Interview with Isaac Tait

I am excited to interview Isaac Tait. It is as simple as that. I have been reading Isaac-san’s stories at his web site, “Fallfish Tenkara” written in English from his adventures in Japan for a while now. I could feel what was going on through his words, this guy is passionate about what he does, and he writes with the freshness of someone new at Tenkara yet his stories are filled with sage advice.

My own trip to Japan was coming up and I contacted him about my plans to visit Keiichi Okushi and Yuzo Sebata. At the time, I did not know if Go Ishii was going to join us, our plans had not been fully realized. Isaac already had previous engagements but I knew plans sometimes change, usually what happens is you make a plan and the best things happen around that plan.

That is exactly what happened when I met Isaac.

We finally met at an old guard house in Tadami, it is called a “Bansho” or a guard house. In the old days’ samurai were stationed there to protect the assets of the land. Isaac’s previous trip did not come together, but still this was a great opportunity for him and even myself. I understood disappointment but I really wanted to meet and introduce him to Keiichi and Sebata-san and now, as our plan together started to happen, Ishii-san and Adam-chan entered the fray.

I had just gotten back from the genryū fishing where we overnighted at a tenba (tarp camp) and everything in my pack was soaked. I was wearing clothes that I had left behind that were already worn a couple of days. I felt a little dirty and soaked to the bone from climbing mud slopes, I needed to shower and to put on some clean clothes. I was very tired and a little bit overwhelmed with what I had been through; but there was Isaac and his little kei van at the Bansho, his hand outstretched;

“Hello Adam, it is a pleasure to meet you.”

“Hello Isaac! I am so glad to meet you too!”

We talked a little bit and I found out that he too was in need of a dryer for his clothes, which were also soaked from fishing. Before we knew it, we were in the small-town laundry, pulling out gear from our bags and throwing it into the big dryers. Our gear was similar and we made small talk as we waited in the laundry. My fishing gear was spread out and my small strap pack was on the laundry table and I pulled out my fly box. I had tied a couple of dozen kebari for the trip. I showed him my one fly version and gave him some samples. I noticed he was grateful and smiled putting those kebari away. Little did I know that moment would come back later in a surprise.

We have some similarities in our lives, we are both Americans in Japan and Tenkara fishing is our passion. We are writers sharing our adventures and both of us knew that we were in a special position in the presence of some very great people with a long history that goes back deep into the very history of Tenkara. Both of us also understood that this history was being carried on by Keiichi and friends. I wanted nothing more than to introduce him to these friends so that he could make those connections. I was part of something that was supposed to happen and Isaac had listened and answered that call.

Looking back, I was on the right track indeed, so was Isaac-san.

But now I am in the future, somehow I knew all this would happen. We talked about this interview back then. We have charted our course and now we are living the adventures we have created.

How cool is that?

It is early morning now, nearly two months after our meeting. The house is silent, but I have some of my favorite music playing. Music that I had been playing at the time while I was in Japan. Music brings back memories for me and I want to remember these things sharply - and now I do.

With that, I will begin.

Adam: Isaac-san! Here we are, we are doing it again albeit a little differently. I think it’s best before diving right in, let us get some of the basics going.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Isaac: Good morning Adam-san! First let me say thank you for taking the time to interview me, I am honored!

Let me see where should I begin…?

I was born in late 1983, so that makes me 33 I guess – but sometimes I feel like my life is just beginning. There is so much to see and enjoy in this great big world.

I am married to a gorgeous woman and we just adopted a Japanese boy who was born New Year’s Day of 2017.

I am a U.S. Marine. I signed up when I was 17 for the infantry – Light Armored Vehicles specifically. I got out after 9.5 years and two combat deployments in 2010.

My favorite color is red (and white but that is not really a color…), I prefer whiskey over beer, and I am a dog person.

Adam: I’m 56, married to a lovely gal and we have a son, Noah, who is 9. I also have two older boys from a previous marriage, Jacob and Elijah, all of them Tenkara anglers. I work in cardiology as a technician, I’ve done this sort of work my whole life after I got out of the army in the 80’s. I have a long history as a surfer, skater and a foot launched soaring pilot. I only dabble in those things now; I’m pretty beat up from them and I pour my energy into Tenkara now.

