Interview with Chris Zimmer

Photograph by Adam Klagsbrun

This interview is long overdue. Chris Zimmer supports the tenkara community with his craft. I use quite a bit of the equipment he offers and his brand rivals the best in the business for what I chose to use in my tenkara fishing. I met Chris at one of Tenkara USA Summits, I’m not sure but I think he won the fly tying contest, I believe I placed third behind him and Adam Klagsbrun. I have worked with Chris to design my version of my tenkara bag, the Kaizen and it was super easy and Chris gave me props at his site.

I know a little bit about his sewing world having worked with designers to create my hang gliding harness. The high tech cloths, the types of stitches and machines. There are huge stories about what goes on to get the quality products to end users; I’ll save that for the interview.

Adam Trahan: Welcome Chris, thank you for sitting for the interview. I want to say this right now, “I appreciate what you do.” You make great products that work, right, the first day and years later. My *Kaizen bag that you made has seen lots of changes in my tenkara, Genryu and Honryu but we got that right the first time, thank you.

“Please use this opportunity to introduce yourself or say anything you want; this is your interview.”

Chris Zimmer: Hi Adam, thank you for the invite. As you know, I own and operate ZimmerBuilt. I started the company about 12 years ago, after not being able to find the type of gear that I needed for my adventures. I saw a need for quality custom-built gear for hikers and fishermen.

Adam: I’m super stoked to be able to interview you. I’m pretty sure you know a lot about what I want to know more about, sewing and cloth. I’ve worked with hang gliding harness designers to tailor my harness here in the USA and in Italy. I’ve had the opportunity to know gifted sewing machine operators that could literally tear apart a complex paraglider with its high tech fabric and repair it and to look at the repair would be to not really know that it was repaired at all.

High tech fabrics are expensive! The machines that make them are complex and typically there is a global industry that supports the manufacture. People such as yourself bring this fabric to the masses with your craft of putting together great products and people like me are just astounded by the whole process.

“Can you describe how Zimmerbuilt came to light?”

Chris: The origin story of ZimmerBuilt is completely accidental, I never had any intentions on starting something like this. All my schooling and professional training was as a Geologist and had nothing to do with sewing. I didn't even know I could sew. At the time I was really into hiking and I enjoyed reading posts on the Backpacking Light Forum which had a section called the MYOG (Make Your Own Gear) forum. I loved looking and reading about all the stuff other people were building. After a while I got to thinking that maybe I could make something like that myself. So I went to the local JoAnn Fabrics and bought the cheapest Singer sewing machine they had in stock. I ordered some material and gave it a go. At first I made some simple stuff sacks, just trying to get a feel for the material and machine. After some time behind the machine I got comfortable enough that I wanted to try and make my own backpack. I drew up my pattern on AutoCad and measured and cut everything out. The finished pack turned out way better than anything I could have ever hoped for. In my excitement of what I had just made, I posted some pics on MYOG forum and right away I started getting requests to make stuff for people. It snowballed from there, I was able to work as a Geologist during the day and was making packs at night. I would invest my earnings into more materials and eventually saved up enough to get a new industrial sewing machine. As time went on and interest grew I was able to maintain a workload that made it possible to do this full time. I eventually left my job as a Geologist and took on ZimmerBuilt full time. Since then I have been working hard to make the best backpacks and fishing gear I can.

The backpack that started it all.

Adam: Early on in my life, I learned that I didn’t always fit in. I wasn’t strong as a child, I didn’t get picked for sports because I was strong or fast. I got sick with valley fever and just couldn’t keep up with other kids. Sports like skateboarding and doing things like riding my bike or fishing were perfect for me because I depended on myself for entertainment. This self reliance carried on into the things I was interested in for the same reasons. As a young teen, I often watched my aunt sew clothing and she taught me how to operate her sewing machine. I started cutting up clothes that fit me to make my own clothes. Not clothes like you think, my first pair of pants was an idea that I had for my ninja outfit. I sewed in multiple pockets to carry the things that I used. It was only later that I sewed normal clothing, often making a little jacket for a nephew or making bags for my equipment.

My sewing machine is now out of service. I pushed it too far trying to sew multiple layers of cloth, I adjusted the thread tension to a point where I can’t figure out how to get the tension back to where it should be.

I am looking at buying a new machine, one that I can learn more about how to adjust, maybe one that can sew thick fabrics. I’ve always wanted a Pfaff, or at least I think I want one…

So you were perfect for me, willing to adjust your bags a little and I appreciate you.

I think crafting your own equipment is paramount to being a tenkara fisher. You certainly are fulfilling that.

“What is your favorite piece of tenkara gear that you make? Do you use it the most?”

Chris: Boy I’ve been there; foam was the main killer of my first machine. Once I got an industrial machine though that was no longer an issue. Honestly, for me, each piece is or was my favorite at one time or another. I spend a lot of time with each item testing it out and seeing what works and what doesn't. Then I go back and make any tweaks or adjustments to get it dialed in to make it actually perform the way you want. I just love the process.

