April 2, 2013

The Versa-Line: Change your line length without changing lines

Ever had this scenario play out: you are fishing a certain stream and you're using your favorite rod/line/fly. As you work the water you come to a stretch of river where the water slows and the river widens. The water is clear and the sun is bright. You work the water close to you but no takers. Then you see the fish holding out of casting range tight against the far bank. What to do? Do you wade in and hope that your waves don't send the trout scattering (even when I wade really slowly I frequently scatter the fish). Do you extend your zoom rod and see if you can reach them (that is, if you happen to be fishing a zoom rod)? Do you slink downstream, cross to the other side, and then work your way back up to the fish -- oh wait, there are too many trees on the other side for that to be effective. Well, what do you do?

Fish rising just out of reach and too deep to wade....

...or too muddy to wade; you'll get stuck up to your knees fast.

Or, you need extra line length for stealth.

Coming up to a beaver pond. Beyond the dam you may not be able to reach very far, and it can be very hard to wade.

I frequently fish with fixed length rods. I like my zoom rods, but I like the action and balance of my fixed rods more. Therefore, I tend to use them more. But every so often I get presented with the above senario and I find that I am in a bit of a bind. Personally, if the water is smooth and clear I try not to enter it, or if I do then I stay close to the edge so as to reduce my chance of scattering any trout in the vicinity. Because I'm frequently not using a zoom rod (sometimes the fish are even out of reach with a zoom rod) I will need a longer line to reach the targeted trout. I hate having to collapse my rod, spool in the line, change to a longer line, extend the rod and re-tie on the fly.  I know that this is pretty quick in tenkara, but I have found a faster way that is just as effective. I call it my Versa-Line system, and I have been using it for some time now. Versa is for versatile, ie, "capable of or adapted for turning easily from one to another of various tasks" or "having or capable of many uses." (ref)  

Why miss a beauty like this just because you can't reach him.

The Versa-Line system consists one set-length primary level line and three or four short "extension" lines. Most of my mountain waters fish well with a 360 to 390 cm rod and a 10-12 foot (304-365 cm) length level line. But every once in a while I'll come around the bend and there is a beaver pond or slow, wide run or pool that makes my rod/line combo a bit too short for "line off the water" fishing and still cover the water. Instead of wading out and scaring the fish, wading into deep water over my waders, or wading out and getting stuck in the muck on the bottom I collapse my rod, loosen the slip knot of the primary level line, attach the appropriate "extension" line to the lilian, attach my level line to the "extension", extend the rod and get back casting. It's that simple and even faster!

The line is too short to reach the fish and keep the line off the water.

By adding an extension you can reach the fish and keep the line off the water.

The extensions consist the same or slightly heavier fluorocarbon level line as my primary line. Each extension has a slip knot on the "lilian-end" and a large (3.5-4 mm) tippet ring on the "line-end". This large tippet ring is what is used to attach the extension to the primary line. This is how it works. After you've attached the extension to the lilian, slide the primary line's slip knot over the tippet ring. Carefully close the slip knot so that it closes just above the tippet ring and tightens onto the tippet ring's knot. Do not close it onto the extension line itself, but rather on to the knot that fixes the extension to the tippet ring. Get it? Now you have an instantly longer, versatile level line without having to change lines or re-tie flies.  Also, what is great about this system is that after you've caught all the trout in the wide run/pool or beaver pond and you head upstream where the water is "normal" width all you have to do is remove the extension, reattach your primary line to the lilian, and get back fishing! It works pretty slick!! The idea was born after seeing a diagram on the Tenkara USA website on how to attach your tippet to your level line. Although I've never used this Ishagaki knot for tippet, it works well for this extension system. The tippet ring makes it easier to undo when you want to remove the extension.

Tippet ring end of the "extension" line.

Primary line slip knot loop (pink) just above the tippet ring -- then tighten.

Primary line slip knot tightened onto tippet ring knot. To undo, just pull the tippet ring and slip knot tag!

