Interview with John Vetterli

Interview with John Vetterli
by Adam Trahan

The fact that Mr. Vetterli participates at Tenkara-Fisher is testament that I am doing my job at keeping the place as real as possible. The story begins with a telephone conversation with John back in the fall of last year. We discussed where we where at, where the community was at in regards to fly-fishing and where we were going with Tenkara.

John has many sides, facets if I may that makes up the gem of his experience. He has surrounded himself with a love of what ever his interests are. Many of them are of Japanese origin. One of the many things that he does has nothing to do with Japan; it is about something completely different.

John is a pilot.

Not just any pilot, a helicopter pilot. Helicopters are really difficult aircraft to operate. I know because I am a pilot of a difficult craft and have spent a lot of time in helicopters as a passenger trying to figure out what in the world the pilot was doing to make the helicopter fly as it does.

Flying brings a perspective on life that many may not understand.

But let’s stay focused and see what John has to say in his interview…

Adam: John, I am fascinated by your intensity. We have conversed here at Tenkara-Fisher on topics that may have caused friction yet we navigated the topics in grand style. If anything, our conversations of higher grits down to the finer grit has made me realize just how polished you are about your interests. Tenkara, as simple as it is, is also quite complex having the attributes to teach a new angler or challenge a master. Japanese in origin, I find that you understand Tenkara from a standpoint being very close to some of the Japanese masters. Having spent time with them on the water, studying their way, sitting with them, speaking with them at length, you are a direct connection in an American sense, a Tenkara guide.

“Let me get right down to it, is there a point where we modify the technique and Tenkara becomes something else?”

John Vetterli: First off, thank you Adam for inviting me in for this interview.

One thing I have found in my discussions and friendships with some fantastic tenkara anglers and even a few recognized masters in Japan is that there is something very unique in Japanese culture.

When the Japanese set out to build a box, it is the absolute measure of perfection. Everything about that particular box is perfect in dimensions, fit and finish that is high art in it’s own right, and it fits the intended use better than any other box.

What the Japanese don’t do very often is think outside the box. That’s where the Americans come in.

Tenkara is something that has been continually refined for perhaps more than 1,000 years in Japan. That box has been polished, and refined to perfection. Now the Americans and other Western cultures discover tenkara and we have no box of reference. We immediately adapt tenkara to our own levels of understanding.

I love fishing for 10-15 pound carp with tenkara and keiryu rods using tenkara lines and kebari pattern flies. I know that this is in no way actual tenkara. When my friends in Japan saw our YouTube video of Erik and I catching carp, they were astounded because in over 1,000 years, not a single tenkara angler in Japan ever thought outside of the tenkara box enough to use tenkara gear and techniques to catch carp.

I also have made some tenkara friends in the UK, Norway, and Russia. As tenkara has moved around the world, each place it lands, tenkara is adapted and modified to suit the cultures and fishing traditions of its new home.

I believe that what we are seeing now in America is the evolution of something completely new. I simply call it the American Tenkara Method. It is a hybrid system of fishing that takes the best of the American fly fishing traditions and combining those with the best of the Japanese traditions.

I don’t see one single method whether it is the Modern Japanese Method or the emerging American Tenkara Method as being better/superior to the other. They both have merit and should both be respected for what they each contribute to the overall fly fishing experience.

I fish using both methods because the diversity of waters that I choose to fish require it.

My true passion and love is the Modern Japanese Tenkara Method on high mountain streams.

Carp fishing using tenkara methods is my number 2 favorite. Don’t knock it until you have tried it. Mega fun on all levels.

Adam: There are no fishing style police in my view. People are free to fish and call it anything they want. I do know that there is a common description of Tenkara from the Japanese but there is also a freedom that the masters describe, once it is away from Japan, people are free to interpret anyway they want…

“Can you tell us about the water that you guide on?”

John Vetterli: We are so fortunate to live and operate our guide business in a place that has every type of tenkara fishing waters you can imagine all within 5 min of Salt Lake City International Airport to 4 hours from downtown Salt Lake City. The prime tenkara streams are right in the city. The streams we took the Japanese guests to during the 2012 Tenkara Summit are literally 5-10 minutes from my home.

