What I've Learned About Tenkara

I have always wanted to know what others have learned from tenkara. Not a focused piece on a particular question, but an open, you choose what to write type of a piece. I recently decided that it was time to ask others. I've been doing it for a while myself, known about it for a lot longer but what is it that this relatively simple form of fly fishing has taught us?

Without going on any more about it, below is what I could put together.

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Vladimir Bushclyakov

Three years ago, accidentally stumbled upon a video, recognized the word Tenkara. And somehow I liked it and dragged on. Perhaps its outward simplicity
 
Initially, there was a greedy collection of information, And everything and everywhere 
Now she’s let go a little, I’m calmer.

I found out for myself that the most valuable thing is communication with other fishermen. Everyone does not have two identical experiences, their own approaches, their own keys!

I don’t quite like the word Tenkara, I don’t understand it, it doesn’t explain how to fish. I prefer kebari fishing or fly fishing. Everything is simple and clear.

The name Tenkara appeared about 60 years ago. Before that, there was mountain fishing, fly fishing. The craft by which people earned their living.

For three years, I did not learn much много. But this does not stop moving on. Communicate with interesting people, knit not beautiful flies, catch fish and even let it go for your pleasure. Good to all!

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David Noll

I first heard about Tenkara on the BPL forum sometime in 2009 when they announced a buy in for a rod “perfect for backpacking”, the Hane. My wife and I were really into backpacking and I thought fishing would fit in well with our trips out west. I took the plunge and ordered the rod from BPL and flies and misc gear from Tenkara USA. I took the Hane along on our trip to the Wind River Range in 2010 and actually caught a brook trout. I played with it just enough over the next couple of years to know that I wanted to learn more and learn the right way.

In late 2012, knowing that I really wanted to get involved with fly fishing when I retired, I contacted Chris Stewart about ordering a Tenkara rod. I remember asking Chris why I should pay more for one of his rods rather than one from Tenkara USA. His answer was, that while would both catch fish, the Japanese rod would be more fun (Ford vs Ferrari). He also said that since we go out West every summer I should hire a guide who specializes in Tenkara.

Long story short, I met Paul Vertrees and an addiction got kick started. He showed me where to find fish and how to catch them. Since then, I have fished in ten states, plus Spain and Chile, with many different guides and friends who all have taught me something. I have attended many of the Tenkara events and have met and fished with more people than I can count.

For me Tenkara is not about the fish caught, (still important) but more about the people and the fun we have together. The memories of campfires shared, laughs at foibles and follies will remain, long after the last fish is caught. It is about a walk with my granddaughter along a stream, a grandson catching his first trout, time spent not thinking about life. And, when I am alone, time well spent. Just me, the stream and the trout.

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Tyson Sparrow

This is a very difficult question to answer.

After much pondering I think I have a rudimentary answer. First and probably most notable is the connection to my environment. I’m a life long fisherman yet after endeavoring into the rabbit hole that is Tenkara I find mechanics of a real, eyes on a rod, long line, are all forms of disconnect. Tenkara is tactile, immersive, and surprisingly intuitive.
 
Someone once told me guitar is the easiest instrument to learn yet the hardest to master. In my mind Tenkara is very similar, anyone can grab a rod and catch fish, but there is only one Massami, Fuji, or Kiechi. Most of us will never have a fraction of their skills. I’ve accepted this but refuse to limit my learning as much as possible.
 
Tenkara has become more than just fishing for me. It’s become a way of life. In some ways it has become a large part of my well being. A rock I rely on and look forward to. It has become something I don’t want to ever stop doing. 

It’s New Years Eve and the first thing I did was go buy my fishing license so I can hit the river early, while everyone else sleeps in. Maybe one of the best benefits of Tenkara has been my sons love of it too. We both plan on a good solid day of fishing on the 1st.
 
What I’ve learned is that I’ve only scratched the surface of Tenkara. What I’ve learned is I will never stop learning, this is journey that I will wander on for the rest of my life.

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David Walker

I discovered the board game Go several years before discovering tenkara fishing. I have learned Go and tenkara have many parallel things in common. btw – the game of Go is short for Igo in Japanese [囲碁] in English it is usually written in upper case as Go to indicate it is the board game. In China (where it originated somewhere between 4,000 ~ 2,500 years ago) it is called “weiqi”, in Korea it’s called “baduk”. Something about the world’s oldest board game that is still played today appeals to me.

Both Go and tenkara have come into the western world from Japan. As a result both have Japanese names for various activities within each sport. Go has terms such as; tesuji, gote, sente, hane, joseki, tengen, hoshi, even kakari (meaning corner play). And in tenkara we have all learned terms such as; sakasa kebari, sasoi, tsuri, otsuri, tamo, and so on. And both use “atari”, indicating a capture may soon happen.

Both Go and tenkara are capturing games. In Go the goal is to capture the opponent’s stones or territory. In tenkara fishing the goal is to capture fish. Or maybe the real goal is to capture an enjoyable day outside on a stream in a river valley or plain. Maybe alone or with a friend or three.

Both Go and tenkara have very simple fundamental rules that result in an amazing amount of flexibility or options as one pursues developing higher levels of skill, yet the simple rules also allows beginners to find success and enjoyment. The flexibility is enough to allow a lifetime to master or develop more sophisticated skills or techniques of play.

Both Go and tenkara have popular manga or amine young champions of the sport. Go has “Hikaru no Go” [ヒカルの碁] and tenkara (fishing) has “Tsurikichi Sanpei” [釣りキチ三平 ] .

Both Go and tenkara have masters of the game that attract the attention from an international audience that are inspired by their level of skill, and many people study or pursue trying to emulate their style of play. The late Go Seigen is regarded as the greatest professional Go player of the 20th century. Koichi Kobayashi one of the great players of recent decades, and just recently, at the age of 19 years old, Shibano Toramaru [芝野虎丸名人] won the Meijin title. Just as tenkara anglers may favor and study the tenkara fishing style of Tenkara no Oni (Masami Sakakibara) , Dr. Ishigaki, Fuji Hiromichi, or other skilled tenkara anglers with the aim to improve their own skill. Another facet of these sports beyond skills is researching the culture or history of the activities.

There is a popular Go story from China, a one-frame cartoon showing two men playing Go, with this caption. “Just one game they said, and started to play. That was yesterday.” Indicating an enjoyable activity that can hold your attention for a long time. Go has a few nicknames; Hand talk, Sit-Still, and Trouble-Forgetter. That I think also fits tenkara. Companionship, sit still, tell a story or tie a few kebari, or go tenkara fishing - forget your troubles for a little while.

Of course I have also learned many other things over the last 9 years “from tenkara”, maybe more than “about tenkara”. I’ve learned to read a little bit of Japanese. Which has also come in handy pursuing my interest in taiji-qigong [太極氣功]. The spoken words are different, but the kanji means the same thing in both Japanese and Chinese.

I have learned to enjoy freshwater fishing again. An activity I had not done since I was a teenager. Only doing a little saltwater fishing during an annual trip to the coast. Oh, along the way, maybe thirty years ago, I became interested in fly-fishing after several months watching Saturday morning TV shows about it sponsored by 3M-Anglers. But quickly dropped the idea after a trip to a local outfitter where when I requested a quality basic setup, not their lowest cost, and not their most expensive, when the price, before they were finished, approached $900 I claimed I had been paged, and hurried out the door. It was Orvis stuff, I’m sure it was nice, but I didn’t need that much ‘niceness’.

TUSA’s low cost for Ayu and Iwana rods in the spring of 2010 lured me into giving tenkara a try. It’s back to basics fishing method appealed to me. I like simple quiet activities. That also includes some physical activity. If going out on a lake or saltwater sound, going on a sailboat, windsurfer, or kayak is my preference over a powerboat or Jet Ski.

I’ve learned there are many talented people attracted to tenkara that keep things interesting. Some people collect, and share great stories or interviews; others offer knowledgeable opinions about rods, lines or other accessories. Others are talented at publishing on-line digital tenkara blogs, forums, magazines or videos. And many generous people have sent me good information or some item they have made using their own craft skills. I am a bit embarrassed I have no exceptional skill to make something for them to return the favor. Communicating regularly with people from other countries is not something I expected to be doing before taking up tenkara. I rather imagine eleven years ago - none of the Japanese tenkara experts imagined that tenkara fans worldwide would now know their names, seek to meet them, and seek their advice.

Lastly, what I’ve learned about tenkara is that one guy, Daniel Galhardo, built a tenkara locomotive in the western world, sent it down the tracks, and soon many people jumped on the train to go along for the ride. Or hitched their own cars onto the train. Some cars carried online meeting rooms; other cars carried accessories or competing products; other cars collections of tenkara skills they’ve learned from the most talented people.

As for myself, I enjoy both Go and tenkara, but I think I am not very skilled at either one. But I still have fun. Other people can, too. That’s the best thing to learn about tenkara.

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Trout hunting in Kauai

Adam Trahan

I have been fly fishing for 50 years. For the last 30, I've been specializing in mountain stream fly fishing.

23 years ago I meet Yoshikazu Fujiokawe were sharing our love of fly fishing small streams through our web sites on the Internet. Back then, tenkara was a brief mention on his web site, not the focus it is now and I did not understand how effective it was because the topic we shared overshadowed tenkara.

Ten or so years ago, I was introduced to Daniel Galhardo when I became aware that I wanted to try tenkara. His narrative was honest and he gave the Japanese masters another platform for their voice. The stories of his exploration in Japan to find tenkara was honest. To this day, I still miss his tenkara diary entries. He accurately portrayed many of the humble Japanese tenkara experts that I went on to meet in Japan.

Seven years ago, I meet Keiichi Okushi. He approached me to help him reach tenkara fishers. Together we share our love of Japanese style fly fishing as we practice it with friends in the headwater streams of Japan and on my adventures in North America. Like Fujioka-san and myself, Okushi san is an accomplished fly fisherman as well as a tenkara fisher. That is a common thread with most experts, western fly fishing.
Tenkara is Japanese style fly fishing, it is easy to learn, hard to master. 
It is simple however there is more to it than can be learned from one person.

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Mike Shelton

I have been fly fishing for many years and felt there was way too much emphasis on gear and stuff in general. At the time I started fly fishing premium fly rods ran around $300 - $350 dollars. Over the years the prices seem to jump more than college tuition. Those premium rods that ran $300 now were selling for $850 to $1100 dollars. I was looking for simplicity in fishing for trout in mountain streams. Then I noticed an ad for Tenkara USA and a picture of David Galhardo fishing with very little in the way of gear. Where was the vest and 30 pounds of gear crammed into the pockets and a supportive back brace to help him carry all the stuff? This one advertisement in the back of a fly fishing magazine started my journey into tenkara.

Tenkara has shown me that observation, technique, and skills are more important than gear. How I approach the stream, moving, camouflage, stream flow, casting locations, and focus on all the surroundings has greatly enhanced my fishing experience. Tenkara has taught me how to hunt for trout, not just cast and pray. The community of tenkara anglers is extremely helpful in guiding you to grow and learn the sport. I have found that many people go out of their way to help you, offer suggestions, and answer questions so that you develop the skills needed for success. Coming from a fly fishing background did help me immensely when entering tenkara by accelerating my learning and success.

An unexpected benefit occurred from tenkara was my interest in learning more about the people and culture that developed this sport. Tenkara helped me expand my interest into many other avenues such as language, japanese history, their holidays, folklore, religion, and art. We all need to continue to learn and study once we finish our formal education. Learning helps us to stay young and not stagnate. Another benefit was meeting people all around the world that had the same interest in this style of fishing. I realize that the world of tenkara was truly a global community of people working, talking, and sharing their common experiences in fishing. In a time of hate, war, and politics there was something greater that brought people together rather than separate and fragment them into small groups.

Near the end of my academic teaching career I was looking for something to offer me a new challenge and enjoyment to guide me through my retirement years. Tenkara offered me a chance for quiet reflection and peace. Once I became interested in tenkara the next thing I noticed was telling other people about the sport. I felt like John the Baptist spreading the gospel of tenkara. I wanted as many people as possible to enjoy this unique activity. People like being outside and enjoying nature and what better way than tenkara fishing! I have introduced my son, daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren, students, and strangers to this amazing sport. So get out there and start fishing.

My grandson, Reed, at 20 months of age and the old guy is me.
It doesn’t get any better than this.

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Photo credit: Jeff Rueppell

What I've learned about tenkara in the last 11 years

Eleven years of practicing tenkara, and seeking the knowledge contained within it, has taught me a great deal about tenkara. As a matter of fact, I had enough to fill a book of 208 pages about it, and several pages that didn’t make it into the book, and that was almost 3 years ago!

Yes, I’ve learned how to cast, how to present my flies, how to land fish, and how to approach a stream. But, reflecting on the lessons learned over the last 11 years, 

I think I can summarize the main things I learned about tenkara as follows:
  1. Keeping it simple is essential. Simplicity is not a buzzword, or just something that will appeal to the minimalist. Carrying fewer choices of flies, simplifying the rig, leaving accessories behind, and other things we often discuss while talking about tenkara allow us to focus on the fishing in front of us and stop thinking so much about all the other stuff. It actually helps improve our catch rates, and makes us better anglers. 

  1. It’s not about the equipment, it is the knowledge that counts. Good gear will do what you want it to do, but you must know what you want to do in the first place.  A bit along the lines of point #1, it is important to learn the fewer pieces of gear that we carry. And, interestingly, when you leave things behind it forces you to learn to use what you have on you. When you simplify your rig, it forces you to observe how it all works in the water.
  2. Let your intuition take over. When we get absorbed into a new activity, we devote a lot of time to learning all of its ins and outs. And learning different aspects of tenkara is indeed essential: we need to learn the knots, have an idea how to cast, understand that we can present the fly in different ways, and there are tips and tricks that will help with all of that as well as setting the hook and landing the fish. But, tenkara taught me to not overthink most aspects of fishing, and by not overthinking my fishing I have been able to connect with a primitive intuition that I believe is in all of us when we pursue our catch. 

I've learned that tenkara is simply a conduit to connect us with a simpler time in our lives, and a tremendous way to have fun regardless of what others think, or say.
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Keiichi Okushi

Tenkara fishing for me is genryu fishing. It is a fishing done in the deep mountains where should be called the last real nature left in Japan. When I was a boy, there were still some nature left in Japan even in a town too. There were many woods and some beautiful rivers in my town. At that time, if we go a little toward the countryside, there were rich forests and lakes, and if we go to the sea, there were beautiful white sandy beaches and pine forests that are described as "Hakusaseisho(white sand blue pine)". They were landscapes that could be called the original landscape of Japan.

Several decades have passed since then, and the woods in the town have become residential areas and the rivers have been hardened with concrete for revetment work. Rural forests and lakes have been transformed into industrial parks or bland parks, and the beautiful beaches have become miserable views, lined with ugly concrete tetrapods (wave dissipating blocks), due to the erosion of sand of beaches, which is the damaging effect of dam constructions. In the last few decades, Japan has become economically prosperous, but in exchange for that we have lost some really important things that cannot be bought with money. It's about nature and the peace of our minds.

In such sad situations, only the genryu fishing fields (In deep mountains) have still had the beautiful landscapes as it was in the past. For about 9000 years after the ice age, these landscapes of the genryu areas have probably changed little. Place ourselves in such nature and we go up the river in search of iwana. In the evening, we set a tarp on the riverbank and drink sitting around the bonfire. We spend the night in this beautiful Japanese nature, that our ancestors would have seen thousands of years ago. The most important thing that Tenkara fishing taught me is the great nature of Japan. Hopefully, I want to leave this beautiful nature to our children and grandchildren. I think I am not the only one who thinks such things. Many people around the world want to preserve their precious and beautiful nature for the next generation.

It has been a long time since the issue of global warming was proposed. However, to date no effective solution has been implemented. Global warming alone has an immense impact on ecosystems, but I think the resulting changes in the natural environment on a global scale, such as the enlargement and frequent occurrence of secondary natural disasters, have reached a stage where there is no waiting. I am often worried that this problem will accelerate in a shorter period of time. Now, I want people all over the world to think seriously about this change in the global environment. At the very least, I want people to point to the right path we never be ashamed to children. If the nature of genryu areas, where we enjoy tenkara fishing, disappears with the global climate change, I think the earth will no longer has an environment where humans can live.

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Jason Seaward

Being the newest convert to Tenkara in this collection, my learnings and revelations are probably the freshest. Having known and contemplated the use of Tenkara for the past five years, I had only decided to try it about a year and a half ago. I gambled on a purchase of a Tenkara USA Sato rod based on a lot of research, as it had the flexibility to be used on a few streams I frequent and was tauted as a good rod option for beginners. Being an individual that typically researches in preparation for new activities, I read a lot of online Tenkara materials that served as a good introduction to the basic philosophy and techniques. It was not until I caught my first trout in a mountain stream that it all seemed to click and I began to look at Tenkara (and life) differently.

Here is a general overview of a few important things I have learned about (and from) Tenkara in a short period of time.
 
Tenkara’s complexity is a personal choice. 

The majority of advertising and first exposure to Tenkara is framed around simplicity, enabling people to fish without the complicating factors found in traditional Western fly fishing (i.e., equipment, casting, line management, fly entomology). The simplicity of the equipment and focus on technique over equipment, is exactly as advertised. However, as I ventured deeper into the world of Tenkara, I found people who have dedicated their focus on the nuance of Tenkara and often stated, that after fishing with “Tenkara Masters” from Japan, they felt an infancy in their knowledge and had so much more to learn. The debate about Tenkara complexity ultimately comes down to personal choice. You can quickly learn to catch fish with a Tenkara rod or you can spend years learning to catch more fish; 

Through the aforementioned simplicity of Tenkara (what I chose to focus on), I was able to become more attentive to, and engaged with, the elements of fishing that I value the most. When I did not have to concentrate on line management and a drag-free drift over conflicting current lanes, I felt more connected to fishing and to my environment. As I removed items that I typically brought during Western fly fishing outings, I had noticed my attention turned to nature and I absorbed my surroundings differently. As result, I now feel more grateful for my moments on the water, taking in subtleties I typically overlooked or missed. I have slowed down. Instead of “mind-full” of fly fishing complication, I had become “mindful” to my surroundings.

Though new to Tenkara, I feel that my approach to fishing, and consequently, to being in nature, has shifted. It may sound exaggerated and clique to state that Tenkara has impacted my sense of spirituality, but it’s true. I am happy I bought my first Tenkara rod and I am grateful for how my life has shifted since.

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Jason Klass

Anyone who’s made fishing a lifelong pursuit knows that there’s an evolution to it. Your first attempts are probably clumsy, awkward, and mysterious—spending countless hours staring at the water wondering if you’ll ever catch a fish. Or if fish even exist in that stream, lake or pond. But over time, you develop confidence. The fish begin to cooperate. Your casts become more elegant and avoid the trees. You find your cadence. You develop your own mastery. And eventually, you earn the right to form your own philosophy on the subject.

As someone who has been a diligent student of all forms of fishing, I believe that my entire fishing career culminated into tenkara. It taught me to reject a lot of assumptions I had formed about our sport and to learn more about myself not only as an angler, but also as a person. It’s not the end of my angling journey by any means, but it has certainly been a milestone.

I could exhaust the topic, but here are three simple things that tenkara has taught me—lessons I think every angler will eventually learn if they stick with it long enough ...

I’m a better angler than I thought

When I was 13, I used to flip through the pages of the Orvis catalog gawking over all the gear. At the time, I thought (like many) that more gear = more fish. What I didn’t realize was that I was being tactically marketed to. That’s the perception the gear sellers want. They want to tell you that the more money you spend, the more “successful” you’ll be on the water. As someone with a background in marketing, I understand that. Most of marketing it based on creating an artificial perception—that you’re somehow inadequate unless you buy our product. Think of how Maybeline makes women think they need eyeliner to be attractive. The truth is, tenkara has taught me that I don’t need all the latest gear invented by bored stale, bored product designers to enjoy fishing. Today, I use about 90% less gear than I used to and I enjoy my time on the water as much now as I did then. Arguably, more because I know that I’m catching fish based on my own skill rather than the gimmick of the month touted in Flyfishing Magazine. 
 
Fish are stupid.

Well, maybe not “stupid”. But they’re certainly not as smart as I thought. I spent many years reading technical books that made me characterize trout as biological computers programmed to discriminate even the best-tied fly. The entomology books would have you believe that trout can actually count the number of tails on every species and refuse a fly if one were missing. The truth is (I’ve learned), they don’t have PhDs in entomology. You probably know more about insects than they do.

I have much empirical evidence to back this up. As tenkara typically shuns “matching the hatch”, I’ve caught thousands of fish with the “wrong” fly in completely the “wrong” situations. One anecdote I can share was a trip to the San Juan river where a size #20 fly is considered “huge”. Convention wisdom dictates that you fish #24 midges. The smaller the better. Yet I fished #12 sakasa kebari and was catching more fish than my friend who was adhering to the status quo. When it comes right down to it, fish are animals and look for certain key characteristics of flies before they decide to take: color, motion, shape. So now, rather than copying patterns form entomological books, I design all of my flies based on the triggers that appeal to the basic, predatory instinct of trout. Tenkara has taught me to focus on those triggers rather than what the PhDs write. It’s more about being in tune with their instinct than what looks good on the vise. 
 
Fly Fishing is NOT an elite sport

For the last 30 years, I’ve witnessed a raft of barriers to entry put up by fly fishing manufacturers resulting in the perception that it’s an elite sport. But tenkara shatters those notions. And much to the dismay of the manufacturers. The minimalism of tenkara proves that you don’t need a $900 rod, $500 reel, and $150 line to catch fish. No one should feel intimidation by cost to enter our noble sport. And tenkara proves that. You can get started with a minimal upfront investment. In a dying sport, I consider this a godsend. While I have $1,000 rods, I find myself taking my $150 rod out on the water because I’ve learned that the fish don’t care about how much you spent. And when you’re on the water, facing a beautiful sunset, watching the fish take your fly, you won’t either. You cannot put a price on those memories. With tenkara, anyone can get into fly fishing. Not just the rich.

Some of my ideas here might seem aloof, but I’m willing to take that risk. I’ve earned it. And you will too. If there’s one point I’d like you to come away with from this article, it’s to find your own way. Spend as much time on the water as you can. Throw the catalogs in the trash. Observe. Practice. Be patient. Your own cadence will come. Just give it time.

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Jay Johnson

What I’ve learned about tenkara can be answered in a few ways. From a superficial understanding, it is as simple as the marketing: a rod, line, and fly. Tenkara is a telescoping, fixed-line rod that can deliver a fly and a light line to achieve superior drifts and fly control. It’s this view of tenkara that makes it great for a simplified and easy way of fly fishing. I’ve learned that tenkara can be a light, compact way to fish while biking, hiking, backpacking, or to have a setup to throw in your car or suitcase for “just in case” situations. 

From a skills perspective, I’ve learned that tenkara is more than just a type of rod. It is an entire method. Different flies, lines types and lengths, wind conditions, water conditions, and types of manipulations combine together to form a system that is much more complex than simple drag free drifts. Going beyond the “simplified fly fishing” concept, tenkara is an extremely nuanced method of mountain stream fly fishing. 

Tenkara has a cultural side to it as well. Tenkara is rooted in the mountains, going from headwaters, to middle streams, and finally mainstream river fishing. The history of tenkara via bear hunters and professional fisherman is fascinating. The current culture of genryu anglers venturing deep into the mountains, foraging for wild edibles, and communing over bonfires with food and friends goes beyond the “it’s just fishing” mantra you might hear outside of Japan. I’m not trying to put tenkara up on a pedestal, but it really is a lifestyle, just as hardcore fishing of any discipline can be. In the end, I haven’t learned much about tenkara. Unfortunately, the language barrier is a real obstacle. I read what I can from English sources. I use google translate to search cool pictures and videos on instagram and youtube to learn as much as I can visually. What I have learned for sure is that it’s a great way to get outdoors, visit some beautiful places, and hopefully catch some trout.

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What I have learnt about tenkara?

I have pondered the question; only to find that I thought the question to be “what I have learnt from tenkara?” In the end, I found rest in the realization that the two versions are probably the same, or that I will answer them the same …

I suggest …my ten key “colors”:

First, lightness. I have learnt that I can fish light; light in the sense of using the minimum and living “lightly”. Less stuff, one or two fly patterns. The amount of tackle doesn’t make the fisher or quality of experience. Some of the best tenkara accessories are re-cycled goods (especially fly boxes and line holders).

Second, equality; especially that all fish – large and small – are equal. The limitations of my preference in tenkara (light rods and lines) make me appreciate the smallest of fish.

Third, losing and landing a fish is the same thing. I derive as much pleasure from losing a good fish because of the lightness of my tackle as landing one.

Fourth, to be at ease. I am at ease with fish out of range or spooked by trying to get too close.

Fifth, to watch and take-in. My approach with tenkara, getting closer, make me watch and observe more, where I step, how best to approach a fish or drift.

Sixth, closeness matters and enriches the experience. This includes observing drifts and fish.

Seventh, making tackle is fulfilling, and tenkara offers much too tinker with and make (especially lines).

