Eating Fish Shioyaki Style

On December 1, 2017 • Comments (1)


Eating Fish Shioyaki Style

by Daniel Galhardo

I will occasionally eat fish when I’m out. Killing fish, and eating them seem to be a part of the human instinct. I’m a big believer that generally “a fish is too valuable to be caught only once”. But, I also try to avoid being a hypocrite. I eat meat, and I eat fish too, and there is no reason I should be able to do it only if bought from a market where the act of killing and the connection that brings to the food you’re about to eat are outsourced to the fishmonger. But, in order to reconcile my love for sport fishing, and my desire to eat the occasional fish, over the years I have come up with a rule of thumb for the occasions I’ll allow myself to take a fish’s life and eat it: stocked fish or places that I’m fairly certain see less than one angler a week, or where there is a clearly huge abundance of small (8-9″ fish).

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Tenkara Lifestyle: Lightweight Travel Tips

On November 17, 2017 • Comments (4)


It has been some years now since I’ve learned about tenkara, an efficient form of mountain stream fishing. Through my experiences using this simple, old style of fishing, I have found that I can apply principles of minimalism to nearly everything I do. I’ve learned about efficiency and different ways of looking at everyday challenges. In applying these concepts, I have come up with a formula that works for me. It can be summed up with the following sentence.

The more you know, the less you need.

For this installment, I will approach traveling and using what I call, the tenkara lifestyle, to promote efficient travel.

In my own experience, I have realized that nothing is better than experience to realize just what you need. Packing for a trip shouldn’t be difficult. There is some homework involved if you are new to traveling light but as you reduce the contents of your pack, you will realize that each component of your travel kit becomes more important on its own and as an integrated system.

Key to the concept is to check the weather where you are going and make a pack list for up to a week. If you can get through a week with your packing list, you can easily live for two weeks or a month or longer. Packing for one week, I have a comfortable pack size and I am able to be prepared for just about any activity. Hiking, fishing, going out to dinner, hot springs or lounging with friends or distant family. At the end of the week, I’m going to do some laundry whether it be washing my clothes in washer or in the shower, bucket or near a stream and hanging them to dry but I’m ready for another week.

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2017 Tenkara Summit (report 1)

On September 18, 2017 • Comments (5)

Tenkara Summit 2017 The biggest tenkara event –  ever! – happened this weekend.

The 2017 Tenkara Summit brought together the largest gathering of tenkara anglers anywhere. Just over 300 people from all over the US as well as Argentina, Norway and Japan attended. Attendees enjoyed a great series of speakers, clinics with experienced tenkara anglers (including Dr. Hisao Ishigaki), vendors, and a very fun fly-tying evening that featured a live band as well as tying contests timed to their songs, plus magic by Dennis Michael.


Tenkara Summit 2017  - bI am still stunned by the participation. In the past Tenkara Summits we had up to 150 people show up. I was fully expecting this year to count on the same number of people, so when I went to pull the final tally I was shocked to see about 240 people registered and another 60 walk-ins. I had tremendous fun meeting so many people in the community as well as spending time with an incredible crew of staff and volunteers that made the event possible.
Tenkara Summit 2017 volunteers
Dr. Hisao Ishigaki showing how to cast with a tenkara rod at the Tenkara Summit 2017
After a week of taking Dr. Ishigaki fishing around Colorado, hosting our staff and then working at the Summit I will say that I am pretty beat. In fact, I may even take a nap in a few minutes, which is a very rare thing for me to do. But, I wanted to share a little update as well as post some photos from the event. These are photos that some of our crew or myself took; we actually had a professional photographer shoot photos and video at the event but it may be a few days before we get to process and post some of those.
Dr. Hisao Ishigaki tenkara cutthroat
There were several highlights that stood out for me. One of them was once again spending time fishing with my teacher, Dr. Ishigaki. The Tenkara Summit really started as an excuse for Dr. Ishigaki to come fishing in the US; in 2011 he wanted to fish in Montana but said he wanted to speak at an event to justify the trip to his wife. Since there were no events taking place I decided to put the Summit together. It turned out to be a tough week of fishing, with us visiting several different places that didn’t seem to be “on” (I will have to add “river otters” to my “Excuses to use when not catching fish“).