Sometimes things work out quicker and sometimes they just don't work out at all the way you thought. The Guide Sling is one of my favorite pieces just for that reason. There was a lot of trial and error with that pack to get all the angles and pieces to come together correctly. That is a great pack and I love using it. The HeadWaters pack is probably the one pack that I use the most though these days. That pack can handle just about any situation you throw at it and with all the accessories for the pack you can really customize it to suit your needs..

Adam: Tenkara is all about minimalism for me. It helps me get quickly to increasing my skill as a fisherman solving problems with the basic elements of it, rod, line and fly.

That’s not always the case for others.

For my last pack from you, I had you leave the rod sleeves off. My sling, I take off the binders for multiple rods

If I carry another rod, it’s inside of the pack.

I see fishers using your equipment with rod(s) stuffed in the sling or your pack with extra rods. It’s not the way for me yet I appreciate your approach towards equipment design.

On the other hand, you design cool little bags for those of us who don’t need to carry a lot on stream. Your micro pack is actually my favorite bag as it forces even a strict minimalist like me to focus more on the components that go into that bag. I’ve worked with my craftsman friends to design spools and micro fly boxes for that system. I’m nearly to the point where I don’t have anything to add or take away.

I’m super happy with that little micro pack, thank you.

I’ve bought Zimmerbuilt things that people have used and sold for whatever reason to give to my friends getting into tenkara. I think a component such as a small pack for new anglers sets that minimalism in motion.

The media, magazines, the internet when reporting on tenkara all contain advertising. Zimmerbuilt is a business and personally, I want to see Zimmerbuilt have a presence in tenkara for as long as you are willing to push cloth into a sewing machine or even beyond that.

Now is where things get sticky for some people.

Photo by Rob Lepczk

“What do you think of marketing and advertising in relation to new people to a sport?”

Chris: Yeah the beautiful part about tenkara that first drew me in was the minimal gear you needed for it. I had been using a small 3wt fly rod that only broke down into 2 pieces before tenkara. Hiking in with that long rod strapped to my pack was not always the easiest, the tenkara rod made that easy. All you need is just a rod, line and a couple flies and your set. I would urge everyone to go out and try it. You should find that you will be able to focus more on your fishing and have better success and see that all the other stuff is really not needed. It will help give you more confidence in your fishing overall. I love the micro pack just for that reason, that pack really limits what you can carry and makes you focus on just the items you need.

As for marketing and advertising, I do very little in comparison to most. I feel that if you make a quality item that works, people are going to want to talk about it. I don't want to have to convince people from an ad. I just want to make high quality items that people enjoy using and speak for themselves. I think most of my customers get it, they see the time and effort and attention to detail that I try to put into each item I make. They appreciate the attention to detail and want to support quality work. I’m sure pushing the advertising would help boost sales, but I’m a one-man operation and I stay busy.

Adam: When I first got into fly fishing a long time ago, before the internet, I read fly fishing magazines. I think it’s normal to look for media that supports an interest, whatever it is that feeds your fancy. But early on, I saw that there was advertising for new equipment and that often led to advancements in the disciplines. Years of “advancing” often had the effect of leading a sport farther away from the original point of the sport in the first place.

Or did it?

In fly fishing, over the last forty years, I’ve seen advertising change the scope of fly fishing and fly fisher people.

Do we really need all that expensive equipment?

Advertising is not a bad thing. Media isn’t the problem, as a matter of fact, the problem isn’t really a problem.

People get to be who they are, what other people do is literally none of my business.

I enjoy tenkara and I like to write about my adventures and share my experiences.

Tenkara-Fisher is a home page.

Keiichi and I craft it.

We reflect on what we do as tenkara fishers.

“What do you think about the media and advertising as it pertains to the impact it can have on a sport?”

Chris: Media and advertising are both great ways to introduce new people to a sport or get your product seen by customers. Companies can utilize both to get their products noticed so they can make sales. The more interest there is in a sport the more that sport is going to grow and develop. So, I guess in that regard, media and advertising are both beneficial. However, I would suggest just turning off all your electronic devices and hit up a stream, do some fishing. Better yet take someone new fishing and show them how to have fun out on the water. That is going to have the biggest impact on a sport.

Adam: As I get older (I am 62) I am starting to realize that I may have only 10 - 15 more seasons of tenkara. I’m probably halfway into my experience as a tenkara fisherman. I feel like I have learned quite a bit about it. I continue to keep the Japanese experience in history and in current tenkara  practice part of the way that I craft my own experience here. That is the impact on what I do, and I enjoy it.

Minimalism has always been a part of everything that I do even before tenkara but it was this style of Japanese fly fishing that really put a focus on the effect of focusing on just what I need to enjoy my time in the forest.

