December 20, 2017

Lines - where have I landed after years of experimenting. (Updated: 28 Mar 2022)

Like many of you, I have fished various lines over the years as I practiced tenkara. I started with a TUSA furled Kevlar line, but I quickly got disillusioned. One of the things that attracted me to tenkara was the fact that tenkara boasted of being able to keep the line off the water, thus minimizing the drag affect on the fly. Well, try as I might, I could not keep the furled line off the water.

TUSA Kevlar furled line

At the time I made the switch to tenkara I was predominately fishing nymphs in the euro-nymphing style. I was using a 10 foot competition rod to work the flies (usually two heavy nymphs) along the bottom. I would cast (lob, more like it) the flies and work the feeding lanes a mere 10-12 feet away from me. I kept all the line off the water, only allowing the tippet to touch the water.

After reading about tenkara I thought that it would solve some of the issues I was having with line control. So I bought a TUSA Iwana and a furled line. I caught fish immediately on my first outing but it was winter and the furled line quickly froze solid. That made it heavy and I could not keep it out of the water.

My TUSA Iwana and Kevlar furled line with one of my first tenkara trout.

I tried a few more outings, and while I caught trout I did not like the fact that I could not dead drift the fly (dry or subsurface) and keep the line off the water. The line was heavy and sagged a lot.

I then learned about level lines. I met Dr. Ishigaki at the 2012 tenkara summit, held in Salt Lake City. He showed the benefits of a level line, particularly when fishing subsurface (like I almost always do). I also talked to Chris Stewart at that summit and shortly thereafter I bought my first level line.

From the summit in 2012

I found that level lines did in fact make it easier to keep the line off the water, but they were harder to see. I started playing around with different sighters in hopes of increasing my hook up rate.  I tried single color lines, lines with a single color sighter, sighters made from two or three different colors, etc. I found that for me, on the waters I fish, an orange line with a green sighter worked best. Nowadays I rarely change to some other line configuration.

My first outing with a level line -- you can just make out the orange line below the tree on the right.

Well, after all these years I have finally settled on my line preference. For the creeks, streams and rivers that I fish I prefer a #2.5 or 3 orange fluorocarbon level line with an 8" green sighter. For the sighter I use the green section from the TenkaraBum Tactical Nymphing Sighter, but since this is no longer available, I now use Shimotsuke Flourescent Green level line for the sighter. I've tried using the white and red sections, but they don't work for me. I can't see the white against the white turbulent waters I normally fish, and the red gives me no more advantage over the already orange line.

See the line and sighter in the middle of the picture?

I tie the sighter to the line using a modified blood knot. The modified blood knot is smaller than a Surgeon's knot and stronger as well. It also keeps the connection of the two lines perfectly straight. Here's a hint: before tying this knot, put some lip balm on your lips. Then when you are ready to cinch it tight, use your lips to apply a thin layer of balm to the knot. The knot will slide into place without any binding or resistance making a beautiful, tight knot.

On the end of the sighter I tie a small Stonfo tippet ring. These rings have never failed me and they keep my line from having to be modified.

As far as length, I generally fish a line which, when tippet is added, is essentially the same length of the rod that I am using. On the creeks and streams I fish a long line is not required. Even on pressured waters, like the Provo, I fish these lines. If I'm going to add length I increase the length of the tippet.

#2.5 orange fluorocarbon line -- modified blood knot -- sighter -- tippet ring. This is what works for me.

Why am I telling you this? Because I get asked the question of, "what line do you use" all the time. Now I can just link to this post and say, "that's what I use and that's the reason why".

My advise to you? Use what ever type, color, configuration of line that works best for you, on the waters you fish, with the rods and flies you cast.  If you're not sure, or you're still looking for a line that will perform for you give mine a try. If it works for you let me know!


  1. Tom, an interesting essay. Thanks for posting it. It sounds similar to the Etsuji Katayama system you can see on the Daiwa website. Except he uses a longer line. I've only used a sighter section a couple of times just to try it out. Maybe I should consider giving it another try. Generally I prefer the orange LL. Except during spring fishing when I prefer green or pink line. The orange line doesn't contrast well against the brown leaves on the ground before new green growth begins. I'm to whimpy for winter fishing. : - /

  2. Tom.
    Over the years have you experienced hinging at the tippet ring? Thank you sir.

    1. Not that I can tell. I don't fish dry flies very often and they, with their increased air resistance, might induce some hinging, I suppose. But with the subsurface flies and kebari I usually fish, no hinging that I can detect.

  3. Tom, it's always nice to see how you roll. I may have to order a spool of the green line from Dragontail. I've had days where I loose track of an orange line.