2020 Retrospective: Tenkara in the Present

On February 5, 2021
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by Daniel Galhardo

It’s a bit of a coincidence that I was in the middle of writing a blog post with a similar theme on tenkara reflection when Mike Agneta’s opinion piece “Tenkara’s Future Outside of Japan” popped up over on Tenkara Angler this week, so I’d like to respond to that a bit here.

I think the pandemic did something to many of us, it forced us to reflect on our lives and what’s important. And as a company we’ve considered how we can best continue to serve our community during this time as well.

The pandemic threw most of us on our heels, and as a small business there was uncertainty around how it might affect us. There was a time last year that our product fulfillment center was in jeopardy of closing because of COVID-19 and we were beyond humbled when so many of you stepped up to order gear from us early in the season so that we could keep our small business and employees afloat.

After those initial economic fears subsided, things changed quickly. With many indoor activities suddenly on pause, it was natural that many people turned to outdoor activities such as fishing. Our National Parks and public lands logged record breaking numbers of visitors, many of them coming with a fishing rod in hand, and based on what we were seeing in our sales through the Summer, many of them were carrying tenkara rods.

I want to believe that what some might think is a lull in the buzz around tenkara, might really be attributed to people spending less time tapping on glass screens. I know that’s been the case for me recently, with so many stressors around in the media I suppose I too became “tired of the omnipresent bickering”. So I shifted my focus away from that and into other areas that help those who want to get into tenkara.

That doesn’t mean I’m no longer fishing, or enjoying tenkara, just that I’m preferring to spend less time online.  I’m glad to report I have finally kicked a horrible habit of taking my phone to bed with me and perusing the web for hours, or waking up to my phone first thing in the morning; and I can notice an incredible set of benefits from doing that. I hope many of you have been able to spend more time outside too, and perhaps are choosing to focus less on online arguments, and when you do come online you are looking for good reliable information.

Tenkara has never been about the ‘fad’ to us, it has never been about cashing in on a trend…after all, we started with something that not many people had heard of and there was always a chance it would not go anywhere. We didn’t jump on it with $ in our eyes. From the start, Tenkara USA has been mission-driven, the reason we exist is to introduce people to this simpler Japanese method of fly-fishing, to educate, support, and to inspire people to fish more simply.

I know I can speak on behalf of my team at Tenkara USA when I say that we value our place in the tenkara community and take pride in our products and caring for our customers. We can comfortably say we have been here through it all to continue doing the best we can for our customers in terms of giving information, creating good products, and bringing the tenkara community together when we can.

Over the last 12 years we have created a vast amount of content and other projects to help newcomers to the sport. We have brought stories from Japan through blog posts, shared instructions and adventures through videos, packaged as much knowledge as possible in our tenkara book, brought back to life some timeless pieces on tenkara through the mounTEN ezine, and shared thoughts about all aspects of tenkara through the Tenkara Cast, our podcast on tenkara. We have also brought the tenkara community together in stream cleanup events (which we haven’t held in 2020 due to the pandemic), through the pages of the Tenkara Magazine which we did for a few years and is now available for free, as well as several Tenkara Summit events, the most recent being in 2019.

2020 saw our biggest yearly growth to date, and at times the speed of growth felt a bit overwhelming and put our small team to the test. We didn’t see a significant number of “anglers leaving the fold”, but in fact we saw an increase of nearly 40% in the number of new tenkara anglers compared to the year prior.

I have always served in a pivot role at Tenkara USA, dedicating my time to where it is needed most. When operations are running smoothly, I enjoy dedicating time to creating content. But, when the situation calls for it, I put on my operational hat and focus on other aspects of the business. After last Spring and the initial Covid scare, Summer hit and with the huge influx of new customers I had to shift my focus from new content to other parts of the business that will continue to help anglers on their tenkara journey for years to come.

Last year, for example, we launched a fully redesigned new website. Even working with a talented team, the redesign took a large amount of my time. The purpose for the new site was to make it easier for you to find and access the information you are looking for. At this point we have over a decade of content created, we have largely shared what we needed to be shared, so we focused on creating a better experience for anyone getting into tenkara now or looking for more information.

Another initiative we took was to get rid of plastic in our packaging and we took some big steps towards that goal. Even being aware of the ugly side of plastics in the environment, it was amazing we also got sucked into using so much of it over the years. But, at this point I’m thinking we are about 95% rid of plastic. This is something I’m very proud of and took quite a bit of my time too.

