Titanium Tenkara Lines
Not all titanium lines are created equal. You see titanium lines are not made from titanium but an alloy of titanium with nickel called Nitinol. They are super dense compared to fluorocarbon, at about 3.5 times more dense depending upon the formulation of the fluorocarbon. With Fluorocarbon 1/100th of a millimetre makes a difference to the casting. With nitinol 1/1000th of a millimetre makes a difference. They come in different finishes and how they are made effects how brittle they are.
Why Consider Titanium?
That's an easy one. You see nitinol is also known as memory wire. Properly treated it wants to maintain it's shape. Scientists talk about it's super elasticity. Nitinol in wire form wants to stay straight out of the factory. Think about that a moment. A line that wants to be laser straight between you and the fly. No wriggles, no bounce, no absorbing the power of the rod in the cast and delivering all the way to the fly.
That last bit is an issue. You've just fired your fly into the water as if you just touched the tip of the rod to the surface after a cast. That's not a delicate presentation. It's a serious splash down. Fortunately the sting in the tail can be calmed considerably. More on that later.
The reason we use fluorocarbon and not nylon is because fluorocarbon is denser. This means we can have a casting line that is thinner and less effected by the wind. For some reason the same argument is no longer valid for using titanium instead of fluorocarbon, according to some commentators.
Titanium lines are thin. I mean really thin. These lines cut through the wind and can be held with manageable effect when the wind is blowing a hoolie. If you can't keep a #4.5 fluorocarbon line under any sensible control it's time for the titanium. Later we will talk about techniques with these lines.
Titanium line is not an every day line. Most Japanese Tenkara anglers don't like it. Most, but not all. It has a place and it has to do with where you fish and your exposure to wind. Up to approximately 20 km/h (13mph) there is no need to ditch your fluorocarbon. There are some fabulous techniques you can employ to use the wind to your advantage. Then there is a grey area up to 28 km/h (18 mph) when, if you're good you can cope but it's not comfortable. You're laying lots of line on the water to counter the drag of the wind, restricted to downwind techniques and having to wait for lulls in swirling winds to get a cast in.
Above the grey zone, now you're in titanium territory. The line will allow you to cast, keep it off the water and deliver enough power to the fly to turn it over even in the strong winds. When you switch to titanium will depend upon your technique and the stiffness of your rod. A very soft rod is not a rod for windy conditions. The wind deflects the tip of the rod and makes casting a bit of a hit and miss affair. Using a stiffer rod with a titanium line, the tip is held in track by the weight of the titanium and your accuracy goes up several notches.
Titanium lines are your "get out of jail" lines for strong winds.
The first titanium lines to be marketed in the west for sales as Tenkara lines were 0.20mm thick. The power of these lines is phenomenal. Way too much to my way of casting. Totally unnecessary power with too much weight that drags the fly towards the rod. Anyone who has tried titanium lines with this diameter I can't blame for hating them.
The dragging effect and over power was noted by another company that brought out a 30% lighter line at 0.155mm. Titanium we tested at that diameter casts great but there are issues when you get this thin. The line is not good at resisting getting kinked. Titanium lines hate twist. If you twist up your line either by circular casting, or winding it onto a spool by rotating your hand round the spool, these thin lines deformed into curly tails far too easily. If you drag them over an edge, like the ring of a western rod, you get the same pigtail effect. Think of the back of scissors on mylar tinsel to understand what I mean. There was also a strength issue. We were able to break them at 4lb. That's not enough, in our minds, for a casting line.
The sweet spot had to line somewhere between the two. Not so heavy that it was overly powerful and sagged badly. Yet not too thin that it couldn't stand up to many sessions on the water. Many samples later, many frustrations and Esoteric Tackle had a diameter that works with Tenkara rods.