Another highlight was meeting and talking to a large number of people about how tenkara has had a positive impact on their lives. It always gives me a warm feeling when I hear those stories of how people are enjoying tenkara in one way or another, of how sometimes it gave them a different perspective on some aspect of their lives. And I absolutely loved meeting a few young kids who are in love with tenkara and asked their parents and grandparents to bring them to the Summit.
The fly-tying evening was a pure fun part of the event. In the evening the band Paper Moonshine entertained the audience as people tied flies, enjoyed their beers and whiskey, and shared stories or made plans to fish the next day.
Dr. Ishigaki fly tying Tenkara Summit

The event was recorded in its entirety and we will be posting some of it online in the near future. More photos to come as well.

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Conversations: Japan

On November 2, 2016 • Comments (0)


This blog entry is a transcription from the Tenkara Cast podcast episode “Conversations: Japan with Adam Trahan and Adam Klags.” We have had many requests to have the podcasts in this format and are happy to present the first one here. The podcast episode may be found here

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Tenkara Magazine: digital version now available

On April 14, 2015 • Comments (0)

It’s been overdue for sometime, we know. But, I’m happy to announce we finally built up the functionality on our website for you to download the digital version of the Tenkara Magazine. 
Tenkara magazine online version
You can order the 2014 and the 2015 versions online. The 2015 is available in two electronic formats, one is the original layout of the magazine, the other is a narrow layout optimized for reading on a phone or tablet. Either costs $4.00 (print version is $9.00). The 2014 magazine is only available in one electronic format, the original layout, and costs $2.50.

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My 1st Kotsuzake

On October 9, 2014 • Comments (1)

[Editor’s note: We, as a company, heavily promote Catch and Release practices. Yet, we believe on occasion keeping a fish, where they are very abundant can provide an experience that puts us in touch with nature in a different way. We do not encourage keeping fish that are native to the water, the story below is of catching brooke trout in California, where they are not native to and are also prolific breeders. Please practice Catch and Release as much as possible]

My 1st Kotsuzake….. been waiting 4.5 years for this. It ended up being a solo adventure and that was probably how it was meant to be.

In almost 5 years since becoming a tenkara fisherman, I had never taken the life of a trout for edible enjoyment. I happily released each trout go to be caught another day. But… my tick-tock clock been ticking for a while now and I knew soon, even after all these years, I would do the deed.

This morning I decided to explore new places to fish along with hopes of finding a nice mountain lake where I could take my wife for some Fall kayaking fun. I was a bit all over the place, driving around a lot, but with little fishing…. but I still did fish and caught a nice Brownie right off highway 49 in Northern California. I did eventually find a cool mountain lake to take my wife to this coming weekend. So my efforts were being rewarded…but I still needed to get some serious fishing in as most the day I had been putzing around in the FJ Cruiser.


Around 1:30PM I decided it was time to head to my secret Mountain Meadow, which I have written about before, in hopes to catch a few brookies. So off I went figuring I would be fishing again around 2:30PM and could get in at least 2+ hours of solid fishing. I went prepared with the normal goods…. Sato, Rhodo, 3.5 Orange Level Line, Salt & Pepper Sakasa Kebari, some snacks and drinks. When I arrived out came the Rhodo and I went to work. Continue reading

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30-second tenkara pronunciation guide

On August 23, 2013 • Comments (3)

We are often asked about the correct pronunciation of some tenkara words, so I asked Mr. Yuzo Sebata, Ms. Akiko Takamatsu, Mr. Mano and Mr. Yoshida to share the correct way of saying them. This 30-second guide to pronouncing common words used in tenkara was fun to put together. Learn how to say: tenkara, sakasa, kebari, amago, iwana, yamame and ito.
Tenkara: Japanese method of fly-fishing that uses only a tenkara rod, tenkara line and tenkara flies.
Sakasa: “reverse” and normally used in conjunction with the word kebari, which means artificial fly. Sakasa kebari is the reverse-hackle fly commonly used in tenkara.
Amago, Iwana, Yamame, and Ito are names of Japanese trout and char and also the names of the tenkara rods made by Tenkara USA.