My computing is self-taught. I am not technical, I know html, ftp and some back-end stuff for C.M.S. I produce a portal as you know and Tenkara-Fisher is not a commercial success but it is the most successful site that I have built, maintained and I know that it is my favorite project online.

I think you get the idea, this is not about me though, it’s about you.

Isaac, please tell us about your interests on publishing a Tenkara web site in Japan?

Isaac: When we (my wife and I) moved to Japan I was definitely overwhelmed trying to figure out where to fish, when to fish, and how to get to the rivers. My wife is a doctor in the U.S. Navy and that is how we found ourselves in Japan in the first place. There was not much in the way for satisfying employment for me and since we moved there in the Fall I could not fish. Consequently, I had a lot of time to kill. So, I began building Fallfish Tenkara. At first I envisioned it as a venue for my writing (something I like to do) but after about six months or so I began to be contacted by anglers asking questions about fishing in Japan. At that point I switched gears and began to build Fallfish Tenkara as resource for anglers of any bent looking to travel to Japan.

Adam: I use Macintosh computers, Apple products. My mother gave me her Mac back in the early 90’s. I took to it easily after struggling to configure a PC into something I wanted to use but was unable to love. My PC was nothing more than a gaming console back then and it really sucked. It was cool, I could simulate flying a glider in thermals with Microsoft “Flight” and play mystery games with my friends, “Myst” comes to mind, really fun stuff but I knew I was wasting my time. I knew instead of using up my time, a computer was for painting, creating. I just couldn’t do it with a PC.

The Mac worked for me.

I began to write about small stream fly fishing I was doing. I was using my fly fishing to get away from hang gliding. I had to divorce myself from it because I could not invest the time I needed to continue on a high level of soaring cross country. It took too much of my time and the stakes were too high for me. Some of my friends had died doing it and that was sobering, it brought me down.

So, I continued the “up” with my fly fishing the little streams near the top of the mountains I was hiking in. It worked, I’m satisfied and what you see here is a continuation of my passion for what I do.

Isaac-san, how about your Tenkara lifestyle? I know you climb and do other mountain sports. I’m pretty sure I understand you on this so I will go there. How has Tenkara (minimalism) affected other things you do?

Isaac: I too prefer Macs! My first computer was a Macintosh Plus from 1986 I believe. Years later I bought an iPod Mini 2nd Generation in Apple Green with my first credit card! All my laptops have been Macs too. Solid hardware for sure.

When I got back from Afghanistan in 2010 I was looking for peace mostly. It had been a rough deployment with too many good men lost. It was then that I began to think a lot more about fly fishing. Something about it was calling to me, but I could not afford the initial investment for equipment. So, I put it on the backburner for a few years. I got into backcountry skiing instead at that time. Yeah, I know, it sounds like odd logic to consider skiing accessible financially but not fly fishing. Allow me to explain: at the time, I was on a mountain rescue team and I could justify the expense of buying ski equipment to my wife on the premise that I might need it on a future rescue operation. It is more difficult to justify fly fishing equipment as a necessary mountain rescue equipment purchase…

I liked the idea of being able to escape deep into the mountains on skis. My goal was to eventually combine skiing with my love of climbing mountains. I quickly realized though that my skiing had to improve exponentially before I could safely ski into the backcountry with a rope, trad rack, and camping gear… Through this learning process I began to realize the necessity of not just minimalism but good gear that was not too heavy.

This served to prime me for Tenkara. Before I may have settled on a six piece Cabela’s Stowaway fly rod but through skiing I wanted something better than that. That is how I came to discover Tenkara – the necessity of lightweight compact gear that matched the calling of the freedom of the hills, that had been placed deep within me by a higher being.