I don't know if this idea has been done before, but I suspect it has. Like most "new" things in fishing, "new" ideas tend to get recycled and resurface every few years or so. I just can't find where this system has been described before when used as a line extension system, not a way to attach tippet.

I carry with me two spools that have extensions. On one spool I have a 2 foot and 4 foot extension. On another spool I have a 6 foot and 8 foot extension (I don't use these very often, I mostly use the 2 or 4 foot extensions). The extensions on the same spool are wound onto the spool in opposite directions so they don't get tangled with each other. In my stream bag I now only carry my fixed line (usually 12 ft without tippet), and my two extension spools. Any combination of primary level line and extension lets me cover most all water I come across on an average stream. With this system I can instantly make a line up to 20 feet in length (not counting tippet) -- that allows me to cast a long ways without ever "changing" my primary line. But please note that I rarely ever cast over 25 feet with a level line, and a line that long is very hard to keep off the water unless you have the right rod, line weight, and wind situation.

My 2 foot and 4 foot extension spool

2 foot extension on the right side of the spool, and 4 foot on the left -- wound on in counter directions. 

I freely admit that at least 85-90% percent of the time I am fine with my primary line. When I can wade closer to the fish, I do. But, every once in a while conditions present themselves where I can't wade closer and I need more length -- even if it is just for a few minutes -- and I don't want to have to change the whole line out and re-tie my fly/flies on. That's when this system comes in handy. Sure, you'll have a little pull tag hanging off your line where the extension and primary line meet, but it doesn't appear to affect casting in the least.

So, if you use a level line with a slip knot, and would like to have more line versatility, then try the Versa-Line system and see how it works for you. Let me know. I like it; maybe you will too!


  1. Tom,
    I think you can get rid of the ring, and just have the extension end with a stopper knot, unless I'm missing something.
    I personally connect two lines together very often, but do use a blood knot (http://www.tenkarausa.com/blog/?p=2640), cutting and putting together when I need. I wonder if the slip knot to stopper may create a hinge. Will try it next time.

    1. Hi Daniel,

      Thank you for your comment. I have found, from use of this system over the past many months, that using the tippet ring actually reduces the "hinge" where the two lines join. If you just attach the slip knot to the extension line itself there can be quite a lot of hinge effect. But, attaching the slip knot as described, just above the tippet ring and onto the stiffer tippet ring knot, the hinge effect is removed. This is one purpose of the tippet ring.

      The other purpose of the tippet ring is that it greatly aids when you want to remove the extension. Grasping the tippet ring and extension line (making a small loop) in one hand and the slip knot tag in the other, then pulling them in opposite directions, will immediately open the slip knot. This is not the case if the slip knot is attached to the extension line only and not just above the tippet ring as described.

      I use this system so I don't have to carry, cut and knot, or cut and discard extra line while on the stream. It just my way of accomplishing the same goal but without tying more knots.

      Thanks again for your comment. I value your criticism.


  2. GREAT idea! I am definitely going to try it. I also wondered if the tippet ring was necessary. I would have just used a stopper knot (unless I'm missing something).

    1. Hi Jason,

      Thanks. I left Daniel a lengthy comment which I think will answer your question as well. Let me know if I didn't communicate the answer well.

      Best reagards,

  3. I've been playing around with similar ideas since reading a post on tenkaratalk, this is about the best solution so far I think, thanks for sharing. I was using loops but I much prefer your ring idea.

    1. Thanks Douglas. Please give it a try and let me know how it works for you.


    2. I will do, I'm usually looking to shorten rather than lengthen my line but that's much of a muchness if you know what I mean.

  4. Early on I tried a similar system using small perfection loops to add 2' or 4' extensions with loop to loop connections, and a separate, removable, loop of fly line backing to attach the line (or the extension) to the lillian. It works, but since you have to collapse the rod and take off the line to put on the extension, I decided it wasn't much of a time saver over just putting on a new line.

    More recently, I decided I much prefer the slip knot connection rather than the girth hitch connection, which requires a knot in the lillian that doesn't easily slide through the #2 section to allow complete dissassembly for drying/cleaning. Your retention of the slip knot connection solves that problem, though.