“Chris, has tenkara had an effect on your approach towards what you do?”

Chris: Yes, I would say it has had an effect on my overall approach. It has helped me see that you don't really need all this stuff we like to carry. I always like to overthink things and bring way more gear than I will ever need. Once I was introduced to tenkara and found out I could go out with just a rod, line and fly and have a very productive day on the water, that really opened my eyes. Now I still carry way more gear than I should but what can I say, that's just me. But knowing that I don't need something or that things will be OK if I don't have that piece has helped me simplify my gear selection. That is how the Micro pack came to be, I wanted to limit what I could bring but still have the core items at hand. A tin of flies, a spool of 5x tippet, a nipper and forceps, every time I don't have forceps, I’m sure to have a fish get hooked deep, so I always try and have those.

Adam: I was born and raised here in Phoenix. I lived in Hawaii while I was in the service and traveled East Asia at that time. I’ve traveled the West by car, and I really enjoy going places to do things with great equipment.

“Can you tell us where you have gone on your own and with Zimmerbuilt?”

Chris: I have traveled all over the US, my parents made it their goal to get my brother and I to all 50 states before we graduated high school. That was a really cool goal to have, and I am very appreciative of them for doing that. Then, as a Geologist, I was fortunate enough to get to travel all over the states looking at rocks, dirt and water. Personally, I enjoy traveling with my family to beautiful locations... Some of my favorite travel memories include taking my kids fishing. A few years ago, I was able to introduce my daughter to tenkara while vacationing in the Smokey Mountains where she landed her first fish on a tenkara rod.

Traveling as ZimmerBuilt has been a blast. I have had a great time traveling around to all the different summits and gathering and meeting all the great people out there that are into chasing fish in these beautiful streams. It is really a lot of fun getting out and meeting likeminded people and sharing the experience. You can learn a great deal attending one of these gatherings, either out on the water watching others or late at night around the fire ring. I have yet to have a negative experience at one of these events and I look forward to the gatherings ahead.

Photo by Isaac Tait

Adam Trahan: I just bought a new Subaru Forester! I’m super excited about it. I am going to use it for this next part of my life as I cut back my work and travel more to fish. I no longer fly (as a soaring pilot) and traveling by car is so enjoyable for me. I really enjoy the destination at the end of a long drive and my car and what I take with me is how I do it.

“What type of car do you drive and how does it play a role in your life?”

Chris Zimmer: I have a Subaru Outback. What can I say, the tires make contact with the road and get me to where I want to go. With Ohio not having the most trout rich waters, I do spend a lot of time driving to Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia or up to Michigan in search of trout. I just love the feeling of setting out on a fishing road trip. Your mind racing with thoughts of what you might have forgotten, or thinking about what the water conditions are going to be like. After a long car ride there is no better feeling than stepping out of the car and taking in that first breath of stream side air! The fresh air just soaks into my soul and I feel happy!

Adam Trahan: Traveling to adventure with friends is just the best feeling or taking your family on a trip and being able to explore, and to do this with your stuff, car trips are the best. 

To look at it in reverse, my little pack that I carry my fly box, spool and lines, that is what makes it a tenkara adventure, the sling pack and backpack allow me a little more comfort in the way of bringing a stove, a chair, a meal. Past that I have a backpacking pack that I overnight out of, then comes the car. Distance, budget, time, planning, the sweet spot is travel by car. When I travel by plane, I’m making decisions that are more costly in the fact that when I get to a destination, I’m having to consider lodging, further travel, do I bring my backpack and overnight gear? My point here is that the good you offer are pieces of equipment that I use to make decisions on what I’m doing. Your packs, bags, the gear you offer solve a lot of questions and I appreciate what you do.

“What goes into the process of designing your equipment? Are you solving your own questions or do your customers request solutions or a combination of both?”

Chris Zimmer: In the beginning, it was mostly just making gear that solved problems for myself. All the pieces I make are all things that I heavily used at one point or another. I didn't always need the same kit for each trip which is what led me to making items that can be used together or individually. This allows me to carry exactly what I think I am going to need for that specific trip. These days I have customers come to me with issues they are having and I try to solve those problems by either tweaking a pack I already offer or by coming up with something totally new. It is a lot of fun working with other people and trying to solve whatever problem they are having. It has helped open the door to new designs and features. I am now able to see a different way of accomplishing a goal that I was not aware of before. There is no “right way” to do any of this, just because some things are the norm doesn't mean another way won’t work as well. It's fun discovering those other ways of doing things and seeing it help someone have more success out on the water.  

Adam Klagsbrun ~ Adam Trahan ~ Chris Zimmer

Adam Trahan: I meet you at one of the tenkara summits! I know you were busy and so was I but we did spend a little time in the tying room. I think I got third, I believe you won the contest. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed those summits. 

“Can you tell us a little bit about your tying?”