Adam: Tenkara has profoundly affected me in a positive way - how I look at solving problems and how I communicate. I am a Tenkara fisherman and it was learned from the same flow that I took my first drink from, Japanese Tenkara learned from Daniel Galhardo. I had been exposed to it almost 20 years ago by Yoshikazu Fujioka but it took my own investigation, my own look into its history and now visiting Japan by myself.

I have made long distance connections through my computer. I followed up with long flights in airliners to make those connections real. On the other side of my words are adventures planned and realized. My Japanese friends have met me and taken me in. Even though I am so culturally different, even though I sit under the tarp far up a river valley, in the rain, cold, tired and missing my family, I am still part of them - they know I am there with them sharing the adventure and I will take these common experiences home and share them like I am now.

…and I am learning their lifestyle.

Being an American is so different but my friends, my fishing brothers in Japan know what I am after, the same things as they are.

Tenkara and dreaming about it is a little magical. It’s a trick for sure, we wind feathers on a hook and send it out there with little more than a thought looking for excitement over and over. Tenkara can be ethereal, thinking, dreaming about it, dream up a trip and then do it and at the same time, it is real, fishing, friends and Japan.

Japan and its culture are influential in my life, in my head and in my dreams.

You have been reading my writing and know a little bit more about me…

Isaac-san, I know you made some connections through our meeting. I know there is magic in there too. Can you tell us a little about it?

Isaac: The Japanese people are the kindest, most warm people I have ever been blessed to meet. I have made so many friends over here in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Let me back up a little and make an illustration… John Keegan wrote a splendid little book back in 1976 called “The Face of Battle” and in that book he wrote: “Mountains, like battlefields, are places inherently dangerous for the individual to inhabit. It is less easy to get killed, of course, on a mountain, if one takes sensible precautions, than on a battlefield; yet the risk of death always stalks the climber, just as it attracts him to the mountains in the first place…”

During my time in the Marine Corps I made friendships that were as strong or stronger than brotherhood. When I got out of the Marines I missed those friendships. The camaraderie was hard (if not impossible) to find in the civilian sector…

As a child, I remember my father taking my brothers and I to Jenks Lake, a tiny man-made lake near Big Bear Lake in California. This lake was routinely stocked with Rainbow Trout. We were using spin rods with worms as bait. It was during these family trips that I made two observations at the tender age of nine or so:

One, my Dad spent about 90% of his time patiently untangling our lines (and I stood around with nothing to do waiting for him).

Two, most of the grownups fishing on the banks were grossly out of shape men sitting in faded folding chairs, drinking cheap beer, and complaining about their wives. Nothing about fishing at the time interested me.

A few decades later I discovered Tenkara; furthermore, I discovered that it was not only an adventure but could not have been further away from the fishing I had done as a child. Shortly after this discovery I moved to Japan where the adventure reached heights of excitement that I had almost never seen in America. You see, in Japan they combine mountain climbing with fishing and throw in some waterfall climbing too because they are just that bad ass. I quickly discovered that my Japanese Tenkara friendships harkened back to my days in the Corps. While clutching to a suspect root a hundred feet above a roaring waterfall, when you are more worried about your friend than yourself and vice versa, the bonds of friendship are forged in a fire that is hard to find in this day in age.

While I have yet to embark on a death-defying adventure with the folks you (Adam) introduced me to at the Bansho, I know through the quiet and humble stories they tell (only after a few drinks) that not only are we cut from the same cloth but the bonds of our friendship have been forged by the dangerous yet captivating mountain streams of Japan.

Adam: To see those pictures of you, Ishii-san and Yamano-san in his shop, it is amazing. You know I am sitting there with you guys. I know you know it. As you work those bamboo pieces, I am write there with you (I love a double entendre) and I am telling jokes, looking down the section of bamboo. I have got friends with me when I am there. Friends that I have taken along with me!

Where are you at now with your project rods? Will you tell us a little more about them? Some time has passed since I started the interview. Have you fished the rod yet?

Isaac: Ah yes, the bamboo rods. What a joy it has been to learn how to create a fishing rod out of something that was growing in the mountains, sustaining itself from the very nature that I “consume” to sustain myself!

