Long Line Casting on Tenkara

Recently I’ve received a number of emails from tenkara anglers wanting to know more about using longer lines on their tenkara rods, so I thought I should copy my email response and turn it into a post.
Casting long lines is fun and not difficult to master since most tenkara rods are so tactile and provide tremendous feedback. I can’t speak for all tenkara rods obviously, but Zen rods cast long lines with lengthy setups, beautifully. They make smooth and graceful loops and have a relaxed honey-like action to them. However easy Zen rods are to cast, there is still a learning curve to using long lines simply because you are moving so much more line.
When you use a short setup and are matching the line length to the rod length, there is little need to use the arm or shoulder. This cast is more of a flick-of-the-wrist. The lighter the line the flickier it become. If you have ever cast tenkara “level line” – which is simply fluorocarbon, and cast a furled or braided tapered Uni thread tenkara line, you notice this drastic difference immediately. This is also true when comes to length. The lighter and shorter the line, the flickier and wristier  the cast becomes. The power and strength found in your arm and shoulder are not necessary to move or cast these lines. The longer or heavier the line, broadly speaking, the slower the cast becomes and the more you must engage your arm and shoulder (as in regular fly rod casting). Make sense?
With long lines you are moving more weight and need a longer pause on the back cast to allow for all that line to lay out.  This requires more of your arm. You can also do roll casts when you have a nice current to work with.
Many people struggle with initially lifting long lines into the air since there is no shooting or hauling on a fixed line. With tenkara, you are starting with your full length. To accomplish this you need to water load the line. You do this by using the current or on still water by dragging the line along the water infront of you from one side to the other while slowly lifting the rod higher and higher until you reach a casting position. This usually takes 2 swipes a long the water. Begin with a slightly longer line than you would typically use and gradually work your way up in length. With a little practice you’ll easily be able to lift 25ft of line or more, plus 7ft to 9ft of leader.
Our Zen Fusion lines are grain-weight matched to cast easily. You need a line that has some density but that aren’t too heavy or you’ll simply bend your rod tip way over and not beable to lay line out nicely.
Once you are able to cast longer lines, the next thing to work on is a long-distance hook set. For obvious reasons, long lines lay on the surface of the water. You fish them as you would in traditional fly fishing, verses traditional tenkara, where lines are held above the water. The line on the water creates surface tension and that can impede your typical tenkara hook set. Long-distance tenkara hook sets then, must be bigger and more exaggerated to off set this. Not comically so, but definitely bigger than the little pops that you do on short line setups.
Two motions are needed to get this done effectively. The first is a pop of the wrist. The second is a slight pull back of the arm. These two motions when combined, are enough to move long lines quickly and effectively compensate for the flex in a tenkara rod’s softer tip. Lay your rod over to the side to do this and work 45-65 degrees off the surface of the water. Remember, it’s a pop and a pull.
Lastly, wind and heavy flies can impact casting. While a soft flexible tip allows for delicate play and provides an element of “forgiveness” if you make a mistake, the softer the tip, the less control you have over the fish, your fly and your line.  This is why some of Zen’s stouter rods or those designed for bigger battles or harsher fishing conditions, have faster action tip sections. It is difficult to throw long lines on super soft rods accurately.  Casting long lines on soft rods in windy conditions or when using heavier fly patterns is a messy business and the hook sets is terrible. You will miss a lot of takes. For long lines to work really well you need a rod with some backbone and a tip that has flex but is fast action. This is how we designed the Performance Tip. The Performance Tip provides a faster action that helps with all these challenges but still has flex, and our Fusion Lines are designed to cast easily, accurately and perform well on most tenkara rod brands but supremely, on Zen Tenkara rods.
One final thing: With short, light lines most tenkara anglers use a “precision grip”. This is a grip with the pointer finger on top of the rod. This allows you to engage your wrist and almost point, to where you want your cast to go. When you begin to use longer lines, your grip will need to rotate to a “power grip” with thumb on top. This allows you to engage more of your arm and shoulder to carry and direct more weight. Here’s a few short video clips that you might find helpful:
Precision Grip:
Power Grip:
Long Line Casting:
There are several other casting videos you may enjoy. Here is the link to the Zen Tenkara YouTube channel. Hope you find it helpful.

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