Rebirth of Professional Tenkara Fishermen, Only in America

In various conversations with Dr. Ishigaki and my friend Kiyoshi Ishihara about the Japanese modern history of tenkara, they refer to the last commercial tenkara fisherman retiring about 35 years ago or so. The reasons for this industry dying was the damming of rivers in Japan and the building of on-river power plants.

Fast forward to April 2011, America. 3 tenkara fishermen meet at a local tenkara outing, become friends and fishing partners, and shortly thereafter the thought of making a living in America using a tenkara rod begins to take shape.

In the summer of 2011 those 3 guys formed a professional tenkara based guide company and the not so quiet revival of professional/commercial tenkara fishing has begun. Only this breath of life comes not from the land of origin but a new home of an adopted ancient tradition.

I am not saying that I/we started this new trend, we are a part of a small group of guides that seemed to come to the same decision to try the professional tenkara guide thing around the same time.

Our contribution was the creation of a professional tenkara fishing guide standard that we developed for Tenkara USA.

The goals of creating this program are:

1. To legitimize a new profession in the fly fishing guide community.

2. Insure that the traditional methods and ideals of tenkara are preserved and taught to people as this centuries old method moves away from it's home land and into a new culture.

3. Establish very high standards of business operations and limit the number of "back of the truck" guide services. Tenkara is a very easy way for anyone who calls himself a "guide" to capatalize on a hot new trend just to sucker someone in to take their hard earned cash.

Now, a little over a year later the concept of professional tenkara guides is a reality, there are several very well run guide operations in the US, France, Italy, England, and Norway. An entire industry has been born. And this past summer we had the honor to take 4 recognized tenkara experts/masters from Japan on a weeks worth of professional guided trips. This was a first for most of them. They were very interested in the concept of how one guides a client, I get the feeling that this just isn't done much in Japan. In the end, they all have said that the guided trip experience was excellent and they enjoyed themselves.

So here is the reason for this post. I meet people every day that find it fascinating that I am a professional fly fishing guide. I had no idea that this job is such a widely perceived dream job.

If you are reading this and thinking "I could do this tenkara guide thing." Get off your ass and do it. There are professional standards established, our company and several others have already done the really hard part and built up the market for this new industry. Quit daydreaming and jump in. Don't quit your day job, I can't promise that you can make a living doing this. It is very hard but rewarding work to teach someone something new, see the joy in their face as they catch their first tenkara trout, or learn a new technique or concept to add to their existing tenkara skill set.

You don't necessarily need the Tenkara USA Tenkara Certified Guide stamp of approval to start a successful tenkara guide enterprise but it can't hurt. If you want to learn more about becoming a tenkara guide, contact us at info@tenkara and we will help you figure it all out. One thing to keep in mind, this is how some of us make our living, check around your local area for tenkara guide operations before you totally commit yourself. If there are operations in your area, I would strongly consider approaching them about working for them as a guide. (Much less hassles and headaches).

In response to an earlier blog post about innovation in the tenkara world. Professional tenkara guide operations are where a great deal of the American tenkara innovations are being created.

Professional tenkara guides are pushing, pulling, and shoving tenkara in new directions and unique hybrid methods of tenkara fishing designed for the diversity of American waters are rapidly coming around. Our company has averaged a little over 300 fishing days in the past year. That is a lot of time in the water figuring out what works and what doesn't and how to fix it.

There is even a tenkara rod being designed and tested right now by my business partner in conjuction with a rod company in Europe that is specifically designed for fishing the abundance of larger rivers that we have here in the States and big trout, 20 inches plus. There is not a tenkara rod company in Japan or the US that is developing anything like this. How do I know this? I asked the big 3 rod companies in Japan if they have any interest in developing such a rod and the resounding answer is "No". So we tapped into our pool of resources and started working with a rod company in Europe. How is that for some innovation for you? People in the US have been asking for this very product since day one of tenkara here in America. None of the current purveyors of tenkara gear have been responsive so a couple of fishing guides took it upon themselves to answer the call. The deal with designing rods is that there has not been enough experience with tenkara rods and methods in the US. It has taken about 3 years for that experience base to develop so that hopefully a well designed product can be produced. Designing a tenkara rod is a very difficult endeavor.

The thing with innovations is they take time to do it right before you bring something new to market. Consumers just seem to think that new products just magically appear on the shelf. It is really hard to develop and innovate. Professional tenkara guides are the leading edge of tenkara innovations in America and abroad. Everything from socks to tenkara rods are being tweaked, tested, re-designed, and newly created every day based on water time and a rapidly growing experience base world wide.

Again well developed innovations take time. I know that our company and others like us are working hard to make better products and develop new ideas not because there is money to be made but because it makes fishing more enjoyable or more efficient from a guiding standpoint.

John Vetterli

Tenkara Guides LLC

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