Go Ishii and I finished one rod, but it was very simple and rudimentary -mostly just to learn the basics of edo wazao. We are actually starting on a much more refined rod now. It will probably take a year or so to finish. Normally a rod takes about three months to finish but Yamano-san lives in Kawaguchi which is about three-hours from my home, so I can only visit one day a month. I will be making a five piece Tenkara rod. I want something that I can carry in a backpack into the remote keiryu of Japan.

Adam: I have made bamboo fly rods, have gone through the same sort of training with bamboo rod craftsmen here at home. I’ve learned a lot about bamboo already. So, when I saw Yamano-san’s shop, it reminded me of my own. Quite a bit different tooling but much in the same, a dream maker’s shop of magic wands. It’s true.

There are so many different paths.

I read the other day, a Tenkara guy was writing about how “gin clear” a stream was. Funny, I think it’s a prerequisite that if you are going to call the water gin-clear, you have to know the bottom of a gin bottle. But he doesn’t drink but understood the term. I don’t know why that seems so funny to me…

Speaking of gin, how about sake?

Isaac-san, we drank some sake in the Bansho didn’t we?

Sebata-san’s friends turned on the old Tenkara movies and I remember lying next to him as he sat on the stool next to the irori (indoor fire pit) and I looked over and there you were talking to Ito-san, Adam-chan and Ishii-san, making new friends, drinking sake. It was a wonderful moment for me.

Everything was as it should have been.

I’m lying on the floor next to Sebata-san watching Tenkara videos and I’m wondering how you are going to move forward with your new friends and experiences in the Bansho.

Will you tell us what you were experiencing in that old house? Did you have any idea what was going to happen before you came? And after?

Isaac: We did drink together in that Bansho, Adam. Several ochokos (small cylindrical cups) of superb sake, shochu, and Gentleman’s Jack if I am not mistaken.

Honestly, I had no idea that the folks I met that night were to become such good friends. I hoped that it would happen, but I did not want to assume. Now many months later I have shared a table with them many times, been fishing together for wakasagi and haze, as well as enjoyed a few stream side BBQ’s, long train rides, and of course liter upon liter of sake, wine, and beer!

To be honest throughout that night in the Bansho I was wishing I could speak better Japanese. The decades of experience in that one room is seldom replicated and I wanted to soak up as much knowledge as possible.

Adam: Keiichi just sent me a note about a story he is writing about our visit. I just bet you will be in the story…

I think we should get down to some nuts and bolts stuff.

If you were not a keen Tenkara angler before you moved to Japan, you are now. The environment is much different there. It is an amazing place to fish.

You wrote about the kebari that I gave you. Apparently, you had a good day with it. Can you tell us a little bit about the way you look at and choose the fly?

Isaac: When I first moved to Japan I used terrestrials, killer bugs, and pheasant tail flies. As I spent more time fishing in Japan I moved further away from “western” flies. Now I exclusively use a handful of patterns of Japanese kebari. Last season I was given several hand-tied kebari as gifts that resembled the headwaters of the Kurobe area kebari with red cock hackle, peacock hearl, and black thread. That fly brought a lot of Iwana and Yamame to hand for me. Then I got your kebari and it was equally successful.

This season I am hoping to whittle down the contents of my fly box even more and focus more on line control and fly manipulation to land fish instead of fly selection.

Adam: I think kebari styles, rather, hackle types go along with the type of rod you are using. Not a hard and fast rule, nothing like that. I like a soft hackle with a long soft rod and slow moving water. I think that is some of my favorite fishing. Typically, you can drift and swim the fly, you see the take, you feel more of what is going on. I bet you have talked with Ishii-san about fishing the longest rod you can to get the line vertical, I happen to agree with him. I just added a non-zoom 4.5m rod into my small quiver, a Nissin Zerosum. I’ve been using that rod for #3 long line and soft hackle. I learned this from using my Ito which I really enjoy.

Do you still use the Ito? I learned a lot with mine, can you give us some words on it?