We individually tailor guide trips to give the client whatever specific stream experience they are looking for. We have tenkara streams that Dr. Ishigaki declared “exactly like Japan”. Or high mountain lakes at 13,000 ft., large rivers such as the Provo River, Weber River, and many spectacular spring creeks and tail waters. We fish year round from below zero temperatures in the winter to 100 degrees in the summers.

You have to be able to adapt tenkara to such a huge variety of weather climates, elevations, and different river/streams eco-systems. Because we fish such a wide variety of these conditions, we have become extremely proficient at adapting tenkara while still trying to stay true to the heritage. Not an easy balance to achieve.

Adam: You are fortunate. Utah is a great sporting state and for you to represent Utah is an honor. As a mountain sport enthusiast, my perspective of Utah is a vast playground. I’ve climbed its mountains, surfed the steep gullies on my Winterstick and Utah is a fantastic playground, earth or sky. Streams are everywhere and of all types. To be able to share those experiences with the Japanese (Tenkara ambassadors) representing Western America is just amazing. Good for you John, good for us.

“Can you tell us what you have learned from your time with Prof. Ishigaki?”

John Vetterli: First thing you learn from Dr. Ishigaki is that he has a great sense of humor. He is very easy going and fun to talk with and just hang out with. He likes a good practical joke and loves sharing jokes back and forth during the day fishing.

He does not take himself too seriously. He does not walk around with his nose in the air and demand that you respect him. He is very down to earth and just loves to share all that he has learned over the last 40 years of tenkara fishing.

I think the best lesson he has given me is to not take tenkara too seriously and just have fun with it.

He has given me a lot of really cool insights as to the many layers of subtlety that exist in modern Japanese tenkara methods. We have spent perhaps 2 hours or more discussing things like changes in grip pressure in different phases of casting.

That is what I like about Japanese arts, they love to explore all the tiny subtleties of a form and refine them to perfection. It makes things like tenkara a life long pursuit of perfection that never grows stale or stagnant. It is always flowing like a stream, it is always growing, breathing, living, it can become what you want it to be. It can be as simple as cane pole fishing or as complex as changing the pressure of your index finger on your casting hand at the split second the kebari touches the water's surface.

Adam: Amazing.

We have passed a few e-mails describing a list of talented Tenkara anglers that you have fished with, a who’s who in Tenkara.

“Would you mind going over that list with our readers? C’mon John, it is impressive.”

John Vetterli: It’s funny, I had never really thought about a who’s who list until we were discussing this interview the other day. They are just fishing friends to me.

So I guess I will start off with the Japanese crew. I first met Dr. Ishigaki in 2011 at the first Tenkara Summit. Erik Rob and I were very fortunate to get to spend a few days fishing with him, Daniel and our good friend Masaki Nakano.

In 2012 Dr. Ishigaki along with Eiji Yamakawa, Masami Tanaka, and Kiyoshi Ishimura came to Utah for the second Tenkara Summit that we hosted along with Tenkara USA.

Eiji, Masami, and Kiyoshi have become great friends to me. We communicate almost daily via email and Skype. Just last night Kiyoshi and I were Skyping. The Harima Tenkara Club spent the weekend celebrating their 10year anniversary. We were taking during their lunch break from fishing. Got to see some beautiful Amago and Iwana that they had just caught and were going to prepare for lunch.

In the fall of 2012, I was invited to join the Harima Tenkara Club in Japan. I am very honored to be the first non-Japanese member. Since then, my friends/business partners Rob and Erik have also become members as well as our East Coast buddy Anthony Naples. Being a part of this group really has added a lot to my personal knowledge of modern Japanese tenkara methods, tenkara history/traditions, and just deeper levels of personal enjoyment of tenkara as more than a sport or hobby, it has become a way of living.

Now for the American tenkara group.

Daniel Galhardo and I met in April 2011 at a small tenkara fishing gathering Erik and I hosted in Salt Lake City. I have been fortunate to spend quite a few days fishing with Daniel and working with him on a few other projects over the past couple of years. Daniel has a long vision of tenkara and Tenkara USA. We are all fortunate that he is building his company to be here for a very, very long time.

Chris Stewart. I met Chris at the first Tenkara Summit in 2011. I have been a very early customer of Chris and Tenkara Bum. Our friendship has grown over the past couple of years and I very much enjoy the times we have had to fish together and some very lengthy and deep phone/email conversations about tenkara and our shared passion.

Jason Klass. I can’t exactly remember when we met. It kind of seems like we have known each other for years. Jason is very funny to talk with and hang out with. We got a chance to fish together for a little while during the 2012 Tenkara Summit.

Anthony Naples. Anthony and I met on a small stream the evening before the 2012 Tenkara Summit. I was fishing with Dr. Ishigaki and this tall lanky guy with an east coast accent walked up and asked in a very hushed voice “Is that Dr. Ishigaki down there?”

I just said something very deep and mysterious like “Yep”. We invited Anthony to join us for dinner at this little local pizza place and he just fit right in. I have since gotten to know Anthony much better and I really enjoy his friendship. Anthony is the deep thinker of the tenkara community.

Dr. Kelleher and Misako Ishimura. I have had a few opportunities to meet and talk with both authors of the first English language tenkara book. Very nice people and interesting to get to know. I hope to get some time to fish with both of them soon.

Karel Lansky. I had a chance to meet Karel in 2012. We share some family history. My ancestors are from Switzerland and so is Karel. Ooh, spooky for 2 Swiss guys to find each other because of a Japanese tradition. Just plain weird.

Europeans. Chris Hendriks of Norway is a great guy and the first European Tenkara Certified Guide. We met during the 2011 Tenkara Summit. Someday I am going to get over to Norway to go fishing with Chris.

Paul Gaskell, England. Paul and I have not met, yet. We have exchanged some emails and forum discussions and that fool invited us to come to England to go fishing. The last fool to do that was Dr. Ishigaki. And we are headed to his house next year. Beware of inviting the Tenkara Guides to your home to fish. If you offer it we will come.

Oleg in Czech Republic. We have contributed to Tenkara Times website and have enjoyed getting to know Oleg over the past couple of years.

There are some really cool things going on with tenkara in Europe. Two very old fly fishing traditions coming together. Some interesting things are going to come out of Europe in the next few years.

I know that there are more people on my list but I honestly can’t remember them at the moment. I will probably come up with a list of 10 more people 5 minutes after you post this interview.

Adam: Tenkara is just one discipline of angling. It is a highly refined discipline born of simplicity and Tenkara stays there. People tend to make it difficult and yet does not need to be but the overall effect is that Tenkara is so much fun from beginner to master.

I’ve read from some very talented anglers, their thoughts on “one fly” and also the “artificial culture of one fly” in America. Prof. Ishigaki fishes one fly, so does Katsutoshi Amano and there are other masters of Tenkara that fish the “one fly” I believe that the American “concept” of one fly is just that. We don’t know because we don’t have the time doing it, the experience. I am forcing myself into kebari pattern minimalism, not matching the hatch, more about retaining my catch rate. My one fly is a pattern loosely based on a Sakasa Kebari. The materials , size of hook and color might change but the basic pattern is there.

“Can you give me your thoughts about anglers outside of Japan practicing one fly?”

John Vetterli: I really like the one fly approach. I do it a little different than most. I like to tie kebari pattern flies. I have duplicated as many traditional Japanese kebari patterns as I can find. When I go fishing in tenkara streams, I will choose a pattern of the day and fish that particular pattern all day long. I like to mix things up a bit.

There are some rivers in our area that are highly pressured and you may catch a fish or two using one fly but you will have much better success matching the hatch to a degree. I don’t get my entomology kit out and look at bugs. If the fish are taking flies off the surface, I use a dry fly, if fish are actively hitting terrestrials, I use a foam hopper or small beetle, midges, I use size 18-22 kebari patterns. So I guess it is matching the hatch only in very general and minimal terms.

