This is a guest post kindly provided by a tenkara enthusiast about tenkara and his time with his family. Enjoy it! I sure did.
By Adam Dailey-McIlrath
I love living in Hawaii. We are surrounded by water, and therefore surrounded by fish. Within fifteen minutes I can be hunting for bonefish on the flats, whipping into the waves for trevally or casting my tenkara rod into tide pools for brilliantly colored reef fish. But about once a year I start to dream of the water of my youth, of cold, clear, mountain streams sliding and splashing their way down canyons, pooling and rolling through valleys. It is water that stirs the passion of every fisherman who has held a fly rod. And so I am very fortunate that my family still lives in central Oregon, near the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette rivers and the countless miles of trout water that flow into them.
However, fishing while visiting family can be a challenge. Like so many of us, I can fill a water bottle, grab a couple of snacks and disappear upriver for six or eight hours at a time. Time just slides by. Plans and schedules are swept up and float away on the current. This is difficult for non-fishers to understand, and can be frustrating for them. So instead of just disappearing to fish alone I have always tried hard on these visits to combine family with fishing – but this presents it’s own set of challenges.
We always say that tenkara is much more about the experience rather than gear. I suppose we mean that literally in every way.
The other day I was talking to a friend who recently took up tenkara. Tenkara has been her first experience fly-fishing, Then she went out fishing with a group of anglers using reels.
The other anglers caught fish that day (1 or 2 each); she didn’t.
As she proceeded to tell me the story she said, “maybe the other kind of fishing would have been better there.”
The point of this post is that our natural tendency will always be to blame the equipment, yet with more actual experience one can distinguish what really is important. Read on for what led me to reflect on this.
Ever have one of those days on the river where everything goes perfect? Perfect temperature outside, perfect river flows, perfect casting, perfect hook-sets, perfect landing, perfect trout handling, perfect picture taking, and then perfect releases? I believe most of us have had one of those magical days where you and tenkara seem to be one.
The “One fly” concept of tenkara – in which it is observed that most experienced tenkara anglers in Japan stick with one fly and don’t change it all the time, and that just about any fly can work – is a difficult one for most people to embrace. It is also a concept that has sparked a fair amount of debate within the tenkara community; some of it by folks misinterpreting the message as “you must use one fly”. But really, all this concept brings to us is a different way of thinking about fly-fishing. It is just like tenkara, it brings us an entirely different way to think about fly-fishing.
When I first learned that tenkara anglers in Japan were only using one fly pattern, it absolutely changed my fly-fishing life. It simplified it by telling me I could reduce my fly choices considerably. And it liberated me from second-guessing what fly to use and from consulting hatch books and locals for what flies I should use. And, that’s why I’m passionate about sharing this concept. Not for sake of purity or tradition, but because I have found it works. At least it works well enough to keep my life simpler and keep me from second-guessing my fly choices or worrying about what fly pattern *might* work a *little* better.
I can not say whether one fly will always work, in fact I have been challenged and talked about that in this video. But over the last 4 years I have fished throughout the US and other countries with some of the most experienced anglers around, and to be honest have not yet seen a noticeable different in the numbers of fish caught.
So, if you’re getting into fly-fishing or have been at it for decades, just know there is a different way to think about fly-fishing, fly choices and fly selection. You can ask yourself, is changing flies and second-guessing your fly choice worth the *possible* marginal benefit it brings over sticking with one fly pattern anywhere, anytime?
The easiest way to keep fly-fishing simple may be to look back at the original practitioners of tenkara, a method of fly-fishing that hails from Japan.
One reason we have successfully introduced tenkara outside of Japan was because of the promise that fly-fishing could be simple again. By way of tenkara we were able to clearly show how simple fly-fishing could be.
Yet, people sometimes will try to reinvent the wheel. So much that even something as fundamentally simple as tenkara can be made complicated again.
When I started Tenkara USA I decided to stick to my instincts and introduce tenkara as it is practiced in Japan. This was more pragmatic in reason than for a need to stick to “tradition”. The reason I have stuck with introducing tenkara as I have been learning it from anglers in Japan is that from the beginning I have thought of that as the easiest way to keep it simple. Tenkara can be the simplest form of fly-fishing.
