Techniques Tenkara

Tenkara Tactics: Line Tension, Tip Position, and Fly Control

As we look to expand the tools inside your “tenkara toolbox”, today we’ll review the role that line tension and tip position play in improving an angler’s fly control and strike detection.

Line Tension

In my experience, the most crucial factor in controlling the fly is maintaining proper line tension. You can think of the fly as a remote-control vehicle, the angler as the pilot, and the line and rod being the radio frequency that you are using to communicate. When the line has enough tension, it can conduct your movement commands through the system to the fly. It’s a clear signal, so it carries information (like vibrations and movement) back up the line through the rod, to you. With too much slack in the line, you lose contact with the fly, and nothing can be effectively transmitted in either direction. Slack is like radio interference that breaks communication between the angler and fly.

Tenkara Line Tension - Tenkara Angler - Matt Sment

With slack in the line, you will need to make larger movements to generate enough energy to push through the slack and move the fly. Larger movements impart a wild, sloppy, and uncontrolled action to the fly. On the contrary, a line with proper tension will transmit motion and vibration easily. The angler makes small movements that will translate into subtle and precise presentations. Paying attention to this detail is key to controlling the fly.

Tip Position

Proper line tension results from a well-managed rod tip. To maintain proper line tension, the rod tip must stop and in a high-angle position during the cast. Then the rod tip must be held or moved to appropriate positions throughout the drift and play of technique.

Tenkara Line Tension - Tenkara Angler - Matt Sment - Tip Position

The angler’s hand movements and body positioning are intended to support putting the rod tip in an appropriate place, maintain proper line tension, and deliver a properly controlled fly onto the target water. Every movement imparted to the rod is done to create or cease tip movement. We can either load or relax the system depending on timing and what our intent is.

Fly Control

Fly control includes the art moving the fly when and how you want to. It also includes the art of not moving the fly when and how you want to. A subtly pulsed drift requires as much fly control as a dead drift! Neither is going to be easy to do well with slack line. You wont be able to effectively transmit information and movement through the system.

Being able to shift between a static drift and a dynamic, active presentation with slack in the system is difficult without generating a lot of environmental disruption. The more line you have to move, the more signature you are making that the trout can detect. Maintaining proper line tension is the key to keeping your options open. Proper tenkara line tension allows for rapid technique changes by sending or discontinuing movements through the system.

I believe that getting fly control dialed in requires we develop awareness of the conditions present in the system we are fishing. We’ve got to be able to sense the baseline weight and balance of the rod, line, and fly. This gives you the knowledge of “normal” allowing you to detect variations in water current and wind. After identifying these variations, try to use them to your advantage in positioning the tip and tensioning the line.

Combining awareness of environmental factors, tip position, and line tension, you can attain precise control over the location and behavior of the fly. Sharpening your fly control skills may require some time to explore the fundamentals before it becomes natural. Don’t be afraid to evaluate your style, ask questions, set goals and challenges for yourself during a day of fishing. You can learn a lot by mindfully pushing your limits!

Do you have a story to tell? A photo to share? A fly recipe that’s too good to keep secret? If you would like to contribute content to Tenkara Angler, click HERE for more details.


  1. Excellent points! Even though I don’t put this into practice as well as you do, my level of success with this leads me to believe traditional Tenkara fly fishing is significantly more effective than Rod & Reel fly fishing.

    Some say that they can do all the same tight line techniques with Rod & Reel that are available with Tenkara, but that’s just not the case. Even with Swentovsky’s TroutBitten Mono line rig, which is vastly better than a traditional fly line rig, the line sag and slack, are much worse than with Tenkara tactics. It’s not even close.

    With a Tenkara rod, line and fly setup slack and line sag can be taken to nearly zero and allow for a vastly superior connection to the fly. Fly control and manipulation can be exceptionally realistic. Fly manipulation with a Rod & Reel setup are at best sloppy and tend to turn trout off rather than triggering a feeding response.

Let's Discuss in the Comments:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: