Genryu Fishing of Japan #43

Mountain Streams Disappearing Into a Dam.

by Keiichi Okushi

In the beginning of June, we went on our first genryu fishing trip to Kitanomata-zawa (Kitanomata Stream), a tributary of famous fishing river Naruse-gawa (Naruse River) located in south east of Akita prefecture. Naruse-gawa has many tributaries in its genryu part surrounded by beautiful 1200m class mountains and rich forests of beeches and Japanese oaks. Its mainstream begins from the shoulder of 1627m Mt. Kurikoma and flows north west to Sea of Japan. Upper part of Naruse-gawa has several good mountain streams for fishing spread in a fan shape. The area looks typical mountain nature of Tohoku region.

I have fished in Kitanomata-zawa twice. At that time, I parked the car by the stream and went down to the stream only in about 10 minutes by walk. It was main-stream of Kitanomata-zawa and for about 2 km from there to up-stream was the core part for fishing for one day anglers. As we went up-stream for about 3 km from the entering point, the river was divided into 2 streams, Kuwaki-zawa and Karamatsu-zawa with equal amounts of water. Both of those streams were good steady streams where we could enjoy nice fishing. If you want to fish both streams in one trip, you must stay in the stream for 2 nights or more. So, this time, we came to Kitanomata-zawa with a plan to stay for two nights in the stream and try to fish in both streams. However, according to the weather forecast, it would have been raining since the evening of the first day.

By the way, the village where there are Kitanomata-zawa and upper part of Naruse-dawa is called Higashi-Naruse, and it is said to have become the setting of the famous manga "Tsurikichi Sanpei". I think quite a few of Tenkara fishers living in foreign countries know "Sampei". “Sampei” is a story in which the boy Sampei, who lives in the countryside of Akita Prefecture, who loves fishing, challenges many types of fishing at various parts of Japan with his grandfather who is a traditional bamboo fishing rod builder and Gyoshin Ayukawa who is a professional angler. From the middle of the story, Sanpei also goes abroad to try fishing. Since this manga was also broadcasted around the world as a television animation program, I think that there are quite a few people who know "Sampei". I think that the story was not only merely depicting the fun of fishing, but also a masterpiece depicting the importance of nature conservation, human conscience, and the good old days of the Japanese countryside that Japanese people today are forgetting.

The author, Takao Yaguchi, was born in the nearby Masuda town, and seemed to have set the stage of “Sampei” in this area of Akita's typical mountain village, natural rich mountains, and beautiful rural scenery. I do not know if it is true or false, but this Kitanomata-zawa is a stream that became a model of the “Yonaki-dani (Night Cry Stream)” that Sampei struggles with the Monster Iwana in "Yonaki-dani no Kaibutsu (Monster of Night Cry Stream)" which is popular story in the early edition of “Tsurikichi Sanpei”.

Back to our trip, we drove on a motorway for about 3 hours, then another 1hour by narrow and winding mountain road, we entered Akita prefecture after crossing the pass near Mt. Kurikoma at midnight. As we turned one blind corner, a giant construction site in the whole valley illuminated like daytime brightness with hundreds of searchlights suddenly appeared in front of our eyes. There were innumerable heavy machineries, trucks, and people working like daytime. It was a huge dam construction site that began about 3 years ago. I heard that this dam construction plan had been for decades, and there had been a conflict between pros and cons for a long time, but the construction was finally started. But what a scene. I only think that it is just destroying nature desperately through the days and nights for making money. We stopped the car at a parking lot overlooking the scene and gazed at our breath.

The history of dam construction in Japan is said to be about 120 years. In the past, huge dams were built in various places to meet Japan's electricity demand. There are approximately 63,600 rivers flowing in Japan, and by now, in those rivers, approximately 3,090 dams with a height of more than 15 m, approximately 90,000 sand control dams, and a large number of small-scale dams are constructed. I do not think that all those dams were wrong. Certainly, there were times when dam power generation was needed in Japan. The problem is that politicians and large construction companies flocked to the construction of huge money moving dams, and countless unnecessary dams and sand control dams were built upstream of every river. Besides, in the history of dam construction, many mountain villages and precious nature sank into the bottom of the dam.

The negative effects of dams are not limited around dams. The adverse effects on ecosystems across the river are immeasurable, and their impact has been found to extend to the sea. For example, Mito, where I live, is relatively close to the sea, and we have been having problem since long time ago that the sand of this sea coast has been lost.

About 10 kilometers east of my town, a sandy beach called Kashima-nada (Kashima Coast) continues about 50 kilometers to the south along the Pacific Ocean. When I was a small child, there was a beautiful green pine forests spread along the coast. When I went along a white sand path in the forest, the forest was over, and the sand fence made of bamboo was lined up for many miles. When I ran up the white sand dunes, the white sands that were even whiter than the sand of the dunes spread to the beach. The contrast of this white sandy beach and blue sea and the blue sky were so impressive. It was the original scenery of the coast of Japan, old people were saying "Hakusa seishou(white sands and green pine forests)".

Now, Pine forests have been cut down in many places and have become a residential site, and such a large and beautiful sandy beach has been washed away in most places. Now in those beaches, concrete breakwaters and unsightly tetrapods (wave-dissipating concrete block) are just lined up.

"The loss of the beach is due to changes in the sea current," says politicians and scholars pandering to the government. And they line up the tetrapods, build the levees and make money again. Even elementary school students know. From the mountain stream to the middle stream, large rocks are crushed in the current and became small stones. From middle stream to lower reaches those small stones are washed and became sands and supplied to the sea. So, if you stop the river with dams or sand control dams, enough sands will not flow into the sea. Everyone would have learned about this in the science class.

120 years of dam construction has ruined Japan's beautiful coast. I think that we should make an effort to recover the lost scenery, even if it takes next 300 years.

Well, we left the dam construction site that continued to work even in the morning, we entered Kitanomata-zawa from the upstream of the site. This year, there was less snow during the winter, but there were unexpected snowfalls in March and April, and there were more snow bridges left in the valley than usual. The water in the stream was still very cold, but the energetic Iwana were actively chasing our kebari. Although it was little raining, we were able to enjoy fishing in main-stream of Kitanomata-zawa and get into the target stream of “Kuwaki-zawa”. At “Kuwaki-zawa”, Iwanana's response was even better, and I caught some good size Iwana over 30 cm.

Actually, we were planning to stay for two nights in the upper part of main-stream and fish 2 streams of “Kuwaki-zawa” and “Karamatsu-zawa” up to Sakana-dome (Fish stop waterfall), but according to the weather forecast, it would be raining from the evening till the night of next day. Perhaps it would be difficult to do fishing next day. Depending on rain, it may be difficult to return to the car parking spot. We took lunch in Kuwaki-zawa and decided to get down. We also planned to rent a cottage at a nearby campsite and enjoy dinner and drink. We picked up Udo and Aiko (wild vegetables) well on the way back. I looked forward to the tempura of wild vegetables at the dinner.

There was a signboard of the information about the dam construction in the parking lot where we had parked the car. A friend who was reading it said, "It's only five years until the dam is completed and the water is fully stored." Furthermore, according to the information, when the dam is flooded, it is said that “Kitanomata-zawa” will be drunk into dam lake to a point just before the junction point of “Kuwaki-zawa”. The area that is good for fishing in the mainstream of “Kitanomata-zawa” will be disappeared. Also, if a dam is created, it will not be possible to walk along the river, so it will not be easy to enter the upstream.

It will be five years until the mountain stream of "Tsurikichi Sanpei" disappears to the bottom of the dam. "I want to come here once more to stay in Kitanomata-zawa and fish up to sakanadome" said one of my friends.

Brookville and Gold Valley Day Trip

Brookville and Gold Valley (450 miles)

The last couple of months have been stressful. I attended a school on the weekends, Saturday and Sunday and in addition to this, we had to learn a new management system and software at work. In short, I was super busy and stressed about it. Life is good at home, my family supporting me but still, very little time off and lots of studying. 

Last weekend was Father's Day and I spent it in Glen Canyon packrafting with my boys. It was a lot of fun but again, as much fun as it was, it was stressful too. I was worried about my boys learning to paddle on the big cold river. We were alone, a 9 mile paddle from our car, overnighting on a beach of the Colorado River. I didn't even bring a fishing rod, I wanted to keep focused on my boys making sure they had a good time and didn't get into trouble.

They didn't, they had a great time.

So today was a day trip starting at 4a, a 220 mile one way to our stream. My friend picked me up and we talked on the way.

I taught him tenkara and he took to it on a pretty intense level. We went to the summit, meet Ishigaki sensei, we have fished together quite a bit and he is a fly fisher that took to tenkara as a method. He recently bought a Czech nymphing fly rod, a 10' 3-weight and was excited to fish it in our home fishing grounds in the White mountains.

The trip went pretty fast, before we knew it, we were at our little stream stringing up and casting. Quickly falling into a fishing rhythm that only fisher people know. The stream was in good shape after a banner fall, winter and spring of snow.

We fished the lower section pretty quickly. We caught a few fish, the action slow and back at the car, we slowly decided we didn't have enough fishing.

"Lets go to Gold Valley" and we got in the car and started back the way we came.

The browns at Gold Valley were HUNGRY! I used my pattern to catch more than a dozen nice sized small stream trout. We were only supposed to fish for an hour but it ended up being 2 or 3.

I really enjoyed the moments together. I use a box that Sebata san helped me with my hanko and Richard Setina put together. I love pulling it out on stream and picking out a fly I designed and use as my "one fly."

Each riffle and bend pool held trout. The wind was up blowing up to thirty yet you could wait for a lull and get an accurate cast in. The wind pulled the line making strikes difficult to detect but it didn't matter, the fish were eager and if you put a pool down, there was another one just around the bend.

I think we walked (fished) downstream more than a mile and we knew it was time to turn around, we still had a four hour trip home.

All in all, it was a great day of fly fishing and tenkara. The stress is gone, I'm back into the rhythm of life, fishing with a great friend.

Oni Tenkara School

Just What is Oni School? 

By John Vetterli

Tenkara Guides LLC

Team Oni USA LLC

In the summer of 2014, John Vetterli and Erik Ostrander of Tenkara Guides LLC embarked on a journey to Japan to meet and fish with legendary tenkara master angler Masami Sakakibara a.k.a.Tenkara no Oni.

This trip was a life changing adventure deep into Japanese mountain culture and tenkara.

During the time we spent on the water learning Oni Tenkara, a bond began to develop and John and Erik became dedicated students or Deishi to Masami Sakakibara. We and Robert Worthing have spent the past 6 years working, studying, learning everything Masami has to teach. He is passing on his complete Oni Tenkara system to us so we can carry it forward here in the USA.

Part of our new found obligation to our teacher and mentor was the creation of Oni Tenkara School (Oni School).

We created this school to pass on the Master’s techniques, philosophy, and wisdom he has gained from more than 40 years of mastering the art and science of tenkara.

The Oni Schools are an intense, immersive tenkara experience limited to 20 students. It is a three day on the water class. No PowerPoint lectures, no conference rooms, no casting ponds with stupid hulahoops, not even a single chair to sit on. We start early in the morning each day and end at dinner time in the evenings.

Each student gets one-on-one hands on instruction from Masami Sakakibara and his students John, Erik, and Rob provide additional instruction in Oni Tenkara.

2019 marks the 5 year anniversary of Oni Tenkara School. This is significant when you take into account that tenkara is celebrating it’s 10 year anniversary in the United States. For half of tenkara’s history outside of Japan, Tenkara Guides LLC has been bringing the greatest living Japanese tenkara angler here to the States to give as many people as possible the opportunity to learn Japanese tenkara from the best in the world.

Each day the group meets at Sundance Mountain Resort, the ski resort owned by Oscar winning actor/director Robert Redford.

Day one starts with lawn casting where Masami gives instruction on the finer points of his casting techniques and works with each student individually to get a feel for exactly what level each student is at in their casting. Masami keeps detailed written notes on each student and tailors his instruction to you and what you are ready to learn. After casting lesson, we pack up and head to the river for an entire day on the water.

Each day follows a similar routine with a change in river location to study different methods and techniques.

Hot gourmet lunches are provided each day and lunch has become one of the most amazing periods of the day. This is unlike any other tenkara event. Students begin to bond and some lifelong friendships have started on the river eating lunch at Oni School.

Many students meet up for dinner and after hours entertainment each night.

By the end of the school, we guarantee that you will be sunburned, exhausted, well fed, your tenkara world rocked, and new friendships built.

The one thing we didn’t expect when we launched the first Oni School 5 years ago are the intense personal connections the students make with each other, the 3 of us from Tenkara Guides, and Masami Sakakibara. It’s one thing to friend someone on social media, it is another thing to share an experience together in the wild. To make a real connection with other anglers. It changes people’s lives.

We average about a 85% repeat student rate. Many students have attended all 5 years.

I guess that means we are doing something right.

This is not a fishing trip, it is an educational experience. Success is not measured in fish size or quantity. It is measured in the personal skill progression of each student.

Oni Tenkara School has been an amazing ride for Tenkara Guides LLC. It has been our pleasure to bring this experience to life and share our passion for Oni Tenkara with each of you who attend.

A few notes about our teacher and mentor Masami Sakakibara.

Masami is a deeply passionate angler and teacher who holds no secrets. He wants to share everything he knows and continues to learn with his students. He has a great sense of humor, he is a lot of fun to be with, and I feel beyond fortunate to be his Deishi. It sounds corny but it is the truth, Masami has become more than a friend, he is a member of my family.

When you step into your waders and stand in the river with Masami at your side, you have joined the Oni School Family. We are all connected to each other on and off the water. We are family.

If you haven’t attended one of the Oni Schools yet, please seriously consider it. It is unique and special. That has nothing to do with Tenkara Guides, Masami Sakakibara, or the river. It has everything to do with the bonds of the students.

Oni School 2019 dates are August 1-3 (This class is full)

A second tentative class is set for August 5-7. There are still student spots available for this class.

Contact us at to register.

Hope to see you on the water soon, 

John Vetterli

Tenkara Guides LLC

Team Oni USA LLC 

Yuzo Sebata Introduces Tenkara Outside of Japan in 1990

The story of tenkara in the United States is much older than ten years. 

In 1990, Yuzo Sebata, a humble Japanese tenkara fisherman visited the United States and introduced tenkara to the famous western rivers. His introduction was documented by putting together a video of his visit. The Toshiba EMI Fishing Video, "The Yellowstone Series" follows Sebata san while fishing tenkara in America for the first time on a professional scale. The video was available for purchase in 1991. At that time, his visit was two weeks of filming and two weeks of touring the area fly shops and meeting with many local anglers to spread the word of tenkara.

The credits in the film are of many American fly fishermen. A 20 year Montana fly fishing professor has a cameo in the film stating Sebata sans full flexing rod would be a lot of fun with the average three pound rainbow trout. Sebata san is also seen in more than one river fishing together with children and other fly fishermen. He caught fish where ever he went and his famous sugegasa (traditional Japanese conical hat) with a few of his flys kept underneath was shown in the film.

If you have a chance to purchase the VHS film, or even watch it, I highly recommend it. I also urge you to explore the fishing of Sebata san. In your search, you will find his recipe of living in the mountains with many tips for your own mountain backpacking trips.

Yuzo Sebata is a living tenkara legend. His reputation in Japan goes deeper than tenkara, he is known as a hard core mountain enthusiast that also lives off the land. Often in his time, Sebata san would live of the land for weeks eating sansai, mushrooms and of course, iwana (trout) that he caught in the mountain streams.

While Sebata san visited local area fly shops and fishing museums, you can see from the picture here that there is a section on Japanese tenkara on display.

I believe it is important to understand that tenkara is an old form of Japanese style fly fishing. There are many masters and tenkara enthusiasts from Japan that have been teaching tenkara to the masses long before commercial vendors outside of the country of origin.

Sebata san is prominently included in many books by Soseki Yamamoto from the earliest books on the subject throughout his career.

Tenkara USA has information on Sebata san.

Discover Tenkara works with Sebata san to spread the word of his tenkara knowledge.

Sebata san is also an accomplished fly fisherman and has written many books on the subjects of fly fishing, tenkara and foraging in the mountains.

I have interviewed Sebata san and was invited to meet and stay with him by Keiichi Okushi.  I was his guest at his summer residence at the Tadami Bansho.

I think it is important to keep in mind that tenkara was introduced to America in 1990.

Interview with Karin Miller

The personal letter in the box of rods read, “I’ve opened my soul to you and barred it all. I just ask that you have an open mind, remember the joy of fishing when you first learned, and play.” There is a lot in that sentence and I’m doing my best to share it with you here.

I live in Arizona, far from any big fly fishing opportunities like the famous western rivers or lakes famous for cold water trout. Although we do have many warm water lakes filled with many species of fish, I don’t target them but Zen Tenkara and Karin Miller offers rods that you CAN go after those fish.

I requested a sample of Zen Tenkara rods to familiarize myself with. Soon after, a big box of rods was sitting in the field of view of my video doorbell. I waited till I had an hour to go through the box and open the rods as I would open one of my own upon first receipt. I was sent six rods, the Suzume, Zako, Sagi, Suimenka, Taka and the Kyojin II. In the kitchen I sat as I inspected each aspect of the rod, shaking it, reading the corresponding material on it and closing it and moving on to the next rod. All exhibited the same attention to detail, uniformity in components and storage but each with a personality, uniquely designed by Karin and her team.

In that humble box of rods is a lot of experience and work. As I read this, Karin is in Costa Rica targeting exotic species with the several different rods from the Zen line up including the Zako and the new Dual Action 2 Tip/4 Length Suimenka for machaca, the Suzume for Tico trout and the redesigned Kyojin II for surfcasting for trevally, milkfish and a number of other saltwater species.

Adam: Karin, thanks for sending the rods. I appreciate what you do.

Karin Miller: You’re very welcome Adam. I hope you can appreciate both the diversity and innovation that came packaged inside that box.

Adam: As I write this, you are in Costa Rica and have sent me a message about the rods and fish you are targeting and catching.

“Can you tell us about your equipment and catch?”

Karin Miller: Certainly. Costa Rica is such a diverse country. It offers a plethora of fish species and experiences both fresh water and salt. We were collaborating with a great team there, Release Fly Travels, with the intent to scout locations, species and various fishing opportunities for future tenkara focused destination trips. Since we really wanted to experience Costa Rica and all it’s tenkara possibilities, we covered a broad range of water, climates and fish species. This meant packing a variety of rods and lines, so we’d be prepared for most anything. When you’ve never fished a place or country before, it can be tricky to choose gear. We got into everything from small, robust trout, high in the cool-water, mountain streams of the cloud forest, to primitive, aggressive, teeth baring, machaca in crocodile filled low-land rivers near the border of Nicaragua. We even got to surf cast for crevalle, milk fish, jacks and several other saltwater varieties from rocks and cliffs on the southern pacific side just to round the trip out. Different rods and setups were used in each situation but with tenkara gear packing down so compactly, it’s still lightweight and minimal compared to traditional fly fishing gear and equipment. Basically, we focused on 4 rods during this trip: the Zako and our new Suimenka for machaca and guapote, the Suzume for Tico trout and the redesigned Kyojin II for surfcasting and what I like to call “saltwater surprise”. 

During our machaca quest we paired the rod with heavier lines as a result of the presentation we were striving for – a shorted cast with an aggressive, hard hitting popper to the surface of the water that resulted in a “plunk” sound. For this species we were attempting to mimic fruits and seeds dropping into trees that hung over the river banks. The results were fantastic.

When we were in the Talamanca Mountains fishing for trout in the cloud forest, we fished more traditional tenkara with ultra-light tenkara lines, 6x or 7x tippet and dry flies, Sakasa kebari and small nymphs patterns. Pools, pockets and edges… The plunge pools were exquisite, the water – some of the cleanest on the planet. All this, while surrounded by colorful birds singing, lush greenery and beautiful bromeliads. This location was tenkara nirvana…. truly tenkara heaven on earth. Just perfect for that delicate, pure, tenkara experience.

Lastly, we had a chance to get salty. We spent an entire day casting off of rocks and cliffs into the ocean for, well, whatever came up. Jack crevalle, ladyfish, leatherjacks and milk fish were plentiful. I used the Kyojin II paired with a 12wt fly line and a Skagit head, plus leader. Using a reverse and double reverse spey cast, it was pretty easy getting line out to where it needed to be. I was casting big clousers and minnow-type patterns. Those saltwater guys are ravenous carnivores. They want protein!

It was just such a special trip because each fishing scenario was so unique and different from the next. And it all worked so well on our tenkara rods. At no point did I wish I had a reel or feel like the job would have been better suited for a traditional rod and reel set up. Costa Rica really is a great tenkara destination. Who knew?

Adam: That is awesome!

I really enjoy picking out a place to fish, studying it and going after the target species. To date, I have done pretty well with my own adventures.

I’ve always travelled quite a way for the places I love to fish. At home it’s either two or four hours’ drive. Pushed out farther, it’s eight to twelve hours drive and beyond that, I get on a plane and go. At my destination, I either meet friends or I’m literally bushwhacking and figuring it out myself which leads me to my next question.

I rarely hire a guide. I don’t believe in missing the lesson. I have hired a guide less than the fingers on one hand in forty years of travel and fly fishing. I’m not against guides, I personally believe in figuring it out on my own, I find value in that.

“What do you think about guides?”

Karin Miller: I’m a problem solver as well. I enjoy figuring the puzzle out myself. Often there’s great reward in doing it on your own. However, when you’re fishing in a completely new location or country, and targeting species you’ve never gone after before, and you have limited time and limited opportunity, a guide is indispensable in my opinion. It’s always a collaborative effort. They know their water and their fish. I know my rods. We work together to figure out the best approach to be successful. I get to learn about a new species, and they get to learn about tenkara, fixed-line fly fishing and how to fly fish with out a reel. When we land fish, it’s a joint celebration and victory! I like the partnership that develops during the process. During these trips and particularly during the scouting adventures and training trips, we’re both learning and sharing knowledge and our experience. That often leads to new discoveries and lots of excitement – and of course, lots of laughs and stories. I’m very, very competitive, but I never forget how to laugh at myself because I continually make mistakes, goof up, behave like a child and am a dork. We can’t take ourselves too seriously while fishing. If you can’t laugh, something’s gotta change.

Adam: When I travel to a new area, if I am meeting someone, they usually act as my guide so as much as I don’t use guides, I end up fishing with friends in a new area which is like having a guide.

“When you travel, what goes through your mind to go fishing there?”

Karin Miller: Usually it’s the species that drives me. I become fascinated with a fish, its habitat and environment which it lives and the challenge of landing it. As I mentioned before, I’m competitive. I’m drawn to the challenge, to difficult species that are respected for their power, their strength and their beauty. The location is the cherry on top. I was inspired by Costa Rica. The Maldives Islands blew my mind…. That’s a saltwater destination that’s barely touched as a fly fishing destination but is an incredible, breath taking beautiful fishery. It’s just takes a real commitment to get there because it’s so far away. Costa Rica, easy peasy. Alaska, easy peasy. Mexico, easy peasy.

Adam: I often travel to a spot for family or vacation and I hear about trout there so I start to study and figure it out.

“Where is your next destination after Costa Rica? Where is the place you really want to fish and haven’t been?”

Karin Miller: My next destination as this article was being prepared is/was the Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar, south of Sri Lanka and west of Australia, just below the equator. It was simply the most beautiful place I have ever been. I thought the water in the Bahamas was incredible. The Maldives blows their water away. Plus, the climate is mild, minimal wind, no bugs or mosquitos and no other anglers (except for the occasional commercial fisherman on the ocean side)! The Maldives are untouched and may not be there in the future with rising ocean levels. The highest point in all the Maldives Islands is 2 meters above sea level. I am thankful to have experienced such an incredible place on this planet. Even better, I got to fish there with the best “extreme tenkara” guide ever, @Guidedfly. “Geordie” also guides in Alaska at Rapids Camp Lodge which is Zen Tenkara Endorsed. He’s landed huge chum, sockeyes, silver and king salmon with me on tenkara. So, to fish with him for salt in the Maldives was just wonderful. He knows Zen rods, he knows me and we fish hard together.

As lucky as I am to have fished both Costa Rica and the Maldives, I do have a bucket list fish/destination (head and eyes lowered, hands crossed in lap, feet tapping, I’m a 4 year old at heart). I really, really, really, want to go after Golden Dorado in Bolivia. I have wanted and dreamed about casting to that fish for several years now…. of landing it and just having it there beside me for just a moment to admire it. Golden Dorado are magnificent. That is the fish I dream of and want on tenkara.

Adam: Wow, that’s cool. I love travelling and fishing. I carry a minimal tenkara kit with me where ever I go. I have found that a lot of my fishing is opportunistic. I meet someone at a destination, they are a fisherman, the next thing you know, “Hey, I have my stuff with me!” and we are off on a fishing side trip.

“Do you do anything like this?”

Karin Miller: I’m kinda at both ends of the fishing spectrum Adam. I love the collaboration of fishing with someone when on an expedition, targeting a specific species or venturing into unknown countries and places. But at home, I’m kinda a loner. I’m usually on hyper drive. When I fish at home I do it for the solitude, for the quiet focus it brings to my brain and for the grounding and centering it provides. When I fish with friends we often separate on the river and fish together, separately – if that makes sense?

Adam: Karin, you fly fish and use your telescoping rods on the same trip, I sometimes do that too. The Japanese experts that I have come to understand do that too. That’s cool that you do it that way. We have spoken on the side about my using one of your rods to target carp. You suggested a 10-weight line cut for the rod.

“Can you tell us the way you line your Zen rods? How do you transfer fly line weight to your telescoping rods?”

Karin Miller: Adam that’s a big homework assignment! It’s not a simple one-fits-all recipe. You have to take into consideration multiple things: what you’re targeting, where you’re fishing the ideal cast distance for the species, the environment or conditions where you’re fishing, the rod your’re using and what type and size of patterns you’re throwing. What I can say is Zen is unique in that we talk about our rods using similar language as regular fly anglers. We have assigned a FRAE Rating to each of our rods for the convenience of anglers and fly fishermen/women alike. FRAE stands for “Fly Rod Approximate Equivalency”. It’s our olive branch to the fly fishing community and it gives anglers a better idea of the rod’s capability and capacity and helps them make a more informed decision when choosing a tenkara rod. We’ve had great feedback and anglers really seem to appreciate the FRAE Rating.

Zen small tenkara rods which include the Suzume and the Zako can be lined with traditional furled or braided tenkara lines, tenkara level line or my favorite, the Zen Floating Lines which I use with kebari, dry and nymph patterns. The Sagi rod is very versatile. It can be paired with any of those lines and will cast delicate presentations, but it can also cast heavier weighted fly lines anywhere in the range of 3wt up to a 6wt/7wt. My favorite line weight for casting long 30+ft lines is a 6wt level fly line on that rod.

The new Suimenka is extremely versatile too, particularly because it has dual tips. A nymphing Tip and a Dry Tip. Change the tip and completely change the feel and action of this rod. The Nymphing Tip handles a heavier setup and can cast a heavier line. I like the furled or braided lines including the Kevlar lines with this tip as well as a 5wt up to a 7wt fly line. When you’re using the Dry Tip, the rods casts braided or furled lines, Zen Floating Lines or 4wt - 5wt fly line really well. Length depends on location and species. In tenkara and fixed-line fly fishing, the line and its length is what the game is all about, and of course having a rod that can handle the situation without breaking.

The Taka pairs well with a 6-8wt fly line and the Kyojin II needs at least an 8wt fly line to perform. In some situation, I cast up to a 12wt fly line on that rod. It just depends on a number of factors. Zen is in the process of making lines for these bigger rods, grain weight matched for optimal performance and rod load, complete with connection loops. Think about a 30ft, weight forward, 10wt tenkara line! LOL! Crazy, I’m talking craaaazy. Makes my heart pound just thinking about it.

Hopefully I answered your questions. I’m certainly willing to talk more about it and answer specific questions but what you asked is a mouthful.

Adam: I am packrafting my favorite river, the Colorado in Glen Canyon below the dam. We are backhauled up and camp, then we blow up and float back the 9 or so miles back to the put in and drive home. Upriver, I use a 5m single hand rod with a 7m clear line to catch nice river rainbows. I like the direct connection to the fly, sasoi, dead drifting, midges, all kinds of tenkara techniques as well as known fly line type presentations. I do a hybrid fly fishing and tenkara for my honryu fishing.

“How do you like to fish big rivers with tenkara techniques? What rod and type lines? What techniques? What’s your favorite way to take river trout?”

Karin Miller: More are big questions! I prefer long rods on big rivers, 13+ft. I usually take my Sagi Rod for Colorado big rivers…it’s my favorite rod. The Sagi is 13.6’ and I’ll put on either a 15ft, 18ft or 22ft Zen Floating Line plus some tippet. Depending on the season and river, I’m either doing a dry dropper or doing a straight nymph pattern with either mono or fluorocarbon tippet. Since our line has built-in hi-vis line at the end, I don’t use any kind of indicator. Depending on where I’m fishing, and what I think will hit, I choose tippet size accordingly. If I know I’m getting into big cutbows, 22” and up, thick and beefy, I’ll up my tippet so I can land quickly and efficiently without breaking off. I dissect the water starting with what’s closest and working my way out. I have a bad habit of overworking a section, particularly if I know there’s a fish there that hasn’t hit me. I’m bad at moving on. I love fishing dries like everyone else because its so fun to see the take, to see the fish smash the fly on the surface. But I’ve come to love nymphing and setting the hook by feel alone. Tenkara rods are so sensitive. I like to put my index finger on the base of the rod blank and feel every little tic. Big rivers add excitement because you really have to manage your fish - they have so many places to run and can scream downstream. I enjoy the challenge of steering the fish, guiding it to calm water and not just pulling a 5” brookie across a stream bed.

Adam: When you are on the river, are you thinking of your company or is it the other way around or is it both?

“What drives your company?”

Karin Miller: I think that’s two separate questions. When I’m on the river am I thinking of my company? Yes. And no. When I was fishing in Costa Rica I was absolutely thinking about my rods and the circumstances and how it all transfers to the customer’s experience. Are the rods effective? Would others enjoy this? Is this practical? Its is fun? Can people be successful at this? Does it offer a gratifying and enjoyable experience? Can my rod handle this? But at a certain point, (particularly when my rods are handling it and I think others would enjoy it and be successful, I forget about my company and I’m just fishing…in a beautiful location with fantastic people and I feel so very thankful for being right there at that very moment. On my home water, I’m there for the quiet, to escape the office, social media, emails, phone calls, fears, self-doubts, all that stuff. That’s when I’m outside, on a river, just being me, not Zen.

What drives my company? Probably the shortest response to that question is me, or rather, my passion. I hear that often from people….that I’m passionate. Maybe it’s just a nice way of saying something else, but people often comment on my passion. I’m a believer in “if you’re going to spend the time doing something, do it well.” I ventured into uncharted waters with Zen. Some days its like a drug that provides the most incredible high ever. Other days it is down right hard. Like really, really, really, freak’en hard. It exposes you. Puts you up in front of the world for scrutiny and criticism. The business of tenkara is tough. I’ve learned to always listen to people and hear them out, hear their thoughts, but believe in yourself… and listen to your own gut. True, real friends are precious. They’re the people who really want you to succeed, want Zen to succeed. I respect competition as long as it’s respectful competition. I believe in giving credit where credit is due. I want to treat people, my competitors and my customers the way I’d like to be treated. Bottom line, no one needs our products. No one needs fishing gear. We’re offering an indulgence and we should be grateful for every sale. We’re not selling air or water. I want to feel proud of my products and proud of our company. I always try to take the perspective of the customer and if I was buying this, how would I feel.

“Can you tell us how Zen Tenkara came to be?”

Karin Miller: Zen Tenkara is a rebirth of Zen Fly Fishing Gear, a company I cofounded with my ex-husband about 10 years ago. I drew the Zen logo out on a cocktail napkin while drinking martinis. We actually took a vote in the bar for the name of the company because there was one other name that really spoke to me (I can’t disclose it because I love it and can still see it as an entire line). I drove sales, did all the marketing and slowly became the face of the company. I took over the company completely when we separated and then eventually divorced. It was like a phoenix rising from the ashes…sappy analogy but accurate. The Sagi was the first rod I did completely on my own. Maybe that’s why it’s my favorite. It was a passion project. (There’s that word again.) The Sagi is strong, lean, elegant, yet can fight fish like nobody’s business. I just love that rod. It’s cool too - I may be the only 100% female owned fly rod company in the world. I’m pretty sure I was the first, but as a tenkara fly rod company, your status it’s quite the same as other traditional rod companies. Regardless, it’s an exciting time to be in the industry, as a tenkara company and as a female.

Adam: I met you online like many of the people that I do. I met my wife at eHarmony and many great relationships, life-long friends from social media but I’ll be honest, I get really burned out on it at times. I don’t want to reflect on the negative, but it is there.

“Can you tell us about some of the positives that you have meet with your online or social media contacts? Any cool stories?”

Karin Miller: Oh gosh, lots of positives, lots of contacts and several very cool stories. Let’s just say that Costa Rica happened after the owner Tom Ederlin and I connected on Facebook. We talked and played with ideas for over a year before making that trip happen. Many connections have been born through introductions on different social media venues. There will always be people who talk smack – it’s just life. I try to stay out of it. Occasionally I let a little loose and give my opinion, but I try to respect everyone’s view and experience and hope they will do the same for me. I just hope for open minds….on the subject of tenkara or anything else. Rarely in life is anything black or white. Most of the world is in the gray tones and extremists on any end of the spectrum can be hard to swallow. But here again, that’s just my opinion and may not be any one else’s. There can still be a lot of negative stuff flying around about tenkara. The fly fishing community is much more accepting of the method than it used to be. I’d like to think I had some very small part in that. A lot of what has driven me to target these big species like shark, permit and bonefish is to show the fishing world that tenkara isn’t “fly fishing for dummies”. It takes a skill set, knowledge, and experience to fish without a reel. And its highly effective. I absolutely love meeting people at fly fishing shows and events that I’ve connected with on Facebook or Instagram. I also get tons of emails from people asking questions. I really enjoy that personal connection and always take the time to respond directly. I get to share in their experiences. It’s very special to become a part of someone’s life and I get to do that through Zen. It’s not just about selling a product, it’s about offering experiences and becoming a part of someone’s leisure time and life.

Adam: Most of my cool stories involve friends I’ve meet online. I travel somewhere to meet them and then in my travel, I am invited to meet other friends and the friends I’m with meet friends and become friends. Or something like that…

“Any interest in going to Japan?”

Karin Miller: I would love to go to Japan! Some time ago I was being interviewed and quoted as saying I had no interest. That shocked me and was extracted from a comment and taken out of context. Frustrating. Yes, I would thoroughly enjoy fishing in Japan and fishing with traditional Japanese tenkara anglers. There is always something new to learn and discover. I can’t image anyone who wouldn’t love that experience.

Adam: I used to think it was necessary to go to Japan to learn a a high level of tenkara. At the time I thought this, it was but now that there is so much good information outside of Japan, techniques, history, good equipment, it’s not necessary now. That does not mean someone should go or not go. Everything about tenkara is now outside of Japan except Japan. When I went, my trip was to go to Japan to learn about it but it was more about experiencing the country, the people. Japan in of itself is the reason to go. Tenkara? Yes, but only if you want that experience.

Now Colorado? Where you live? I think the Japanese need to go there. I’m not an angler without regular trips to Colorado.

“Karin, tell us what you love about fishing in salt water so much. I know, but maybe other people that don’t fish the salt, don’t know why we love fishing the sea so much.”

Karin Miller: Well if you know anything about me it’s that I’m a native Floridian. My father lived on a boat and one of my two best childhood friends had a home on Long Key. I was born of the salt. The ocean is my home, and when I moved to Colorado, as beautiful as it was, I missed water. My need to be near and on it brought me to fly fishing. No oceans in Colorado and lakes lacked motion, movement, and sounds. The rivers had those things. Saltwater will always course through my veins though. Rivers are predictable. Water flows change up or down, different hatches happen throughout different seasons, but it’s predictable. When you really think about it, rivers flow with cyclical, minimal change each year. If I go to any number of rivers in Colorado I’m catching trout. Maybe a cutthroat, a brookie, a rainbow or cutbow. Maybe a brown. But generally, always a trout. I know what’ll be at the end of my line, attached to my hook everytime. What varies is size.

