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What Line Length Should I Use For My Tenkara Rod?

What Line Length Should I Use For My Tenkara Rod?

The basic rule of thumb is to use a line that is the same length as your rod GIVE-OR-TAKE 1 or 2 feet. Obviously this is not a hard rule you have to follow but it gives you a starting point.

Tenkara Beginners

If you are just getting started with Tenkara I would use a line the same length as your rod or one foot shorter. The last thing you want while learning to cast an nearly weightless line is dealing with the challenges that come from having a line longer than your tenkara rod. If you are starting on small creeks go with a line that is about one foot shorter than your rod, if you will be fishing more open water go with a line that is the same length as your rod.

Experienced Tenkara Anglers

When you have more experience and have your casting motion down, it is much easier to deal with the challenges of casting a longer line. But just because you can does not mean you should, make sure having a longer line is worth the trade-offs. As a more experienced angler, you will get a gut feeling whether you feel like you need a longer line or possibly an even shorter line.

Pros & Cons of Short & Long Tenkara Lines

Pros of a Long Tenkara Line

  • More reach to hit those spots you can't wade out to
  • Easier to hide from the fish's view
  • More room to play a larger trout on fixed line
  • Longer drifts for more open water

Cons of a Long Tenkara Line

  • Higher chance of tangles
  • Higher chance of snagging trees
  • More line sagging into the water interfering with your drift control and presentation
  • Harder to manipulate a fly with slight movements
  • Harder to cast and requires more skill, especially in windy conditions

Pros of a Short Tenkara Line

  • Very little line in the water for excellent drift control and presentation
  • More control over fly manipulation with slight movements because your line is very tight
  • Easier casting with less skill, even in windy conditions
  • Less chance of snagging trees

Cons of a Short Tenkara Line

  • Shorter reach
  • Less room to play bigger trout on a fixed line
  • Puts you closer to the fish's field of view

Examples of What Brent Uses

Longer Rod on a Small Creek

I like to fish long rods in-between the 280cm to 400cm rod length, even on small creeks. I just like the reach and control these rods give me, plus I like the way tenkara rods cast at longer lengths. I tend to use a line that is shorter than my longer rod on creeks. For example on my NIRVANA 400 tenkara rod I would use a 12.5ft line or on my Mutant zx380 rod I would use the longest rod length with a line that is 11ft long. The long rod gives me reach but the shorter line gives me more control of the drift and a tighter line to allow me to manipulate the fly better with slight movements of the rod.

Medium or Shorter Rod on a Small Creek

Sometimes a long rod gets you in trouble with the trees or tall brush so I go with a shorter rod than my favorite long tenkara rods. For a 12ft 360 rod I would go with a 11ft to 12.5ft line if the casting is tighter. With a 10ft or 11ft rod I would use a 11ft line unless the creek is too brushy.

Shorter Rod on a Brushy Creek

For very brushy creeks I tend to go with a 9ft or shorter rod length. I also tend to go with a line that is 1 or 2 feet shorter than the rod length. This keeps my casting down to a short flick cast making it easier keep my cast out of the trees or brush. This will also help with good hook sets with very little motion which keeps me from getting the rod wrapped up in trees and brush around me. A shorter line will give me more control of fish with less movement to keep them out of snags. When using very short lines I tend to not use as light of lines, I would use a #4 level line instead of a #3 level line. I also shorten my tippet down to 2ft or 2.5ft long with very short lines.

Longer Rod on a River or Open Water

When fishing fixed line tenkara rods on a river where I have more casting room and need more reach I always go with a longer rod in the 13ft range, like the NIRVANA 400 or DRAGONtail HELLbender 390. I tend to use a 14 or 16 foot tenkara line on rivers and open casting. This gives me a longer reach to hit spots I can't wade to and a longer drift to get the fly deeper. Some people will use an 18 to 20 foot line on rivers but this does cause a lot of problems with hand lining fish in and tangles when casting.

Still Water Fixed Line Fishing

When I first started fishing tenkara rods, I did a fair amount of still water fishing. I don't do that so much anymore because moving water adds so much to the experience for me. But when I did do still water fishing a lot I like to use a 12ft to 14ft tenkara rod with a line that was 2ft to 4ft longer than my rod. You just need more reach on still water and without the current of moving water your line is going to sag into the water whether your line is short or long, so you might as well go a little longer.

Rivers With Larger Trout

On rivers with larger trout in the 16 inch to 26 inches or so I like to use a rod that is at least 13 feet long and a line that is about 16ft long. This longer rod gives me a lot more leverage to turn or control big fish. The extra line length gives me more room to play these big fish out when they make their hard runs. With a line that is about 16ft long I can still cast quite nicely and I can still land the larger trout quite fast on a fixed line rod so I don't over play the trout to exhaustion. 