Chris Zimmer: Yeah, that was a fun night!  Klags topped us both and took first. He ties some really nice flies. I remember that was the one contest I had my eye on winning, the two top prizes were a couple sets of flies that Yoshikazu Fujioka had tied, and I really wanted one. That is a really cool set.

I love tying flies. That is what actually got me into fly fishing more than anything else really. I was 9 or 10 years old on vacation with my family and came across a fly shop and went in to check it out. I was just drawn to all the different furs and feathers and seeing all the different flies that you could tie, I just thought that was the coolest stuff ever. Today, I don't get to tie nearly as much as I would like. I always feel guilty that I am not working on someone's order. For tenkara, I use to try and match the hatch or tie some fancy looking fly but over the years I have figured out all I need is a size 14 with a peacock herl body and some brown hackle and I will more than likely have success wherever I am fishing. I love making stuff so fly tying is just another outlet for me to do so.

Adam Trahan: Any questions for me?

Chris Zimmer: On the subject of flies, are you a one fly guy or do you like to use whatever fly is in your box on your tenkara adventures? If you could only use one fly, which fly would you use? 

Adam Trahan: Great question!

When I first started tenkara in 2009, I was reading the information stream from Daniel Gahlardo. “One Fly” was his interpretation of tenkara, and subject to whatever he chose to report on. After a while, I began to see a pattern that supported the direction he took in marketing. He wasn’t lying or anything like that, he was picking and choosing content based on his interest and marketing direction. “One Fly” from his perspective was reported on as “literally only one fly” by a couple of the experts. I did not have enough intel on tenkara at that point and I could not find anything about it in old or new Japanese literature. 

I decided to try it and picked out a Sakasa Kebari and tied a few. I also had a friend tye several dozen for me. I began a year of “one fly” and ended up catching more fish that year than I ever had in fly fishing the same streams. I even went to Japan with my one fly yet when I started asking around, “one fly” wasn’t the one fly it was reported on. 

It was a minimal fly box and behind that was the methodology of tenkara.

The fly was secondary to the knowledge of where the fish were and accurate casting to get the fly to them.

I considered everything when reducing fishing to one fly. In the past I used a stomach pump on fish when I was studying entomology in fly fishing. Everything I found in that trial was about a half inch and brown. I used what I knew in studying fish vision and behavior. I looked at the history of tenkara and the rods and line I used and came up with my version of the fly that covered all the bases. Black body for outline, soft brown feather for buggy movement, a red head to appeal to the aggressive nature all on the Japanese keiru hook that was designed and evolved with nesting rods.

I have since abandoned my one fly choosing only to start with it everywhere I go. It still ends up being the most effective pattern not because of it, because of the whole of tenkara.

I still suggest trying a season of one fly to anyone because it supports the improvement on learning where the fish are and getting the fly to them. I suggest it along with the accurate casting game, the two go together.

All of that has nothing with entomology or matching the hatch being a wrong choice. That’s one of the reasons why I say that fly fishermen by far are better tenkara anglers. They already know most of the good info. Tenkara is just the method that strips away all the necessary equipment and practice that goes along with western fly fishing and gets straight to the point of catching fish, fast.

Adam Trahan: Chris, I want to thank you for taking my request to sit for this interview. If it isn’t evident, I want to thank you for all that you do. Your craft is important to the adventures I cook up and the fishing that I do. 

Please use this opportunity to close.

Good luck in your business, your family life and all that you do.

Take care.

Chris Zimmer: Hey, thanks for having me, Adam. I appreciate your appreciation! I would like to take this opportunity to give a huge THANK YOU to anyone that has ever bought and/or used a piece of my gear. I truly appreciate everyone's support and I feel so fortunate to be able to have a job this fun and rewarding. Thank you so much to each and every one of you!


*I receive no compensation for the sale of my Kaizen designed bag, tenkara-fisher is a non-commercial site.

A Day Fishing Trip to Touge-zawa

One day in June, I received an email from my American friend John-san. He said he was coming to Japan for a few weeks on business in July, so he asked me if he could meet me somewhere for a day. In fact, I only exchanged emails with John-san, and it would be the first time for us to meet. We talked about going fishing if we were going to see each other, and we decided to go fishing to some genryu where we could go on a day trip.

I got acquainted with John-san through the introduction of Adam-san, who is a fishing friend of mine and the webmaster of this “tenkara fisher”. Adam-san told me that they have been friends since they were teenagers. After that, John-san came to Japan for work when he was on his 20's and get married to a Japanese woman. John-san said that he worked in Tokyo until he was 50 years old. That's why John-san is very fluent in Japanese, especially when it comes to writing and using kanji. I lived in Tokyo for 4 years during my university days and afterwards I was working in Tokyo until I was 40 years old, so We may have met somewhere without knowing.

