By: Andy Marks
After 3 weeks with tenkara rods, I’m here to report that the gear is refined and spare. When I took my first tenkara rod apart I thought, “How do they make these things!”. I left that alone. The line and fly were more my speed. I’ve been making my own micro-thin tapered fly fishing leaders for 2 years. Micro-thin leaders minimize wind and water drag. In tenkara, the tippet and fly should be the only gear that gets wet: you hold the rest aloft.
The kit 13’ tapered line that came with my Hane rod is .012” in diameter. That’s the same as most 10 pound fluoro and mono. I use a segment of that in the butt section of my leaders. A fellow at Deschutes Anglers quipped, “When you’re Euro Nymphing you’re casting mono”. A tenkara line seems similar to micro-thin nymphing leaders.
There are several types of tenkara lines: level line (one diameter), floating or sinking furled tapered lines, tapered nylon lines, etc. They have different end treatments: level lines are unadorned, furled lines have a floppy loop at the top and a tippet ring or equivalent at the far end. A tapered nylon line has a floppy loop loop-to-looped to the butt section and its far end just ends. The line attaches to a tiny red tag (called a lilian) (bound to the innermost segment of the telescoping rod) with a stop knot at its end. If your line has a floppy loop, attach it to the lilian with a girth hitch below the stop knot. If your line just ends, tie an arbor knot in it then weave the lilian through the loop twice before tightening the knot.
My tenkara line of choice is a level line hybrid: it has a floppy loop at the top and a tippet ring at the bottom (see below). Make its “floppy loop” with an 8” piece of 20-pound backing braid. Use a Tie-Fast fishing line knot Tier to make back-to-back nail knots. Tie the first knot with three loops of braid, slipping 6” of level line in and tighten the braid around it. Then tie another with the 6” level line tag, wrapping it around the braid three times. Pull on the level line, and braid tag, and the nail knots tighten and slide together. With the dissimilar lines joined, tie a ½” perfection loop to the braid tag and girth hitch it to the lilian. At the far end tie on a tippet ring with another Davy knot.
I use Nissin’s orange ONI ryu 2.5, 3.0, or 3.5 level line: they’re thin and supple. Their 2.5 line is .0105” in diameter (like 1X tippet). (Their 3.5 is .0125” in diameter.) I make these in four lengths which are multiples of my rod lengths (1x, 1.2x, 1.5x, and 2.5x). I use white/black braid on the 4 m rod lines, and green/black braid for the 3.3 m rod. A 1.5x line on a 4 m rod gives you a 10 m reach, 11 m if you extend an orangutan arm like mine.
Final thoughts: I fish with a 1x or 1.2x length line. I have trouble landing fish with the 1.5x, and I practice in a park with the 2.5x line. When you get snagged, DO NOT pull on the rod / top segment / lilian. The tenkara rod is super sensitive. Get your line in hand and pull on it to free your fly. I collapse my rod as much as possible, tuck it under my arm, and wade out until I reach my line. I finish collapsing the rod, then tug to free the fly. If you just made a steeple back cast (without looking) and hooked the tall tree behind you, climb the bank, collapse as much of your rod as you can, and pray that you can reach your line. Picking apart a deadfall bordered rock garden with your own line is fun, especially if the creek bottom is lava. Fish optional. Thanks for reading.
Andy Marks: I’m 65, I live in UT, fish in UT, in WY, Yellowstone, and ID. I’ve been fly fishing for 2 ½ years, I have 15 fly rods and 3 Tenkara rods and since I’ve used the latter I haven’t touched the former.