Eight, increased connectedness and continuity … There are reasons why largely similar fixed line techniques developed in different parts of the world simultaneously. And, tenkara – in principle – remains what it always was. Critically, it is a technique developed by ordinary people, not solely for enjoyment, but to sustain life, and its instruments from meagre, locally available materials.

Ninth, to take time, to put in effort, including translating Japanese one word at a time to find out more about historic texts.

Finally, in a troubled and divided world, I learnt that there are others, continents apart, who feel the same about a simple approach to pursue trout.

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Chris Cameron

Tenkara is simple. A rod, line and fly are all that is required. Tenkara appeals to the minimalist. Tenkara is deceptively complicated, you can have fun using it at a simple level, but you can also dig much deeper. Remembering my Oni School experience I went in thinking I understood Tenkara. On the last day of the school my eyes were opened as I witnessed Oni catching many fish with a giant kebari luring the fish. There was no real hatch going and I was amazed at his technique.

Tenkara is a game of many styles. You can play it a variety of ways and make up your own style. I learned there is value in gaining knowledge from experts and learning their way of playing the Tenkara game. Whenever I have the opportunity to learn from someone I try to approach it naively. This opens me up for learning.

Tenkara is a game that I enjoy playing. I enjoy the gear. I enjoy going on adventures to find new water and new fish. I enjoy trying the many styles of Tenkara and learning new techniques. I love being outside and the beautiful places pursuing Tenkara takes me. I love creating flies and testing out patterns and materials. These are some of the many things I’ve learned about Tenkara.

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Go Ishii

I was just a little kid when I first tried tenkara. I was 10 or 11 years old, and had been bait fishing in small mountain streams near my home town manageable by someone of that age. ( I think the term is recognized in the US as “keiryu” fishing?) It was just one picture I saw in the keiryu magazine that taught me that there was a traditional method of fly fishing for mountain streams in Japan called Tenkara.

The picture was of an angler that had one foot forward-crouching over stealthily stance with a long, soft looking rod with a yellow line attached to it and pulling an iwana out of an absolutely freighting looking water with lots of white bubbles rushing down. Tenkara instantly became my obsession.

With no internet, no books (this I think 1988), I could only imagine how tenkara was to be fished. I had some thick yellow saltwater line, so I attached that to my keiryu rod, tied on some store-bought flies and gave it a go. I didn’t understand the mechanism of tenkara casting, nor how I was to entice fish, nor… well, I just didn’t know anything.

Many years passed until I finally caught a fish with a tenkara fly. I was going to school in the US but went back to Japan for most summer breaks. I think I was 17 or 18 when it finally happened. This time I had equipped myself with a proper tenkara gear, and a lot of luck came into play as well.

When I returned to Japan from the US at age 30 to start a business, I knew that I had to learn tenkara from proper sources. Perhaps from those considered as leading experts. So I did!

In the next 12 years, I not only had the privilege to meet tenkara experts from all over Japan. Including some that live deep in the mountains and still fish and live the life style I only thought existed in folk tales, but also made a lot of friends who share the passion for tenkara and the mountain streams.

Tenkara was once a well-kept-secret, that was only practiced by those few who knew the techniques to thrived deep in the mountains. Places where one bad decision could take your life; where wild Asian black bears roam. Before being a good tenkara angler, you had to be a good mountain man to fish tenkara.

I’ve sat down around a fire and heard so many stories. How much weight they had to carry and trek for days to deliver their catch to different villages, or how their fellow fisherman fell from a water fall and never was found, or how a flash flood almost killed them… and so on.

Even today, every so often an angler would perish fishing in the mountains. It is that nostalgia, wisdom and stories that draw a lot of people to pick up a tenkara rod in Japan. Because the risk behind the challenge of being in the mountains make our target species; yamame, amago and iwana that much more precious and attractive.

To the Japanese, tenkara is perhaps more than just a method of fishing. There is some romance to the sound of the word “tenkara.”

--------------------



Jonathan Antunez

Tenkara is more than just a tool. It is a well-developed system of rods, flies, and techniques. I may have started fishing with Tenkara in 2011, but it wasn’t until I attended the Tenkara Summit in Estes Park Colorado in 2017, that I began to understand what a disservice I had done to my angling success by neglecting Japanese Kebari and Japanese Manipulation Techniques. After that fateful summit, my success with Tenkara reached new levels that I never thought possible.

I started my foray into the “system” of Tenkara, by tying more traditional Tenkara patterns. Japanese Tenkara Kebari are 100% wet, so the first flies to drop off my tying planet was dry flies. Gone also were the “do nothing” non-hackled nymphs more commonly used in western angling and euro nymphing. There isn’t anything wrong with those flies, per say, but I feel they do limit your presentation techniques to a dead drift. I cannot express to you what a boon the Futsu kebari (Stiff Hackle) has been to my upstream presentation. I also tied more of the well-known Sakasa Kebari, and the Jun Kebari. All Kebari were made to be moved, pulsed, and dragged with their various types of hackles. Motion is the key, which lead me to my next discovery.

Manipulation techniques have been an absolute game changer in my angling success. Imagine trying to play chess when you only understand how to move a pawn. Simply put, you would take a few pawns down, but you’d miss out on a lot of play. This is why manipulation techniques are so essential to practice and master. Sasoi (pulsing), Pon-pon (surface tapping), Yoko-biki (downstream fan), and Gyaku-biki (downstream swinging pulse) are just a few techniques that have added to my fishing repertoire. Because of these techniques, I no longer have to accept refusal from a fish. I just tempt it with a different presentation.

As for Rod selection, I have definitely shifted towards Japanese Rod manufacturers. Not only do I feel that they have a better construction, but they have an innate ability to perform the very subtle manipulations that Tenkara utilizes. Japanese rod manufacturers know their customers so they design rods with these qualities in mind. After using Chinese manufactured rods for seven years, these rods felt like heaven to me. Along with the rods, I started using level lines more exclusively and longer overall line setups. I go through tippet at obscene rates, but the results are drag free drifts and more fish caught.

I’d like everyone to have the “aha!” moments I’ve had. The stream-craft of traditional Japanese Tenkara is just as deadly effective today as it was in its inception. I have still so much left to learn but it’s exciting to be on the journey. If you fish for trout in high mountain rivers, and you’d like to have more success on your visits there, please take everything above to heart. I never realized what I was missing until I began using the tools of Tenkara all together. My hope is you will have as much fun with it as I have.

--------------------


Morgan Lyle

For Americans, simply hearing that there is such a thing as tenkara is a real learning experience. Talk about an eye-opener. Here is something so like the fly-fishing so many of us love, yet so different. It offers a portal across the Pacific into another culture and is now the center of a new culture here. 

I learn something every time I meet someone new who is excited about tenkara. As the community has grown, I’ve met men and women, old and young, liberal and conservative, city folks and country folks. They have in common a love of nature and an adventurous spirit. 

In terms of fishing technique, I have learned that while “matching the hatch” can be fun, it's only necessary sometimes, like when trout in a glass-flat tailwater have been eating the exact same bug every afternoon for two months. I've also learned that glass-flat tailwaters bore me to tears. Give me a tumbling brook that hides the trout, and let me go look for them with a kebari. 

I’ve learned that the less attention you have to pay to your equipment and your casting, the more attention you can pay to your fishing – that is, you become wholly absorbed in where the fish are, where you want to put your fly, and what you want the fly to do when it gets there. A tenkara rod is a simple tool, and I find myself wielding it without much conscious thought. I believe that tunnel-vision focus on the fish, the water and the fly is a big reason why tenkara is so effective.

--------------------


Michael Agneta

I've learned tenkara...
is easy to be somewhat competent at, but its complexities will never allow one to master...  
enriches one's appreciation for nature, conservation, and overall respect for the outdoors... 
is mispronounced by pretty much everyone... 
introduces you to people from across the world, some of which become true friends...  
tolerates nymphs and other "western" alterations, but truly sings with soft or stiff hackled wets...  
encourages you to travel (extremely lightly) to places you'd never before considered visiting... 
is kindling for the flame of everything good (and unfortunately bad) about social media...  
makes you wish you could speak and read Japanese... 
has you downloading the Duolingo app and overusing Google Translate to try... 
is totally misunderstood by at least half the people who believe they are practitioners... 
makes it really hard to explain to your family members why you enjoy it so much... 
and even harder for those family members to understand why you're buying so much yarn... 
puts you in situations to write esoteric blog posts... 
helps you catch a lot of fish... 
but also realize the fish are only a small part of the overall experience.
--------------------



David West Beale

Here’s something I wrote several years ago - just after discovering tenkara for myself. It’s not the whole story, I have since learned, but it still rings as true for me now as it did back then:

‘Before I took the plunge, like all of the rest of us, I absorbed the 'hype', watched the YouTube videos and digested the magazine articles. I learned of the zen-like one fly approach, that tenkara brings a near spiritual dimension to fly fishing and a zillion and one other little things that the non-tenkara angling majority are missing out on.

