Keiryu Lines

Keiryu fishing is becoming increasingly popular in the US. has been offering keiryu rods since 2012. Up until recently, though, most have been used for tenkara fishing. That is changing and more people are using the rods as they are used in Japan (or at least, closer to the way they are used in Japan), with extremely light lines, markers, split shot and bait. Some do use heavily weighted artificial nymphs instead of split shot and live bait.

With the increased interest in keiryu fishing, I have been getting more and more questions about the construction of keiryu lines. I have hesitated to write a page on keiryu lines because the way I make them is not the way they are generally made in Japan. I did not want to mislead people or chart a new course, but the questions have reached critical mass.

I think it is perhaps better to provide some guidance, with the caveat that although these lines work for me they are not what you would find in Japan. (What actually is used in Japan would take a completely new page with extensive diagrams because we do not have the proper terminology to easily describe what is used.)

Keiryu lines are considerably lighter than tenkara lines and are essentially tippet material for the full length of the line. They do not need to be hi-vis because keiryu yarn markers are tied around the line for strike detection.

I use 3 or 4 markers of different colors, 2-3" apart, with the lowest one kept above the water's surface. The knots used allow you to slide the markers up and down the line to adjust for water depth, but they will stay where you put them.

Keiryu anglers use split shot to get their bait down to the fish and they cast the weight of the shot rather than the weight of the line. Not only can the line thus be pretty light, lighter is better.

The lighter the line, the less it sags from its own weight. Lighter line also experiences less wind resistance during the cast and is affected less by wind after the cast is made.

There is also less resistance in the water, making it less likely that fish will feel tension on the line. Trout will spit out even natural bait if they feel tension. Reducing resistance of the line in the water also makes it easier to get a good hook set. Finally, and perhaps most important, the thinner and more supple the line the more natural the drift of your bait or fly.

Because the line is almost weightless and the weight of the split shot is holding it tight, keiryu anglers are able to fish with a line that is virtually straight from the rod tip to the split shot.  That allows the angler to feel almost all takes, even surprisingly subtle ones. The split shot is attached to the line perhaps 8" or so above the hook.

There is a little slack between the shot and the hook, but very little. Anglers who utilize a hybrid of tenkara and keiryu, fishing weighted artificial nymphs rather than a split shot and bait, can eliminate even that little bit of slack, fishing a tight line from the rod tip all the way to the fly.

With a very long rod and a line one to four feet shorter than the rod, keiryu anglers can fish with their line entering the water almost vertically. Drag is almost nonexistent and cross currents are very nearly irrelevant. That is a huge advantage! Of course, there is a disadvantage that goes with it.

With a very thin line and a round split shot, the split shot will act like a plumb bob and will want to hang straight down from the rod tip. You cannot cast out and have it stay out.  If you cast out it will come back in (which is essentially drag, because your bait or fly is not drifting with the current, it is drifting across the current to try to get back to directly under your rod tip).

That is probably the main reason keiryu rods tend to be quite long. If you are fishing under your rod tip you want the rod tip to be pretty far away.

Keiryu Line Construction

Keiryu lines are often constructed in three sections. The upper section, which attaches to the rod, is called the "tenjo" line. It is thicker and stronger than the rest of the line. This provides two or three benefits. Being thicker, it is less likely to tangle, but if it does get tangled it is easier to untangle.

Being stronger, if you get a snag and have to break off, the break will occur in the weaker, lower part of the line so you will not lose your entire line (which will happen if you use the same strength tippet material from the rod tip all the way to the hook). 

A possible third benefit is that some tenjo lines are hi-vis, which makes them a bit easier to see. They are still very thin, so they are only a bit easier to see, but a visible line attached to the rod tip points to your markers, which makes it easier to spot the markers at the beginning of the drift. The Sunline Tenjo line is extremely visible.

I make the Tenjo line about 6' long for a 6.3 or 5.4m rod, although if you fish with a shorter rod (3.9 or 4.5m) a 4' tenjo line would be sufficient.

