Fixed-Line Fly Fishing Techniques

Fixed Line – A Trigonometry Perspective

Article by August Gresens

An article describing the conversion of an angler practicing euro nymphing that transitioned to using fixed line rods and the advantages these rods offer over using a more traditional euro nymphing rod and reel.

In 2018 I had been fly fishing for almost 15 years semi-seriously with moderate success using traditional western fly fishing gear. It was something I enjoyed but I had many trips, which ended in me getting skunked and I decided to reset on my approach. This included taking some time to review available literature and also finally teaching myself to tie flies. In my research I came across euro nymphing which was a method that competition fly anglers used and reportedly increased their catch rates. By using very light and thin leaders with beadhead flies, euro nymphers were better able to get their flies down to the bottom of a river where the fish hold (in most cases).  In the spring of 2019 I adopted this technique and my catch rates increased dramatically compared to the previous year. This was a major breakthrough and greatly increased the quality of my fishing experience.

In the winter of 2021 I injured my right elbow chopping wood which made it impossible to fish with my right arm in the spring. As a work around I switched to my left arm using a tenkara rod I had bought for my daughter the previous year. 

My intention at the time was to return to my euro nymphing rig after my elbow healed. While using the tenkara rod to fish euro nymphing style (with a nylon leader and beadhead flies), it became very apparent to me that there were very significant advantages to using these longer rods. Most apparent was that I could get much better drifts at distance. This was particularly an advantage in situations in which I was fishing pocket water or places with lots of variable currents. The additional length of the rod allowed me to keep all of the fly line off of the water while I dissected these individual currents and pockets. I was catching fish in situations in which I was not able to before.

Fixed Line - A Trigonometry Perspective - Tenkara Angler - August Gresens
Photo: Anthony Naples

At a certain point in 2021 I realized that after my elbow was healed I was not going back to using my euro nymphing rod & reel. There was too much advantage in my ability to present the files to the fish with these longer tenkara rods. While it was admittedly harder to land the fish (due to the hand lining) I was hooking more fish than before. To me this was an acceptable trade-off. By increasing my hand lining skills I could reduce the fish lost through practice. I enjoyed this challenge and got better at learning how to land the fish (navigate it to slack water, etc). Surprisingly, I also noticed that I was able to land larger fish more quickly using a tenkara rod. To me this seemed like an additional advantage.

Now I use tenkara (or fixed line) for all of my fly fishing. This includes nymphing, dry-dropper (particularly good in pocket water) as well as indicator fishing on larger rivers in the east where I live. I have rods up to 20 feet (keiryu) but typically use a 15 foot or a 13 foot rod. I also have shorter rods for much smaller streams.

In thinking about reach, I was reminded of Devin Olsen’s article that explored how rod length increases reach. I thought it would be interesting to apply the same trigonometry to longer tenkara (or keiryu rods) to determine how much additional reach I am getting with the longer rods. Included here are the results. Of course (as in Devin’s article) these are rough calculations that do not take into account the weight of the line and other factors. But my calculations indicate that a 15 foot tenkara rod has an additional 5-6 feet of additional reach compared to the longest euro-nymphing rods on the market (11.5 feet). For a 20 foot rod that additional reach increases to 12-15 feet!

Fixed Line - A Trigonometry Perspective - Tenkara Angler - August Gresens - Chart

I should note that the reach advantage here cannot be understated. The ability to keep the line off of the water at distance is critical in creating better drifts. This is true for all styles mentioned above. With indicator fishing, for example,  one can keep all of the line off of the water up to the indicator. This completely removes any drag on the indicator and allows the indicator and fly to drift without any interruption in a given seam. This also allows one to fish deeper – without drag the flies can drop straight down into the water. This cannot be achieved with shorter rods and/or fly line that requires constant mending. The drift is also longer as well.

Given these advantages, it is puzzling to me that there has not been greater adoption of using fixed line rods in the euro nymphing community. With the exception of George Daniel (who is a proponent) and Dominick Swentosky (who thinks you “don’t need it”), there has been little written about this by euro nymphing thought leaders. My intention with this article is to encourage people who are currently fishing euro nymping with rod and reel to give this approach a try.

 It does take a bit of getting used to but the rewards are definitely worth the effort! 

August Gresens is a fixed line and tenkara enthusiast living in the Hudson Valley, New York.

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  1. Great article. I would point out that Domenick has one goal: versatility and while he respects some of the aspects of tenkara he feels that it isn’t as versatile as a properly set up tight line system. He is, in some ways, just as controversial within the euro nymphing community as he feels the competition rules are limiting. I, like you, love Tenkara for euro style nymphing.