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Weekend reading: Sebata-san Go deeper upstream with skill

On July 19, 2013 • Comments (14)

Last year I was honored to be featured in the Japanese magazine Fishing Cafe alongside some of the great names in tenkara in Japan. Among these names is Yuzo Sebata, who’s been featured in almost all Japanese magazines that discussed tenkara. I would see pictures of him wearing crampons while fishing from steep sloping cliffs, casting his simple fly into saphire-colored waters for Yamame, hoping to join him one day. Dr. Ishigaki told me he was in his 70s, and was frequently fishing some of the most inaccessible places in Japan.

I have not yet had the fortune of meeting him in person. Two years ago, when I spent a couple of months in Japan I was supposed to meet him. But Sebata-san, who is from the Fukushima region, was volunteering in the recovery efforts after the devastating tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster that affected his hometown. I admired him for that.

In about a month I’ll be returning to Japan once again. As with my yearly trips over the last 4 years, I intend to learn more from the long-time practitioners of the method (yes, I do still feel there is a lot to learn). I’m supposed to spend 4 days camping, climbing, rappeling and fishing with Sebata-san, who is now researching places where he can take me that won’t have many of the huge and venomous Japanese giant hornets common at that time of year. In the meantime, I figured I should do a little more research on him, so I asked my friend Akira to translate the article he wrote for Fishing Cafe. I learned that besides tenkara, Sebata-san is very interested in foraging for wild edibles. In fact, I heard that about 3 years ago he got lost in the mountains. He spent an entire week lost in the mountains but surviving with his skills at picking wild vegetables and catching fish. His family and friends were worried about him because of his age, but after a week he appeared in a town, with no idea where he was, and hitched a ride and go back home. Hope you enjoy the reading.

Go deeper and deeper upstream with ultimate skill

By Yuzo Sebata

My fly-fishing style is generally called “Nikko Tenkara”. Tenkara fishing around this area has a long history and it’s been passed from generation to generation for couple hundred years. The Gorocho fly is famous in Nikko, But the “fly” being used in Nikko tenkara is different from “Gorocho fly”. The meaning of “Gorocho” is “long beard caddisflies” (Latin name: Stenopsyche marmorata). The fly which imitates the “long beard caddisflies” is called the Gorocho fly. People who do tenkara around here keep chicken varieties as pets so that they can get feathers from them to make flies, but they are different from the Gorocho fly.

An Incident of “Delayed Timing”

I started tenkara fishing about 50 years ago. The reason I started is that my friend from Tochigi prefecture, Isamu Tanaka’s grandfather, Juntaro Tanaka was a master of tenkara fishing. When I stayed with my friend, Isamu-chan, his grandfather, Juntaro told me “If you catch 5 fish, you won’t be able to stop fishing, so why don’t you try it?” His explanation of fishing was very abstract. It was, “Just throw the fly in the river, play it in with good timing, and then you can catch a fish,” so I didn’t really understand what he meant at that time. But once I started mastering some of the techniques, what he was saying was exactly right.

The night I stayed at their house, he showed me how to make flies while we are chatting about random things. I was able to understand how to make them just by watching him do it. How fishing line is made around here is that they repeat the process of dipping kite string made out of cotton in persimmon juice, and then tan it. I used to use the same process to make it, but I was not totally satisfied. So through my own trial and error, I figured out nylon twine worked the best.

Some people were using horse tail hair, but it wasn’t easy to get even in my generation. I was looking for something similar to horse tail hair, and I found nylon. In fishing magazines in those days, they were showing how to connect horse tail hair to make a taper line. Since this taper line has heavy knots, there is a benefit of being able to throw the line in, but it didn’t look good. I myself wanted to make smoother fishing line, and when I finally succeeded, I had to shout “I did it!” My journey to making perfect fishing line was completed before mastering my fishing skills.