Actually my primary motives for getting into tenkara were at first purely practical, as only an idiot could fail to see how tenkara might bring real fish catching advantages. I have certainly never been accused of being a purist when it comes to fishing, in fact I am quite happy to mash-up genres and styles if helps put fish on the bank, so to speak. So it wasn't with any delusions of elitism that a tenkara rod eventually came into my grasp. And I must admit that it wasn't without certain reservations over the perceived limitations of tenkara either. Cynical? Me? Well maybe a bit, but I prefer 'pragmatist'.

So to say that my first actual steps along the metaphorical tenkara stream bed have been a revelation is an understatement. True, it is very early days in my tenkara journey, but I have already satisfied myself of its effectiveness for finesse presentations. And many, many others more gifted and blessed with trout streams nearby, demonstrate daily the efficacy of tenkara in its true spiritual home.

You see, it wasn't any of this that took me by surprise. What I didn't predict was how the simplicity of tenkara has changed my experience of the waterside. Gone are the all the concerns over fly lines and reels and how far I can cast. The burden of these responsibilities has been lifted from my shoulders leaving me feeling loose and supple and, well in a way - younger. By this I mean that this feels like fishing as it used to when I was a boy. Before a disposable income and market forces intruded on the fun. So now I am free to travel far and travel light in search of adventure, or .. to not travel at all. And this brings me to the second revelation. What I thought to be the single overriding limitation of tenkara - its fixed line, promises to be for me its greatest asset.

Let me explain. A Scottish ghillie laughingly told me once how the anglers at the loch amused him so. Those on the shore wanted to cast to the horizon. Take the same anglers out on a boat and they wanted to cast to the shore. The grass is always greener I guess but how many opportunities do we fail to spot because we are spoilt for choice with how much water we can cover? The fixed line approach has reminded me to search out those opportunities and make the most of the water I can cover. I am learning to see properly again, to read the environment more keenly and experience my surroundings more deeply. I am noticing all those little incidentals in nature happening around me and becoming part of the story. Yes, this is more contemplative fishing, even meditative at times, where the moment of catching a fish has become one of many possible outcomes.

I know this is preaching to the converted but I just wanted to get it off my chest’.

Genryu Fishing of Japan #45


Takakuwa-san (Fishing trip with Mr. Shinichi Takakuwa)

The rain, that had begun to fall when we entered into the mountains, eased off. It was 6:30 in the morning, we lifted up our backpacks on our backs and started walking up through the small stream called “Aka-gawa (Red river). "Because I'm very old now, I can't walk so fast. Go ahead and wait in the right place." Takakuwa-san said to us and he went to the end of the group. We were on the route to Obuka-zawa climing over the mountain ridge of Hachimantai mountains spread over the north of Akita and Iwate prefecture.


Hachimantai is a national park with rolling mountains. There are variety shape of peaks of volcanic origin on a plateaus at an altitude of about 1500m, and there are countless swamps and wetlands between them. We went on a fishing trip to the headwaters of Onuka-sawa flowing westward on the Akita side of Hachimantai for 3 days. This trip was special because we had a special guest Takakuwa-san in the group. 


Takakuwa-san is a very famous genryu fisher and stream trekker. 

I first met Takakuwa-san about 5 years ago. When I went to Haide-gawa (Haide River) with my fishing friend Tsuru-chan, we happened to meet with Takakuwa-san's party at the tenba (camp site) by the stream on the first day. Haide-gawa, which has a huge slab cliffs called Gangarashibana at the most upstream, is a popular genryu not only for anglers but also for enthusiastic sawanobori (stream climbing) people. On the first day of entering the valley, I and Tsuru-chan enjoyed fishing a few miles upstream from Temba and returned to Temba in the evening, we saw unexpected bonfire smoke from the tributary stream by the tenba. As we climbed to the tenba, we found a party of 3 people on the other side of stream. When we went to say hello and talk about our schedule for the next, I got to know it was Takakuwa-san and two young women. We did simple self-introduction and told that we always enjoyed reading articles written by Takakuwa-san. Takakuwa-san and his colleagues were visiting Haide-gawa to write an article of Gangarashibana for a mountain climbing magazine. Then, for the next day, we decided to go to Gangarashibana together so as not to disturb Mr. Takakuwa's coverage. 

Since Takakuwa-san and I had common friends like Sebata-san and several other headwater fishing acquaintances, I sometimes met Takakuwa-san at a year-end party and other occasions. We promised to go on a genryu fishing trip together someday, but I was not given a chance. Five years later, this opportunity has finally come. When I talked to my genryu friends about this trip, 4 members gathered at once because we could go with that famous Takakuwa-san. It was Tsuru-chan, Hama-chan, Yagi-san and Ubi-chan who have just returned to Japan. Unfortunately, Tsuru-chan had to cancel the trip at work just before the trip, so it was a trip with a total of five members including Takakuwa-san.

Takakuwa-san is a celebrity in the headwater fishing world alongside with Sebata-san. In my favorite magazine, "Keiryu", there is an article by Takakuwa-san every issue. He also has authored more than 10 books and has appeared on television programs sometimes. However, Takakuwa-san’s style in the genryu world is a little different from Mr. Sebata or Dr. Ishigaki. Takakuwa-san's approach to the genryu world was not fishing, but mountain climbing. Takakuwa-san was one of the leading persons in establishing a unique Japanese sport called “Sawa-nobori(stream climbing)”.

Originally, Takakuwa-san was one of young mountaineers who aimed for the highest peaks in the world, like Everest. Takakuwa-san said that he gradually began to realize that the appeal of the mountains was not only to reach the summits, but also in the forests and valleys at the foot of the mountains and the history and culture of the people who live there. Needless to say, Takakuwa-san likes fishing. However, fishing itself was not always the primary purpose of Takakuwa-san's mountain trips. His trips were from adventures such as perfecting the many impregnable genryu trips and climbing the waterfall that was said to be impossible, to the trips walking through the fading mountain trails with more than 1000 years of history and recorded the history and the culture of mountain dwellers. Before long, Takakuwa-san became known as a mountaineer who did not aim for the summit.

I was particularly impressed by Takakuwa-san's travel writings and essays in the several books that documented the history and culture of those mountain dwellers and intended to preserve them for posterity. I think Takakuwa-san is an excellent folklore scholar as well as an angler and a mountaineer.

When we were planning this mountain trip, I told Takakuwa-san that we planned to go over the shortest route to the headwaters of Ofuka-sawa and fish only the core part of the stream. However, Mr. Takakuwa said, "No, it is not beautiful by simple round trip, we should make a kind of circle trip in Hachimantai. On the first day we will walk through the ridgeline to the downstream part of Oukasawa and descend down Kantozawa and go to Ofuka-sawa. On the 2nd day, slowly fish the best area of the mainstream and go to Tenba at Mitsumata(confluence of three streams) upstream, put the load from Tenba and fish the headwater part. Last day, we will climb through the Kedo-sawa from Mitsumata to the ridgeline.” So Takakuwa-san suggested a circle trip route which we can enjoy both Hachimantai's ridgeline walk and fishing in Onukasawa.

Akaka-gawa was a stream where acidic water was flowing and the riverbed was dyed in red. After a couple of tributaries, the water quickly diminished, it became a very walkable stepped stream. We arrived on the ridgeline trail for about an hour. The rain had stopped completely. After walking for 1 minute on the mountain trail, there was an evacuation hut of Ofuka Sanso. It was a well-maintained evacuation hut, and the inside looked it was just renovated. Ubi, an Italian, was constantly impressed with its cleanliness.

Takakuwa-san told us that after this fishing trip he would work in a mountain hut for two weeks as a hut guard in the Iide Mountains. Mt. Iide, located on the border between Fukushima and Yamagata prefectures, is a mountain of religion for a long time and is still very popular with mountaineers. Everyone thought that if Takakuwa-san is doing a hut guard, we definitely visit him to the hut next year. There seems to be a stream where you can fish iwana if you go down the northern slope from the hut. I also thought it would be a luxurious mountain trip to fish char at the headwaters of Iide during the day and listen to Takakuwa-san at the mountain hut at night. 