In Japan, some tenjo lines are adjustable for length. While this may allow you to adjust the length of your line enough to use the same line with both lengths of a two position zoom rod, the primary function is to allow adjustments to make up for line lost when having to tie on a new hook to replace one lost to a snag.

The middle section, or main line, is thinner (weaker) than the Tenjo line and is the portion to which the markers are tied. I generally use Varivas fluorocarbon tippet material. Depending on the rod, it might be anywhere from 3X down to 7X.

The length of this middle section is the most variable, depending on rod length and your own personal preference for line length - and perhaps depending also on water depth. I use a total line length, rod tip to hook, about 4' shorter than the rod for a 6.3m rod, about 3' shorter than the rod for a 5.3 or 5.4m rod, 2' shorter than the rod for a 4.5m rod and a foot shorter for a 3.9m rod. With a tenjo line of 4-6', and a third section equal to the depth of the shallowest water you will fish, the length middle section is based on the following equation: Rod length minus amount by which the total line length is shorter than the rod minus tenjo length, minus depth of the shallowest water. For example, with a 17.5' rod, a total line length 3' shorter than the rod, a 5' tenjo line and a minimum water depth of 2', the middle section would be about 7.5'

Even though a weaker tippet section is generally used to attach the hook, if you will be fishing where your main line could get caught in overhead tree branches or in either sticks or logs in the water, it would be wise to limit this section to the rod manufacturer's maximum tippet recommendation.

The third section of line is relatively short and made from a lighter tippet than the lower line. I have used tippet ranging from 5X to 10X for this lowest section, but I think both are a bit extreme. I generally use 6x - 8X. This section has the hook and the split shot - the elements of the line that are most likely to get hung up on the bottom.

Using a very light third section also eliminates the need for an adjustable tenjo line, as your main line isn't affected by breaking off the last section of tippet when you get a snag. With the split shot generally placed about 8" above the hook, this section of line only needs to be 10-12" long. However, bringing some lessons from Euronymphing to the world of keiryu fishing, you will get slightly better drifts if all the line that is in the water is as narrow as possible.

Thus, instead of a 12" light third section, perhaps the third section should be at least equal to the depth of the shallowest water you will fish. You don't want it to be too long, because you will want to position the yarn makers close to the surface, and you will not be able to slide them past the knot or tippet ring that joins the middle and third sections.

I connect all the sections with tippet rings. They are easy to use and keep you from losing a few inches of line each time you have to replace either of the lower sections.

For split shot, I generally use a single BB shot, although when fishing a deeper run with faster current (or in heavier wind) I will occasionally use two BB shot. In shallower streams, a #4 or even #6 might be sufficient. In streams that are no more than knee deep and generally even shallower, I will use a light tenkara line to provide casting weight, and no shot at all. Please see my Ultralight Worm Fishing page.

Most Japanese keiryu anglers use eyeless hooks. Japanese bait hooks all seem to be eyeless. Although it is not terribly difficult to snell a hook while standing in the middle of a stream, it really is a bit easier to snell a number of hooks at home, sitting down and with good light. The Stonfo Hook Tyer makes it (relatively) easy.

That way, when you lose a hook to a snag it is no trouble to just tie on another pre-snelled hook, squeeze on a new split shot and get back to fishing. The Daiwa 1500SK Keiryu line holders can hold several of the pre-snelled hooks, as well as a couple tenjo lines and a few main lines of different lengths.

Of course, there is no rule saying your must use eyeless hooks. I often use the Owner Mainstream tenkara hooks, which are quite similar to many bait hooks and come with eyes, making snelling unnecessary.

When using smaller baits (and I often use very small red wigglers no more than an inch and a half long) I have used hooks as small as the size 28 Varivas 2300 midge hooks, and have been pleasantly surprised at their hooking and holding ability.

To get the most natural presentation (and the most takes) you really do want the longest rod you can get away with, the lightest line you can get away with, the lightest split shot you can get away with and the smallest hook you can get away with.

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Walk softly and carry a long stick. - Teddy Roosevelt (almost)

Tenkara has no strict rules. Enjoy tenkara in your own way.
- Eiji Yamakawa

“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” – Benjamin Franklin


The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.