Tenkara Cast: What is tenkara?

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August 11, 2015

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Tenkara is the simple Japanese method of fly-fishing that uses only a rod, line and fly. It originated in the hands of commercial anglers in the mountains of Japan. Nowadays tenkara uses telescopic rods made of carbon fiber and synthetic lines, but the simple spirit of the method remains as strong as ever.
In 2009, Daniel Galhardo introduced tenkara outside of Japan and created the first company fully dedicated to tenkara. His introduction of tenkara to the world created a small revolution in fly-fishing where people realized fly-fishing could be simple and that anyone can do it.
In this episode, the first episode of the Tenkara Cast, Daniel will talk briefly about what tenkara is, give a brief overview of the equipment and discuss why you may want to take up tenkara.
Learn more about tenkara at www.tenkarausa.com and stay tuned for future episodes of the Tenkara Cast, where we will delve deep below the simple surface of tenkara to explore the techniques, history, philosophy, equipment, destinations and more.
Music kindly provided by Nick “Takenobu” Ogawa: www.takenobumusic.com

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Transcript of podcast episode Tenkara Cast: What is tenkara?

This is Daniel Galhardo and you’re listening to the Tenkara Cast, a podcast about the simple Japanese method of fly fishing, tenkara. In the Tenkara Cast we’ll be sharing information with you on techniques, history, philosophy, and tenkara stories from anglers all over the world. This podcast is brought to you by Tenkara USA, introducing tenkara outside of Japan since 2009. It is only possible we create content such as this podcast and videos because of your support, so we thank you so very much for purchasing Tenkara USA rods, lines and flies. I hope you enjoy learning more about this simple method of fly fishing.

Hey everyone, this is Daniel Galhardo, welcome to the Tenkara Cast, the very first episode of the podcast on tenkara, the Japanese method of fly fishing. This is, let’s call it Episode Zero. Today I’m just gonna do a very brief introduction about what tenkara is, who I am, what Tenkara USA is doing here in the United States and abroad, and why you should take up tenkara if you haven’t done it yet.

So tenkara is the Japanese method of fly fishing. Uses only a rod, line and fly. No reel. The tenkara rods are typically about on average about 12 feet long, and you tie a line right to the tip of the rod, and at the end of that, you’re gonna have let’s say about four feet of tippet and a fly. Typically when you’re starting off, you can picture having this 12 foot rod, 12 feet of line, about four feet of tippet and then a fly. It’s really simple fly fishing.

So as we say it, tenkara is a very simple method of fly fishing uses only a rod, line and fly. The method originating in Japan. We don’t really know a lot about the history of tenkara, because the folks that developed the method were commercial anglers, so tenkara originated high up in a mountain streams Japan in the hands of commercial anglers trying to catch fish for a living.

I’ve heard it said before, tenkara is done by Samurai, it’s not. Tenkara was never the domain of Samurai, it was really the method of fishing developed by people trying to catch fish for a living. And I love the history and where tenkara comes from, because it kinda tells us a couple of things. First of all, it tells us how effective fly fishing can be.

So the people that developed the method, they were using artificial flies tied using a little bit of the thread and a feather, and they chose fly fishing to catch fish because it’s a very effective way to catch fish, especially when you’re fishing mountain streams, and they also chose to keep it simple. Actually, I shouldn’t say they chose, they out of necessity tenkara anglers had to keep everything really, really simple. They didn’t have a fly shop to go buy a bunch of equipment. So, tenkara shows us that fly fishing is a very effective way to fish and it can be very simple, much simpler than you might believe right now.

A little bit about myself. I discovered tenkara in around 2007, and then in 2008 I got to visit Japan for my first time. I should mention that my wife Margaret is a Japanese-American, so we started talking about going to Japan to visit her relatives. She still has grandparents and some uncles or an aunt in Japan. So we decided to make a trip up there and I started researching fly fishing opportunities in Japan. I kind of jokingly told her, you can spend all your time with your grandparents, but I really wanna go fly fishing.

I had this image in my mind of Japan as this beautiful mountain streams with mossy walls, and I knew that they had a couple of different native trout to Japan; the Amago, Yamame, the Iwana. And I wanted to catch them, I wanted to see what those fish looked like.

So in 2007, I started researching fly fishing in Japan. Where can I fly fish as my first question? And very quickly became obvious to me that in Japan, I could pretty much fly fish anywhere I want. It’s a land, Japan it’s roughly the size of California, and about 70% of the country is covered in mountains. And of course when you look at any mountain area, there’s gonna be lots of streams and little rivers, all these little blue lines that are going up and down in different drainages. So that to me answered a question of, “Where can I fly fish?” very quickly. I can pretty much fly fish anywhere.

So I started researching a little bit more, getting a little bit more information about it, and I was like… Well, that’s kind of interesting. Japan is surrounded by an ocean, and it’s all these mountain streams. There must be a really rich fly fishing tradition in the country. So I became really interested in that, and started looking around trying to find more information about a fly fishing culture, they might have developed in Japan. As I started doing a little research and I was actually looking for primarily like, what kind of flies people might have tied… And I knew the Japanese are known for being good craftsmen. So it was really interested in trying to find some interesting fly fishing artifacts.

