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To long line or not to long line? That is the question.

On December 14, 2012
Comments (9)

Written by TJ, 

It seems there are many conversations about tenkara these days about line length. I guess when you have simple form of fly fishing where just a rod, line, and fly are needed, it may seem that there is not much more to talk about. In reality though, there are many other things to be worked on, practiced, discussed, and that would be casting techniques.

Something I am seeing in myself, and I am sure others are also doing, is that we try to graduate to long lines too fast instead of focusing on something I feel is more important: that you try to master as many different casting techniques using shorter lines before you try to go to long lines.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to at least try and become basically comfortable with longer lines so if a time arises and you need to cast a bit further than normal, that you are not a complete klutz with the longer line. But I feel, for myself at least, that I should not focus too much attention on casting longer lines. But, that instead I focus on mastering my casting with shorter lines and being able to present many different casting techniques to both precisley present the fly to water from any angle needed and to get to where the fish are biting.

Maybe it is a man thing or an American thing that we always think bigger is better.But in my mind, especially with tenkara, we need to stay away from overpowering things or over-reaching things when better tenkara techniques are available for us to use.

I am not sure one can put a known “best” length of what a tenkara line can be, but my guess is that matching line length to rod length plus 3’ to 5’ tippet is a good standard to go by. Afterall, a 13’ rod with 13’ main line plus 4’ tippet means you can cast comfortably up to around 25’ away; that sweet spot where many of us small river folks have plenty of fish at hand.

Right now if you were to ask me to do a backhand cast where the fly lands first about 15’ away, I could do it. If asked to do 20’ away, I would say that I can probably do it. But TJ, can you do a backhand cast at 25’ away landing the fly properly? Probably not. Of course if you give me 10 tries to do it, I probably could. But… trout don’t count like we humans do and only know the number 1. You see, after that 1st kersplat of your fly line slapping the water near them sends all the trout scurrying away, and that means no trout for me today.

Ask yourself the same thing…. can you at 25’ away, your 1st cast, land a fly properly doing a backcast. Heck, even at 25’ away some of us may have issues just doing a normal overhand cast.

Remember, we have many casts to be used when tenkara fly fishing, and I now ask myself, how many of these different casts can I do easily without having to try it 10 or so times before I get it somewhat OK?

Some examples of casts are of course the standard overhand cast, backhand casts, bow-n-arrow or slingshot casts, and sidearm casts to name a few. There are numerous casts that if I was a betting man, we could take most tenkara fisherman, and I would bet most of us can’t do them properly or at all.

Why is that I wonder? It can be this way for many reasons but I bet one of them is we all learn to do the basic overhand cast and then once we feel comfortable performing that cast, we feel the next logical action to take is make the line longer and try to do the same cast for a line twice the length of the rod. Add insult to injury, this may be happening within days of someone casting a tenkara rod for the very first time and not years later when it probably makes more sense. This is where I personally feel it is a big mistake.

My train of thought on this is once we are feeling rock solid on one cast shooting a line that is the length of rod + 4’ tippet, is to now add another cast to our arsenal. Start working on perfecting a backhand cast for example all the while continuing to practice the overhand cast so that stays in muscle memory. Give this some time folks as Rome was not built in one day. Give it some years or at least a fly fishing season before you go too crazy on super long lines.

By doing this, I would say one could learn most casts needed for tenkara over a 2 to 3 year period and still have plenty to work on. But… before going drastically up in size on line length, I feel it would be better to work on more casting techniques and become a master, if you will, on handling shorter lines. Then when you have mastered those, add 3’ more length to your main line and do it all over again until all casts become mastered using the new 3’ longer line.

I recently asked a question on Tenkara no Oni’s website about casting longer lines and they were so gracious in answering. Team Oni’s answer solidified my mind on how I will personally will deal with my casting from this day forward. They stated “When Masami started Tenkara 35 years ago, he stuck with his 12 foot long line for 3 years, until he felt like he had mastered it completely, then he extended the line only by 0.5 meters (1.6 feet) a year or so. With today’s rods and lines, you could probably push that a little further, but no more than 15 feet for ones working to master the casting.”