Adam: “How do you choose what Tenkara fly you are going to use?”

John Vetterli: My fly boxes are about as organized as a tornado aftermath. Most days I just grab a fly from the box and whatever random pattern that is, that becomes the one fly pattern for the day. Not very scientific or well thought out.

Adam: Your company, as you have said yourself is a return to the Tenkara Professional. There is more truth in that than we may realize. A professional follows an occupation as a means of income yet the Tenkara Professional of old Japan kept their catch and sold it for gain. The fish lost, the Professional won. With your company, the fish is returned, you win, your client wins and you become more knowledgeable with little impact to the environment. I believe that is even more desirable than the Tenkara Professionals of old. The environment does not lose; the fish are still there.

In all professions, there is a down side…

“Can you tell us a little bit about the downside of being a Tenkara Professional?”

John Vetterli: Being a fly fishing guide is a love/hate thing for me. I love fishing, I love tenkara, I love sharing that with others. Teaching someone a new passion, helping a seasoned angler see the same thing with a new perspective or a slight tweak to a skill that changes everything for them.

We created a new division of Tenkara Guides LLC called TROutreach. The TROutreach (Tenkara Recreational Outreach) program is an adaptive sports program using tenkara fishing methods and tools to bring the passion of the outdoors and tenkara to someone who has lost one or more limbs, suffered post traumatic stress from military service, or lost the use of their legs from spinal cord injury. To go out on the water with these extraordinary people who are willing to take a chance on something many of them have never done or fishing is something they have done it all their lives only to believe that because of an injury, that activity is no longer doable, I can’t tell you how rewarding that is to me personally. I could do only these trips the rest of my life and love every second of it.

Now the flip side of being a professional guide.
Being a guide can be very stressful. Clients pay a lot of money for a guide trip and some days no matter what you do, try, or pray for, there are just no fish to be had.

You can’t control the weather, sometimes your personality and the client’s just don’t mesh well, the list of what ifs goes on and on. So, you just have to put all that stress in a little box and carry on.

90% of guide trips go off without a hitch and everyone has a great time. It’s that 10% that kind of sucks. There is always a way to make those 10% days work. We may focus on a lot of skill building, how to read water, environmental and ecosystem conservation and preservation activities. There is always a way to turn those days around but that stress is always lurking in the background.

I really like being a professional tenkara guide and I am very fortunate to not only be co-owner of a very successful guide business, I get to work with my best friends. Erik and Rob are two of the best people I have ever met. I feel blessed to get to spend so much time with these guys sharing our common passions and making a little bit of money doing it is just a bonus. Our guide company was born not to make a living but to teach and spread something we are so passionate about to others and instill that same passion in someone else. We just have to charge money to generate the resources needed to make that mission happen.

Adam: You are friends with Chris Stewart and Daniel Galhardo. It is common knowledge that you receive rods from Chris for review. Your business as a Tenkara Guide has the seal from Tenkara USA as a certified Tenkara Guide service.

My observation of Tenkarabum and Tenkara USA is quite a contrast.

Tenkara USA is all about Tenkara; the history, the present and more importantly, the future of Tenkara. Tenkarabum (Chris Stewart) is everywhere, no one discipline, just fishing based on telescoping (nesting) rods. He may choose a keiryu rod for a customer and call it a rod good for Tenkara. His service in the distribution of Japanese Tenkara rods is admirable. I understand knowledge in his advice about Tenkara but his fishing advice pulls from many disciplines, I understand Chris’ advice more from a use what works instead of defining Tenkara as it was conceived and practiced in its country of origin.

“Yourself, knowing what Tenkara is and fishing other types of telescoping rods, can you give us your thoughts on the style contrasts of Chris Stewart and Daniel Galhardo?”

John Vetterli: I feel that both Daniel and Chris are simple the Yin and Yang of tenkara.

Both are good friends of mine, both are business competitors in the fledging American tenkara market place. I do an equal amount of business with both companies. Both Tenkara USA and Tenkara Bum provide their customers with excellent quality products that suit their needs.