Isaac: I do still use the Ito. It is one of my favorite rods. I know a lot of folks do not like the way it casts… For the rivers I fish it is a perfect rod. I have also found that the Three Rivers Tenkara Ultralight Floating lines cast beautifully with the Ito in both lengths, which helps overcome the awkward casting feel in the 14’7” length.

Adam: For me, Tenkara is about skill, it isn’t about the equipment. I’ve found in my approach towards a stream, I like to use the longest rod I can get away with and a level line. As the rods get longer, the line gets longer too. If I’m using a relatively short rod such as 2.7m, I’ll use a line that is 3.5m long and on the longest single hand rod, a 4.5m, I use a 6m line. I used to try to use the lightest line I could and I experimented with #2 for quite some time. What I found is that with a #2, I was struggling with casting in any wind. I could not drive the cast as well with a that little line weight. My skill in controlling the line diminished with light lines but the presentation and vertical presentation was excellent.

So, I went up to a #3, and then a #3.5 which I really like. I lost some of the delicacy but I made up with versatility. My vertical presentation was still ok but man, it was just so much easier in fishing conditions in my area.

I’ve sort of settled on a #3.5 adding in a clear #3 tip section to a tippet ring. I have one line that I have been fishing for about a year now and I just love it.

Isaac-san, will you geek out a little and tell us about your equipment of choice? What have you found that you like? Any story of how you have developed your own style of Tenkara?

Isaac: I am really excited to use my Zimmerbuilt Tailwaters pack this season. For several years, I was using a sling pack but I have a neck injury that never fully healed – so the sling pack is uncomfortable to carry for long periods of time; not to mention I could not carry a jacket in the sling pack because it was too small.

I am also on my second pair of Montbell sawanobori boots this season. In my opinion sawanobori felt soled footwear is absolutely essential for genryū Tenkara in Japan. There is just too much rock climbing and waterfalls for one to wear any other type of footwear. I have heard a lot of good things about the Caravan footwear too, so I’ll probably pick up a pair of them too this season.

Last but not least, I just ordered the Tenryu Furaibo TF39TA Tenkara rod from Keiichi Okushi-san. I am very excited to take that rod out on its maiden voyage. It will be my first Japanese Tenkara rod made in Japan – for that alone I think it will be worth the price tag. Plus I was fortunate enough to hold the rod at the 2017 Japan Fishing Show and I really liked the feel of the rod in my hand.

Adam: I understand you have recently adopted a child, congratulations! My life as a husband and father are the best things I have ever done and personally, I’ve lived a full (gravity) sporting life, many times over compared to my life as a father.

Do you have plans to return state side? What are your future plans for Tenkara either in Japan or America?

Isaac: Unfortunately, my stay in Japan does have an expiration date. Honestly, I am not looking forward to returning to the United States. I want to stay in Japan for the rest of my life. My wife and I are considering our options to return to Japan, we just have to tie up some loose ends first in the States.

As for my site, I created Fallfish Tenkara to be a resource for any angler looking to travel to Japan. I would like to keep it that way. My plan is to create another website for my Tenkara adventures once I return to the United States. I have already selected another URL but I will keep that under wraps until the time draws nearer.

Adam: I wish we could keep going on but I must wrap it up a little quickly, my apologies in advance.

Please use this space to let us know anything you want. Thank you so much for sharing your life and enthusiasm for Tenkara with us Isaac Tait.

Isaac: I would like to conclude with two observations.

The first, we all need water to survive. Our bodies are comprised of it. Fish live in it; and for untold thousands (even millions) of years water has been flowing from the mountains to the ocean. This to me defies all reason. The water never ceases, faithfully it proceeds even when unobserved. The unceasing nature of this world we inhabit is oftentimes easy to overlook and under-appreciate. Take the time next time you are on your local river to think on this…

Secondly, it seems to me that not very many Tenkara anglers visit Japan. I think this should change. Japan is a phenomenally beautiful country, and not only is the fishing extraordinary but the culture, food, hospitality, and countryside are unlike anything in this world. If you have taken the time to read this entire interview you owe it to yourself to book a flight and pack your bag – and if you have any questions along the way, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

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