If you look at tenkara anglers in Japan, they are using lines specifically designed for tenkara because they cast well and eliminate the need for leaders (something complex in itself). Go from line to tippet and be done. No need for taper formulas. Tenkara anglers in Japan also don’t use highly specialized flies that do one thing well, they use suggestive flies that work in a variety of situations. Even the casting, something western fly-anglers want to complicate over and over again, is kept way simpler by the tenkara masters of Japan. No need do do fancy casts or 15 minutes of instructions on different casts as I have learned. Just use a good overhead or sidearm cast for heaven’s sake! These are just a couple of examples.
So, there is that, the reason we stick with introducing tenkara as it is practiced in Japan.
One of the best things about keeping fly-fishing simple and that it allows us to combine fishing with a lot of different activities. That’s the idea behind TENKARA+.
Here’s a very nice article written by Allison Pluda for our Tenkara Magazine (Allison’s awesome photography can be seen on her website: http://www.senecacreekphotography.com/). It illustrates perfectly that there is indeed no need to choose between fishing and other activities you love. Read on! PDF available here.
NO NEED TO CHOOSE
by Allison Pluda
For me, tenkara is more than just a fishing technique I’m trying for a while. Tenkara is a tool that helps me to become more in tune with all of the goals in my life. It’s part of a lifestyle choice— to strive toward making everything in life as simple as possible, to eliminate unnecessary details internally and externally and to rely more on my senses and technique rather than gear. There is a beauty to tenkara that fits into the flow of the river and is compatible with a slower pace and a simpler style of life.
As a photographer, I tend to have details to fuss over and a heavy backpack full of gear and lenses to pack (why do lens caps always want to lose themselves?) before I even head out into the wilds. I used to feel that I had to choose: fish well, photograph well, or be bogged down trying to do both. When I got my first tenkara rod, I found that finally I didn’t have to choose between photography or fishing; I could do both. A small bag of fishing supplies, a box of flies, and a tenkara rod could all fit into my photo bag without weighing me down with gear to the point where I’m moving slower than my old-timer dog.
I take my modest tenkara set-up with me on backpacking trips and on long hikes to shoot the sunrise or sunset, just in case one of those high alpine lakes I stumble across, deep in the Snowy Range Mountains in Wyoming, is holding some little hungry trout I did not expect. When bushwhacking around branches and brush, between trees and over rocky uneven ground, I can easily collapse the tenkara rod, stow it in the side of my backpack and navigate any tricky terrain without missing a beat and with as much grace as possible while lugging a heavy camera bag. When I find my way back out of the brush (after of course snagging a few branches on my myself) I can be fishing that perfect-looking fishing hole within a minute, and with my camera still hanging around my neck.
To me, that simplicity is priceless and allows me to maintain the ease of mind I am striving for in the woods. Of course it’s still a challenge to maintain peace and grace when a fish I really had my eye on swims away into the deep just as I finally get my line untangled after what seems like an eternity. But that is just one of the many mental challenges that fishing teaches you to overcome.
Tenkara teaches me more than just a different style of fishing. It teaches me to be fluid, to adapt, to really feel the flow of the water, to worry less about the gear and more about my own connection with the river. It teaches me that the more in tune with my surroundings I am, the more I can concentrate and clear my mind of cluttered thoughts, and thus the more fluid my casts will become and the more energy efficient and graceful my fishing will become. Ideally, all of this results in me catching more fish as well as gaining a sense of active meditation guided by the river itself. But even if the end result is just a few nibbles, working on improving my tenkara technique always gives me some type of lesson to take home. These lessons that are the reason tenkara has become more than just fishing for me. It is a lifestyle and a philosophy of mind. Lao Tzu once said, “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest
Forgiving Boulder Creek is a story written by Sasha Barajas about her discovery of tenkara and renewed connection with Boulder Creek, which was subject to alarming floods last year. It is a feature story in the first Tenkara Magazine. The story has been receiving great feedback and we thought you’d enjoy reading it. Photographs by Kate Mason
Forgiving Boulder Creek
About a quarter-mile from the hustle and bustle of downtown Boulder, Colorado runs a small creek. In the heat of the summer giggles are frequently heard as children wade in the water and college students aboard black tire tubes float by. This autumn, with several days of heavy rain, the creek grew to monstrous proportions, enveloping the landscape and ravaging our mountain town.
