Guest Post: David Southall on Ultralight Lines and Long Fly Rods

I’ve had a couple blog posts centered on UK angler David Southall on my Casting Around blog: The first was an interview Tenkara Colors Profile: Dave Southall and the second was a post about his Tenkara exploits in Austria. I’m friends with him on Facebook and so I am continually tortured by his posts of charming and beautiful UK trout and grayling streams and of course the fish that inhabit them. Dave fishes quite a bit (4 or 5 days a week) so he’s got more experience than most of will collect over several lifetimes of fishing. As a result when Dave talks angling I listen.

I reached out to Mr. Southall to see if he’s be interested in supplying a guest post for Three Rivers Tenkara and he was very kind to oblige.

This post, rather than being tenkara related, instead focuses on the long western fly rods and ultralight lines now available. Of course, you can get a nice 10′ 2WT rod right here at Three Rivers Tenkara: Syndicate 10′ 2WT Fly Competition Fly Rod ( and a Cheeky TYRO Reel to go with it ).

My own interest in the long euro-style fly rods and Ultralight lines came about due to tenkara – I was looking for the most tenkara-like western fly rods that I could find for the same reasons that Dave discusses below. I discussed that in an earlier Three Rivers Tenkara post: The SYNDICATE 10′ 2 wt. P2 1034 Competition Fly Rod

So without further introduction here’s Dave Southall:

Since discovering Tenkara in November 2010 (thanks to a friend asking me what I knew about it which prompted me to look at the Tenkara USA website) I’ve been an avid convert for much of my fly fishing. However, I generally use my normal western flies, dry flies from size 30 CDCs to tungsten bead nymphs and bugs in preference to traditional Japanese Kebari flies. Presentation is my main reason for fishing with Tenkara gear. I like to use as light a line as possible (2 or 3 weight on the Japanese scale) & as short a line as possible (typically line plus tippet no longer than the rod). This allows me to keep all the line and virtually all of the tippet off the water when fishing dry flies and all of the line off the water when fishing wet flies at depth, thus I have control of drag & can effectively apply subtle manipulations when required to induce the fish to take my offering. It is amazing how tiny twitches of a dry fly or twitchy lifts of a nymph can drive the fish crazy. On complex, pocket waters Tenkara has increased my catch rate up to fivefold over a typical western rod, reel & line.


Unfortunately there are situations where Tenkara is not a practical proposition. The fish may be too big, the tree canopy may be too low & dense, or it may be impossible to get close enough to the fish. It is then that traditional western rods & reels may be required. There is however no reason to totally abandon the quality presentation that is possible with Tenkara. Modern innovations such as French/Spanish/Euro Nymphing, Czech/Polish Nymphing & micro-thin ultra-light lines have revolutionized my western fishing. Long 10 to 12’, light line 2 to 3 weight rods provide a similar reach to the shorter & medium length Tenkara rods, whilst Tapered French Leaders of 5 to 10m (16 to 33’) can be held off the water far better than a conventional fly line, although not as well as a light level Tenkara line. We also have the new level micro-nymph lines that are just 0.55mm (0.0217”) diameter that although harder to hold off the water than a French Leader are much more pleasant to handle and suffer much less from line memory (particularly when the temperature drops around freezing in winter). On my local chalk stream in East Yorkshire, UK, where the trout grow to over 5lb and there are lots of weeds and other snags I often nymph fish with either a French leader setup or a micro-nymph line with a bicoloured braid indicator and a tippet (6x, 5x or 4x) about 1.5x the water depth. I also use these super-light lines for close range dry fly fishing.


French Leaders & Micro-nymph lines still have their limitations when it comes to the maximum distance that can be fished & when it is windy. For most of my non-Tenkara dry fly fishing & long-range nymphing, particularly in very windy conditions, I opt to use either a double taper 3 weight line with a 12’ tapered leader to 4x (Orvis copolymer or Rio Powerflex) plus 3 to 5’ of tippet (usually 6x or 5x). If I want extra delicacy of presentation I use one of the new micro thin Jeremy Lucas Presentation lines from Tom Bell at Sunray (1, 2 or 3 weight) with a 9’ tapered leader & 3 to 5’ of tippet. These weight forward lines have a belly that is 33’ long & an 18’ front taper down to 0.55mm (0.0217”) diameter. Tom & Jeremy recommend a much shorter thinner leader or just a long tippet but I like to stretch what is possible when it comes to delicate presentation. Even the main body of these lines is thinner than conventional lines since, like silk lines, they are slightly more dense than water relying on a super-hydrophobic coating to keep them afloat (they must be kept clean & a coating of line-floatant can help to keep them afloat, particularly in turbulent water for which they were not really designed). They land incredibly gently, cut through the air like a knife (even into strong winds, for which again they were not really designed), shoot amazingly well thanks to the unbelievably thin running line & limit drag thanks to their increased flexibility over thicker more conventional fly lines. Their only draw backs are cost (£60 in the UK. I can get a Barrio Double Taper line with 2 ends for £30!), & for me, since I like to use a Super Glue Join in which the leader is threaded through the fly line tip & glued in, giving a seamless join, with their solid mono core this is not possible so I use a Nail Knot coated with Loon Knot Sense to smooth its passage through the tip ring.


When fishing light lines or French Leaders on a western rod I always underline the rod by at least 1 line weight (1 weight line on my 10’ 2 weight, 2 weight line on my 11’ or 12’ 3 weight rods or 3 weight line on my 10’ 4/5 weight rod). The reason for this is not just that I want the ultimate in presentation but also because I usually cast using the Italian Style that generates very high line speed & tight loops; only when fishing with heavy nymphs do I change my casting style, using the Oval/Belgium Casting style in which the loop can be opened up & the rod tracked along a different line/plane during the forward cast compared with the back cast, thus eliminating the risk of the heavy bead-head hitting & damaging the rod.
In my opinion good presentation is nine tenths of catching a trout or grayling & light lines in combination with long rods are one of the best ways to facilitate this. Tenkara is the ultimate but as mentioned earlier not always a viable method.