Funny enough, a reel… one of the first things that I kinda wanted to find out was, some cool looking reels that maybe the Japanese craftsmen may might have designed, and very quickly I ran across this little book called, “Angling in Japan”. It was published in 1939 by the Japanese board of tourism as a way to educate foreigners about different cultural elements of Japan. This little book, it’s about maybe 100 pages long, it’s got some beautiful black-and-white photographs and it’s written in English. It was translated by somebody and in one page I showed an image of somebody fishing a mountain stream, the kind of water that I really like to fish; and you could see in his hand he had a long rod. I couldn’t really see the detail on it, but he didn’t look like he had a reel. And then on the next page, he had a very short paragraph about the Japanese angler using flies to catch the native Yamame. And I think there is something to the effect of him not using a real. The Japanese anglers not liking to use a reel.

So I was like, “Oh that’s interesting. It kind of seems like they have their own method of fishing.” And I started doing a little bit more research and somehow soon after that I came across the term “Tenkara” and discovered that yes, Japan has their own method of fly fishing as I suspected with so much fly fishing opportunities, they must have developed our own method of fishing.

And so I did the research in 2008, in August or September, my wife and I went to Japan, and sure enough I stopped in every tackle shop that I could and I got to see the tenkara rods. I bought one and brought it back, started fishing with it. Absolutely fell in love with the method, it was incredibly simple. I had this rod, which I might have mentioned early in the episode that is telescopic by the way. So you have a 12 foot long rod that telescopes down to about 20 inches. I put that in my backpack and put a spool of line, tippet, some flies, and that was it. It was like my whole fishing kit was incredibly small.

I love the simplicity of it. There’s no line to manage. There is a lot of stuff that really made me feel like I was unencumbered by the gear, and all of the sudden I was really focusing a lot on the experience. At the time too I was really involved in the fly fishing club, the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club in San Francisco. I noticed that there’s a lot of people interested in taking up fly fishing, but a lot of people would come in, maybe take a class or talk to some of the members and go away completely baffled, really intimidated, and scared of even trying to take up the sport because they saw in their minds; it’s expensive, it’s complicated, I’ve got to learn Latin, I’ve got to learn physics to do all of that.

With tenkara I saw a really good opportunity to tell people, “No, you don’t really have to learn all that. It’s much simpler than that.” You have a rod, you can tie line to the end of it, it takes about 40 seconds to set up. Casting, you can learn in literally about one minute and just fish. It’s really not that hard.

So I decided to create Tenkara USA to introduce the Japanese method of fly fishing called tenkara outside of Japan, and that was in 2009. April 12, 2009 is when I started the company and became the first person to take this method of fishing that I like to think was hidden in Japan for decades, or centuries and expose people outside of Japan to that.

A lot of people have asked me, by the way, what tenkara means. Nobody knows exactly what the word tenkara is supposed to mean. It’s primarily used to describe this very specific method of fishing, but when you read the word tenkara, if some of you might speak Japanese “ten” is heaven or skies, and “kara” means from. So, tenkara means from heaven, or from the skies. And my favorite story behind the name, there’s a lot of different theories and different stories about why the name tenkara for this method of fly fishing, but my favorite one is this.

One day there was an angler and he was up in the mountain streams of Japan, and he’s catching fish after fish. Most people that are used to fishing, especially at a time they would have been using bait, so they would have caught a bug or caught some worms, put that on the hook and every bite that they got, or every fish that they took, they would have to replace that bait because they would be eaten or taken out of the hook. So, lesson on this passer-by, he went by and watched the angler catching fish after fish. And he was using the rod, like a bamboo pole with line tied to the end of that and a passerby stopped and he was like, “How could you be catching so many fish? Fish after fish?” I never even saw you changing your bait, not even once.

And then the tenkara angler replied, “Well, if you look right here at the end of my line, I have this little fly that I’ve tied using a little bit of thread and a feather. It’s made to look like a bug, and when I cast it the fish sees the fly coming from heaven, and he takes it. So that’s my favorite story behind the name tenkara. But of course nowadays, it’s really used to describe this method of fishing that uses a rod, line, and fly.

So that’s kind of tenkara in a nut shell. It’s a simple method of fishing that uses rod, line and fly. Telescoping rods that extend out anywhere between approximately 9 feet all the way to almost 15 feet long. At the end of the rod you can tie a length of line, tenkara line. The lines are specifically designed for tenkara. The line can be a little bit shorter than the rod, or as long as twice the length of the rod. But, it’s gonna be a fixed length of line at the end of that. Then again, you have tippet and a fly.

The tenkara flies are kind of unique by the way before we go any further and explore tenkara in-depth in future episodes, I should mention that you can use any fly with tenkara. It works great with dry flies, really because you have no drag on the system. The long rod and very light line that you’re using allows you to keep the line off water, so you don’t have to be mending and that kind of thing. So you have beautiful drag-free drifts, so you can use dry flies, you can use nymphs. It’s a really effective way to use for nymphing because you have a very tight line, so you have a real nice direct connection with the fish.