Saltwater fly fishing, saltwater tenkara is unpredictable. The species are countless. You might be casting to a trigger fish when a barracuda comes out of nowhere and slams your fly. On the Maldives trip we were targeting GT, Giant Trevally. Right at the end of the strip when we were pulling in the last of the line, disappointed that nothing rose, nothing moved, nothing hit, a shark hammered the fly and everything shot into hyper-speed in a matter of a micro second. You’re standing on the bow of a flats boat casting to bonefish when suddenly you see a permit coming in. Hyper-speed again! You’re tracking the fish, setting up your cast, trying to not get tangled. You have probably only one shot. The challenge is incredible and we’re talking about seconds, the opportunity is counted in seconds, not minutes. Nothing can be happening and then in the blink of an eye, everything is happening all at once and every moment, every movement, is critical. It’s like getting an EpiPen injection of adrenaline stuck in your thigh that keeps your heart pounding for 20 or 30 minutes after the incident is all over and the water is quiet again. I find saltwater addictive. The fish are predators. They’re fast. They’re powerful, they test everything you thought you knew about fishing and humble you. They’re incredibly beautiful and you’re vulnerable out there in the middle of what often feels like nowhere, standing on the bow of a boat possible facing off with a 20-80lb fish or wading on the flats, casting at blue fin while a tiger shark swims silently, stealthily by. That’s cools. You’re in their world. It makes landing something, in my opinion, that much more special. I guess saltwater is just BIGGER in every way. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m passionate about trout. But my love of the ocean and saltwater species is just an undeniable part of who I am.

Adam: I’m a fly fisherman first or, that’s how the story goes. I learned on a small stream as a child while fishing farm ponds with a cane pole. I’ve always fished a long rod and a fly rod. Before I grew older, fishing a cane pole stood for pure childhood memories. Super simple and fun yet too rudimentary for my interest to do in many other places besides our farm ponds. I wanted to make a split bamboo cane pole and started to ask around for the taper, the math, the numbers to set my planning form and was quickly answered to check out tenkara. There was no way that a graphite pole was going to upset the very core of my idea of fishing but that is just what it did.

Moving forward…
I’ve fished the mighty Colorado River in Glen Canyon for decades, hard core trips with many Simms guide type men that would have no part of fishing there with a cane pole. But now I prefer fishing there with one. It can do nearly everything a fly rod can and is much more like bow hunting for pigs than say with a semi automatic.

Once you know you know and unless you know, you don’t.

Again, I learned the techniques from the Japanese, but I hone them myself by doing. There are Japanese anglers that specialize in certain techniques, they are written about and they write about their techniques, one of them is Koken Sorimachi.

“You talk about one of your “tenkara rods” as being a two hand spey rod. Can you get into that a little?”

Karin Miller: I love the “ ” around the words “tenkara rods” that you typed. I’m not sure how to interpret that but I’m guessing there is skepticism and you’re affording me leeway with a raised eyebrow, because a tenkara spey rod is an oxymoron of sorts. I appreciate your open mindedness and I respect the care you’ve been taking during this interview when referring to my rods. It hasn’t gone unnoticed. LOL! What would you like to know about the Kyojin II Spey Tenkara Fly Rod? It is a redesign of one of our oldest designs and the second rod Zen produced. It’s unique and a first of its kind. It was the first “big fish tenkara rod“ on the market, casting to and landing 18lb carp back when tenkara folk thought a 12”-15” trout was a big fish to land on a tenkara rod….and when we were told you couldn’t use a tenkara rod on a lake. Ahhh, the good old days. I was laughed at a lot for that rod. But the Kyojin continues to sell, to land fish, to perform. I’ve never had a warranty claim on the rod in more than 6 years. It’s been referred to as the whale shark rod and called a baseball bat. But that rod has landed bonnet and hammerhead sharks, chum salmon, redfish, tarpon, bonefish, carp, etc. It’s awesome for surfcasting. Say what you will. It cast super accurately, even when throwing 25-30ft of line plus leader or even a Skagit head plus leader. Put in the right hands of a skilled angler and it performs magnificently. It casts between an 8wt and 12wt fly line and has been shipped all over the world to pursue all kinds of exotic fish in exotic locations. When I announced a redesign, I had a small uprising from people who objected to changing it because they loved it the way it was. It’s a badass, super strong, super lightweight fixed-line, tenkara style fly rod that I’m super proud of.

Adam: I choose only two rods for my fishing, one of them is a single hand 5m rod. I find it very versatile fishing rod.

“What do you think about long rods?”

Karin Miller: I like long rod and think they offer many benefits. But, in some places they simply don’t work. I had wanted to produce a short rod a few years before we came out with our tri-zoom Suzume which fishes at 7.7’, 9.3’ and 10.8’. Many people in the tenkara world talked me out of it, advised me against it, said tenkara was all about the length, the reach, the stealth factor, that was the advantage. I would lose all that with a short rod. I often fished Rocky Mountain National Park and Indian Peaks Wilderness Area in streams that were only 5ft across and shrouded in willows and trees. Casting in between the branches was difficult with a 12’ rod. There was nowhere to cast, no way to extends or maneuver your line. But I managed and dealt with it. When we finally produced the Suzume and I fished the pro-type up in the park I remember thinking, “Why the hell did I wait so long? Next time, I listen to my gut.” So, long rods are great, but so are short rods. It’s more about using the most practical tool for a particular job.

Adam: Karin, I often ask who ever I am interviewing if they have any questions for me.

Karin Miller: (Place your questions here)

Did you fish any of my rods? 

Adam: Not yet. I am not a fan of the spring blow out (it is the end of April as I write this) and we have had record snow fall and subsequent blown out streams. I primarily switch to Honryu and packrafting at this time.

If you did, which one/s did you use? 

Adam: The Kyojin II has got my attention.

How did you set it/them up? 

Adam: I think tenkara is an extremely personal form of fishing allowing us to use what we know to catch trout in the stream. That being said, it is my intent to use a rod as the designer made it. So I asked you for line advice for the Kyojin II which you sent. You suggested a 10-weight line which is a big line! I've caught many fish on a 10-weight in the ocean. I know what it is like to see and feel the backing knot go "dit dit dit dit dit dit..." through the guides and on out the tip top. So I searched out a 10-weight line in white, a double taper and cut 16 feet, rigged the tippet end with a braided loop, made a clear intermediate head with loops on the end for loop to loop and fixed a backing loop on the other end to attach to the lillian. I can cast this 20' line (sans tippet) one handed pretty accurately and well. As soon as I get some time with casting this line and the rod, I'll go longer with the other end of the fly line. At this time, I'm using it one handed.

Where did you use it/them and what were you targeting? 

Adam: We have a big canal system in Phoenix, hundreds of miles and they are stocked with big carp, 1 meter carp to eat the aquatic vegetation. I've been wanting to catch one for so long. I bought a giant net and I'm finally ready. The problem is, they empty the canals for a month or so for maintenance, to clear out any shopping carts, dead bodies and such. The canals are silted out but clearing. My fishing for these guys will be sight fishing.

Did you land any fish? 

Adam: At the time of this writing, I am about to start fishing the Kyojin II. I will fish it for several days till I catch a bunch of these guys and know what I'm doing.

How did you feel when you used it/them? 

Adam: I haven't fished them yet. But I do have about an hour of yard casting with different rods and line set ups with my target system. It wasn't hard to figure out your rods. They are nice and do what you say they do.

Do you think my rods are tenkara rods? 

Adam: If I'm using them in a mountain stream or even down in the mainstream for trout? 


Is the Kyojin II a tenkara rod? I don't think so but I'm excited to use tenkara techniques with it.

How did you come up with the questions you asked me? 

Adam: I continue to read your contribution to the tenkara community, profiled you (not judging) and thought of questions that would flow together that might show a little more of what you are about.

What, if any, insights have you gained from this interview? 

Adam: That you are a far more gifted angler than I imagined.

Adam: I try to live in the moment while having a plan. I’ve always said, “Plan your work and work your plan.” and that has served me well. I like structure but I also enjoy living in the moment.

“Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

Karin Miller: Throughout my life I’ve been asked that question several times and I’ve concluded that I’m rarely where I thought I’d be. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. What I can say is, I want to continue learning and improving both personally and professionally. I hope that Zen and tenkara continue to gain respect in the fly fishing industry. I want to continue to make strides with our products and positively impact the industry. I hope that I am lucky enough to continue traveling and exploring this glorious planet and experience fishing in amazing locations. I hope I finally get to chase a Golden Dorado, and land one, at least one (maybe two) on a Zen Tenkara rod. Like many people, I hope to somehow, someway contribute and be respected for what Zen has done and accomplished in this industry and to the lives we’ve touched and the anglers we’ve sometimes helped created.

Adam: I’m pretty content with who I am and the life I have lived. Besides going fishing in Colorado, I just want to travel more with my family and steal away to do a little fishing on my family trip. I want everything, friends, family and fishing. That’s what I like to do.

“What is your recipe?”

Karin Miller: Hmmm. My recipe? Live life. Love my family and friends. Work hard. Play hard. Be nice. Take chances. Face fears. Be sincere. Whatever I do, do it well. Embrace my passion. Appreciate small moments. Occasionally, pause. Be my best. Nurture and love myself. Stay connected with the 4yr old inside me.

Adam: I really enjoy who you are, I like what you do. I appreciate your contribution to tenkara. I wish you all the success in the world with Zen Tenkara and your own fishing

“Please use this opportunity to say anything you would like”

Karin Miller: Thank you very much Adam. It’s been a pleasure getting acquainted with you through this interview and our communications. I’m truly flattered by your desire to interview me and your real curiosity about who I am, what my company is about, and my quite nontraditional approach to and interpretation of, tenkara. Thank you again for your open mindedness and interest in Zen Tenkara. We are humbled and appreciative of it all. I wish you many happy days of fishing (how ever you want) and hope you always remember to laugh, play and occasionally be that little kid, catching a fish any which way.