Just one month later the creek runs swiftly within its previously defined banks. Although we have resumed biking, running, and skateboarding along the winding Boulder Creek Path, for many of us our relationship with the creek is still on the bedrocks. Continue reading
Tenkara is tenkara.
It’s the embrace of simplicity.
It’s the light casts, the precise placements, and the enticing manipulation of the fly.
Tenkara is casting across currents without the need to fix anything.
It’s loving the liberation that comes from leaving behind the unnecessary.
Tenkara is who we are .
Simplifying is a choice.
It is possible to make many things in life complex. We can choose to carry multiple fly patterns with us. We can carry multiple line weights. We can carry accessories along.
When we don’t know any better, it may seem like the burden of carrying additional things in our fishing packs (in addition to the burden of then having to think about those additional things) will be add value to our fishing. Often it does not.
The tenkara story tells us we can leave many things behind and still have effective fishing days. After we know that we can leave stuff behind, what we then do is simply a matter of choice.
The 80-20 rule is a powerful and nearly universal, which states that, for a large variety of events, 80% of the results will come from 20% of causes/inputs. It is also known as the Pareto-principle, after economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of the peas in his garden came from 20% of the pea pods.
The 80-20 rule has a wide range of applications. In business we can observe 80% of sales come from 20% of products (yes, nearly 80% of our rod sales come from the 12ft Iwana, one of five models we offered until a few days ago). In software, 80% of problems come from 20% of bugs, and so on. Now, what about fly-fishing? More specifically can tenkara show us that 80% of our results will come from 20% of our effort, 20% of the spots we fish, 20% our equipment, or 20% of our flies? What are your thoughts?
Can 20% of the spots you hit produce 80% of the fish you catch in a day? Sometimes it sure seems like it, like this weekend when I fished 20 or so pockets, catching most of my fish in 4 or 5 of those productive spots. But, in other streams it seems like every pocket holds a fish, so who knows whether this one applies or not. But, I’m fairly certain if you were to weight them, 80% of the weight of all your fish would be a result of 20% of them.
If 20% of the equipment you carry is necessary for 80% of the results while fishing, is it worth carrying or buying that extra 80% of equipment (think reel, multiple lines or leaders, strike indicators, split shot, etc), for a possible 20% of cases? I personally am content with 80% of results if I’m able to leave that 80% extra burden behind.
Do 20% of your flies catch 80% of your fish? I carry 4 tenkara fly variations with me, but on any given day I keep one fly on for the biggest portion of the day, so I’m pretty sure I catch at least 80% of my fish on 1/4 of my flies (sure, 25% of them). Now, I know for a fact that if I only used 1 fly pattern, as Mr. Amano does, I would actually catch 100% of my fish on 1 fly and probably beat the Pareto-rule.
I wish I had the discipline to keep a journal and see if the 80-20 rule can be put to the test, but I don’t. However, I have a hunch the observations above are true. I would love to hear your experiences now that you have the 80-20 rule in mind.
When I caught this trout three years ago I was ecstatic. It was my first visit to Colorado. I had heard they had a very exquisite trout that was native to the state and could only be found on a few streams and lakes here. It was the greenback cutthroat. So I went looking for them. I found a stream that was known to have them and must have caught 20+ “greenbacks”. It felt good to know there was a thriving population of those fish. They were gorgeous; and, to me they served as a physical reminder of one reason Tenkara USA exists, which is to help care for environments where trout are found.
Lo and behold it turned out these were not actually greenback cutthroat as I and everyone else thought at the time. Through recent genetic testing it was discovered that the trout I caught on that trip were actually West Slope Cutthroats, a fish that, to the naked eye is actually identical to the greenbacks (which is why it took so long to discover this).
The fact they were not greenbacks did not diminish my memories nor the beauty of these fish. But, what I later discovered alarmed me a bit: there are only about 750 pure greenback cutthroat left in the world! And, they can only be found on Bear Creek, which has been called a “pity of a stream” due to the real threats it faces with erosion-prone soil, poor trails, and real human threats.