Well, we exchanged emails several times and decided to go to the genryu of my home river Naka River. However, this time I decided to go to Yukawa, a tributary, instead of the main stream of Naka River I usually go to. John-san told me that he would go to a town near the destination the night before and stay overnight. So, I decided to pick him up at the hotel early in the morning next day.

Yukawa means “river of hot water”. The name derives from the fact that hot springs spring up in the headwaters of Yukawa, and this Yukawa and surrounding areas are a special place because of two reasons. One reason is in the past, along the headwaters of the Yukawa, an old road called Aizu Naka Kaido was crossing the Nasu mountain range from north, Aizu Domain, to the south in Edo period. The road was built along the Yukawa. After the end of Meiji era, there were no more people using the road, and now it has become a trail that is inferior to mountain trails. The remains of this road and iwana fishing at the genryu of Yukawa are introduced in detail in a previous book written by Mr. Takakuwa.(Refer to #45 Takakuwa-san)

Second reason is there is a hot spring source area called 'Hakuyusan” at the tributaries of Yukawa. From the late Edo period to the Meiji period, the folk religion called "Kou" who came to worship “Hakuyusan” as an object of faith was very popular. If you walk upstream along the river for about an hour on the forest road from the car stop of Yukawa, you will find a surprisingly wide flat land in the mountains with an altitude of 1,100m. The size is about 3 soccer courts. This is the place where there used to be a post town called "Santogoya-shuku". During the Edo period, it was used as a post station on the road, and during the Meiji period, it was used as a post town for worshipers of Hakuyusan. During the peak period, more than 30 inns were built in this mountain, and it is said that more than 1,000 worshipers visited on a busy day.

It is said that ko was originally a group formed by Buddhist monks to study doctrines, but later came to refer to groups and acts of folk worshiping ethnic religions and nature. During the Edo period, "Fuji-ko," which worshiped Mt. Fuji as a religious object, was very popular. Here in Yukawa, the source of hot spring "Gohozen", which gushes out in Ozawa, a tributary of Yukawa, had become an object of worship. Hot spring water is still gushing out from Gohozen today, but it is used as a source for the Itamuro hot spring town at the foot of the mountain.

Well, the day came. I left my house early in the morning before sunrise, picked up John-san at the hotel after driving for about two hours, and we arrived at the car stop in Yukawa after 6:00 in the morning. Yukawa around here is taken the water by the intake dam a little upstream, so it is not the original amount of water. However, John-san, who said that it is the first time for genryu fishing in Japan, said that it was a wonderful and beautiful flow. The surrounding mountains create an atmosphere of deep mountains and hidden valleys. There were already two cars parked at the car stop, but as Sawanobori(Stream climbing) is popular around here, I arbitrarily judged they were for sawanobori.

We quickly prepared for fishing and started walking the forest road. For about 30 minutes, the forest road went along the Yukawa, but after that, the road left the stream a little and turns sharply and climbs the slope of the mountain. Before long, Aizu Naka Kaido joined from the right. The stone signpost at the three-way intersection said 'Bakuhan-zaka to the right'. Interesting name. Bakuhan-zaka means “barley rice slope”. According to Takakuwa-san's book, “Once upon a time, if a traveler had cried out to the inn at Santogoya-shuku from the top of Bakuhan-zaka, Inn staff started cooking rice and the rice was cooked about when the traveler arrived at the inn. That is interesting story.

About 15 minutes later, the steep uphill ended, and the vast plain of the Santogoya-shuku spread out in front of us. There were splendid stone lanterns, water bowls, stone monuments, and signboards explaining Santogoya-shuku, reminiscent of the past. At the end of the post town, there was a path on the right, and at the end there was a magnificent torii gate. There was nothing behind the Torii gate. Only the Ozawa Valley, a tributary that separated it from the Yukawa Valley, and the mountains spread out. I thought the direction ahead of this torii must be the direction of Gohozen, which is the object of Hakuyusan worship.

There were three tents on the side of the forest road, and two people were preparing breakfast. When I greeted them, they said that they had come to camp and sawanobori with two cars at the parking lot.

After passing the ruins of the post town, we parted ways with the mountain trail and followed the ruins of the road Aizu Naka Kaido along the Yukawa. The road was very narrow almost disappearing foot paths. After walking for about 15 minutes, we got off onto Yukawa. Although it is the genryu of Yukawa, decent number of anglers coming up to this area often. Immediately, John-san prepared for fishing and he start fishing. John-san said he does fishing quite often in USA. His casting was very beautiful and there was no problem for fishing in genryu. I thought that if there was a fish, he would catch fish immediately, but there was no bite at all. We decided to walk upstream to the stream divides in two, and we devoted to stream walking for a while. The morning sun had risen considerably, and the sunlight was entering to the valley. The Nasu mountain range was beautiful on both sides of the stream. The weather was forecasted to be downhill from the afternoon, but it looked like there would be no problems until after noon. It was a lovely morning.

