The first tenkara line was made from twisted horsehair. Most are now made from nylon monofilament or fluorocarbon fishing line. The two main types are tapered lines and level lines. In the US, most tapered lines are really just long furled leaders. Most level lines in both the US and Japan are fluorocarbon.
If there is one area of tenkara fishing where I get away from the simplicity, it is with the lines. You can certainly choose one line, either tapered or level, and do all your fishing with it. I like to fine-tune things a bit and prefer to use different lines with different rods. To some extent, I'll also match the line to the fly, using heavier lines with heavy or wind resistant flies. I also match the line to how much of a breeze there is. In every case, though, I'll use the lightest line I can get away with.
As with everything else in life, the choice of which tenkara line to use is a compromise. Each type has advantages and disadvantages. I believe that anglers in Japan pretty much choose to fish tapered or level lines, and don't switch back and forth. Here in the US, tenkara anglers do not always follow Japanese tenkara tradition.
To me, the greatest single advantage of tenkara over Western fly fishing is the improved presentation. The long rod and relatively short line allow you to keep most of your line off the water and fish a tighter line. To do this effectively, though, you need to fish a very light line.
In general, I would recommend fishing the lightest line you can get away with. To some extent, how light line you can fish will depend on your rod, the flies you are fishing, and whether there is any breeze. I would also recommend fishing a very visible line, as I am convinced that that the better you see your line, the better you'll see the strikes.
If you want to embrace the simplicity of tenkara, this section should help you pick which line to use. If you want to fine-tune things to match your lines to your rods, flies and weather, this section should help you pick which line to use when.
In general, I recommend level lines rather than tapered lines. The fact that they are "level" rather than "tapered" is not the issue. The difference is that most level lines used for tenkara are made from fluorocarbon, while most tapered lines are either nylon or furled from tying thread or kevlar. Fluorocarbon is denser than nylon and is thus less affected by wind resistance.
I have gotten many questions about whether you could just use any fluorocarbon line sold to bass fishermen. My answer has always been that yes, you could, but there is a substantial difference between fishing with a clear fluorocarbon designed to be invisible and a hi-vis fluorocarbon that is designed to be easy to see - which makes it easy to see subtle strikes.
There are also tenkara lines that are not hi-vs. They are visible enough in most lighting conditions but are much harder for the fish to see. When stealth is important, they are a very good choice.
There is a general consensus that furled lines are easier to cast than level lines. That is due in part to the taper (and to the physics of how a line is cast) but it is also largely do to the fact that nearly all of the furled lines are considerably heavier than level lines. Heavier lines are easier to cast.
However, lighter lines are easier to catch fish with! I would suggest anyone starting out (and any tenkara angler who fishes with a furled line) to read my essay Why Level Line for a Beginner. It won't take long to read but it could help you catch a lot more fish.
Personally, I use level lines probably 95% of the time just because they are the easiest to hold off the water's surface.
Most people who fish level lines fish fluorocarbon, but not all. There are a few who prefer nylon level line because it yields a more delicate presentation and is easier to hold off the water's surface. It is harder to cast, particularly if there is a breeze, but everything in life is a trade-off, and the best isn't always easiest.
Instructions for how to attach fluorocarbon level lines to the rod are on my Rod Care page.
Although the first tenkara lines in Japan were tapered lines, made from twisted horsehair, most tapered lines in Japan are now made from nylon mono or fluorocarbon. I have seen several different Japanese tapered lines, and none of them were furled, which is how virtually all the tapered lines available in the US are constructed. None of them were made from tying thread or kevlar, as are the US lines. What is generally billed here as "traditional" isn't traditional at all. The best are made of fluorocarbon and are twisted, not furled (which sounds like something James Bond would have said). They are heavier than level lines and thus harder to hold off the surface, but many people prefer them because they are so easy to cast.
I have gotten several questions about whether you could use a regular tapered leader sold for fly fishing. You can, but they all have one serious disadvantage - they are very low visibility (either clear, smoke or very light green). I have found a few tapered Hi-Vis lines from Japan. They are nylon, so they do not cast as easily as fluorocarbon, but they turn over well and do work very nicely. They are the Nissin PALS Orange, and the Fujino Tenkara Midi, Soft Tenkara, White Tenkara, Soft Tenkara Long Type.
Instructions for how to attach tapered lines to the rod are on my Rod Care page.
I recently read a blog post touting a "new" tapered nylon line. I had to remind the blogger that the Fujino Tenkara Midi tapered nylon line has been available on Tenkarabum for years now. The orange Fujino Soft Tenkara tapered nylon line has been available here for well over a year. The "new" tapered nylon line is just the Fujino Soft line in a new box. I'm just glad he didn't refer to it as a "game changer."
Some tenkara anglers in Japan and in the US use floating lines made from thin fly fishing running line. It is not my favorite line by any means, but I do see advantages in some situations. The new Daiwa Tenkara Floating Line is as nice a floating line as I have found.
When fishing still water, where drag from current is not an issue but drag from the wind blowing the line around certainly is, you might want to anchor the line in the water. Also, when fishing poppers or bass bugs (oh yes, with the right rods you can fish bass bugs) you might want a floating line. It is heavier and will turn over the bugs better than a fluorocarbon line, and it won't sink like fluorocarbon while you are letting the bug sit still.
For people who want to fish a long line, which cannot be kept off the water anyway, a 7m floating line makes sense. The 7m Daiwa Tenkara Floating Line casts very nicely.
I've also included a page on horsehair line. Despite all the latest, greatest, hi-vis, high tech lines, I really enjoy fishing with a horsehair line. It just seems to have the right density and stiffness to cast very nicely. If you would like to make your own horsehair line, the Horsehair Line page (above link) has detailed step-by-step instructions.
Horsehair lines are attached to the rod with the same method used for tapered lines.
The TenkaraBum Tactical Nymphing Sighter gives you more flexibility in designing your own sighter to match the water and lighting conditions than any other sighter on the market. This unique material gives you the option for sighters that are:
2) Chartreuse over white
3) Orange over white
4) Orange over chartreuse over white
5) Chartreuse over orange over white
6) Orange over chartreuse
7) Chartreuse over orange
For the ultimate in stealth, combine a tenkara line made from Varivas 0X tippet and a white sighter.
And don't forget the tippet
which you obviously need between your tenkara line and tenkara fly. I
carry Varivas and Fujino, both of which are made in Japan. Use any brand of
tippet you want, but do use a light tippet to protect the rod.
If you have any comments or suggestions, or would like to get more information about tenkara lines, please go to the contact us page.
Heavy tippet material can be used for a clear, colorless tenkara line. When used with a section of the TenkaraBum Tactical Nymphing Sighter for stride detection it makes a very stealthy and very effective line. The 0X tippet is equavalent to size 3 line, and the -2X is equivalent to size 4 line.
|Chris, many thanks. By the way, I tried out my new tenkara rod with your Hi-Vis line last weekend on a small stream nearby. I found that all the advice you give on your website is absolutely spot on. With western style fly casting I have nothing but problems and seem never to be able to "mend" my way out of drag, which must be obvious to the fish. With the tenkara style and your fabulous Hi-Vis line all that was in the water was the 6X tippet. After a catch-less first season of fishing last year, on my first outing with my tenkara gear and your line I caught a 9 inch brownie in a fast moving riffle - and I am hooked. You have a customer for life!
Paul G, Maryland