But there’s some traditional tenkara flies. There’s a huge variety of tenkara flies out there. On the next magazine that we’re going release by the way, we have the Tenkara Magazine, an annual publication of where we have different tenkara stories. We’re going to have quite a bit about tenkara flies in there. But there’s some traditional tenkara flies, most commonly or the ones that are most characteristic to tenkara have this reverse hackle. The hackle faces away from the bend of the hook. It’s called a kebari. Kebari literally means haired hook. So that’s the tenkara fly right there. And a lot of people use the term kebari to refer specifically to the reverse hackle tenkara flies. Which if you were to specify it, it’s a sakasa kebari. Sakasa means reverse, and then kebari is the artificial fly.

What else is there here?

Well, I’m just sum it up right here, keep this episode short, our introductory episode by saying, tenkara is a really simple way to fly fish, but it’s not very simplistic. Anybody can pick it up in a few minutes. It’s really easy to learn the knots, the rigging, how to cast and everything like that. But I do like to think, and I like to say that tenkara is one of those things that it’s really simple to learn, but you might take a lifetime to master.

I have personally been doing tenkara for what is almost, it’s coming to seven years now, and I still go back to Japan, and I have several different teachers that I learned under. I’m always mesmerized by how much I can learn in terms of technique as well as some of the history and culture of tenkara, but primarily technique. Tenkara has this kind of two facets to it, because it’s a real simple method of fishing in terms of equipment, it becomes something that you have to learn and kinda hone your technique over time if you really wanna get good at it.

So in future episodes of the Tenkara Cast, we’re going be exploring in depth all the different facets of tenkara. The idea behind this podcast, by the way, it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for years, and I just kept putting it off, because once I get into it, I wanna commit in making sure that I provide you with some good content on a regular basis.

So tenkara, there’s all this stuff that we’re going be sharing in terms of history, philosophy, how to, techniques. I’m also going be talking about destinations, where tenkara is a really good tool to use in terms of destination. By the way, I should mention that the place where tenkara shines the most is gonna be mountain streams. In mountain streams you have all this current and it’s really tricky to fish those places because you have to be mending and that kind of thing with a regular rod and reel set up. But, with tenkara you just cast and you have the most beautiful drag-free drifts anywhere. So mountain streams and we’re going to be talking about destinations, in particular about Japan, Italy, many places in the United States and so forth.

What else is there to talk about tenkara? We’ll see. I do have a very long list of podcast episodes that I’m planning to release here in the coming months. We’ll try to release a new episode every one to two weeks. Just stuff that I find that you’re gonna find relevant. But maybe I’ll close it also by talking about why anybody might wanna consider tenkara.

The number one reason people tell us is that they like the idea of tenkara is the simplicity. You have rod, line and fly. You’re replacing your fishing vest with a tiny little pouch that carries everything you need to fly fish.

But the second thing that people mention is just the beautiful drag-free drifts, especially when they’re fishing in places that have currents, and of course we have a huge following in tenkara with backpackers and other outdoor enthusiasts. The rod packs down to 20 inches, and you don’t carry much weight. You’re carrying literally about five to six ounces of gear total to fly fish and that’s kind of hard to beat. So, backpackers love tenkara.

We also are developing this campaign called Tenkara Plus / Tenkara+, which is the idea that you can do fly fishing with any activity. So if you’re going go mountain biking, strap a rod to your bike frame. Put your little bag on your saddle and fish if you see water. If you don’t see water, just keep moving.

If you’re going to go rock climbing, very often there’s going be a little bit of a stream near by. You’re gonna have to take a break at the end of the day, have a rod with you and that kind of thing. So trying to tell people, because tenkara is so simple and anybody can fly fish, you can also do it alongside other activities as well.

In any case if you want to learn more about tenkara right away visit us on the web TenkaraUSA.com. We have a lot of great information. Well over 100 videos right now that are posted on our website and our YouTube channel. You can connect with us on Facebook. Facebook.com/TenkaraUSA.

There’s a little bit of confusion with different tenkara companies out there right now, but Tenkara USA is our brand. And that’s a point that I should probably clarify. Tenkara is a method of fishing. Tenkara USA is the brand that I’ve been developing to introduce tenkara outside of Japan. We produce our own rods, all of the rods that we produced are branded Tenkara USA, so you’re going see the name on the rod. And that’s a little bit of something to help differentiate the method from our brand, the first and original tenkara rod company in the United States.

So again, if you want to learn more about tenkara, visit us on the web, Facebook, pickup a copy of our magazine, watch some videos, and stay tuned for the next episodes of The Tenkara Cast.

Thank you very much for listening to The Tenkara Cast. I’d like to extend a special thank you to Nick Ogawa, also known as Takénobu. Check out his music at www.takenobumusic.com.

We’ll be posting links to any references we made in this podcast, such as Takénobu’s music on our website TenkaraUSA.com/podcast.

And until next time, on The Tenkara Cast.

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