I don’t want to get into discussions about personalities and business models.
I have had a lot of personal interaction with both Chris and Daniel as a customer, as a product evaluator, and a fellow tenkara business professional. They are honorable men, just at times, they view certain things in tenkara differently. One is not more correct than the other, just different.

Just suffice it to say, both companies will treat you well, they both carry great products, I respect both men for taking a huge personal risk to bring about tenkara as a method and tenkara as a tool to the western fly fishing world.

Our company is square in the center of Tenkara USA and Tenkara Bum. We do our very best to serve what we see as beneficial to the tenkara community in a very broad sense. Chris will bring rods in that he is interested in and send them out to us to do a couple of things.

1. Put them to the test and see just what they can do/not do.

2. “Give me your opinion on what the best use of this particular rod may be”. We have tested a few rods that on paper look like they would be a good tenkara method rod, but, on the water, they just don’t work out like you would think.

We just provide Chris with unbiased feedback on certain rods.

We have also done some advanced pre-release feedback for Tenkara USA on a few rods and other stuff.

I believe that having an independent group that can look at a product like a tenkara rod as just a rod, a line as just a line, whatever the product may be, without taking into account who makes it or sells it. Getting rid of a bias toward a manufacturer or retailer, that, serves the tenkara community better.

We are kind of becoming like a Tenkara Consumer Reports. We have fished with what seems like every conceivable type of tenkara and keiryu/seiryu rod on the market. After you use 10, 20, 50 different rods from every manufacturer in Japan, Europe, and the USA, you start to learn a few things about what makes a rod a good tenkara method rod. There are plenty of rods marketed as tenkara rods that just plain suck. And there are rods not marketed as tenkara rods that just plain rock! In the end it just comes down to a personal choice of what type of rod you want to use for your tenkara methods.

At this point, any feedback we have given any company (we test a lot more products than just tenkara rods), is kept confidential between us and them, unless they want the information made public.

Gear testing is a lot of work but also very interesting and fun. Follow our YouTube page for some very unorthodox gear being used as fishing gear. You will be as surprised as we are about how fantastic some of these products work in a fishing environment. We look at and test everything from underwear to tenkara rods. Learning a lot about product design across a huge spectrum of equipment.

Adam: John, I can’t hold back any longer. I want to know about your flying helicopters. I learned to hang glide at an early age. I was fortunate in that I take a methodical approach at everything I do. The early hang gliders where dangerous and I am fortunate to have survived my first one and I have flown many. I have a friend that is a professional helicopter pilot. He also fly’s hang glider. We have had many discussions on flying helicopters. When I was in the service, as a medic, I flew in many helicopters and if I could, I would sit close to the pilot trying to figure out the piloting, the controls.

“Can you tell us about your job as a helicopter pilot?”

John Vetterli: Right now I have a job working as a ferry pilot. That is a pilot that delivers aircraft from point A to point C. Helicopter jobs are nomadic by nature. Pilots move around the country chasing from job to job. I have a family with young children so the nomad lifestyle just doesn’t work for me. I am just happy to have the work when it comes along. I have flown a few tour flights when I lived in the Los Angeles area. Nothing too exciting, just flying around.

Adam: I know you have a flying story, I have many and I have far less hours in the air as you do. Give it up John; let’s have a good flying story.

John Vetterli: I don’t really have any. I guess that is either the sign of a good pilot or a lucky pilot. I would classify myself as an average helicopter pilot with a good dose of luck.

I have had a few mechanical issues while flying but nothing major. I did lose a tail rotor once during a final approach to land. Just followed the emergency procedures that get pounded into you during flight training, entered an autorotation and landed safely, not really a big deal. Sure, there was about 45 seconds of high stress but in that 45 seconds it was all over. I really didn’t know exactly what had happened until it was all done and I was on the ground.

What I remember was pulling up the collective as I lined up on the helipad to keep my descent rate correct. That’s when I felt a high frequency vibration in the left pedal, 1 maybe 2 seconds later, the chip light for the tail rotor gear box lit up and bang, no more tail rotor.