We also worked on our product line quite a bit this last year. Besides a couple of merchandise items (shirts already on the site, a new beanie that will go online in about a week), we continued our tradition of product refinement (the manufacturing philosophy called kaizen) and made incremental improvements to all our rods this year. At the same time we decided to tackle a couple of exciting new products that are soon going to come to fruition. Besides a new rod in the making, we have a new fishing net that we have been working on, and a couple of accessories in the pipeline too. It is taking a bit longer than expected to get our tenkara net completed during this pandemic, as we are shooting for the moon in some aspects of it and doing many things from the ground-up to create an authentic product. But product development is something I intended to take on after our 10th year in business and now we finally get to work more on that – always with the idea of keeping fly-fishing simple and creating only products that will add a lot of value to the life of an angler.

I understand how new content activity and coverage can give the impression of “buzz” and “boom”, but I know we are not even close to a “bust” moment in the tenkara world. Yes, tenkara is a niche, some players may have decided to get out of the market after realizing it would be difficult to carve any share of the market without an authentic offer. But I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to the conclusion that it has slowed down in any way.

We as people have collectively been going through a lot of trauma during this pandemic, on so many different fronts. I don’t know about you, but I find fishing very therapeutic and I know so many others do too. I hope we’re all thinking about spending less time on our screens and more time in the water. And we hope you can see that we continue to put our efforts in helping new entrants to the sport of tenkara fly-fishing.

We haven’t slowed that down, just tackled areas that needed our resources the most. But I do agree, we can always do better, and I appreciate the call for action being put forth. Mike’s letter is the type of reminder of what you, our customers may be looking for us to provide and we will continue honoring what you are looking for.

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12 Responses to 2020 Retrospective: Tenkara in the Present

  1. Great article Daniel! No matter what people say, you have proven your passion for tenkara time and time again over the last decade and have inspired thousands of people to take up the sport. I think people need to realize that you’re running a business as well and that makes it sometimes difficult to “crank out content”. Not everyone has the spare time. But I think I speak for a lot of us when we say thank you for all you’ve done (and are doing)–even if a lot of it is “behind the scenes”. Just because people don’t immediately notice it doesn’t mean it’s not important. Many people have benefitted from your “invisible hand” whether they know it or not.

  2. Hey Daniel – Thanks for taking the time to read the editorial! I’m thrilled to hear Tenkara USA is thriving, and you took most of 2020 to ensure its success for the future. That’s probably the most exciting bit of info to learn in all of this.

    I’m also happy you didn’t take this as a slight on you or Tenkara USA, or the bit of sensationalism used with the “boom” and “bust” comparison. It’s difficult to write a retrospective on tenkara without mentioning you. I hope you realize you could say or write absolutely nothing about tenkara for the next ten years and the body of work produced by Tenkara USA would remain among the best and most comprehensive, none of which is taken for granted. At least not by me.

    The outdoors industry (much like fitness, home electronics, & tiger king-ing) was gifted a huge opportunity in 2020, albeit under less than ideal circumstances. The call of action in this post is for those with the wherewithal to pick up the collective mantle and be good stewards for this wonderful sport. It presents a unique opportunity to further engage and invest in incoming and existing anglers both on and off-line. So a year from now, we don’t have a bunch of unused Peloton bikes, I mean tenkara rods, collecting dust in corners of houses across the country.

    I certainly hope you are correct in surmising that things are just more quiet because people are out fishing and not on their phones. That would certainly be a welcomed development!

    Talk soon my friend. Hopefully near or on a trout stream… and perhaps with a new rod and/or net in hand. 🙂

  3. mike w. says:

    wonderfully put, daniel. thank you for sharing this.

  4. Michaela says:

    Hi Daniel

    I find Tenkara to be very therapeutic during these difficult times. Connecting with nature calms the soul.

    Thank you for sharing …………….Michaela

    • Thanks Michaela, for writing. I’m delighted to hear that you have found tenkara to be therapeutic, it sure is for me too. Glad you’re connecting with nature through it.

  5. Russ Bogardus says:

    Thank you so much for the wonderful observations about last year and the pandemic. I live in Colorado Springs and just like you I’ve noticed a tremendous growth the people fishing the South Platte and Arkansas. Sometimes I couldn’t even find a place to park. And thank you and your crew for the great service!

    Russ

    • Hi Russ, indeed, it’s been interesting to watch, and we want to do our part to make sure a lot of those folks are being responsible stewards for the rivers they are fishing. Thanks for the support.

  6. James Thomsen says:

    Excellent. Thanks for taking the time to write this. Having worked for 50 years in the outdoor business I am still impressed when someone does it right! Congratulations and here’s hoping for the best in 2021.

  7. I will always stay with Mr Tenkara and company.
    Great to hear all your great news!
    ROBERT LENTER

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