Interview with Paul Gaskell

I’ve been contemplating how I was going to start this, trying to figure out how to introduce Paul Gaskell. It came to me while I was eating sushi with Ohana at my favorite place, Iron Chef. All of us eating and drinking sake, I was preoccupied with how to get the Interview started and realized, the story here doesn’t need an introduction. The people I’m trying to reach already know who he is and those that don’t will eventually find their way to Discover Tenkara.

Paul Gaskell really doesn’t need an introduction at tenkara-fisher.

“Paul, thanks for taking this interview.”

Paul Gaskell: Thank you – I’m very interested to see where this goes.

Adam: A Japanese friend taught me how to drink sake, thin rim glass, like a nice wine glass and after that, he taught me his taste in sake. Nothing wrong with drinking it out of the bottle or a ceramic guinomi. I love sake, rice wine, there are all kinds of flavors.

I think tenkara is like that.

“What do you think?”

Paul Gaskell: That’s a really tough question because it’s so open-ended. I think, overall, there are broad camps or tribes of tenkara angler within Japan and these are built up over many years of experience, concentrated effort/experimentation and thought. As in many areas of life, strong charismatic characters gather followers who have similar values and who identify with particular ideals. On top of that, when an angler grows up in Japan, they (obviously) develop an automatic understanding of local culture that we – as outsiders – lack. A very good example of that is how much greater the average understanding of landscape, food-production, weather and nature is among Japanese people who live in mountain areas.

There is also a much stronger appreciation for how fragile human life is in the face of natural forces – whether that’s landslides, earthquakes or simply extreme weather. Death is much closer to the surface and more readily accepted (and so life is appreciated more).

For me, those stark differences in knowledge, skills and culture of people in Japanese mountains represent the greatest opportunities for us to learn, improve and understand how to appreciate what we are passionate about in life. All those factors combine to produce branches of tenkara that have strong philosophical and practical foundations. Because each branch has been shaped within a similar range of those cultural and physical conditions, they tend to be fundamentally similar to each other. That also makes them very different from what people tend to invent for themselves in the absence of those same foundations outside of Japan.

The reason I’m (selfishly) most interested in the things that I don’t know is that is where the greatest opportunity for my own growth is.

You can’t get to where you want to go by staying where you are.

At the same time, things that are very well established and that stand up to “cross-examination” from other related disciplines (particularly biology) are likely to be worthwhile directions to pursue. I can understand that people may feel much more comfortable sticking with what they know, but I also think that it would be a waste if nobody took advantage of what has been developed already – but which is new to the west because of the language and cultural barriers. If you never stand on the shoulders of others who have worked on stuff before you, there is almost no scope for development over generations. You only get a single lifetime’s-worth of progress each time over.

So that was a very long way of saying that there are different “flavors” of tenkara, but the ones that I find most valuable and effective are the ones with robust and long-established foundations.

Adam: For a long time, I was a skateboarder, a surfer and I eventually learned to hang glide and paraglide, to ascend up into the sky using the energy in the atmosphere. I was flying around near the clouds on wings that I could put on the top of my car or on my back and drive or hike up to the top of the mountain, spread out and glide off into the sky.

As I grew older, married, kids, I used my fly fishing to distract myself from flying because my family demanded my attention far more than the next foot launched flight. I already was a fisherman, a fly fisherman first but in the end, I quit flying to really learn to fly fish and quit that to learn tenkara. I can go back to any of it, anytime I want. The reality of it is I think fly fishing and tenkara go hand in hand and I think it is an advantage to have a working level of fly fishing before learning tenkara. You don’t have to learn to fly fish first, although that helps in all aspects of tenkara.

I don’t see fly fishing as a foe of tenkara, nothing like that, if anything, it is a positive attribute to tenkara.

“Paul before we go farther down that road, please tell us about your fly fishing and how that relates to your tenkara.”

Paul Gaskell: I started “fishing” at age 6 and, being basically obsessed, I ended up working hard at as many disciplines as possible (from bait, freshwater, marine, fly and even finesse worms/plastics). That obsession is what led me to a career in freshwater biology - first in research and more recently in trout habitat conservation work for the Wild Trout Trust (a similar organization to Trout Unlimited). So, my work and my passions have always been tangled up together.

I first came across tenkara when I’d been practicing French leader/competition nymphing tactics for around 7 or 8 years. That (along with a biology background) helped me understand some of the mechanics that made tenkara effective. However, I luckily soon accepted that there were important differences from nymphing. That let me realize there were a ton of things that I just did not know or understand about tenkara. Uncovering ignorance like that is always an amazing gift – even if your ego doesn’t like it at first. Again, moving towards that ignorance is the most reliable and rewarding path to improvement.

Adam: We are so different but we are similar in our friendship with our brothers in Japan.

“You have been to the bansho, can you tell us about your experiences there.”

Paul Gaskell: It’s very difficult to capture the atmosphere of that centuries-old building (rebuilt around 350 years ago after a fire destroyed the previous building), the shiny black carbon-coating on the rafters from the open fires – the dedication of Kozue Sanbe (caretaker) and Tomotada Sakamoto (owner) and just the weight of history surrounding the place. Of course, and although it feels like name-dropping, there is an undeniable force about the presence of Yuzo Sebata and the way that he gathers people around him. Hearing stories and information from the heart of tenkara’s development from him, translated by Go Ishii, was very powerful.

Having Sebata-san cook foraged “sansai” wild edibles as well as his signature noodles and broth from his days as the owner of “Mukago” restaurant for us (myself and John Pearson) was also remarkable.

As well as some personal gifts, probably the most impactful thing I took from it was Sebata san’s statement that he feels incredibly concerned and sad that tenkara tackle has been introduced to a wider audience outside Japan – but that the important attitudes to nature, the techniques of tenkara and especially the key features of Japanese mountain culture have been left behind and not introduced alongside the tackle.

“What did you think of the top floor? I was simply amazed and those crystals?”

Paul Gaskell: The whole place is amazing and the mixture of the current practices of giant batches of home-fermented miso paste sitting comfortably alongside the ancient straw-woven snow-shoes and farmers winter clothing. Then there’s the silkworm farming space in the loft and more – it’s all a wonderful blend of preserved history and the practicalities of a living, inhabited building.

Adam: I’ve researched tenkara quite a bit, when I found out about it, I wasn’t completely happy with the explanation I was getting, I wanted more and I wanted it straight from the Japanese. I think the way Tenkara USA was promoting tenkara was good, the quiet gentle form of Japanese mountain stream fishing. The experts and their early lessons was excellent but I personally wanted more so I started to reach further back into the history purchasing old books on tenkara, specifically from a famous keiryu author there. I’m assuming you did some book search as well.

“Do you have any favorite old Japanese tenkara books?”

Paul Gaskell: Although I’ve been learning to speak Japanese to help with my understanding (and to an extent making myself understood), I don’t read or write kanji, so I can’t claim to use those books directly as primary sources – just the elements and portions that I’m able to ask questions about. One book which I’d very much like to get translated is one that profiles several genuine “Shokuryoshi” (professional/survival tenkara anglers). Kazuyuki Yamada showed us his family entry – including his father Shigeo Yamada’s profile in that book over a couple of visits we have made to him in Akiyamago and I’d really like to read that in translation.

Adam: Satoshi Miwa translated two excellent books by Soseki Yamamoto for us here, Yamamoto-san is my favorite Japanese journalist. In my interview with Masami Sakakibara, Masami wrote something to the effect that he knew many authentic professional tenkara fishermen and tenkara journalists were not his favorite. I still have more to look into including more of your material on our subject.

But regarding Japanese tenkara, I understand that is your focus.

“Do you have knowledge of a good portion of the of the experts in modern Japanese tenkara?”

Paul Gaskell: That’s difficult to answer, because there are likely to be incredibly expert practitioners who just don’t tell anyone what they’re up to! However, myself and JP have been very fortunate to be introduced (through Go Ishii and his network-building efforts) to a very large number of extremely high-level anglers. So far we’ve only been able to scratch the surface in conveying the breadth and depth of knowledge displayed across all those anglers.

Adam: I’ve made it a point to research as many different schools of tenkara, all over Japan. I was lucky to have found Kazuya Shimoda’s videos online when searching out tenkara in 2009. It was early on in my timeline and Shimoda-san suggested the use of a cut piece of fly line.

“I have not read that much anywhere, anyone reporting on that, your thoughts?”

Paul Gaskell: I think that early on in tenkara’s transition from survival method to sporting pastime, sporting anglers would have to make rods from the blanks of multiple separate fiberglass “mainstream” fishing rods (because no companies were making “tenkara” rods). That seems to be a natural carry-over from the “Shokuryoshi” tradition of using what was available to get the job done – and I’m sure applies to casting lines too.

Along with that, there has been the introduction of catch and release ethics which really came into Japan from the USA via Touru Ishiyama (who brought back western fly fishing and also bass spin fishing to Japan after visits to America). Following his introduction, western fly fishing has developed a certain prestige which it retains to this day in Japan.

Throw into the mix that genryu fishers are usually much more interested in the quest to hike and camp in the most challenging and inaccessible fishing areas – more-so than the actual fishing aspect…This means the total time spent fishing during genryu expeditions can be a relatively small proportion of the whole activity and a major attraction is to find unpressured fish. As a result, you’re just as likely to find ultralight spin fishing rigs, fly fishing and also hybrids between tenkara and “western” fly fishing approaches on those genryu expeditions.