We ate light breakfast in front of the evacuation hut and when we started walking through the ridgeline, the clouds started to cut from the south, and the sun appeared from behind the clouds. Before long, the blue sky began to spread, and by the time we arrived at the top of Mt. Ofuka, the scenery of the Hachimantai mountains gently spread under the wonderful blue sky. In the southeast direction, we could see Mt. Iwate, which was particularly high. It was so beautiful exposed in the morning sun.

We enjoyed a three-hour walk along the ridgeline while enjoying the nature of Hachimantai, with mountain scenery, abundant forests, flower fields along mountain trails and dotted ponds. Around noon, we arrived at the swamp area near the source of Kanto-zawa(Kanto stream). "That side." Takkakuwa-san said. As soon as we descended from the point where he pointed, we immediately came out to the source stream. After walking about 10 minutes, the amount of water increased steadily and it became a fine stream. We went down the stream for about 30 minutes and had lunch on a large monolith by the stream. After lunch, at a confluence with a large tributary, Takakuwa-san told Ubi-chan to try fishing. Immediately, Ubi-chan fished a few iwana, but the size was still small. We kept on walking down Kanto-zawa. It took an hour to reach the confluence with mainstream Obuka-sawa from there. I was lack of sleep and exhausted, but it was a great walk. 


The riverside at the confluence was very wide on the mainstream side, and we soon set a tarp at the safest place by mountain side. Hama-chan and Ubi-chan started fishing, but the iwana seemed to be small again. We bathed in the pool in front of Tenba and started preparing for dinner. We made a bonfire, and the dinner was started with toasting with beer. Beer was so good because it was a hot day. We cooked some appetizers and grilled meats, and the main was Ubi-chan's risotto. Since it is the first night, everyone started with a brief introduction of ourselves first and heard Takakuwa-san’s mountain stories. However, we all lay down early under the tarp due to extreme lack of sleep and tired walking on the first day. 


The next day was blessed with good weather from morning. "Let me take a picture of a good fishing today." Takakuwa-san pushed our back, and we left Tenba. We were told that we would arrive at Tenba at Mitsumata before noon. Mitsumata is the core of Obuka-sawa genryu area, and just downstream of Mitsumata there is a big waterfall, a landmark of Obuka-sawa, known as the Niagara Falls.

I did not fish at all the previous day, so I fished first this day. I could catch iwana of about 25cm in a riffle above Tenba immediately. Then the iwana had great reactions and chased the kebari and bent our fishing rods. The average size was about 28cm, but in about two hours to Niagara Falls, we enjoyed fishing in Obuka-sawa enough. 


Climbing over the Niagara Falls, a long slippery riverbed continued for about 300m, but we quickly arrived at Mitsumata. I heard that Tenba was on the left bank in Kedo-sawa, so when I went to reconnaissance, there was a large enough Tenba on the bank just upstream of the confluence on the left bank that looked comfortable. We immediately set up a tarp and made up Tenba. "We slept enough last night and we have physical strength today, so whatever we do, the work is quick." Yagi-san said and laughed. After Tenba was made, Yagi-san boiled soba for everybody. We spread large leaves on the rocks beside the stream, served soba on it and ate all at once. It was delicious. 


We split into two groups from noon and fished upstream from Mitsumata. Hama-chan and Ubi-chan entered Kita-zawa(North stream), and Takakuwa-san, Yagi-san and I entered Higashi-zawa(East stream). Iwana's response was excellent in the afternoon too. As Takakuwa-san had taken enough pictures in the morning, he finally started fishing in the afternoon. Takakuwa-san told us that he was doing bait fishing in the past, but he has been focusing on Tenkara fishing since 10 years ago. Yagi-san and Takakuwa-san caught good size Iwana one after another. 


We climbed over a few waterfalls, and we were happy to have fished well enough. So we returned to Temba. We had enough time even after arriving at tenba on this day. We lit a bonfire on the riverside of Kedo-sawa and toasted with beer early on. Hama-chan made iwana sashimi and kobujime(kelp rolled sashimi). After that, we all made Yagi-san's specialty iwana gyoza(Fried iwana dumpling). Cooking was good fun. Takakuwa-san seemed to have iwana gyoza first time and seemed enjoying them. This evening, Takakuwa-san told us many stories about the mountains and the books.

I told Takakuwa-san that two of Takakuwa-san's books were very impressive. The first book is "Mountain Work, Mountain Life", which I described a little earlier, but it is the book carefully describes the history and culture of the mountain people. It is the record of life that has been supporting and inheriting the lives of mountain villagers for hundreds of years. The stories about fisherman, wild vegetable picker, Kiji-shi(Wooden craftsmen) etc. The stories about the culture of the ancient mountain people of Japan that is almost disappearing in this modern age. Takakuwa-san said, "Because if someone does not write it, those things will be forgotten."

Another favorite book is "Kodo Junrei (Pilgrimage of ancient road)". This book is very familiar to genryu fishermen like us. The book is about the roads or foot paths in the mountains. For example, the ancient roads that have been used for more than a thousand years in eastern Japan and all over the Tohoku region, and old trails that mountain people made, or fishermen’s and mountain plants pickers hidden foot paths, some of work roads that has been cut open in the mountains. Takakuwa-san travelled those rods and trails on foot for this book. It is a book that records such a mountain trip. I occasionally wrote about such old mountain trails and zenmai paths in this blog, and the book includes detailed records of those fading mountain roads. Even if it is called a road, it is not a main road that has been promoted to a road where cars run, such as a national road or a prefectural road, but a so-called back road. Sometimes those roads have been made on the steep mountains or cliffs. Those were the places like the natural fortress that seemed impossible to go through. I really think some roads that Takakuwa-san describes in this book are truly miracle. 


Takakuwa-san has turned 70 this year. "I'm old now," Takakuwa-san said, laughing. I sincerely wonder if somebody who is younger than us inherits the rest of these Takakuwa-san’s records. As the night went on, we slipped into the sleeping bags one after another. It was a calm summer night, with no wind, the moon light spilling out of the gaps between the trees.

On the last day, we chose the most straightforward route through Kedo-sawa to the mountain trail on the ridge. It was a relatively easy route until the end of the stream, but we made a mistake in choosing walking direction in the last bush and struggled, but finally we managed to go on the mountain trail. The superb views of Hachimantai had been spreaded like 360 degrees. It was the splended landscapes, and we could forget all difficulties we had. The cool breeze was pleasant. We went around the Hachimantai ridgeline and the genryu of Obuka-sawa and reached back the head of Aka-gawa again.

I really wanted to come back to fishing with Takakuwa-san and the friends. I asked to Takakuwa-san, "Where shall we go next year?"

"Yeah, let's go somewhere again," Takakuwa-san laughed.

Ultra Minimalist Tenkara Equipment V2


Some years ago, I wrote an article on a Nissin Keiryu rod, the Pocket Mini V3. Although the article stemmed from my experiences in using the Pocket Mini V3 Keiryu rod at home for a year to see if it was valid for a focused tenkara genryu trip in Japan, I placed more emphasis on the minimalist direction in putting together the kit. Looking back on using the Pocket Mini V3 keiryu rod, I realized that I was going in different directions with it, minimalism, compactness and a kit that was went inside of my backpack or carry on. A complete tenkara kit that was easy to grab and bring with me while I travelled; to have for a fishing opportunity, especially during non fishing trips.

Perhaps I think too much about my fishing, the above was even difficult for me to conceptualize into words but I'm going through with it because this is fun for me. This is about what I do and I am sharing it because it is fun to compare notes.

Anyway...

Nissin has created the Tenkara Mini rod and it seems they did it from the Pocket Mini V3. I personally prefer a cork handle and although I enjoy a rod in the 4m class, the 3.2m Tenkara Mini is still an acceptable length for the fishing that I do.

My kit has slightly evolved from the first time that I wrote about it, I now use the Tenkara Mini and am in the process of designing a bag that will double as a net holder/water bottle carrier slash entire kit bag.

In all that I do, I try to minimize my tenkara equipment, especially my travel kit. That minimization is a positive attribute to the method of tenkara. It forces me to concentrate just on what works and minimizes things that do not.



Mini Nets


I always look to the Japanese for inspiration.

But I am not Japanese, I am an American.

I practice the simple method of Japanese style fly fishing, tenkara. I don't try to be Japanese, but I do enjoy and respect what they do and I enjoy their style of fishing. That being said, I am fishing tenkara, Japanese style, influenced from my own background of western fly fishing.

I see that the west also has influence on the east, many Japanese tenkara experts also practice western fly fishing. I think it is a good thing to do both. I don't do western fly fishing much, I quit to learn tenkara, I will do it again one day, today is not that day.