After walking for about 30 minutes, we arrived at confluence of the stream. Nakanomata-zawa on the right and Touge-zawa on the left. We proceeded to Toge-zawa to the more upstream side. Toge-zawa means the mountain pass stream. Beyond this stream source was the pass of the Aizu Nakakaido in the Nasu mountain range, and beyond that was the Aizu Domain in Edo period. The water volume of the stream had halved and become smaller, but Touge-zawa is the very upper part of genryu of Yukawa. The water was infinitely clear and beautiful.

Here, I also set the fishing rod and start fishing. There was good looking flow, so when I cast the kebari, iwana came out from the first cast. It was small iwana about 20 cm. It seemed that the downstream of the flow was still good, so I cast once more and another iwana bit kebari at the end of the flow. This time it was a nice iwana about 25cm long.

There was a nice pool with a small waterfall when we walked a little upstream. The depth of the pool was perfect and the water is lush and beautiful. I gave this place to John-san. John-san's cast drew a beautiful loop and the kebari just landed on the water at the falling edge of a small waterfall. When the kebari was drifting in the pool for a while, a nice-sized iwana suddenly bit the kebari. John-san set the hook perfectly, and a beautiful iwana bent John-san's rod. It was John-san's first iwana. At this time of year, the iwana was probably the best size in this stream. I thought it was good that John-san caught a good fish first. John-san was also smiling and taking pictures.

From there, we fished up Touge-zawa that flowed down like a staircase. At the very end of the stream, the spots where we can fish are limited. John-san fished picking up points with a right depth of water. Time passed quickly, it was about noon and the weather was still beautiful with blue skies. The ridgeline of the Nasu mountain range became quite close. We arrived at a place where the old Aizu Naka Kaido crosses Touge-zawa as a mountain trail. John-san seemed to be satisfied with catching 7 or 8 iwana until then, so we folded the fishing rods there.

When we walked a little downstream direction on the trail, the trail split in two. The road on the left toward the ridgeline and crosses the pass to Santogoya Onsen, an old hot spring with 2 onsen inns in the middle of Nasu mountain range, and the road on the right is the old Aizu Naka-kaido. We took right to the old road. We ate lunch on the riverbed on the way and again walked down the old road to the car stop while looking up at the sky where the clouds were moving a little faster.

Japanese Trout Figurine Kickstarter Campain


Ichi Katsumoto sent these to me asking if I would help him reach the tenkara community. His friend has a Kickstarter campain to get his trout figurine business going. I'm a sucker for fish pins so I told him that I would post a page about them. The Iwana and the Yamame at the bottom are available for sale at the campaign in this link.

I'll stick the above Iwana on my favorite fishing hat, I do not wear a vest otherwise I would pin one there.

The figurine below will go well with my others, and I am very impressed with the realism.












天野勝利さん、下田和也さん、石垣久男さんなど、多くの日本のテンカラ釣り師を取材していたのです。山本素石の本を読んでセバターさんのことは知っていましたし、日本式のフライフィッシングを深く学びたいという私の夢は実現しつつあると思いました 私は再び日本を訪れ、瀬畑さんと友人の家に滞在しました。キャンプをしながら、穏やかな源流アドベンチャーに連れて行ってもらいました。澤登が何を意味するのかがよくわかりました。私には少し難しかったのですが、この経験は私の夢でした。






Clear Lines

In the 90's I was a cross country hang glider pilot. My idea of summertime fun was to drive to the biggest mountains I could, and my favorites were 8,000' or higher. I would set up my hang glider and put on my snowmobile suit, walk my hang glider to the edge of a cliff, imagine what the wind and thermals were doing and then run off the mountain testing my skill and knowledge of the air that I couldn't see. It would be 90 degrees on the ground standing there wrestling the glider in the invisible hot wind, sweating, nervous, heightened senses, sometimes a little afraid of what was going to happen in the next few minutes or even seconds. I would fly off into thermals that I would have to imagine that they were there using all of my visual clues, my knowledge of the flow of the air, circling in that thermal up and up, sometimes more than 1,500' per minute. The air temperature drops 7 degrees every thousand feet as you ascend so if I remained in that thermal for 10 minutes, you do the math, it was freezing and the wind chill at the base of the clouds at 17,000' was skin burning cold.

What does this have to do with fishing?

I'm trying to catch things I can't see.

You can't see the air, but it acts like water. I used my fishing and surfing to understand what it was that I could not see. My experiences watching the flow of water, I took to my soaring and that imagination is what I am going to discuss here in this article about fishing.

About this same time in my life, I was doing all of this cross-country soaring, my friends were dying in accidents. Most of them were better at hang gliding than I was. They took risks or didn't follow a methodical approach toward safe practices. Flying was optional, landing was mandatory and when you go to so many funerals of friends you practice the same sport with, for me it was a wakeup call, was my time coming soon? 

