of the traditional line if you like its feel), then a spool of 15ft level line and a spool of 20ft level line if you fish in larger rivers as I do. A 65 spool of line will yield between 4 and 5 lines if cut this way (10+15+20+20). This combination will cover a wide range of lengths.
But, what if you just want one spool of line? Or, what if you find yourself with 20ft level line attached to your rod tip, no other spools in your pocket, and the next 200 yards of the stream is pretty narrow? I say, just cut it.
This part is pretty straightforward. All you need to do is collapse your rod, detach the level line from the tip of your rod by pulling the tag end. Cut whatever length of line is necessary. Wind the line you just cut around your hand to form a tight coil. Make sure it stays in a neat coil by wrapping one end around it. And put it in a pocket for later use.
Put this little coil in your shirt pocket, or even in your fly box.
And now, you fish those 200 yards and come to a wide part of the stream or you drive over to a larger river nearby, and find yourself wishing you had never cut your line; wishing that you still had 20ft of line attached to the end of the rod.
Pretty simple, collapse the rod again, detach the line from your rod tip, get the coil out of your pocket and join the line you cut to the beginning of the line you were just using with a blood knot!
I have included photographs of the knot below, and you can look up instructions on how to tie a blood knot online, but it’s a very easy knot to tie: (1) cross your two lines to be tied, wrap one tag end over the other line 3 times and insert this tag end into the opening between the two lines, (2) do the same with the other line but with the tag end being inserted into the middle in the opposite direction, (3) as you start the knot hold all 4 “ends” and pull them in opposite directions, (4) now just pull the two main lines in opposite directions to tighten, moisten with spit as you do this or pull very slowly, (5) tighten, (6) cut tags close to the main line.
In order to use the instructions in this article I like to recommend the slip knot suggested in our literature and video below for tying the level line to the rod tip. I do not like the use of a permanent loop and girth hitch for the level line as that would require that you cut some line off every time you want to join lines. The slip knot, once learned, is the most effective and quickest knot to tie.
It should be noted that one can very effectively fish one length of line just about anywhere, and the instructions above are not likely to be necessary all that often. For example, you can be just fine using your tenkara rod with your 10 1/2ft traditional line and not bother with longer lines even in larger rivers. In this way tenkara can be likened to using a camera with no zoom, should you want to get closer to the subject (in this case the fish) take a step closer.
Furthermore, the fish is also not always just farther than you can reach. Fishing with a fixed length of line can give anglers a new focus on water that is within reach, and therefore make them fish that water more effectively. If you have a short line that is fixed in length, you’ll spend less time looking at the other side of the stream, and more time looking for the good looking spots most anglers miss. In this way, having only one spool of a shorter length of line can be an asset and also a relaxing way of fishing.
I’d be interested in knowing what your favorite line set consists of! What length have you come to favor?