I tried fly fishing before making my own fishing line, but I was not able to fish as I hoped. I still clearly remember when I was able to catch my first fish. As soon as the fly touched the water, a Yamame fish about 30 cm long jumped out the water then disappeared. I was surprised by it and lifted my hand with the fishing rod, but the fly was strongly pulled under water. Before this, I would pull the rod as fast as I could, thinking “I can’t be faster than this”, but I was not able to catch any fish. But this time I was surprised, so I was not able to control my timing as quickly as I want to, but I was able to catch a fish anyway. Later on, I really thought though why I was able to catch that fish, and I started to understand why.

At that time, the line didn’t go so far and the fly landed on the water while the line was still slack and floated on the water. That Yamame appeared where the line was slack and floating on the water, and the Yamame bit it and tried to take it away. As a result, I was not able to quickly adjust the timing of pulling up, but rather it became a “slow adjustment”. That made me realize “Ah ha, I need to slow down by one breath. This is the secret of tenkara fishing”.

The power of life I got while fishing at the headwaters

The time I started to go the headwaters of streams was around the time I learned how to make flies. I have hiked a lot since I was young, and I had confidence in my physical strength. My motivation was that I would be able to catch lots of fish if I got to the headwaters where nobody else goes. I just wanted to catch a lot of fish and catch big ones; it was “fishing greed”. I looked at the map and decided to go over the mountains on my own two feet. Once I gained more confidence in doing this, I started going to the next valley and deeper into the forest. As soon as I heard someone say, “If you go deep into that forest, you will be able to find Iwana (Char).”, I immediately looked at maps to find out more about that place.

To tell you honestly, I went some places where I would have been dead if I was not careful enough. I have experienced slipping off of cliffs, and lost my sense of direction and was about to be completely lost several times. When we fall into those kind of emergency situations, whether we live or die depends on the “destiny of your own life,” NOT “fate”. Fate is something decided by God, but I think destiny of your own life can be controlled by your own effort. When I have narrow escapes, I believe “this is not my fate; my own life power must be much stronger”.

When I just learned tenkara fishing, I always wanted to go farther and farther, which expanded the area where I could go. Once I could expand the area I could go, my skills of going to the upper valleys and living in the mountains improved. I am able to set a camp fire in the rain and I can cook rice very well over it.

Different natural foods grow season by season. If I want to eat them with rice, I need to learn about those natural foods like wild vegetables and mushrooms. I don’t learn about them by reading a book but through real life experience. By seeing someone who is hunting wild vegetables, I learn, “Ah, I can get those kinds of wild vegetables around here!”. This is how I keep learning.

By going through hard situations, you will be able to strengthen your physical and mental states. This is like improving our driving skills. Veteran drivers avoid dangers by realizing potential dangers in advance. If the road is slippery, then the driver slows down. If the driver starts to feel sleepy, then the driver takes a break. That is how avoid potential dangers. I believe being able to act on that kind of common sense is the power of living.

If I fall off of a steep cliff, I would die, too. Being able to judge whether I can climb up the cliff with my own ability or not, that is very important. If I judge this is something I can do, I will keep moving forward with courage. If you aren’t sure or hesitate, you will fall off from the cliff.

Fish teach me how to fish.

Going to the headwaters of a stream in a deep forest. My surroundings getting dark after the sun sets. Feeling sleepy while watching the camp fire. Waking up early in the next day. Getting up before dawn and making a camp fire and seeing my surrounding slowly get brighter. I really like these feelings. Tenkara fishing is very simple, which makes me feel I am a part of the mountains. If you want to submerge yourself deep in nature, it is the best fishing style. But just through the act of fishing, we won’t be able to enjoy real thrill and joy of tenkara fishing. Fishing becomes much more fun by experiencing the joy of being able to be a part of nature and learning something new in nature. I have been fishing for a long time so that I will be to master that kind of style of fishing.

During the long journey of fishing, you will start to feel that fish are adorable. When I started fishing, I used to feel that I wanted to catch as many fish as I could. But by going upstream, I started to feel that I didn’t need to fish more than I needed. I reached the conclusion that I will just catch as many fish as I can eat, then release the rest of the fish. It made me feel I won’t be able to kill more fish than I need.