I would like to ask you for your help in protecting these 750 fish left in the wild. An Indiegogo campaign was just launched with the aim of raising money to work directly on protecting these fish. Tenkara USA has taken particular interest in this cause because it is a fish native to our new home of Colorado, but this should not mean that if you don’t live in Colorado you shouldn’t help. This project is being undertaken by a Trout Unlimited group called The Greenbacks, but I think it serves as a great example of the things that can be accomplished in protecting fish and fish habitat anywhere. It is the type of project that serves to inspire groups in other parts of the country and could be a model to future fish habitat and protection projects.
Please visit the 1of750.com website for more info and check out the Indiegogo campaign to pledge some money. You can get a Tenkara USA set (I’ll be changing my donation from the Iwana that is advertised to any Tenkara USA rod, including a new one that will be released soon); a Vedavoo pack with the Greenback patch, or a trip with me.
We like to say that all you need to fly fish is a rod, line and fly. And, to a large extent that is very true. That really is all you need.
But what about the other stuff that will make things more comfortable, more accessible, or more effective? Like waders, for example?
Should you wear waders?
We can tell you that you do not need to wear waders to fish. In fact, leaving the waders behind and going in with whatever one is wearing, or trying to stay out of the water a bit more, can be great way to reduce the load. Like the reduction in gear brought about by tenkara, leaving the waders behind can feel liberating. However, waders can open up water that is difficult to fish without waders. On a long day out they can provide a lot of comfort, and depending on the weather and terrain they may be a necessary thing to avoid coming close to hypothermia.
If you’re just getting into the world of fly-fishing and contemplating whether you should invest the money for a pair of waders (as low as $50 for cheap hip waders, or $600 for a good pair of waders and wading boots), here are a few considerations I usually keep in mind.
The first thing that comes to my mind when deciding whether to wear waders or not is my intent for the day. Am I going mushroom hunting or backpacking and fishing on the side if I find a good pocket? Or, is fishing the primary reason I’m going out? If my primary intent is to fish, I’ll wear waders. Even if I have a side of me that really likes to rough it, I also like to be comfortable when I can. If I’ll be spending a lot of time in the water, and I want to focus on fishing waders will make me comfortable and will open up a lot of new water. Plus, I admit I’m not crazy about getting my undies wet if I have to cross a deep pool, even if it is hot out there.
But, if the focus is on other activities and tenkara is the secondary goal, then I often leave the waders behind. Nothing says “simple fly-fishing” and “I’m just that cool”, like posing with a pair of torn-up jeans and sneakers.
Seasons and Weather
Winter is fast approaching. Those of you who are going fishing right now are noticing the water and air temperatures dropping. If you plan on fishing during the winter, then waders are a must. I have fished in the winter time wearing my skiing clothes when my primary intent was backcountry skiing. But, when you spend enough time near the water, you’re bound to get wet. And, getting wet when it is freezing out there not only feels “uncomfortable”, but can be outright dangerous with hypothermia a real possibility. So, wear waders and warm socks, and another pair of warm socks, and warm underwear…
If it is summer and it is warm out, not wearing waders is a good way to go. If the weather is hot and you are not going to be in the water for most of the time, then no matter how breathable your waders are they will feel very hot. In that case, think about intent and terrain. You can go either way in the summer. Some opt to wear wading boots with some neoprene socks and “wet-wade” when the main intent is fishing. This past summer I worn some fast-drying shoes fairly often when going hiking and fishing on the side. Your choice.
And, of course, if it is really really hot out, swimming-wear may be the way to go (bonus: without a reel you can fish at the same time you swim!).
Terrain also comes into play on making the decision. In most streams you can fish from the shore, or fish well by hopping rocks. In lakes you can certainly fish from the shore.
But, some streams seem to call for waders. In particular, I like to wear waders in three types of places:
Streams that have a lot of trees and brush on the shores but a relatively open canopy in the middle. In these waters, which I admit may be a lot of waters, wearing waders allows you to fish in the middle of the stream and casting mostly upstream. By being in the water you can more easily avoid getting caught on trees behind you.