Because I was in the process of adding lift and torque to the main rotor, once the tail rotor stopped, the aircraft pitched violently up and the fuselage began to rotate around the main rotor. You correct this by slamming the collective down, rolling off the throttle to eliminate all the main rotor torque. That will help get your aircraft pointed in the general direction it needs to be in. Get the aircraft leveled and glide in for your landing.

Contrary to popular myth, helicopters can glide if they lose an engine. The glide trajectory is not as mellow as a fixed wing aircraft. It is more like the glide trajectory of a 2 million dollar lawn dart.

Adam: Thank you for going on that tangent, pilot, you know.

I have been planning a trip to Japan for a couple of years now. I am excited to go and fish the mountain streams with a Japanese friend. It was my intent to learn the Japanese Tea Ceremony but after quite a bit of self-study, it is quite a complex skill set. I believe I will be fortunate to just sit for tea with someone that performs the ceremony.

“Can you tell us about your experiences with Japanese Tea?”

John Vetterli: I have been training in various Japanese traditional martial arts since 1977. After continuous study and training in classical Budo for my entire life, Chado or tea ceremony seemed like a natural path. After a lifetime of learning and perfecting the ancient ways of killing an adversary, an art based on peace seemed to have a place in my heart.

I was extremely fortunate to come across my tea ceremony teacher Haruko Sadler living just a short 45 minutes away from my home. Sadler Sensei is a master teacher of the Urasenke School of Chado. She is also an artist, musician, Ikebana teacher, traditional Japanese cuisine cook, and mother of two boys. She is a native Japanese woman married to an American.

Studying tea is the most difficult martial art I have ever undertaken. When I say martial art, I mean that the study of tea is just as intense mentally, physically, and even more precise and multi-dimensional as the classical sword arts I also train in.

A good tea teacher is very firm in instruction but also has the balance and wisdom to let the student make mistakes as they learn. I am the first student of classical Budo arts (combat arts of the Samurai) that she has trained in the way of tea.

In July of 2012 I was fortunate to be able to perform chado in a streamside setting for Dr. Ishigaki, Eiji Yamakawa, Kiyoshi Ishimura, Masami Tanaka, Daniel Galhardo, and my friend and business partner Rob Worthing.

I am sure I made several errors in the performance of tea that day, I have only been studying it for 8 years. Have a long way to go before I have any sort of mastery.

But the group was very welcoming toward the ceremony. I do find a lot of humor in the fact that a group of Japanese tenkara anglers travelled 10,000 miles around to the other side of the world to find tenkara perfect streams and a white guy dressed in traditional kimono and hakama training with his sword in the forest and performing chado on a huge granite boulder on the side of the stream.

Adam: I saw a photograph of you with a sword by a stream, I believe it was by Jason Klass, I couldn’t remember where I saw it but there was a story along with it.

"Would you care to weave in that story here? What style of sword? What is your experience with it?"

John Vetterli: I have been training in the art of Iaido (classical Japanese swordsmanship) since 1997. My particular school is Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaijutsu. My school linage is an unbroken chain of master-student dating back to the 16th century. Iai is the art of constant awareness and the instantaneous drawing and cutting with the katana. Katana is the name given to a sword of a certain length. Not all Japanese swords are katana. Katana is not the generic name of a Japanese sword. It is a very specific sword.

Sounds a bit like tenkara, no?

On the day I was preparing tea for the Japanese guests in 2012, I had finished all my preparations while the group was fishing. I knew I would have some time to kill so I packed along my sword. While I was waiting for the group to arrive, I began practicing my Iai katas. Somewhere during that time an overly intrepid doo-gooder mountain biker rode by and saw me through the forest training with my sword. So they decided that the police must be notified of a lunatic running around the forest swinging a sword.

A while later during the tea ceremony, several police officers came down the trail to where we were. Jason Klass and TJ were just hanging out watching the tea ceremony when the police officers asked them what was going on. Jason kept a really cool head and just told them something like “We are hosting some guests from Japan and this is a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.” One of the officers asked about a sword. Jason just told them that the sword is part of the tea ceremony. The officer asked if the sword is real or sharp. Jason coolly responded that it was not sharp.