The most important thing about fishing is that you need to fish “where fish exist”. If a fish is there, you will be able to catch a fish. We can’t learn anything from fishing that doesn’t let you catch a fish. By being able to catch fish, we will be able to learn new methods of fishing. That is all. It’s all that simple. If we think more than we need to, it will make us even more confused. You will be able to learn fishing from fish. You will be able to learn how to live in nature from nature. There are lessons I learned through tenkara fishing.

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The Proverbial Last Cast (with tenkara)

On June 23, 2013 • Comments (5)

Vine video, you may have to click on the sound icon on the top left corner to get sound.
This is my first attempt at using the new social networking app called Vine. Vine has been likened to a video version of Twitter since it has a length constraint: 6 seconds. The first time I hear of Vine, soon after they launched this January, I couldn’t picture ways that a 6-second video could add value to anyone’s life. And maybe it can’t but now I can see the length constraint can be fun to play with. Here is my first attempt, which Margaret filmed as we hit different spots yesterday.

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Tenkara Tattoo 5: Chris Fahrenbruch

On June 13, 2013 • Comments (3)

Tattoos are permanent and, as it’s become obvious, so is the passion anglers feel for tenkara.

Today we learned of the 5th person to get a tenkara tattoo, Chris Fahrenbruch. Chris says, ” [It] just felt it was appropriate considering I fish Tenkara. And while not completely into the Japanese culture I do have a respect for it (I own a real Samurai sword and entire Samurai armor set) and lived in Okinawa for 2 years. Got it on the right arm beings I’m right handed and hold my Tenkara rod with the right hand. I feel like it will increase my Tenkara “Zen Level” up a few notches Besides that, Tenkara just fits with the way I have always viewed fly fishing. Sure it’s not always appropriate for some of the conditions I fish in, but overall it just feels right.”

Here’s a gallery of the other tattoos done so far:

Kevin Brooks

Tenkara tattoo tenkara fly

Daniel Galhardo

Tenkara tattoo tenkara fly

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In Search of Tenkara, story

On June 7, 2013 • Comments (5)

Slightly over a year ago I wrote about my experience spending 2 months in a village in Japan exclusively to learn more about tenkara. It was published in the Fly Fish Journal. While I wrote about most of my experiences in this blog, I also wanted to write something that could have longevity and encompass my experience as a whole. Today I booked my plane ticket to go back to Japan this August. As I thought about what adventures I’d be seeking I decided to revisit the article I wrote. And, I realized I never had a chance to share it with you. If you’re looking for some reading this weekend I hope you’ll consider reading my story. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it too.

PDF - In Search of Tenkara article by Daniel Galhardo

In Search of Tenkara

article by Daniel Galhardo

I was clinging to mossy rock with half my body under a waterfall. Fifty feet below, the torrent crashed into a small basin sending mist into the air, keeping my companions soaked. Mr. Futamura, watched apprehensively. Next to him, Kumazaki, about 20 years younger than Futamura-san and slightly older than me, preferred to stare at the pool in front of him for any signs of iwana, the wild char found in the mountains of Japan. A fishing rod, small box of flies, spool of line and a spool of tippet were stowed away in my backpack. No reel required.

Tenkara fly fishing in remote mountain stream in Japan

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Takenobu Music

On October 9, 2012 • Comments (9)

I love writing stories of serendipity, so it surprised me that I hadn’t shared this one with you yet.

Earlier this year I was very focused on writing an (still) upcoming book on tenkara. I established a ritual; every morning I’d wake up, make myself some coffee, and for the first couple of hours in the day I’d turn off my email and internet, and focus on writing. I found that I loved the peace and quiet of early morning, but I felt that I couldn’t fully wake up on the merits of coffee alone, so I started turning on the music. Since I do not have an extensive music library, I turned to the internet radio service Pandora.

One day in the middle of writing, a song caught my attention. It was an instrumental song, and it also had a very distinct feel to it. It was relatively fast, played mostly on a cello, it had a folksy/bluegrassy feel to it, but for some reason I thought I could hear Japanese influence within the song. I stopped writing and went to see what song it was. It was called ” Fishin’ “!!! And, the artist had a Japanese name, Takénobu. Wow!