In contrast, the much more pressured honryu (and more easily accessed keiryu) river fishing venues often requires a WAY more technical tenkara skillset (and in modern times perhaps even a European nymphing) fishing focus. The difficulty of the fish in those settings demands that from the angler.

So taking all that into account (along with the need for Japanese fishing tackle companies to cater as much or more to beginner tenkara anglers than experts), there is a very complicated picture if someone looking in from the outside is searching for “benchmarks” of what tenkara is among all the out-lying examples.

While there’s no doubt that there’s a high level of skill that can be developed when using heavier casting lines (such as cut-down fly line), it is probably also true to say that a lot of those potential techniques are already well described within western fly fishing literature. Of course, some interesting combinations of the two approaches can be developed; but the weight of the casting line immediately takes away many of the characteristics/advantages that shape a large proportion of “tenkara” techniques.

I suspect that one of the reasons that Shimoda san’s cut-down fly line approaches have less coverage is a result of it being a niche, within a niche within a niche. Tenkara, although one of the only forms of angling to be growing in Japan, is practiced by only a very small proportion of the angling public. That means “niche-ing down” further automatically reduces the awareness of those more outlying examples – particularly when their boundaries to other types of fly fishing are a lot more blurred.

Adam: I’m 58 and I don’t see myself quitting tenkara anytime soon. I see myself doing the same thing that I’m doing now, writing, chronicling my fishing, my adventures, just having fun fishing with a few friends and reporting on it at my web site.

“You have a tenkara business, will you tell us about your own personal tenkara? Not the business end or is your fishing all business?”

Paul Gaskell: It is kind of the other way around – the stuff that fascinates us in our personal fishing is exactly what we then want to share. In order to dedicate the necessary time and resources to that sharing process, we need to work out ways to create revenue. So, really the business side of things is found in developing our film-making, story-telling and digital marketing skillset. The fishing side of things - going to the source and using biology to interpret what works - is exactly what our personal fishing centers on.

The major difference is, contrary to common belief, instead of fishing films making you “look good”, the process of filming actually slows down your catch rate and effectiveness by around three to five-fold. So if you want to show 10 good captures using a particular technique, you better be confident you could take 30 to 50 fish consecutively. That encounter rate makes up for the additional time you need to allow for the cameras to re-position (and if necessary go back to capture more establishing shot details of the environment that the capture took place in). You also need to be willing to walk past great fishing spots if there is no “shot” available.

In that sense, my personal/hobby fishing without cameras is generally restricted to half hour or hour-long sessions that often function as reconnaissance for future filming venues. However, the spirit, tactics and overall experience that we value is what we feature in our content.

Sticking to that is deeply personal and you need to develop a thick skin when exposing those vulnerable/personal feelings to the public. At the same time, staying true to that process is probably the best way to end up with great respect and common ground with our customers – since it’s our authentic fishing, authentic passions and authentic selves that goes out there.

I get the feeling that many business owners who end up resenting or disliking their customers (and who become dissatisfied with their business) probably concentrated on finding anything they could sell – rather than drilling down to what about themselves would create value for like-minded people if they put it out there.

Adam: My friends in Japan have taken me all over Tokyo and in many areas, eating, drinking, fishing, hiking and everything else. I don’t know how many restaurants and onsen that I’ve patronized in Tokyo and out in the country. Quite a few in the time I’ve spent there.

I love sushi and have had the fantastic opportunity to have visited some of the finest sushi places as well as the local bars, friends of friends cutting fish and presenting it to us.

I learned about saba no heshiko or fermented mackerel sushi, a very pungent form that has a cheesy smelly taste. I have met only a couple of people in America that have heard of it. Saba sushi is sort of a mark of a person that really likes sushi.

“Do you have any favorite dish that is out of the ordinary?”

Paul Gaskell: Erm, it took me a few tries to get into “natto” (fermented soy beans). I was always OK with the taste, but that “spider’s web” stringy slime that develops around the beans was pretty challenging the first three or four times I tried it. However, like most acquired tastes, I eventually began to really crave it and now enjoy it whenever I get the chance. I also really like the “umeboshi” sour plums…In fact, Japanese breakfasts in rural accommodation settings are one of the things that are something I really cherish about my experiences in Japan. It’s always the little details that best capture the essence of an experience.

“Paul, I have started to do this in my once piece interviews? Any question(s) for me?”

Paul: Ah, that put me on the spot – I guess I wonder what contribution you’d most like to be remembered for (particularly in the tenkara community)? 

Adam: I'm not trying to be remembered. I'm just having fun writing about tenkara and sharing what I find. It's really none of my business what people think of me and the last thing I want to do is to put my own spin on tenkara. It is what it is and I am a part of it.

“Can you tell us a little about your domestic life? Your family, your work, what do you do for fun besides tenkara?” 

Paul Gaskell: So my partner Josephine is an academic currently carrying out research in the area of science education and together we have two sons (age 4 and 8 as I’m writing this). My eldest son is on the autistic spectrum and also really enjoys the sensations and experience of being in the outdoors (in fact that’s something that the whole family enjoys). As I mentioned earlier I currently work 3 days a week for the Wild Trout Trust as their “Trout in the Town” urban rivers project manager (and I’ve recently been joined in that role by Theo Pike when I reduced by days from full time). 

I spend almost all of my remaining time working on Discover Tenkara projects. I typically work an average of around 60hrs per week all-told, but because I work from home I’m also able do the school run and spend time with the kids. Over the years I’ve done many kinds of sport (from tennis to several kinds of martial arts including Judo, Aikido, BJJ and a little boxing) and I particularly like the bouldering aspect of rock climbing. I enjoyed trips to the bouldering meccas of Hueco Tanks in Texas and also Fontainbleau in France back in the day.

After about a 15-year break my kids are now giving me a good excuse to join them at the bouldering wall. I enjoy cooking when I get the chance and there’s also a LOT of books in our house between copies collected by both Jo and myself. The first time I went to Japan was actually before I got into tenkara and was as a member of the British Universities team for the World Shodokan Aikido championships in Kyoto. On that trip I also got to train at the Kodokan (the headquarters of Judo, founded by Jigaro Kano, the father of Judo). I guess I believe that if something is worth doing, it’s worth over-doing – a philosophy that JP also shares.

Adam: I am a cardiovascular technician by trade. I do not see my work as my identity. Many people I know do, I think that is normal, I simply prefer to leave my work and when I am at home, I am not at work. Work enables my home life etc.

“Does your work integrate into your tenkara?”

Paul Gaskell: Yes, in one way or another it is really all the same thing to me, which makes it “challenging” to set boundaries.

Adam: I must admit, I do not remember reading if you were full time professional angler or producing Discover Tenkara is an additional line of your work. It is my understanding that you have a doctorate degree and are classically educated. I did not graduate from a university although I do respect education and have assisted in the start up of a college within a university. I know it is not necessary for everyone to have a degree, especially in today’s world. In your case, your skill in writing and organization, quality of your projects shows and I appreciate that.

“What do you have planned in the future for Discover Tenkara?”

Paul Gaskell: We’re working on continuing to rebuild and expand our media resources/publications as well as keeping pace with the ways that we can deliver that material to people who get the most value out of it. I guess “watch this space” 😊

Adam: With all due respect, I think you have outgrown your name.

Let me explain.

The level that we learned about tenkara was quite elementary. It took a long time for tenkara to grow out of its cane pole description, we still are there in a sense, anyway. From my perspective, there is very little in the way of advanced instruction available to the masses. The Tenkara Guides in Utah are bringing the Oni School to the Southwest which is very cool but not readily available to the masses.

I look to the Japanese for advanced instruction but I’m running out. At about ten years now, the advanced instruction from the Japanese is more of just sharing what we do. The sawanobori groups are practicing a difficult hybrid form of steep and fluted valley stream / waterfall climbing with some fishing. From the Japanese, there is little in the way of advanced casting, the only thing that I have seen is purely utilitarian. I could be very wrong about that but I have not seen it.

I’m not a person that goes for the shadow cast or fancy line twirling. I can do it but it’s not fishing. Controlling the loop, tucking the fly under, casting left and right, forehand, backhand, high and low backcasting and casting for accuracy are just about it for me. There are experts in Japan that do far less than that and are recognized as the best in tenkara.

I guess what constitutes your own tenkara skills is what determines “advanced techniques.”

But I crack open your book and I look at your videos and what I see are advanced skills for learning.

Maybe you haven’t outgrown your name after all… (insert friendly wink)

More than anything, I guess this section is rhetorical.

Paul Gaskell: Perhaps I’ll risk indulging in one of my pet quotes “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows”.

In my experience, I feel there are just so many layers of subtlety and excellence possessed by the very best of the Japanese anglers. I feel it is probably similar to high level horse-riding; the less you can see outwardly what the rider is doing (the more they can reduce their physical “aids”) the more it APPEARS as if they’re not doing anything – then the higher their level of skill.

Yet, at the same time, the more difficult it is to see and understand exactly what they are doing.

I think I need a specific example of this to make it useful…The one I would choose is the observation that high level tenkara anglers can recognize surface patterns on the water that tell them what vertical (as well as lateral) angle/plane the fish will be holding station at. Working backwards from that, they know exactly where they need to stand to allow them to present the fly so that it enters the fish’s field of vision in the best way to induce a strike (while at the same time knowing they will not spook a fish that may be riding that sub-surface current).