Truth is that sword is beyond razor sharp. My sword is the real deal, a traditionally forged katana made by a sword smith in Japan.

Anyway, the police officers watched the ceremony for a few minutes and quietly left.

Then I packed all the tea gear and weapons back in the car and joined the group for a fantastic afternoon of fishing.

Jason tells the story better than I do. His version is much more humorous.

Adam: Many of us that are into Tenkara have Japanese ties of some sort. I know that one of my customers is involved in Japanese bow. You have a couple of interests in Japanese disciplines, actually more than a couple…

“Would you mind offering to us, your reflections or your interests in Japan? Why is Japan so interesting to you?”

I know it is an odd question; I struggle with it myself that is why I am asking you. I find everything in Japan to be aesthetic yet utilitarian. I find the people to be that way too.

Very stylish, I am attracted to her.

John Vetterli: I don’t really have an answer to that question. I had a Japanese Iai Sensei tell me once that I am the “Whitest Japanese man” he has ever met. I guess that deep down I share the same heart as my adopted culture of ancient Japan. My former career was a professional firefighter. A true warrior occupation that was my honor to serve in for 22 years. That coupled with more than 30 years of classical Budo training and about 7 years training as a Soto Zen Monk, endears my heart to the Japanese heart. Our hearts share the same beat.

Adam: We spoke on the phone, it was a good conversation, and you are a dynamic and interesting person. You talked about an Internet project that I am excited about. I am hoping that you move forth with that project. I believe that Tenkara is not limited; it is limiting but not limited. I believe Tenkara embodies more than just fishing, it is a reflection, of a way of looking at fishing from a minimalistic stance. We are often prisoners of our possessions...

“Are you at liberty to talk about your project and or can you reflect on what I am tilting at. Yvon Chouinard writes a little bit about it, living simply, fishing that way too.”

John Vetterli: I want to keep the internet project for another time. Still working on the grand plan and the small details. I have some good people like Anthony Naples helping me and my friends Erik and Rob. It is taking much longer to roll out than I had anticipated but hopefully it will be worth the effort when it is ready.

One thing I will say is that for some of us, tenkara is more than just another way of fishing. It is becoming a way of life. A way of looking at the world, a way of relating to others in simple and honest terms.

My life is a reflection of my tenkara and my tenkara is a reflection of my life. The two are merging into what I call the Tenkara Lifestyle. It is not a fake lifestyle based on a few tenkara related stickers or a personalized license plate on a car, wearing tenkara themed t-shirts and posting lots of chatter on forums or Facebook. It is a clean and simplified lifestyle that is streamlined and living a form follows function approach to everyday living. It is living within your means and making the most of what you’ve got. It is about shrugging off the need to overcompensate the lack of skill with the use of technology.

It is about being simply real, simply honest, simply human.
Tenkara is simply rod, line, and fly.
I am simply soul, body, and mind.
I am not my possessions or my job or my bank account. All those things can be lost in a day.

In the end all you have is who you really are. For some, tenkara can help to discover that true person behind the societal façade that we all tend to hide behind. A tenkara lifestyle is your humanity simplified.

Adam: You have spent some time with Mr. Chouinard, he is a quite a climber. I am an armchair mountaineer and have read about his escapades in a few books.

“Care to share a Tenkara experience with Mr. Chouinard?”

John Vetterli: Mr. Chouinard is really an interesting person. I only spent an hour or so talking with him during the 2011 Tenkara Summit in Montana. We were standing next to each other during Dr. Ishigaki’s on stream casting demonstration when Yvon leaned over and said to me “So you are one of the new Tenkara Guides? Think you can show me something new?” It was more like a subtle challenge than a question.