My non-tamo tenkara nets are Japanese influenced however they are made by a western craftsman with my direction.

My favorite tenkara net is Japanese yet I use western nets that are Japanese influenced.

Confused?

It doesn’t matter.

If you want to learn Japanese tenkara, learn from the Japanese.

There are many tenkara and fly fishing enthusiasts in Japan that size their nets to the size of fish they are catching. They also have many styles of nets. For my version of the mini net, I have taken inspiration from them and have had built, small nets which I have also modified for my own use.

I enjoy a small net because they are easy to pack and carry. They also work well to capture a fish while it is hot (not exhausted) and subdue to remove the hook and immediately release. The nets I use in this form are from Sam Lacina.

Here are a couple I use, the small one I sometimes carry in a front pocket. It is amazing, I have used it on much larger fish than it was designed for.

Zippered Rod Case



As with all of my equipment, I looked to the Japanese for examples of what they used. Early on (2012) by chance I noticed in the background of a Dr. Ishigaki fly tying an interesting looking case that he used to carry his rods. During my visit to Japan in 2013, I shopped for equipment at Sansui and Joshuya and purchased a GETT rod case that I use to this day.



I use the cloth rod sleeves that come with most rods when I store my rods inside the zippered case. They prevent the rods from getting "road wear" from vibration and or movement during transit. The cases are easy to open full length and you can keep the sleeves inside while you are using the rods.

For air travel, I use a luggage tag just in case I get separated from my rods. On one flight back to the states from Narita, Japan, I as asked to check my rods as luggage (no extra charge) which I strongly objected to but lost my battle. The rods rode in the luggage hold with absolutely no damage to them. This was the deciding factor in purchasing more cases to hold the varying lengths of nested rods.

The zippered rod cases from Joshuya branded GETT will not be easy to obtain. They are not readily available by mail order. You may find other cases from brands like DAIWA that may be easier to purchase. Each of my cases where less than $20 USD and have been protecting my rods from all the damages of travel by car or airline.

I highly recommend using them for travel to your favorite stream or halfway around the world.



Honryu Tenkara

Photo by Siegfried Forster
The goal of this article is to share my experience and technique with you. I am a tenkara fisher that has taught myself honryu techniques through trial and error. Perhaps I can save you the trouble of not making the mistakes I did. My influences are Japanese anglers such as Kazunori Kobayashi, Koken SorimachiKatsutoshi Amano, Hisao Ishigaki and many others. I have many many seasons of my own experience fishing western rivers and mainstreams with a fly rod, now I am fishing these same rivers with a honryu tenkara rod. I approach sharing my experiences with honryu tenkara as your peer, enthusiast, writer and practitioner.

Let's learn this together and share what we know.

I am drawn to fishing tenkara techniques in big water because it opens up opportunities for catching bigger fish. The allure of large fish on a tenkara rod is exciting! When I sight catch a large trout in thin water, I know I am doing well. Big fish feeding across currents and at depth, educated fish that are line shy and wary of drifting boats with spin fishermen ripping metal through their lane, those fish are now my target. Situations where a fly line laying on the water will ruin a presentation whereas a light colorless gossamer line is held up and suspended without announcement on a long tenkara rod. Honryu tenkara will take far longer to master than catching opportunistic trout in small streams. Honryu tenkara holds much more for me to learn than tenkara fishing mountain streams. Instead of one or the other, I choose both. One is the spice, the other is the meal, both go together.

Photo by Siegfried Forster
Honryu tenkara is a method on it's own. It isn't the substitution of fixed line rod for a nine foot five weight fly rod. I do not use a honryu rod like I would a fly rod in a river. I upscale my tenkara equipment for reach and use tenkara techniques. The attraction is simple, I am able to fish big water by breaking it down into smaller sections and fish a river like a small stream by using longer rods and lines. This is not tenkara vs. fly fishing, it is using longer tenkara rods and lines for their attributes in bigger water, not a substitute of fly fishing. Honryu tenkara is a specialized method. I am a tenkara specialist and I am approaching bigger water with equipment that is longer, 4 and 5m class rods casting 6 to 10m level lines.

Let me explain.

Like most things I do, I just jumped in and started doing it. I used entry level 4m tenkara rods and Japanese books on honryu and then I forgot what I was doing and gravitated to using my tenkara rod for a fly rod. Fly fishing was what I knew from years of experience and I was trying to do that with a tenkara rod on the same water.

It didn’t work very well, I kept trying to go back to fly fishing the river as I knew it.

I tried to use my tenkara rod for fly fishing techniques as I’ve done for many years, extended dead drifting a nymph deep in a fast flow with an indicator using cut back ends of fly lines. It was frustrating to say the least. Throwing slack then lifting the rod to set the hook was ineffective without having a line in my hand, stumbling backwards on greased cobblestones, falling down, dejected, miles from anyone alone. I would yell at the top of my lungs many times listening to the echo across the river on thousand foot cliffs, laughing, then swearing.

WTF! AHHHH!

Why was my catch rate disappearing?

With the knowledge of my river, why wasn't I catching fish consistently?

I’m not going to let this beat me.

So I went back and started over.


I bought a proper honryu tenkara rod, rigged long level lines for it and began picking apart the river as I would a small stream, keeping a tight line. This was the key to success for me. I used my tenkara techniques in the river. I did not substitute my tenkara rod for fly fishing techniques. Not to say that would not work, it does (Yvon Chouinard's Simple Fly Fishing method) but not as well as fly fishing with a fly rod!

Let's stay focused on honryu tenkara.

I found that if I just looked at the water and utilized the attributes of a tight line, something very opposite of dead drifting a fly line, I could feel the sub surface fish take much better than I could with my fly rod. Water that I could not reach out and utilize effectively with my fly rod, I could feel subtle takes with my tenkara rod. Deep water now was available to me whereas with slack line fly fishing to get my flies down, I could not feel takes, I had to indicate eats with a fly line, I could feel eats with a tight tenkara technique.

With honryu tenkara, I could feel what I could not feel or see before when I was fly fishing.

I can do more with this simple method with less equipment, no sinking line, no throwing slack and drifting with indicators...

In my experience, I have had the luxury of time, the knowledge of hundreds of fish caught in my river. All I have to do is apply the knowledge of tenkara techniques putting the fly/kebari to where the fish are on longer rod and lines.

Let me explain a little about my background and experience in my home water.

For small streams in my area, my favorite is the Little Colorado. I have been fishing this stream for 50 years. Here, I stay out of the water whether I am fly fishing in the old days or like now, with tenkara. The rod I use now is 3.9m and I use a 5-6m line. I only use one zoom tenkara rod for all small streams and I am able to reach trout from behind the bank and I am able to work the whole width of the stream at less than 10’ across and 10 cfs (cubic feet per second.) The Little Colorado headwaters where I fish are at 10,000' in elevation and the stream runs petite yet a strong 340 miles out of the mountains and on through the desert to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

The Colorado River section that I fish is upstream from the confluence of the Little Colorado. My home section there is in Glen Canyon, right below the Glen Canyon dam. Flows of 14,000 cfs are high with an average of 10,000 cfs or so down to a low of 7,000 cfs. I fish 14 miles of this river below the dam to the famous put in for Grand Canyon float trips at Lees Ferry. In this area, the river cuts an enormous canyon 1,000' deep or more. The water ranges from a few inches to hundreds of feet deep, 40 yards narrow to 100 yards wide. It's a big western river and I am enjoying exploring it for the last 25 years with a fly rod and the last few with honryu tenkara techniques.

There are a few things that I find important for honryu tenkara fishing, understanding trout behavior, hydrodynamics, food sources and proper equipment and last but not least, good casting control.

Let's quickly explore each element.

Understanding trout behavior is key to catching them. Knowing where fish are and why they are, where they are is super important. Why are they in the shallows or suspended, fining around in an eddy circulation, what are they doing where they are at? What are they eating? Trout are typically eating all the time in a temperature stable river.

Understand hydrodynamics is important too; trout will position themselves in areas where they will not have to move much to intercept food. Movement takes energy, food is fuel, energy is expended at the cost of fuel and trout do not waste precious energy to feed themselves. They will be found where they can watch for insects, worms, scuds, chironomids, midges and bugs in the flow and simply open their mouths to catch and eat and or move very little to let the current carry them to intersect the food in the river flow. Understand how water moves and flows around objects. Understanding hydrodynamics is important to all aspects of fishing. Remember, fish will capitalize on places where they suspend in the current and use it to dart in and out of opposing currents to feed. Knowing where these areas are, even down to shoebox sized rocks, 6' deep, understanding that fish will utilize areas of reduced or increased flow is important to your catching.