I am not sure how other tenkara masters approach their casting practices but for me, this makes most sense. I don’t need to be the longest caster but I want to become a very good caster and will work on doing better each day at casting rod length lines and slowly add 2 to 3 feet every so many years until one day I can also cast at will 30’ of line.

Although 12-12-12 is old news as I type this, I did do something on this date that had somethking to do with 12-12-12. On this date I decided to stick with a 12’ tenkara rod using a 12’ line for a period of 12 months before I try to add more length to my line.

Onwards to 2013!
TJ Ferreira
Director of Customer Service
Tenkara USA

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9 Responses to To long line or not to long line? That is the question.

  1. I agree with this excellent post .

  2. Greg says:

    “Ask yourself the same thing…. can you at 25’ away, your 1st cast, land a fly properly doing a backcast.

    I assume you mean “backhand” or “crossbody” cast?

  3. Michael Sanchez says:

    Thank you for this insight. My family and I will use this in our enjoyment of Tenkara fishing here in Utah.

  4. I think we should remember that tenkara is a small stream tool. Really long casts would rarely be necessary. Tenkara can, of course, be adapted to larger streams by either stalking closer to the trout or lengthening the line, but how many line lengths do you want to carry? Does this diminish the “simplicity principle” of tenkara? I have found that fishing a longer line in shallower water inevitably interferes with the fly’s drift, because I can’t keep the entire fluorocarbon tenkara line off the water, it sinks, gets hung up on vegetation or rocks. For now the lenght-of-rod-plus-tippet rule seems to work best. (I must admit, though, the photos of casting a 30′ line is really sexy.)

  5. Matt (statikpunk) Donovan says:

    good post TJ ..for me I just dont get the need for a long line unless your fishing REALLY big rivers or flat water. for me a lot of the fun and challenge of Tenkara is getting close to the fish without spooking them. plus I think long lines limit the kinds of casts you can make. I fish witha line that is 2 or 3 feet longer than my rod plus tippet, which I guess by some could be considered a “long” line. but when i refer to a long line I mean those that like to fish with a line up to twice as long as their rod.
    on the subject of learning to cast a long line. (should someone want to) I think this is a situation where a western fly fishing background is beneficial. whenever you add length to your line you adjust the timing of your cast it becomes slower and all movements must become more pronounced and when your casting a western rod you are constantly adjusting that stroke and timing as you adjust the length of line your working with. I think anyone wanting to cast a longer line in tenkara would be well served by spending some time with a western fly rod. the weight of the line gives you a better “feel” for the cast, so then when you convert back to the almost weightless Tenkara line you will have a better idea of the feel your looking for.
    hopefully that might help somebody wanting to cast a longer line :) cheers

  6. TJ Ferreira says:

    Thanks all. Was fun to do my first official blog here.

    I should have noted in my original blog post about the importance of learning to cast while on knees or other angles that we may experience while fishing.

    Not only do I feel I should practice casting the different casting strokes, but to learn to cast well while on my knees trying to be sneaky, or maybe crouched behind a rock where maybe I am not on knees but off at an angle where my body is hidden from fish seeing me, and in any other awkward stance we may be placed in while getting our sneak-on.

    I think practice casting while in various body stances is a good thing too. 😎


  7. Remember, with the line a long as the rod plus tippet, you can rollcast and reach cast, as well as sidearm, etc. Tenkara really is versatile.

  8. ERiK says:

    Matt makes a good point about how to learn to cast a long line by using a western rod.

    On another note, my thought is that long line Tenkara is only for special situations. Namely, trying to impress your friends, fishing in big rivers, fishing for super spooky fish, and fishing in lakes(which I believe is best done with a western rod ).

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