I was all geared up in waders and rod in hand so I asked him if he had his waders with him. He answered “No”. I said “Well, here is lesson number one, always bring your waders to a fishing event.” He laughed and gave me a slap on the back and then we just had a short chat about his personal tenkara experience. He is a very nice guy and I hope to get to spend some quality time on the water fishing with him in the future. He showed me his rod and his line he built himself. I gave the rod a few casts into the water. It is a very cool old fiberglass tenkara rod about 12 ft long. He uses a line that if I remember correctly, is made from 000wt floating PVC fly line.

He is not at all what most people probably think the owner of a multi-million dollar multi-national company would be like. When I met him, he was wearing torn pants with paint on them, worn out flip flops, a faded tattered shirt and a sun bleached hat. His millionaire exotic car is a blue sun faded Honda Element with a cracked windshield. What more can I say, you just got to respect a guy like that.

Adam: I’ve enjoyed reading Yvon’s words over the years, he is truly an outdoorsman.

I want to thank you for your participation here. I have learned from you but what I take away from our interactions is respect, in that, thank you.

“I would like to offer you at this time to write about anything that you want to.”

John Vetterli: This is a very interesting time in the American tenkara experience. I feel that we are approaching a new crossroads and moving tenkara into deeper uncharted territory.

I have a couple of future tenkara predictions:

2013 My prediction is that this is the year that the American Tenkara Method comes into its own and begins its refining process to become a stand alone tenkara method that is as unique and complete as the Modern Japanese Tenkara Method. The two will be as the two sides of a single coin.

2014 and beyond? Who knows, but hang on to your hat. What I do know is that the future of tenkara in America and other Western cultures is going to continue to grow in size, popularity, and diversity. It is going to be a wild and fun ride. I just hope that I am in a position to be a part of it all.

Some personal goals of mine this year:

I am on a personal mission to learn and understand the other Japanese fixed line stream fishing methods. There is so much diversity of fixed line stream and river fishing in Japan, it is a shame that they have all been ignored or misunderstood by the majority of western tenkara anglers. Each method is centuries in refinement and extremely specialized with rich histories that are just waiting for us to discover.

I starting to fish the keiryu method of stream fishing this year and so far it has been a lot of fun. Japanese keiryu fishing is just as refined a method of fishing as tenkara. It is a similar tight line method used to catch the large trout in the deep waters of larger rivers and streams of Japan.

Along with keiryu, I have been doing the Japanese method of tanago fishing using actual 1 and 1.5m tanago rods. This is a lot of fun and something that should not be scoffed at by tenkara snobbery as just “bait fishing”. There are hundreds if not thousands of small or micro fish species in North America. Many of these fish are beautiful animals and the rods and tackle are so light that even a 2 inch black nose dace is a fun fight.

Here is a little bit of interesting history about tanago fishing. Tanago fishing was the method of fishing enjoyed by the ancient Japanese Emperors and their courts. Tanago was the preferred fishing method of royalty and the elite Daimyo or Samurai ruling class. Tanago rods and tackle are miniature works of art. Hand painted wooden bobbers can cost hundreds of dollars and the rods in today’s market start at about $150.00 and go beyond $1,000.00.

Seiryu fishing is another method of fixed line mountain stream trout fishing. I have been enjoying. Seiryu are smaller creeks and the methods target small trout 6-10 inches. It is fished both as bait fishing and fly fishing using the same rod. Rods like the Diawa Sagiri or Nissin Airstage Seiryu series of rods. Every tenkara rod manufacturer in Japan makes keiryu and seiryu rods and most make tanago rods.

It is an eye opener when you start to look at what tenkara rod manufacturers make. Keiryu, seiryu and tanago rods range from $100.00-$1,000.00 and higher. Tenkara rods cap at about $400.00 US. Tenkara rods are the smallest percentage of rods made by Shimano, Nissin, and Diawa, the big 3 as I like to call them, and for the most part the least expensive.

It has been an interesting and fun year learning more about other Japanese fishing methods.

Modern Japanese Tenkara Method is still my personal favorite method of mountain stream fishing but the others are also interesting and fun.

Thank you Adam for letting me ramble on here in this interview and on the Tenkara Fisher forum and blog. I can only hope that what I have written is at least interesting and entertaining to someone other than myself.

This interview was originally published on April 30th, 2013