At the same time, waiting for the correct current feature to “bloom” so that you can exploit it with your fly is a matter of timing as well as positional sense. All that also bleeds over into an overall innate sense of the specific sequence of perfect positions that you’ll need to take to make each cast perfectly with the highest percentage chance of success (best fly movement, lowest spooking potential). Taking that in at a glance is a high level, but invisible skill.

The problem with watching the outward details of a great angler making a cast and hooking a fish is that you’ve likely already missed the 90% of the battle which takes place before they even started their back-cast. That is also the problem with just reporting and reproducing completely faithfully the visible (and often self-reported) isolated facts or mechanics displayed by a great angler. They very often don’t realize that you (as an observer) don’t already know all the skills that they are automatically integrating into their approach. Without another filter (such as competition angling and behavioral biology background), you can’t ask the questions that expose the unconscious expertise that really great anglers have.

I’m just lucky that my personal obsessions landed that specific background in my lap through my accidental lifetime experiences and career. Without those filters, though, it’s all too easy to forget that in Japan there are beginner, intermediate and top-flight tenkara anglers (and companies catering to each demographic), just like anywhere else.

That’s why most folks miss the point and gloss over the critical details if they see a tenkara technique covered somewhere that they already know the name of.

They assume because they recognize that last 10% of the bare mechanics that there’s no more detail to learn. But just like in BJJ, there’s really no new locks or chokes (there’s only so many ways a human arm can twist) – the mastery is in perfectly drilling the systems around setting up those moves that are the visible final few percent at the completion point.

That process is also why someone can seize on a particular out-lying example that supports their case for almost any agenda “See, even Japanese rod companies do X, Y or Z” (which may be something aimed at lowering a barrier to entry – and so not appropriate to view as a valid endpoint where skill development stops).

Pigeon-holing and seeking to reduce activities to exactly what is already within our comfort zone is the path to stagnation and lack of growth. Over time, that leads to boredom and abandonment in favor of the next new shiny thing.

Adam: For quite a while I was alone here in Arizona. Yes we have fly fishing clubs and we used to have a dozen fly shops but we have none now, or what I would consider a fly shop… I started writing web sites on small stream fly fishing in the mid 90’s to reach out to people that have similar interests in their fishing so that I could be with like minds.

Social media had not developed at that time.

This will be a little difficult to explain, I hope you get it.

I’m not so sure that social media actually is a good reflection of tenkara. There seems to be a collective consciousness in reference to social media that tries to interject itself on to the definition of tenkara.

I use my tenkara equipment and techniques for trout and warm water species in the desert in winter. I personally call it tenkara knowing it isn’t mountain stream fishing for trout.

So I just use #untenkara when describing this type of fishing and that seems to help.

Getting back to my point, social media has helped tenkara grow by leaps and bounds but I think we are now in a period of seeing what this online arguing about the definition of tenkara has done.

I generally don’t care what people what people argue about online, I’m still going to do what I do because I enjoy doing what ever it is I do, the best I can.

“What do you think of using tenkara equipment and techniques outside of the mountain valley streams?”

Paul Gaskell: I think it’s useful to make the distinction “tenkara rodding” for using a tenkara rod to fish newer, improvised or adapted techniques. In the same way you can say “fly rodding for carp” and folks get a decent mental picture of what you’re up to. Other times it is easier to say “French nymphing with a tenkara rod”. A good label for the actual techniques (over and above the specific rod-type) is the most useful thing to aim for. That way it makes it much easier to apply tenkara techniques to other branches of your fly fishing – while retaining a good understanding of the disciplines that you are blending.

In the same way that Inuit have hundreds of words for different types of snow, to accurately communicate ideas that help us grow as anglers it helps to have specific terms to capture those ideas. I’m not sure at what point we, as a society, became afraid of that and treat it as a personal attack/implied inferiority.

I don’t have a problem with anyone using any kind of tackle however they want – what I do find worrying is the “Don’t tread on me!” tendency when trying to discuss the features and benefits of relevant cultural details or incredibly effective/well developed techniques from the dudes who actually invented a particular style of fishing. That’s true whether I’m talking about our experiences studying Czech nymphing in the Czech Republic – or tenkara in Japan.

The other thing that I think is negative overall is the willful denial that Japanese tenkara is valid and worth respecting alongside whatever folks do with their own time on stream. I think it’s a sad symptom of our times in the era of binary identity politics. The idea that there is no room for nuance and “if you’re not with us then you’re against us” is a wider social disease – and it will be hard to tackle within fishing.

Finally – I think that most folks outside Japan don’t realize that Japanese tenkara anglers typically drive an average of 5 to 7 hours to their weekend fishing destinations. Kura-san frequently has 10 to 14 hour drives because he avoids the expensive toll roads/highways. Taka-san drives many hours to fish for a day before driving for a few more hours to meet up with his tenkara crew at night… just so that he can make his famous hand-made soba noodles for his friends before driving home at around 2am to be back for his family for the rest of the weekend.

That’s an interesting contrast to note alongside the idea in the West that “I don’t have trout streams near me”. I’m guessing that most folks have a trout stream within 5 to 12 hours’ drive and that’s the level of dedication it takes for those Japanese glossy fishing magazines to feature photos of amazing wild iwana, yamame and amago.

Adam: Paul, for many years, I did not study or read much of the work that Discover Tenkara produced. This is no reflection on you, it is more about me and how I wanted to study. I wanted a good history and lesson from the Japanese first and foremost. I hope that you understand that. It seems that you do because a big part of your focus is on Japan. But now that I have a good understanding of what Japanese tenkara is and all of the other types of Japanese fishing and culture is, I have started to read your book, watch your videos and enjoy the content you are producing.

You guys do a great job.

I appreciate the quality goods that you guys are producing, your book augments the library of books that I have, most are old Japanese books that my friends in Japan have given to me, some after after writing them or I have purchased to study.

Your book is nested right next to those old Japanese books, that’s about the highest compliment that I can give you.

I’ve used one of your rods to catch fish in my home streams.

“Can you tell us about the development of the Karasu rods?”

Paul Gaskell: Really there is relatively little to tell. It is a rare story of something that worked much quicker than we expected. Basically, we benefited hugely from the expertise of the manufacturers and also from a pool of top Japanese anglers who tested them and provided feedback. Having described what we were aiming for and tweaking one or two details on the balance of the two rods from their first prototypes, they then came out with pre-production models that were almost exactly as we’d hoped and asked. That is a real testament to Japanese manufacturing excellence (and also the long-established knowledge of tenkara and rod-building that exists within those manufacturers).

Adam: I remember on my last trip to Tadami with Keiichi Okushi and many others, we did a day trip and an overnight (tenba) trip on Akakazure-sawa. We hiked up and set camp and hiked up some more. On the way, we had navigated some small and minor waterfalls, one needed an assist rope. The consequence of falling would have been scrapes and maybe a broken arm or leg or worse if we weren’t paying attention, we were.

But that night in the tenba, it rained hard now and then but it rained nearly all night. At home in our own streams, every year, people are killed by flash flooding. We were camped close to the water’s edge and in a steep valley. I was a guest of experts but that did not help me from worrying just a little. I remained calm and in the morning, yes the stream had risen and I knew we would have some difficulty with wading the trail back.

I remember watching Go Ishii struggle a little on a steep wall of mud, precariously hanging on to a hand line, one slip and he would have fallen 30 or so feet onto rocks and swept downstream. When it was my turn to climb the same section, I almost had to stop and gather my thoughts but I had Keiji Ito by my side. He basically told me through his glance that I could do this and I did.

I am grateful to Ito-san. I needed a little help and with his kind smile in a sticky spot, he assisted me in a way that helped me be a part of the team rather than making a problem wanting more protection.

“Do you have any recall of a particular moment when you may have been over your head while fishing in Japan?”

Paul Gaskell: I’ve certainly found myself having to fight pretty hard to keep my feet when wading in what I’ve considered powerful flows (though folks like Kobayashi-san or Sebata-san in his prime would probably not think twice about). Remembering to not turn my back and have my legs swept out from under me, keeping braced with a narrow profile and just inching patiently along until reaching softer flow is pretty testing on nerves and patience.

Crossing a rapidly rising/coloring river with Isaac Tait in Gunma prefecture (which went from thigh deep to chest deep in the time it took us to cross) was a bit of a “buttock clenching” moment. I did set off up a rock face to climb out of that valley - but decided to back off and follow the less glamorous but much more effective scramble up the soil/rock bank that Isaac and John had found to be the easiest line of weakness.

I’ve generally felt OK when holding on to ropes for steep traverses or scrambling around under collapsed/rockfall damaged bridges, but strangely some of the times when I’ve got more spooked is on footpaths that get very narrow and are soft/crumbly soil high above the valley floor. I often find myself leaning a bit too far away from the edge, which ironically makes me more likely to slip (instead of pressing my weight straight down on the slope).

Adam: As I have said, I appreciate what you do.

Thank you for your contribution to tenkara, I really appreciate your (and John Pearson) efforts.

“Please use this opportunity to close the interview.

Thanks again and looking forward to more of your content.”

Paul Gaskell: Thank you. It was certainly an interesting experience given that we’ve “locked horns” in the past Adam. I hope that our upcoming content is of interest and use to you and many more folks in the tenkara community. If there’s one killer closing idea, I’d choose “Try to welcome progressive ignorance and walk towards stuff that you don’t know with a smile”.