Larger rivers that have fewer features (e.g. boulders). Wearing waders will allow you get a little closer to the parts of the river you think the fish will be. Of course, you can fish from the shore very effectively in many parts of these rivers. But, once in a while you’ll come across a bend on the river where the riverbed is very shallow close to you, but there is a great looking whirlpool or something on the other side. Wading closer may mean getting your pants and underwear wet, waders will keep that from happening.
Canyons. If I’m fishing a relatively steep canyon I may end up being in the water a lot. And, sometimes I’ll be forced to cross the stream many times as large obstacles keep me from staying the course. So, waders will be a good thing to wear.
Though, of course, if the canyons are steep enough I may just opt for a full wetsuit.
For every reverse-hackle tenkara fly you tie tomorrow and the day after (September 21-22nd MST) and share a picture with us on our Facebook page or Twitter (with the hashtags #tenkarausa #tenkara4COflood) we’ll donate $1 to help flood victims in Colorado. If you make a short video of yourself tying the fly, we’ll donate $5 per video. No limits on how many flies you can tie and share pictures of.
If you don’t have a Facebook account or Twitter account, please get one and connect with us for this initiative as that will allow us to keep track of the activity. You don’t have to even send the fly anywhere, it’s yours to keep, but we do ask that the flies be tied tomorrow or Sunday.
Never tied a fly before? Don’t have a vise? No worries. Tenkara flies are very easy to tie. You just need a hook, sewing thread, and feathers (even a pillow’s feather can work). Watch these tenkara fly tying videos for some inspiration:
I’m leaving to Japan tomorrow morning. And, you may rightfully ask, “who cares that you’re going to Japan, Daniel, yet again, to ‘learn tenkara’? Tenkara is just about fishing with a pole, line and whatever at the end.”
About 5 years ago I visited Japan for my first time and learned about tenkara. I bought a tenkara rod, brought it back and soon decided to share it with people outside of Japan. Thus I became the first person to introduce tenkara to the USA and beyond with the creation of Tenkara USA. But I quickly realized it is not just a rod that I brought back, but the entire tenkara story and philosophy and something that could actually add value to how people approach the water and how people connect with nature.
I believe it has been fundamental to maintain the connection of tenkara to Japan and share the tenkara story with anglers here. I feel that I didn’t create just another rod company; I wanted to introduce a simpler method of fly-fishing that inspired people to fly-fish, simply and naturally.
But, why go to Japan to learn about tenkara? Why should anyone care about how they practice tenkara in Japan? Why does it matter? Good questions.
Why spend all that money and tremendous amount of energy and time to go to Japan and spend time fishing? This is the best time of the year to sit back here and fish. I could spend the next few weeks with my wife and our dog, fishing my brains out at the perfectly good streams within 10 minutes from home. As new competitors come in selling or planning to sell their tenkara rods, with no understanding of the method and probably doing okay sales-wise, I could just stay back and work on other things…more marketing, more sales, more outings, shinier rods.
Of course, visiting Japan gives me a valuable opportunity to share the latest rod designs I’m working on with my teachers, and get their instant feedback on the rods. We have worked on numerous tweaks on each of our rods as a direct result from these trips together.
But, in addition, I believe there is something to tenkara that can’t be learned or shared otherwise. I believe the long-time practitioners of tenkara have a lot to teach us, especially on how to keep fly-fishing simple. And, I believe that connection to Japan, which allowed me to bring the method of fishing that you all enjoy to the US, is important. I believe tenkara, as it is practiced in Japan, can show us to keep fly-fishing simple and how to maintain its effectiveness without relying so much on equipment. While it is not necessary to go to Japan to go tenkara fishing or to learn how to cast a fly and catch a fish, there are some principles of tenkara that can be brought over to us and that can add value to how we approach the water and nature. That’s what I like sharing.
In the next few weeks, as I travel throughout Japan, I’ll be sharing with you the tenkara story. Why? Because the principles of tenkara can set the foundations to keeping fly-fishing simple yet effective; and because the way tenkara is practiced in its country of origin holds the key to a very liberating method of fly-fishing.