Here’s the song:

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Cops Crash Tenkara Tea Ceremony

On August 5, 2012 • Comments (5)

written by Jason
John preparing the tea ceremony

John preparing the tea ceremony

Never in a million years would I guess that a peaceful streamside tea ceremony would draw the attention of local law enforcement, but the day before this year’s Tenkara Summit, several tenkara anglers (including yours truly) almost spent the night in the slammer.

It started out innocently enough.  John Vetterli of Tenkara Guides has studied the meticulous Japanese Tea Ceremony and thought it would be a good cultural bridge to host a tea ceremony for our Japanese tenkara guests while we were fishing the Little Big Cottonwood.

Traditional Japanese tea ceremony gear

Traditional Japanese tea ceremony gear

We all arrived at the stream, but the complicated ceremony takes time to set up.  There was a lot of gear to carry down and prepare so John did that while the rest of us went fishing.  The idea was to meet up later when the water was heated up and the tatami mats laid out (among other preparations).

In the meantime, John practiced one of his other hobbies while waiting for us to return:  Japanese swordplay.  Here’s a shocker:  a guy dressed in a black ninja outfit wielding a sword in the middle of the woods is considered “suspicious” by some people in Utah.

John practicing swordplay

I guess I can see how this might look suspicious

I was taking a quick break from filming the ceremony (video to come) when I was approached by four very serious looking police officers.  They told me they had a report of a guy with a “big sword” and and “urn”.  The conversation went something like this:

Police:  What’s going on here?

Me:  We are hosting an event with some Japanese fly fishermen and are having a traditional tea ceremony.

Police:  We got a report about someone with a sword.

Me:  It’s part of the ceremony.  It’s not a real sword.  (complete lie.  It was a real sword and wasn’t part of the ceremony).

Police:  Do you have an urn?  Someone reported seeing an urn.

Me:  An urn?  No. You’re welcome to go and check it out if you want.

Police:  No, that’s OK.  (after scanning the situation from a distance).

Dr. Ishigaki trades his tenkara rod for a Samurai sword

Dr. Ishigaki trades his tenkara rod for a Samurai sword

And with that, they left.  I can only think whoever reported the “urn” must have mistaken that for the pot the tea is heated in.  At any rate, the SLC cops were pretty cool about it even though it probably did look pretty suspicious.  It’s a good thing too.  Because I couldn’t really come up with a good answer to the requisite question, “what are you in for?”.

Here are a few more pics:

Tenkara Ikebana

Tenkara Ikebana


John serving tea

Daniel also participated


Serving tea

The ritual is beautiful but so complicated, you might just die of thirst before getting your tea


John getting in "the zone"

John getting in “the zone”

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The practical tenkara fly

On July 16, 2012 • Comments (11)

Written by Daniel

Ishimaru Shotaro, an 89 year old tenkara angler in Japan, offered to give me some of his tenkara flies. He opened the box and out came an unexpected tenkara fly pattern. Why unexpected? For most of my fly-fishing life I had come to somewhat expect the look of a fly to improve in proportion with the time an angler had been tying it. Mr. Shotaro has been tenkara fishing for over 77 years and is the longest practitioner of the method I have met. Yet, his flies were, for lack of a better term, the sloppiest I have ever seen.

I mean absolutely no disrespect by the term sloppy here. Mr. Shotaro’s flies embody an experience that I can only hope to one day have.  At a time when tenkara anglers were not interested in teaching their craft to others, he may be one of the first people in Japan to have learned tenkara and then taught it to other people.

I should mention that he does and has caught plenty of fish on this pattern (though I’m not sure I can call it a “pattern” as none of his flies will ever, ever, look the same). On his heyday, before the damming of the rivers he fished and before most fish had been caught out of Japanese streams, Mr. Shotaro reportedly caught 130 fish in a day.

Because of his frail legs, Mr. Shotaro no longer fishes. However, I did get a chance to fish with him for a brief period of time on the day we met. We walked over to the stream next to the Mazegawa Fishing Center, where I had been spending my time. I had fished that stretch of the river many times in previous weeks with very little success. After casting his “sloppy” fly to the water a few times, Mr. Shotaro managed to get two fish to chase his fly; and I can attest that was a good number for that water.

