March 2, 2014

Line Control 2014 -- the Spool Card

Since starting tenkara I have mainly used level lines. To manage those lines I have predominately used spools to both store and transport my lines. I have briefly used other methods, like EZ Keepers, but I haven't found anything that I like more than a standard spool.

Spools have one down side though -- thickness. Although my spools vary in thickness, they all are thick enough that when I fish I can only carry a couple of lines, say one 10 foot #4 line and one 13 foot #3 and still keep my gear to a minimum. For a while now, I have desired an alternative way to manage my lines but yet be true to the goal of being "minimalistic".

For the last number of months I have been using a "spool card" to manage my tenkara lines. A spool card is a round, flat piece of plastic that holds my line like a spool, yet is so flat (flat as a card) that I can carry three or four lines more easily than one standard spool.

In looking for a material that would be optimal, I first tried thick card stock paper, but this was not durable enough. I then tried some thin plastic sheeting but this was too floppy, deforming when the line was wrapped on, making it too hard to control. Finally I hit upon white polystyrene sheeting on eBay. It is .030" thick and 12" X 11-5/8" in dimension. It is avaiable in different colors but I went with white. It is stiff enough to hold its shape, yet not to difficult to work with. It cuts easily with standard scissors and takes ink well. Also, it is inexpensive.

On this sheet I used a thin Sharpie to draw the outline of the desired shape of the spool cards and then I cut them out. I cut out as many as I need, leaving the others in place for when they're required.

To aid in attaching the line, I cut a short (4-5 mm) slot near one of the ear tabs. To make this slit easier to find I use the Sharpie to ink it in. Through this slit I slip the tippet end. It holds the tippet tightly while I wrap the line onto the card.

I also punch a hole near the slot. This allows a fly to be hooked or anchored as I wrap the line on. Some times I tie on a fly before leaving home. This makes setup stream side quicker.

I cut a central hole for my finger to go through. This makes wrapping the line easier (just like the central hole in a standard spool).

Slit for tippet (black line) and small hole for fly hook (tape measure in cm)

I made my spool cards just slightly larger than a 60 mm Meiho line holder.  This allows there to be fewer wraps of the line but still have the card be small enough to fit easily into any pocket.

One of my spool cards along side a 60 mm Meiho spool (tape measure in cm)

When I wrap the line onto the card I do carefully so the line is snug but not too tight. This helps reduce deforming the spool card. It takes me about 50-55 seconds to wrap a 13 foot line onto one of these cards. This is a little slower than wrapping a line onto a Meiho spool but not by much.

Since I use a slip knot loop to attach my line to the lilian, after wrapping the line onto the spool card (starting with the fly or tippet) I end at the slip loop. I slide this slip loop over one of the ear tabs. I then slide the slip tag backwards, away from the ear tab, to tighten the loop into the tab. This keeps the line from unravelling.

Loop over ear tab (red arrow). Slip knot slid away from the ear tab (green arrow).

Again, then main reason why I have gone away from the standard spool for line management is that they are too thick. With spool cards I can carry four lines in the same space as one 60 mm Meiho or one Raji-Leica Oni spool. This has helped me achieve a level of "minimalism" that works for me and my tenkara by keeping my chest pack very small.

Four different tenkara lines on spool cards on the left. One 60 mm Meiho spool on the right.

After wrapping on the line, I label the card with the line length and weight using a thin Sharpie pen. My lines are then easy to identify.

Two downsides to using the spool card may be observed. First, the method of wrapping the line onto the cards causes very slight "kinks" to form in the line. These are much less than those put into the line by EZ Keepers but they are still there. However, these kinks are so slight that they come right out with a simple pre-fishing stretching of the line (or they'll come right out with your first fish).

Second downside is that the spool card is not as convenient stream side when you just want to collapse your rod, wrap up your line, and move to a different location. Because of this, I still carry in a shirt pocket one, but only one, 60 mm Meiho spool. I use this spool for quickly controlling the line as I collapse the rod so to move to a different place on the stream, or move through some heavy brush. However, when I'm done for the day I wrap the line onto its spool card.

Now that I think about it, there is a third downside: I have a whole bunch of empty spools taking up space in a drawer! .

Here is a summary of my findings using this method of line management:

. Easy and inexpensive to to make.
. Customizable for your needs.
. Very thin allowing easy transport of multiple lines without adding unnecessary bulk.
. much less line storage space required on your shelf at home.

. Slower wrapping time than a standard spool.
. The spool card is not as easy to use stream side when you want to collapse your rod and move to a different location.
. Causes very slight "kinks" in the line see when the line is unraveled. Though these"kinks" are much less than those put into the line by EZ Keepers they are still there.
. Now I have a drawer full of extra spools going unused!

If you are looking for a method of controlling your lines in a very small space, then give this a try -- you might like this method as much as I do. I'm not claiming to be the first to use "spool cards" but they were new to me, and I like them!


  1. I collapse the rod so to move to a different place on the stream, or move through some heavy brush holder.

  2. I noticed the card next to the tape measure is around 7", but the cards you make from the polystyrene sheet is around 3"-4", since there are 4 cards across a 12" sheet. I know the wider one does not need as many turns, and also inflicts less memory on a level line. But which size do u normally use?

    I have been considering using an old CD for the same purpose, since it is stiffer. But I have been too lazy to start on the project because I think it may be hard to cut, hard to dull the edges, and maybe a little too wide to easily carry in my vest. Have you considered the CD?

    1. Hi Mike,

      The tape measure is in cm, not inches.

      I have not used a CD. It might be difficult to cut.

  3. I think the one next to the ruler is 7cm, not inches.

    1. Very neat and bang for buck, Tom. I think I'll copy you.

      The pictures inspire a couple of tangential questions: 1 - How do you choose between TUSA pink line and TenkaraBum orange? And 2- Are you now an end-line ring aficiando?

    2. Hi John L,

      I prefer Sunline from Tenkara Bum. I do have some line from Tenkara USA, and it's good too, but I prefer the characteristics of Sunline over any other line I've used.

      I use tippet rings frequently. I have not found them to cause any problem in my fishing.


  4. I know this is old but, as a cheaper option have you tried DVD case covers? I believe they may work well for this application. I will go try myself.

    1. I have not tried DVD cases, but it depends on the type of plastic. All of the cases I have would likely shatter when trying to be cut into shape. Give it a try an let us know how it goes.

  5. Love this idea. I intend to make a few for myself. How in the world did you draw them so neatly and uniformly. I'm afraid my freehand would be pretty sad. Did you use a pattern? If so is there somewhere online I could copy it. Thanks for posting the idea.

  6. I've been using this general design for about 5 months now. Something I've been trying to conceptualize is some type of case to carry them in. The reason being, they create quite a bit of clutter once you have 5 or so floating in your chest pack. Do you have a design? Or have you tried to think of anything like that?

  7. Anyone have a template for these? They seem really useful, moreso than the traditional spools. Thanks!