    1. I agree about Domenick. He has brought a lot of “out of the box” thinking to fly fishing that is refreshing. As I’m sure he would say, tool choice is all about trade offs and what trade offs one makes is a personal preference.

  2. Interesting angle (get it?). While, of course, longer rods give you a longer reach, is a 20 ft. rod really practical for a tenkara angler? In my tenkara circles, I don’t know anyone who fishes a 20 ft. rod. And I couldn’t or wouldn’t use it in any of the places I typically fish. It would be overkill and in fact a detriment since I end up fishing close often. I read an article a few years ago that said *80% of fish caught are caught within 20 feet of the angler. I don’t know if that’s true across the board, but it’s probably true for me. What do you do if you want to present to a fish 10 feet in front of you and you’ve got a 20-foot rod and can’t back up far enough to present to it? Almost everyone I know fishes a 12-13′ rod and maybe has a shorter one or two for brushy areas (8-10′). I understand that the point of the article is to show Euronymphers the advantages of tenkara, but A. i don’t think anyone in Japan would recognize a 20′ rod as a “tenkara” rod (and neither do I) and B. any Euronymphers will be disappointed to find that in reality, most tenkara is done with a 12 or 13′ rod that only gives them less than one foot to less than 3 feet of extra reach over their Euronymphing rods. I doubt they’ll give up their reels for that.

    1. The 20 foot (keiryu) rod thing is interesting. When I first really started to get into this I did not know they existed until I found them on the Tenkara Bum web site. I contacted Chris Stewart and he sold me a beautiful 20′ Japanese rod. I was interested in using the longer rod on some of the bigger rivers I was fishing at the time. I was curious what this “long rod” thing would be like when taken to an extreme. I agree a 20′ rod would not be suitable for smaller or medium sized streams – but on bigger rivers it is a lot of fun. I did this in two modes – one was with a small beadhead streamer or indicator fishing. With the streamer I noticed superior control of the fly in the drift compared to a shorter rod at distance. With indicators I could keep the line off of the water up to the indicator at distance which I believe lended an advantage. On these big rivers (fishing a seam on the opposite side of a 30 foot hole) the long rod was an advantage for sure and I believe I was getting drifts that would not be physically possible with a shorter rod. I admit that I do not do this style of fishing much any more – I am fishing smaller streams with shorter rods and learning/applying more traditional Japanese tenkara techniques but I would encourage people to try it out if they are interested.

  3. There are Japanese anglers fishing those longer rods (that’s where Chris gets them) and all other types of fixed line rod and line set ups — and as August notes, they have specific names for each, Tenkara being just one such class. Chris has carried or is carrying and has discussions on his site of some of these. “Different strokes for different folks”!

  4. Interesting article, your chart does not show the line length for any category of rod length.

    1. I thought this might come up!

      Here is a link to the calculations (let me know if you see any errors). These include the line length calculations (admittedly quite long). I was trying to copy Devin’s format but line length is not fixed with a reel so this is not an issue.

      Link to Calculations

      These are fairly rough assumptions – the important thing is that is is a like for like comparison across rod lengths (same math is used for all).

      I also want to make a note of the significance of reach. 3-4 feet might seem small, but it really does make a difference.

      To quote from Devin Olsen’s article:

      “Depending upon the angle, an 11.5′ rod (about as long as you can get for a Euro-nymph rod) gets about 3 to 4 feet of extra total reach (i.e. distance from the fish) over the standard 9′ rod and about 2′ of extra reach over a standard 10′ Euro-nymph rod. These distances might not sound like much until you spook trout trying to take an extra step closer or fail to get your nymphs into the seam on the far bank or middle of the river because you couldn’t wade close enough. Even inches can mean the difference between a successful cast and drift so any extra reach is significant”

      1. Apologies for the large text above. I used the “blockquote” markdown tag and it really blew it up! Thanks

  5. Let me fix the math here. My rod is 4m long, held with the butt 1m above the water and 30cm away from my body (roughly). My line plus tippet is usually about 6m net, and I can sometimes bring that up to 8m pretty comfortably. That puts my fly landing somewhere around 22-24ft away (again, roughly) for an upstream dead drift cast. Downstream changes the angles a bit and I can stretch it out more, combined with a long line I’m right around 30’ when it’s really the only solution to a situation.
    I also came to tenkara from euronymphing, for the greater simplicity and as I quickly discovered even more fish than with a nymph bouncing along the bottom hanging up on everything down there with some frequency.

    1. Here is a link to the math – feel free to let me know what is wrong. I am a math noob so it took some time to figure out. I did cross check the math on a trig website so I think it is right.

      Link to Calculations

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