Last week I posted the image above in our Facebook page and received a lot of comments about the fly. The people posting actually appreciated the fly. “Maybe there is genius in the “slop”?” said one poster. “Experienced tiers tie flies that fish think are foods…Buggy look is good!” and  “commercial flies are tied to attract the customer. fish don’t have any money so they can only steal them”.

The picture below, which I posted on my original blog post about Mr. Shotaro, shows his flies (left) next to some very beautiful looking flies. The pretty flies were tied by someone who had been tenkara fishing for only about 6 months. The dexterity and attention to detail in the nice-looking tenkara flies certainly betray the 76 1/2 year gap in their experience.

Tenkara flies

What at first struck me as a sloppy tenkara fly has turned to be a representation of the pragmatic simplicity of the original tenkara angler. When he gave them to me, I thought, “now, that’s interesting…” and put them in my box. The flies he gave me have been tucked away for over a year when I just decided to pull them out for a photo shoot.

Only once I stopped to look at the fly again and paid more attention, did I realize that their apparent lack of organization translates into a fly that I can not seem to replicate. Do I start at the front or the back? Do I wrap the hackle, wrap line over it and then wrap the hackle some more? This greatly intrigued me, if I couldn’t replicate that fly, maybe I just didn’t understand it.

Mr. Shotaro’s sloppy fly gained a greater appreciation at this moment.The more I look at his tenkara flies the more they strike me as the work of an abstract artist with modern impressionist, or perhaps expressionist, tendencies.

The most beautiful thing about Mr. Shotaro’s tenkara fly is that it is so widely open to interpretation. The disorganized look is neither methodical nor really sloppy.  Perhaps one day their “sloppiness” will be more deeply appreciated, like a work of art. He certainly would never think of himself this way. But, when that day comes, Mr. Shotaro may come to be perceived as the Jackson Pollock of fly-tying.

Mr. Ishimaru Shotaro

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Gyotaku, the Japanese art of fish prints

On June 18, 2012 • Comments (1)

When John Gierach contacted us expressing his interest in tenkara, I had no idea his interest in Japanese culture would extend so far beyond the type of fishing we were introducing here. In 2010 I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days at his home, where I learned that in college he enjoyed Japanese literature, not long after became interested in bonsai, and then even tried making his own gyotaku.

Recently I have been communicating with Kirby Wilson, a Canadian artist living in Lahti, Finland, who has mastered the technique and art of gyotaku. For those of you interested in elements of Japanese culture, especially elements of Japanese mountain culture and tenkara, I believe you’ll enjoy learning about this centuries-old form of art.

From Kirby’s site (

“Gyotaku (gee-oh-tah-koo) is the Japanese art of making fish prints on delicate washi paper. This art form reproduces the exact features and characteristics of the actual fish. In Japanese, “gyo” translates to “fish” and “taku” translates to “stone rubbing” which refers to the technique of fish rubbing. Gyotaku began in Japan in the early 1800s as a means to measure and record a commercial fisherman’s catch.

Today gyotaku has evolved into an art form. I start by inking the freshly caught fish with a nontoxic, water-soluble ink, then the Japanese washi paper is placed on the fish and is hand-rubbed. After removal of the paper, the eye is hand-painted bringing the gyotaku to life. I hand color many of my monotone rubbings but also do rubbings using colored ink resulting in a scale-by-scale likeness of the fish. My “chop” or hanko with my signature are added to complete the artwork. Each print is a one-of-a-kind-original

Today, Gyotaku is an alternative to taxidermy and mounting fish, and has become a recognized form of fine art. It’s also agreat way for me to share memories of fun days on the water with friends.”

Who knows? Maybe some tenkara anglers back in the day may have even indulged in this art form. The commercial fisherman referred to above are most likely ocean fisherman and those living in the townships. Although we’ll never know whose hands pressed the fish agains the paper there are some pretty old gyotaku in the mountains of Japan.

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