Essay by: Brad Trumbo
February 7th, 2021. It had been one year to the day that I stood downstream of the rusty, graffiti-tagged rail bridge on the Touchet River in Dayton, WA. The afternoon offered a gorgeous mix of bluebird and cloud-dappled skies, intermittently pummeling the earth with pea-sized graupel. A soft flip of the wrist landed a hare’s ear nymph with a copper John dropper into a flow seam under the bridge, offering potential to hook into a colorful rainbow trout or steelhead at any moment.
The year prior, I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens of city and county residents, mostly strangers, pitching sandbags along the levees in an attempt to hold the river in its quickly vanishing channel. Those that could, pitched in, while those that couldn’t, watched hopefully as volunteers engaged in the fight against the rising waters of an epic flood.
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.
Essay by: Joel St. Marie
Local water travels from many places on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Small creeks from the headwaters above meander through the meadows, forest, and the high alpine. Icy water runs as the snow melts and is met with the bubbling hot spring water heated by the geothermal cauldron beneath the Earth’s crust. Spring fed rivers snake the open lands of the caldera and carve the deep gorge as it makes its way beneath the table lands and beyond.
I’ve been fortunate to explore the local outdoors on many levels as an outdoor enthusiast; as a climber, biker, fisherman, hiker, photographer, skier and more. Often revisiting the same area multiple times depending on the activity or adventure. The gorge is one of these places I first explored as a climber nearly 25 years ago with one thing on my mind; to climb the steep pocketed cliffs above. The gorge offers miles of exploring other than climbing as well. On bike you are limited to the the few roads that allow access to the gorge. On foot is another option and has its many advantages to exploring this historic destination.
Essay by: Dennis Vander Houwen
Whole wheat bread with a glob of peanut butter on one side and a wash of jelly on the other. PBJ’s never let you down. Adding a banana from the bunch, I grab my water bottle, and load my lunch into my small backpack along with my simple tackle and my Tenkara USA Sato rod and I am out the door. Gone fishing. In about 40 minutes I will see an old friend.
In the car I tap on Colorado Public Radio. Ironically, they are talking about the increase in people taking up fly-fishing in Colorado. It is an interview with a familiar voice, John Gierach. The topic is about the effect of more people taking up fly-fishing than ever before. I have my fingers crossed John will mention tenkara or talk briefly about stream etiquette, but my hopes are dashed. It is still a good interview and he has a new book out that I have now added to my reading list. I shut off the radio. Silence gives me room to think.
Tenkara Community Submitted Content
Essay by: Cheri Felix
To be honest, I just started fishing a few months ago. I used to know the exact number of days (it’s been about 60) but that started to get weird. In the beginning, I would go to Boulder Creek twice in one day. I’d go to areas where there are less trees to catch my line on. And then I worked my way up to the more dense areas of the creek.
In the early days, I’d only go with my husband and then gradually I started going solo. I watched the knot tying videos and I tried to actually listen to my husband when he showed me, but I tend to get distracted. Then I realized that in the worst case scenario, I could come home to get another fly tied on if I needed to.
Since then, I’ve cast a wider net (see what I did there?) and ventured to a place below Jamestown and also into Clear Creek canyon and along the I-70 (I know. Sounds so romantic). I’ve learned that tenkara fishing Rocky Mountain National Park isn’t like fishing along the Popo Agie in Wyoming. I’ve tested my patience in Wyoming on a tiny part of the Laramie River and will test it again when we go to Montana in a few weeks.
Living in Lyons, Colorado is a wonderful thing. Walking two blocks to the St. Vrain river to drop a fly in the water is certainly a privilege, and one I don’t take for granted. But the town stretch – like many easily accessible Front Range rivers in Colorado – sees a good deal of pressure, particularly in the summer months. Which means it’s time to head up into the local high country, the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Tenkara fishing to me is inextricably linked with moving through the mountain wilderness. It is so complimentary to hiking and scrambling around in the alpine, it’s almost silly. Here in the Indian Peaks there is an abundance of low volume, high gradient streams full of trout. And then there’s the high alpine lakes. The tenkara lake fishing is phenomenal, and the whole area is tailor-made for this simple method of fly-fishing.
Tenkara USA had its origins in San Francisco, California. San Francisco is by no means a fly-fishing destination, but that’s where I lived when tenkara came to me. The best opportunities for tenkara were in the Sierra Nevada. Every opportunity I got, I would make the drive to different parts of the Sierras, exploring its diverse waters as I tested rods, made short films on tenkara and just all around had fun learning tenkara.
