I often see in forums or social media sites questions about level lines. Some of the questions are straight forward, like “how do control your line when moving from place to place?” or “how do you store your level line?” Stuff like that. Another one is “how do you get the coils and kinks out of your level line?” It’s this last one, how to straighten tenkara level line, that I’d like to look at in more detail.
But First, Why Level Line?
Like many anglers, when I started tenkara I used a furled line. The information online back in 2011 seemed to favor this kind of line, for its ease in casting and controllability. Furled lines also have the advantage that they come off their storage spools without the need to be stretched. Despite these advantages, I soon changed to level line tenkara and I’ve not used a furled line with any regularity since 2012.
The characteristic that attracted me to tenkara was the ability to keep the line off the water, having only the fly and a small amount of tippet contacting the water. I’ve always been a small stream fly angler, and the immediate drag you get on the fly line in these high gradient streams always frustrated me. So, tenkara seemed to be the perfect answer. But when I used furled lines I often had the same problem. I found furled lines heavy and hard to keep off the water, particularly fishing upstream.
So by month two into my tenkara journey, I had switched to level line tenkara. I’ve never looked back.
But unlike furled lines, level lines (fluorocarbon and nylon) have memory, so that when they come off a storage spool, they have coils and curls. These coils make casting the line difficult and much less efficient than a furled line. Also, they definitely reduce your casting accuracy. So to combat the coils and curls, you must stretch the line and remove the coils.
The Most Common Method
Essentially, there are two ways to remove, or at least reduce, the coils and curls in your level line. The first way is to stretch the line in segments, as you remove it from your spool. This method is easy and relatively quick, and I bet it is the method most people use. It is where you hold one part of the line in your right hand, and another portion of the line in your left hand. You then stretch that section of line by slowly moving your two hands away from each other. I have found that applying a relatively firm stretch and holding that stretch long enough to say “now you have a new memory1“, is sufficient to remove most all the coils in that section of line. You then move your hands to the next section.
1 I learned this little jingle from Gary Borger.
As I said, this first method is quick and straight forward, but I have found that it doesn’t straighten the tenkara level line as much I’d like, especially when I need my most accurate casting. Waves in the line, or residual curls can be left in portions of the line that are harder to stretch, such as the beginning of the line and the end that is attached to the tippet. I have found that even these residual curls and waves reduce my casting accuracy.
The Tailgate Technique
The second method of stretching a level line is to stretch the entire line all at once, at the same time. This is my preferred method. I learned this years ago when attending the Tenkara Guides Oni School. The first time I attended the school, I learned that Masami Sakakibara (Tenkara no Oni) prefers to stretch his entire line all at the same time. I believe he said that he gets the best performance out of the line when he stretches his line this way. To confirm this, I reached out to John Vetterli of Tenkara Guides, LLC, and a student and friend of Oni.
John backed me up and validated my memory. But not only this, John stated that he too prefers to stretch his level line all at once. If he is fishing a location close to the road, he will use his Landcruiser to stretch his line. He has a loop of paracord attached to his Landcruiser, and to this he attaches his line. He then stretches the line. When I fish, I generally attach my line to a tree, fence or some other sturdy object and stretch my line. I’ve never used my Tacoma, but maybe I’ll have to now that John showed my his method!
Although these two methods seem to be the most common in tenkara, other methods do exist. Some western fly fisherman prefer to pull their tippet through a friction pad, such as a piece of leather or rubber. This generates some heat, which is believed to aid in removing the coils and helps reduce surface shine. Although this method has been around for a long time, some tenkara anglers feel that the heat generated has caused their fluorocarbon level line to delaminate and degrade.
So, if you are having troubles getting the kinks, coils and curls out of your line, try some of these methods. They work, and they will help straighten your tenkara level line making your casting accuracy improve.
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