Interview with Paul Gaskell

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

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

“Paul, thanks for taking this interview.”

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

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

I think tenkara is like that.

“What do you think?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Does your work integrate into your tenkara?”

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

More than anything, I guess this section is rhetorical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social media had not developed at that time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You guys do a great job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please use this opportunity to close the interview.

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

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

1 comment:

  1. Interesting and fun interview. Many insights into the Japanese tenkara experiences of both of you I don't recall reading before.

    If I correctly recall you and I were both in Hawaii in the mid 1970s. I was 24 y.o. in 1976, and I assumed you were a bit older than 14 y.o. when you were there surfing and hang gliding.