I knew I was going to quit, and I wanted to pass my time much like I did hang gliding, alone, way out in the wild and that's when I dove straight into fly fishing small streams.

I applied and was accepted at an Orvis fly shop where I would work for a few hours after my day job. I was working at a local hospital in anesthesia, and I didn't need the money. I wanted to surround myself with experts in fly fishing and that is exactly what I did. I focused on small streams because that was the environment that went deep into the forest, often near the top of the mountain and at the time, there was not a lot of interest in this type of fly fishing so I would be alone or with a friend and could concentrate on becoming very good at fly fishing small streams.

I began to fish with experienced fly fishermen, most were older and had lots of time on the water. But the best teacher that I had was a young man of 18, he was a phenomenon. No one could catch like he could. He was the whole package too. Professional fly tyer tying dozens and dozens of flys, selling them and he also worked at the fly shop that I did, and he fly fished streams, rivers, lakes and the sea. We began to fish together quite a bit and it was an odd arrangement, I was twice his age, and I was following him around. 

He didn't do what everyone else did. He looked methodically at each situation and crafted his own answer and succeeded every time. We would go to a river where a good fly fisherman might catch a dozen fish in a day and he would make bets on catching fish on the first cast. In all that I do, when learning a new skill, I surround myself with the best and then I learn from them and that's what happened knowing this young man. Pretty soon I was catching almost as many fish as he was and on a couple of occasions, I caught more. He would just smile and talk to me and learn from what I was doing. I told him. Knowledge was passed back and forth, and we both increased in our skills, he in small increments and me in huge leaps and bounds because I was learning so much more.

We were using 1-weight fly rods. The lightest lines you could buy at the time and fishing for sub-surface trout. Dylan would sometimes not use an indicator, "I'm learning..." and he would look over at me with a smile as he lifted a hyper wiggly wild trout from deep in the forest. I took to indicator fishing quickly, it was like cane pole fishing that I did as a child, bobber and all. Later I would go fishing with him in the Colorado River above Lees Ferry. We used indicators there too, but I would always remember casting a single egg with a small split shot with my ultra-light spinning rod letting it tic tic tic along the bottom for trout when I was younger. Super effective, I loved that technique, but I just couldn't get it with the fly line, the drag free drift was too hard without the indicator.

At the same river, we began to experiment with line color. We would compare line color and the effect on the fish count. It was drastic. Red and orange lines were less effective, more noticeable to the trout. At that time, I was writing content for my small stream fly fishing web site, and I had even written a article on "Fly Line Color Fun" Much like the article I am writing here, I was chronicling my progress at the time.

Throughout my time fly fishing, and now the last fourteen years of only practicing tenkara, I have been working on removing the indicator and I have finally gotten to that place, and it feels great. Magic for me, but when I fish with other talented fishers, I do about the same while they are using a color line and or an indicator.

Clear lines are a progression for me, they are what I do in order for me to learn new skills. 

I would not suggest them for you. But since you have gotten this far, I'll continue.

At my favorite rivers, fishing Honryu tenkara, I use a 5m rod with a 7m clear line and .5m tippet for' about 40' of maximum reach. With a size #22 hook, and 20/20 vision, the fly or kebari is nearly lost once it leaves my hand. I lose sight of the line just beyond a rod length in most lighting conditions.

Every cast is blind!

But it isn't. I have imagination and knowledge of what is going on. I know what the water is doing, even though I cannot see it clearly. I know how it acts from my study of it. I can see evidence of the river bottom from my vantage point of looking down at where I am standing. I know if there are cobblestone sized rocks, there is a rolling turbulence at the bottom that the trout are hovering above and can dip down into at places where the current is to their advantage. I know if there are larger rocks that they can hold behind and or in front of riding the pressure wave, holding place to look for concentrated food in the flow. If I can see the fish, they usually indicate that my imagination is correct.

I'm looking for evidence to correlate past experiences when fishing new areas.

Everything about my rod is known. I'm experienced with using it for many many hours. Same rod, same length line, same size fly, same cast, same same.

I'm using a methodical approach towards my fishing and the clear line is augmenting the tactility in my approach. This methodical approach starts with my feet, and it moves out to the fly. I'll move to a spot that is advantageous to the area that I am searching for fish. I'll get comfortable where I am standing and typically, I am parallel to the flow of the water or slightly angled up or down stream depending on the "fan shape" of my search pattern. I'll cast and then rotate at the hips as I tight line drift or sasoi (move the fly) with the flow. Pick up, rotate back, cast, rotate, pick up, rotate back and cast again.

I am a machine, a computer analyzing anything different and learning yet not thinking.

I've got the visuals down to where I can imagine them in my mind, now I want to increase the feel in the system and the way for me to do that is to use the same system every time but remove the color so that it removes the vision.

