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Tenkara Strike Indicators

July 02, 2016

For the first three years I Tenkara'd almost exclusively with 3.5 weight level line. I dabbled for a bit with other lines but always came right back to my trusty 3.5 weight level line. Then it all began to change one brisk afternoon in March on the River Don. I had hired a guide and was borrowing all the equipment for the day. Everything about that day was new to me; I had never worn waders to go trout fishing, I had a Scottish Egg for lunch, and my line was made out of nylon with a bit of bright colored string between the line and the tippet. When I asked John, my guide from Discover Tenkara, what the string was for he told me it was an indicator. I had never seen an indicator like that before. I had always imagined that fly fishing indicators acted much like a bobber and was typically made out of foam. Around the third cast I was hooked (pun intended) and saw first hand how helpful indicators could be while fishing, especially when targeting smart fish.

Amago trout with a kebari in its mouth

One of the great things about Tenkara is that there is not a wrong way or a right way to do pretty much anything in the sport. Everyone is free to interpret Tenkara how they choose decide to. Depending on who you talk to people's preference for line varies as much as the colors in the rainbow - Tenkara really does have ten colors (or maybe it is 11...). Some use different lines for different conditions, or different fish, and even different rods. Here are two of my favorite indicators (so far) and some of the reasons as to why I have made the transition (and some photos from my latest fishing trip too for good measure).

Tenkara Fly Fishing with Indicators

It is already hot and it is not even 8am yet. Thankfully it is only a short walk to the river. I carefully pick my way through the head tall grass hoping I do not disturb anything with a painful bite. Safely in the river I deploy my trusty Tenkara rod and affix my line, only this time instead of reaching for my 3.5 weight level line I grab my Ultralight Tenkara Floating Line by Three Rivers Tenkara. I opted for the 12' length when purchasing and it matches my four meter long rods quite nicely. Below are my thoughts and observations with the line.

Tenkara line with built in strike indicator

✦ The feel of the cast this lines affords is astounding. It feels absolutely effortless, like a hot knife through butter.

✦ This line excels at transmitting the slightest vibration through to the handle, not sure how it does so but the sensitivity is unlike anything I have experienced before.

✦ One of my Tenkara rods had the tendency to oscillate on the forward cast, sometimes so much so the line would get ripped out of the water. The Ultralight Tenkara Floating Line completely fixed that problem. Now my fly stays in the water where I cast it.

✦ There is a small section of yellow line at the end that acts as a built in indicator - combined with the extremely sensitive nature of the line I have caught many fish that I did not even know were there, let alone chewing on my fly.

A lovely plunge pool guarded by a well felled tree limb Oh Japan you sure are lovely

Back under the hot sun I make my way upstream, casting into each promising pool. As the day progresses so does the number of fish I have caught and then released after enjoying their unique hues.

orange wildflowers

Sometimes though you need a custom line length, shorter for tricky sections of the river or longer for big rivers. That is when the Two Tone Hi-Vis Braid Indicators by Fish On come in handy. A simple Perfection Loop in both the level line (or any other line of your choice for that matter) and the tippet and you can quickly connect the Indicator via a Loop to Loop knot. I opted for the 5" braided loop version of indicators, they work quite well with 3.5 weight level line. Their weight is imperceptible and I felt that they actually helped achieve a more accurate cast when it was windy.

A nice shot of the strike indicator to splice into your own line...

✦ These indicators are made by hand, their quality is superb. The colors do tend to run a bit, after they have been soaking for several hours. Nevertheless, this does not detract from their ability to assist in strike detection.

✦ The bright neon yellow and orange coloring of the indicators makes it easy to see where your line is, even in the most challenging lighting conditions.

✦ You can choose between braided loop, rings, or braided loop and ring combinations as well as 5" and 8" lengths. There is a choice for every line and application you are likely to come across.

Product shot

I have been using both these indicators for awhile now and I am amazed at how many fish I have caught that I would have missed before. The bright colors of the indicators help my line stand out and change the whisper of a fish nibbling my fly into a thunderclap.

A stupendously fishy spot

After a great day of fishing I said goodbye to the river and made my way down to the ocean, which was only a few miles away. Japan is a hard country to beat - mountain stream fishing for Amago and Yamame and ten minutes later you are standing in Sagami Bay watching the fish jump in the surf. Throw in a visit to the ancient Soga Shrine perched above the water and you have got yourself a recipe for a splendid day.

Sagami Bay Soga Shrine

Author's Note: I received absolutely no compensation from either Fish On or Three Rivers Tenkara to write this review. I paid for their equipment and took it upon myself to review their products. All Fallfish Tenkara Gear Reviews are uncompensated and unsolicited reviews of my personal gear.

Written by Isaac Tait who now lives in San Diego but dreams of returning, one day, to Japan. You should follow him on Twitter