That's not the end of the story on testing. Anyone who has handled these lines knows how slippery they are. They do not take a knot well. This is part of the reason that there are very few cuts from titanium line when handling it. The micro abrasions on the surface of other wires act like the tiny teeth of a hack saw blade and bite in. We're not saying it can't happen. You should take care handling titanium line. We're saying it doesn't happen with the regularity of a similar steel wire.
So how do you attach it to you rod and tippet? You spend hours and hours trying different knots. You try glue. You try micro crimps. You try screaming at the moon. The secret? We're not giving that away. We'll give you a clue. You use it's own nature against itself. All very Zen. Esoteric Tackle get small loops into the end of the line which are stable. If they do slip they tighten. They don't often slip. The tag end is in line with the main line. It's not sticking out to catch your tippet or stab into your fingers. Titanium wire under the nail is an exquisite pain. I'll leave to the masochistic and torturers. The shrink tube over the knot is only protection for the small tag to stop it poking out.
Great! So we can now put on tippet and a dacron loop to girth hitch to the lillian. It's a detail most people probably haven't noticed but the dacron Esoteric Tackle use has a slight texture. It grips when in a girth hitch. It's a level of detail we bring to everything we do.
- That sting in the tail is a big issue for casting. Too much power.
- To all intents and purpose, titanium line is invisible to the angler.
- Titanium does not grip the water. You lay it on and it cuts through as easily as it does the wind. This is a product not only of the diameter but also the density and smoothness.
- No grip and the line sags back to hang under the rod tip.
Some people have tied on lengths of their favourite fluorocarbon, lengths of amnesia nylon and various other indicator nylons. They are visible but not that visible. The smooth nature of these indicators do not grip the water effectively unless you have a great length on the water.
The solution is a braid indicator:
- It is very supple. It absorbs a lot of the power from the titanium.
- You can have bright colours or more subtle shades which are still visible.
- Braid grips the water far batter. It gives a good anchor in a short distance.
- There is a enough grip to allow the angler to hold the titanium off the water without dragging the fly back towards the rod.
This is a specialist line for special situations. It has some subtle techniques that will not be apparent to someone who hasn't fished with the line in these testing conditions or just dismissed it for their own reasons.
Techniques in the wind, when using fluorocarbon, are all about using the whole line. Casting low and parallel to the water to cut under the wind. Laying line on the water to act as an anchor. Making the line act as a sail to change the way the fly moves in the water.
Hang on a minute! Isn't one of the advantages of Tenkara having a little line on the water as possible? Fly first casts and avoiding complex currents? The dead drift being totally controlled? Manipulations if you want to add them, not just when a gust comes through? Has all that gone out the window just because the wind has got up?
Once you get to #4 or #4.5 fluorocarbon you have huge sag and fly dragging. Your effective range is very close because of it. Titanium line is no worse than these lines for sagging. Indeed, it is superior in windy conditions. You don't lay the line on the water, only the indicator braid needs to get wet. It is enough to get a good anchor. The anchor can be good enough to get better range without changing the dead drift despite it being much denser. That blows the argument out of the water that titanium is no good because it sags too much.
Remember titanium wants to be straight. It is much less supple and resists sagging.
What about the techniques where you use the wind to move the fly? You have them. Expose more of the braid to the wind and your fly will rise in the water. You can even have it skating and dapping if you desire.
If the wind is upstream, expose more braid and slow the fly down.
In the winds where titanium is appropriate you don't lay it on the water. You don't use the entire titanium line as sail. Radically changing your casting angles is not required. Your casting line is there to transmit the power of the rod to turn the fly over. Titanium is phenomenally efficient at doing this. It is not there to catch the wind. You can do fly first casts.
You still have wind techniques to play with. The braid indicator is thick enough to act like a sail.
This is not a sledgehammer to crack a nut. This is a lifeboat in a storm where fluorocarbon would be one man inflatable dingy.
The titanium is the engine and the braid allows you to work with nature and the elements to achieve presentation and impart subtle manipulations.
It is not a line for everyday fishing or even a light breeze. It's far too powerful. This is a line for strong winds when you can't cast any other line.
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