Fighting big fish on tenkara can be a challenge at first but once you get used to how to react to keep the fish on and stay in control it can become a fast land to the net.

Kayak Fixed Line Fishing

I personally have little experience fishing from a Kayak, although I hope to change that soon as their is some small rivers I would love to float and enjoy the nature around that you can't access any other way. 

I do have a lot of customers that use our tenkara rods on their kayaks and I have learned a lot about what works best. The main thing that seems to be a common theme is to use a line that is 1ft or 2ft shorter than your tenkara rod. This allows you to bring fish in with less trouble of handlining which can be troublesome on a kayak.

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Steve C - October 19, 2022

I live in Georgia fish very tight creeks will you guys please develop a zoom rod. 4’. /. 6’ that would be great I think they would sell

Bernard Piccio - October 19, 2022

Your information is very good , thank’s

Dick Brown - October 19, 2022

Concise, informative, thorough and enlightening. I love it when a knowledgeable person explains details without a lot of flowered wording. I read these educational notes for technical detail not someone’s life story. Kudos to you on these articles

Jack - October 19, 2022

How do you set the hook in the fish using a long Tenkara rod? How do you set the hook is probably different than using a fly rod and reel.

Karl Klavon - October 19, 2022

Thank you, Brent, for such an accurate and informative line use article. You didn’t mention Floating Lines for Stillwater fishing but, you do sell floating lines. Floating lines are usually PVC coated lines, and are too heavy to hold off of the water, especially in the wind. SpiderWire Line is lighter and also floats well but, in both cases these Floating Lines will perform better with the use of Tapered Leaders, hand tied out of sections of Tenkara Florocarbon Level Lines for coil set removal and better casting qualities.

Line size 4.5 FC sinks too fast for Dry Fly work, so I use RIO 16 LB test Nylon Steelhead/Salmon Tippet material for Leader Butts – 24” long, then 18” of 3.5 FC Low-Viz T-Line, then 12” of size 2.5 FC Low-Viz T-Line, followed by 9” of 8 LB test FC NoViz Line or tippet material, to which 5X or 6X FC Tippet is added of your desired tippet length , giving about a 8.5 foot long leader, which will require Hand-Lining in any fish caught. (Valcan Sanyo Lo-Viz T-Line has gone out of production, so tippet or other FC lines will have to be used in its place.)

A Stripping-In Hand-Linging Method: Rather than going back and forth between your Free Hand and your Rod Hand to gather in the line, you can use the Low Tip Side Pressure fish fighting method to steer the fish to your right, into the lake bank. By doing so, you will be able to reach out with your left hand and grab the line. Now, transfer the lie to your rod hand, controlling it with your first finger and thumb. With your now line free hand, grasp the line above your rod hand and pull up and to the left as far as you can reach and drop the line, controlling the line with Pinch/Release pressure action of your first finger and thumb on your rod hand, with the fish being pulled up and out of the water below your rod hand with no pressure being placed on the rod at all.

If the fish needs to be allowed to run, give line through controlled pinch pressure until enough line has been taken out far enough to put the fish back on the rod and resume the battle. This would work well in fishing from boats as the excess line can simply be dropped in the boat. For fishing in brushy environments, you may find using a Stripping Basket to be very helpful. Give the Stripping-In-Method a try and see what you think…Karl.

Mark Obst - November 18, 2021
Niches will sometimes generate great rewards. I kayak fish more than anything else, most of my stream fishing is limited by big snake populations, in Georgia. Cool weather only for trout streams. Nuff said. By sponsoring a small Tenkara tournament in the south, a company could catapult into the forefront of U.S. sales. The simplicity of Teknara could benefit both Kayak & Tenkara sales. Maybe a Co-sponsorship Tournament. Kayak fishing is a thrill now that I use a Tenkara type rod. Just a thought. Mark
DRAGONtail Tenkara - June 22, 2021

When I talk about line length, I am referring to the length of the main line not including the tippet. Commonly I put 3 to 4ft of tippet on the end of the main line unless specified for each situation in this article.

Steve Tafoya - June 22, 2021

Same question as Dave Rosset from May 13, 2021:

Brent, great article! Question, when you are referring to line length, does that include tippet?

Dave Rosset - May 13, 2021

Brent, great article! Question, when you are referring to line length, does that include tippet?

Tight lines!

William Schoenith - May 13, 2021

Hi, I am new to Tenkara fishing. I purchased a 6 ft. Tenkara rod to start with because the streams I fish here in Michigan are choked with brush and trees. I need to get a fly line (for dry’s and wet flies) but I can’t find lines in the 6 ft. Length. Any help you can give me will be greatly appreciated!

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