For targeting fish, casting accurately is everything. If you can't get the fly/kebari to the fish, they can't see it to eat it. Practice casting your rod, using a methodical approach at gauging distance and pin point accuracy. Be able to utilizing the reach of your rod and line system across currents. Keep a tight line even when pulsing a fly with the flow. This tight line tactility is where honryu tenkara shines. Being able to feel the take is important to setting the hook and a tenkara rod is faster at setting the hook than a fly rod.

Specialized equipment for honryu tenkara.

Rods designed by the experts are 4 to 5m in length and made to cast long lines. There are many to choose from. I personally choose a Gamakatsu Suimu 5m single hand rod. I pair level lines up to 10m with the Suimu. I make my lines out of clear limp fluorocarbon made for conventional casting rods. I do not use colored lines, the water I fish is crystal clear and sometimes thin. I don't need a color line to see, I'm fine with a clear line. I'm utilizing all the attributes of a tenkara system for a river and feel is just as important as seeing. River trout are much larger than small stream fish. There are times when a large trout will take a dead drifted fly and turn and swim downstream with the flow, in this case, with tenkara, I am not dead drifting, I am moving the fly at the same speed as the current with a tight line and the system will telegraph the fish taking the fly faster than a indicator or bobber. I'm using tenkara techniques in a river, not using a tenkara rod as a substitution for a fly rod.

Photo by Noah Trahan
For my net, I use a tamo. A Japanese round net is ergonomic to moving from spot to spot. I forget that it is there. When it is time to use the net, reaching for it and landing the fish is easy. There is plenty of room to secure the fish with the round shape while removing the hook. The netting is fine and the colors, the aesthetics of a finely crafted Japanese round net are amazing. I choose a little larger net of 35cm or so diameter, a small stream tamo is about 25cm. Your regular fly fishing net will work fine, a round net is not necessary.

Wading equipment should match the water conditions. Most rivers will have rounded rock bottoms of various size stones that are slick with moss. Without getting into a debate about felt vs. rubber, choose what ever type boot you like. I use a rubber sawanobori (Japanese shower climb) boot sole with neoprene socks and spats when I am shallow wading. If I am probing deeper into the river, I use a chest wader with a felt sole bootie. When I am honryu fishing the Colorado River, I am back hauled upriver and set up camp. I fish the area and then packraft back downstream however many miles to my car. Equipment must be chosen carefully in order to be compact enough to fit in a 65 liter waterproof bag, that includes my camping, sleeping, personal effects, fishing gear and the kitchen.

I am a minimalist on the river just as I am on the stream.

My honryu tenkara can be grouped into two types of adventures. One is up canyon to areas that can only be accessed by boat, camping, fishing and floating back to the put in. And two, drive up or hike to river fishing. Both are exciting yet I find the river camping, honryu fishing and packrafting back much more stimulating and focused, honryu tenkara + packrafting is my favorite.

My experiences are foremost yet I study Japanese media and speak with expert anglers on the subject in order to learn more about how other anglers practice honryu tenkara.

Photo by Noah Trahan
Recently, I have found the resource material by Discover Tenkara very similar to my own undertaking. Paul Gaskell and John Pearson are working directly with the honryu anglers in Japan to teach and share this technique. By far, the Discover Tenkara resources are easier to obtain than the Japanese material that I have spent quite a bit of time and effort requesting from friends and purchasers in Japan. My experience of fly fishing, then learning tenkara, then trying fly fishing techniques with a tenkara rod, then tenkara techniques with up scaled tenkara equipment was a long road of failure and then success. You can quickly and efficiently learn honryu tenkara by focusing on the English language Discover Tenkara tuition.

As I approached writing this for Michael Agneta's "Tenkara Angler" I wanted to expose what I consider some of the best multi-angler resources and I thought to myself, I'll just ask Paul Gaskell what his approach to honryu tenkara is.

What follows is a verbatim communication between Paul and I.

Adam: Paul, I’m writing a piece on Honryu Tenkara. I think your stuff on the subject is good. I’m of the opinion that honryu tenkara is not fly fishing in a river, it is tenkara in a river with up scaled (longer rod/line) equipment, not fly fishing, tenkara. 

“What do you think? Is it tenkara or fly fishing with a tenkara rod or both or ?” 

Can you give a few words to be included in my article? I like your contribution to this method, I would like to include your thoughts as well as references. Thanks.

Paul Gaskell: I think the best overall resource of ours is the article on this link: https://www.discovertenkara.com/blog/honryu-tenkara.html


Honryu Tenkara: Tackling Big Rivers with Big Fish
Tenkara is only for little fish in tiny streams right??
discovertenkara.com



There is an earlier article (from 2014), where (as far as I can tell) we first introduced the term "Honryu tenkara" to English-speaking tenkara anglers, but that is (necessarily) less detailed than the article above where we benefited from 5 more years of experience.

The honryu tenkara tactics that I've been shown in Japan - and then practiced in Japan, Italy and in the UK - have a really different "flavour" or gut-feeling compared to "fly fishing with a tenkara rod". I think that distinction is a result of the strong background in "regular" Japanese tenkara that the people who have worked on developing Honryu tenkara in Japan possessed. Already being on a particular track tends to control the destination and you certainly feel the extension from a very distinct "Japanese" base when you see great honryu anglers in action. Some of those elements are the fly first delivery (even on long casts) the high rod fishing position - with the associated diligent holding of as much casting line off the water as possible, but you could argue that those are present in other styles of fishing too (Italian styles of fly casting can concentrate on fly-first delivery of dry flies - and competition nymphing with long leaders or traditional soft-hackle wet flies fished upstream emphasis "line off" tactics).

So I think it is the level of attention to detail - such as the subtlety of manipulation of flies (when they are not being fished dead drift) and especially the development of the skill of feeding slack down the line between each pulsation of the fly. This last point relies on a great sense of touch and a well-balanced rig of rod and casting line. It is the angler's ability to control the rebound of the rod blank during the loading/unloading while you "pulse" a kebari that is key. Done well, it creates an almost elastic-band sensation as the line draws tight and then little coils of slack travel down the line during the pause between each pulse. 

Level line is, I think, the best tool for this. I'm sure that terminology will develop over time as techniques and understanding continue to mature - but I have a personal hierarchy of terms that help me keep things straight in my own mind. I like to think of "tenkara rodding" as a useful term for using tenkara rods to tackle species or waters that are outside the rapid coldwater streams and salmonid fish that are the home turf of tenkara. This also nicely captures the use of western fly lines/rigs attached to tenkara rods - for example fishing poppers for bass. Basically, this gives people a good clue as to what's effective in different situations. So, I can be "tenkara rodding Euro nymphs" one day or I can be "tenkara rodding poppers for bass" another. That is really helpful to other people wanting to recreate the sport that you had. 

I think it's important to keep "Fixed line fly fishing" as a top-level category ABOVE tenkara. This is because there are many traditional methods of "fixed line fly fishing" around the world (tenkara is one). In Italy alone you have Pesca a mosca Valsesiana as well as "Scurriazzo" and "Frusta Fiorentina". That last fishing style has at least a little bit in common with Honryu tenkara but with even longer rods (around 6-m) and multiple flies used to tackle big river terrain and chest-deep wading. Tenkara (as distinct from tenkara-rodding) has a connection to the landscape and the culture of mountains and you definitely feel that coming through in modern Honryu tenkara. That feeling is what makes it a different experience from the (equally fun) fishing of western rigs and tactics on a tenkara rod. They are each different - but not less.

It might be handy to point people to the "Apennines" section of this article for more on Italian traditional/fixed-line fly fishing: https://www.discovertenkara.com/blog/fishing-in-italy.html

Fishing in Italy is Paradise
Whatever your style of fishing, Italy has it all
discovertenkara.com


Adam: Thank you for your contribution Paul, I appreciate it.

In closing, if you are looking for more in your tenkara, you might want to try fishing in rivers with specialized longer tenkara rods and lines for catching, playing and landing the larger fish there. Many people have helped me with the Japanese techniques in learning honryu tenkara. I want to share what I've learned by passing it on here.

I hope you find this article useful, good luck and take care.

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Further Resources

https://www.tenkara-fisher.com/2019/04/honryu-tenkara.html
http://www.tenkara-fisher.com/2019/02/gamakatsu-multiflex-suimu-ex-5m.html
Hiroshi Watanabe: http://www.tenkara-fisher.com/2017/02/tenkara-in-main-streams.html
Kazunori Kobayashi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONnV8_v1yAU