Margaret fishing tenkara, Sierra Nevada, California
Because it is such a huge area, Sierra tenkara fishing is unique and varied, and as such the ideal Sierra tenkara rod might vary depending on the focus of your fishing. You can find small waters choked up with trees along the foothills and in some nooks of the mountain range, but you can also find wide open waters with large boulders and few trees, big rivers with calm waters, and tiny meandering meadow streams. This post can not cover every situation possible, so we will paint the Sierra in broad strokes this time as we recommend tenkara rods to consider to fish in the Sierras. Down the road will narrow it down to more specific areas.
Our main recommendation if you’re in California or Nevada and regularly fish different parts of the Sierra Nevada would be our longer rods. This would especially include the Ito, our longest adjustable tenkara rod if you know you like fishing the bigger waters, or the Sato or Iwana, both great all-arounder tenkara rods that travel well from small waters to big, and targeting small to large fish of the Sierras.
Boulder in Colorado is our home, and we fish all the waters around here frequently. Thus this is a good place to start our, “Which tenkara rod to buy for my region?” series. In this case, “Which tenkara rod to buy for Colorado” focusing on the Boulder and Front Range areas.
Boulder sits right on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. To the West we have the mountains, to the East we have plains. Going North we can reach the larger rivers of Wyoming, and going into the mountains we can choose to fish small streams or large rivers. The diversity of waters around Boulder is one of the reasons we chose to move Tenkara USA here many years ago.
The variety of waters can also mean a variety of tenkara rods can be used successfully around here. But hopefully this will help you narrow down the ideal choice of tenkara rod to use here.
Over the weekend I created my longest video/podcast episode for the Tenkara Cast yet. This time I cover everything about tenkara nets (also known as tenkara “tamo”): where do they come from, how they are made, how to use a tenkara net, and how to make your own. I go into a lot of detail into every aspect of tenkara nets in this episode. The episode clocks in at over one hour and twenty minutes, so I also added timestamps of different sections if you’re interested in one area over another.
We are reviving the Tenkara Cast!
After a fairly long hiatus from recording the podcast, the recent circumstances we are all facing made me realize that our need to connect is bigger than ever. We are being asked to socially distance ourselves, but I think we should simply “Distance together” as I may have heard somewhere the other day.
Fly-fishing content will be a refuge that we can look to for to take a break from the anxiety producing news cycle of today. And, of course, there is getting outside and fishing too, although there may be some restrictions on where can, can’t, should or shouldn’t go at the moment.
There are two episodes that just came online. One a few days ago where I talk about socially distancing, and just a little bit of what kept me from recording over the last year. And, today I recorded this episode on finding and exploring new waters. You can click the images below to listen to each of the episodes right within our site, or you can use your favorite podcasting app to subscribe, just look up Tenkara Cast.
I hope you’ll enjoy these, and I’d love to hear from you about what strategies you use to find new waters and if this time of socially distancing is making you explore waters closer to home, whether you have fished a new place or for new species because of covid-19, or simply how you are using fly-fishing (indoors or outdoors) to cope.
How to Find and Explore New Fishing Waters:
Social Distancing, and the Relaunch of the Tenkara Cast:
Due to a potential warehouse closure, we are offering a 30% discount on all our rods and my book to try to move inventory out of our warehouse while we can so that we can get through this with all our staff. And a free hat will be included with every purchase containing a rod or more. We would love to have your support!
A Message from Tenkara USA and its founder
We, at Tenkara USA, have been closely monitoring the situation created by Covid-19. Like all Americans we share the same concerns and anxieties, and our hearts go out do anyone enduring the initial impacts of this crisis. Continue reading
Tenkara Magazines – Volumes 1, 2, and 3 now available for free here
PLUS: A FREE Tenkara Coloring Book
As you seek some social distancing by staying at home, we are working on bringing some content for your enjoyment.
Starting now, we are putting all 3 volumes of the Tenkara Magazine here for free for you to download. We hope you enjoy the articles written for the magazine by the tenkara community. This was a project that lasted 3 seasons and we did a few years ago, but all the articles in them are truly timeless.
And, as a bonus, our designer Jeremy just finished putting together the first Tenkara Coloring Book! We hope this may be a fun activity for you and your family, or something that will entertain the kids.
We don’t release new products very often, but when we do it is because we think they need to be out there. I hope you will enjoy the offerings below.
10th Anniversary Ebisu, $175
The classic Tenkara USA rod, Ebisu, improved and released as a limited 10th anniversary edition.
Water bottles, $8/$20
Commemorative bottles, two versions available: 17oz non-insulated bottle for $8, or a 42oz insulated bottle for $20.
The 2019 Tenkara Summit, which celebrated our 10th anniversary is now behind us. It was a blast of an event. In the coming days we will try putting out more videos of the presentations, but here is a quick compilation of the event. Thank you all who came, but also all of you who couldn’t make it but have supported us over the years and have allowed us to be here today!