It is a fact that the blind has increased other senses. 

That's the point. I know what the water is doing, I know where the fish are and how they are behaving, I know how my fishing rod and line works, now I want to increase the feel for what I cannot see. The way that I do that is to balance the visuals to a point where tactility is promoted. Yes, I still indicate the trout taking my fly. I'm fishing, it's what I do. 

With my clear line system, I substitute the line color with the natural environment. Before anything indicating on my rod and line, I am looking at the fish I am casting to if I can see it. The white wink of its mouth opening to take the fly, the subtle turn of its body, the movement of its shadow below on the bottom, the silver arrow of its body shortening, I'm looking for visual clues that are not indicated by my fishing line or fly.

Often, I use water droplets on the drape of the line, I watch the droplets for movement. I watch the drape of the line for straightening, I watch the meniscus if I can see it where I imagine the line is entering into the water. I will watch the lillian as I rotate for any movement down.

I use nature, what is already there to indicate the take.

Setting the line on a long history of success, knowing what is happening now that has happened before causes me to tighten the line by lifting the rod to drive home the tiny hook.

The purpose of this article is to describe what I'm doing, not what I'm thinking, I already know what is going on, I'm just creating more opportunities for my senses to realize to set the hook to catch the fish.

Now when I am fishing Honryu, I often feel my #22 hook ticking along the bottom, 30' away, two feet below the surface of the water. I can feel the ticking stop and sometimes even feel the lightening and then increasing pressure which triggers my arm to lift the rod. I'm not thinking, it's happening, and my body is anticipating and reacting without thinking.

 Using a clear line is just another step in my tenkara journey.

I no longer want to catch every fish in the stream, I don't need to, nor do I want to. The method of tenkara has already increased my catch rate. Now when I fish, I enjoy what I am doing and it is such a surprise to catch fish on a system I can't see, I am learning more and more to increase my catch by feel. 

I use a clear line to increase the sensation of feel.

I imagine most of the fish that I catch, yes, I do sight cast to quite a few of my catch but in a large river, most of the fish that I catch, I can't see.

I still have the ability to feel the take and that is the point of the hook.

The more you know, the less you need.

I've tried other lines in this brand (like Tatsu) but InvizX has the best suppleness for casting, handling and knot tying.

I use a slip knot to connect the lillian and a tippet ring to connect the tippet to.

That's it.

No need to make this any more complicated.

I've been using it for years now and it works well.

Yoshikazu Fujioka Greeting Cards for a Happy New Year!


I am honored to know Yoshikazu Fujioka for a long time. We have share our love of small stream fly fishing. He sends me a New Year Greeting card and I look forward to it every year. 2020 has been skipped due to morning. I asked Fujioka san if I could share his cards and he said by all means. We are in Tsuttenkai together, I think I may be the one who takes a nap in the grass...

Zimmerbuilt Custom Products

Chris Zimmerbuilt knows tenkara, high tech fabrics and customer service. *I’ve worked with him on several projects now and all have been nothing less than stellar performance in travel, trail and on the stream.

My wife often grabs one of my packs to use for our trips to the mountains and to the beach. She likes the Tailwater because it isn't bulky and is easy to carry and store. When it is empty, she can wad it up and stuff it into her purse or luggage.

I have traveled to Japan on a great adventure and I chose the Tailwater pack to use as my primary bag. Not only did it perform flawlessly, I forgot about it quite a bit, it just disappears on my back until I need something out of it.

My fishing bag, the Kaizen was designed after my first trip to Japan. I imagined what I wanted and put it together and sent it off to Chris. He sewed it up and sent my idea back. I've been using it since. I have taken it to Japan, Hawaii, exploring the distant rivers and streams in the Western United States. That little bag is a part of my idea of tenkara, if it can't be fit in my bag, I don't need it.

I’ve been amiss in my thanks to Chris for the last couple of pieces of my kit that he put together for me. When I received my latest custom sling pack, I was so impressed as it was exactly as I ordered.

Sending off the request for custom color and configuration I received a response, “Yes, I can do that.” In addition, he sent his address so that I could send my tenkara club patch to be sewn on. I like the stock colors Chris offers yet I’m a big fan of custom colors and white cloth for the main body of my pack. Often, I will request for this to be taken away or that added on. I draw a picture and I get back what I requested, the first time, better or exactly as I asked.

Off the patch went in an envelope addressed to Chris and in short order, my sling lite arrived in my mailbox.

My latest customized minimalist tailwater pack already has a lot of multi-sport adventures behind it. Hatsuhinode, hiking, long walks into the forest, cross country trips, the beach, bike rides and more. 

Putting this article together, searching out the images, I feel like Chris has really contributed to the advancement in my tenkara. I am grateful of his kindness, and I appreciate what he does.

* I receive no compensation from Chris Zimmer or Zimmerbuilt in any way. I am a customer, and a friend, no business.