Misako Ishimura is the co-author of the book Tenkara – Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly-fishing , and she agreed to give us an interview, sheding a bit of light on her background and connection with tenkara.
Misako, you have greatly contributed to helping introduce tenkara to the United States. I think it was some type of sign that you were working on the “Made in Japan” exhibit for the Catskills Fly Fishing Center and Museum right at the time I was working on launching Tenkara USA. Almost exactly one month after Tenkara USA launched, the highlight of your exhibit was a demonstration on tenkara by Dr. Ishigaki who came from Japan for the event. Now, 2 years after tenkara was first introduced to the US, you worked with Dr. Kevin Kelleher on a book which will open the doors to fly fishing for many people.
TUSA: Can you tell us how you first discovered tenkara and how long you have been practicing it?
Misako: I started to research Japanese fly fishing history in year of 2000 because many anglers from the other countries at FIPS Mouche World Fly Fishing Championships have been asking me about Japanese fly fishing. During my research in Japan, I discovered tenkara. It gets my interest since tenkara is the way to catch beautiful Japanese trout. Every time I’ve been to Japan, I collected information about tenkara little by little. Finally I had a chance to learn actual tenkara fishing from Dr. Ishigaki in the mountain stream in Gifu prefecture in June, 2008. Since then, about four years, I have been practicing it.
TUSA: What is the most appealing part of tenkara to you?
Misako: I feel more directly connected to fish and its surrounding nature during tenkara fishing. When I fly fish with the regular fly rod and reel, there is a heavy line and rod in between you and your fly. You can drift your fly more naturally in tenkara fishing since your line is smaller diameter. The lighter tackle make you feel closer to the nature.
For example, I wear a heavy fishing vest for wading safely in the strong current river when practicing western fly fishing. Yet, I feel so light when I tenkara. It is easier to walk along the streams and bank since I do not have to carry so many tackles. When you carry less gear, you will have more time to enjoy fishing and the nature.
TUSA: It’s very common with tenkara anglers to rely on only one fly pattern, as opposed to the many patterns used in western fly-fishing, as Dr. Ishigaki told us at the exhibit you organized in New York. But, you started practicing western fly-fishing in the Catskills, which is very famous for its many fly patterns.
Have you been able to convert to using only one fly pattern? Do you normally use tenkara flies, or do you still use many western flies with tenkara?
Misako: No. I normally use tenkara fly first. When I fish mountain streams, I keep fishing with tenkara fly. During the morning fishing, I sometimes change to nymph flies to practice the championship style of fishing. In the evening, when fish look at a fly on the water, I sometime change from tenkara fly to dry flies. When I fish lower part of the river or lake, I start with tenkara fly and change to the other kinds of flies. They are sometimes local flies, or other times, the flies from the friends who fish for World Fly Fishing Championship, or my own designed flies. I use many different kinds of flies which were tied in other countries including Japan.
TUSA: It never ceases to amaze me how often I am talking to someone and they mention your name or that they know you. You are very respected and active with clubs like the Catskills Fly Fishing Center and Museum, where you lived for many years, the North Arkansas Fly Fishing Club, where you currently live, and most notably you’re the captain of the Japanese National Fly Fishing Team, and the goodwill ambassador of the International Women Fly Fisher (the list of groups you participate in goes on). You are now helping introduce tenkara to many new people who have never heard of it.
What motivates you to share your knowledge on tenkara with others? And, how do people in these communities react to the concept of tenkara when you share it with them?
Misako: I love the nature where fish live and I would like to share the beauty with others hoping that they will cherish it. I believe that tenkara will help them to enjoy the nature more. They can be children, wife, husband, grandfather and grand mother, as a whole family. They can be anglers who have injured parts of their bodies.
They want to see and try tenkara rod, and to know more about the cultural background of Japanese tenkara fishers.
TUSA: You currently teach classes on tenkara and your motto is, “fly fishing the easy way”. I think that greatly matches with the concept of tenkara, where we want to make people realize that fly fishing can be simple. Do you think tenkara has made it easier to introduce people to fly fishing and also help people stick with the sport as opposed to abandoning it after giving it a try?
Misako: I teach not only tenkara but also western fly fishing, fly casting and fly tying with the same motto in my mind. I recommend my students to enjoy them in the relaxing manner by helping them to lean the easy ways to do.
Yes. You are right that tenkara matches with my motto. Tenkara is a good introduction for fly fishing, too. I teach my students traditional tenkara first and then how to adopt it for their home water. They will have clear understanding what and how to change it according to their conditions. Some students increase their interest toward the possibility of tenkara and keep fishing with tenkara rod discovering the merits of tenkara fishing.
TUSA: Do you think tenkara has many limitations? After using reels and practicing western fly fishing for many years, have the apparent limitations of tenkara taught you anything new?
Misako: Thank you for the nice comments about my quote. No, I do not think tenkara has many limitations when you fish in the mountain streams. Rather tenkara helps me to improve in reading water, how to present a fly to fish, how to land fish, etc. For example, you start to find out that there are very often fish very near or within a short distance. I’ve also discovered many different ways, to play/ land fish with the short line.
The foremost goal of Tenkara USA is to introduce people to the traditional tenkara practice, what I like to call “pure tenkara”, tenkara as it is practiced in Japan. I understand anytime a concept is introduced to a different culture, there will be adaptations, but I figure I should provide a good starting place. In the book you coauthored with Dr. Kelleher, there are western fly-fishing concepts mixed in with concepts from tenkara, making it a very good introduction to fly fishing via tenkara, showing people how simple fly fishing can be.
TUSA: What is tenkara to you? Do you think adaptations to American waters are necessary for tenkara? Or, are they simply inevitable?
Misako: Tenkara has the beauty of simplicity. The technique of fly fishing is condensed within tenkara. I found that tenkara is similar to fly fishing styles, which have been practiced in the mountain streams in Europe.
Adaptations will inevitably be practiced by the American tenkara anglers. Once you own a tenkara rod and try the method, you will love to practice getting better and better at catching not only trout in the mountain streams, but also the other kinds of fish in the different waters of the Americas.