Tenkara and Fly Fishing

Hmm, July 23, the calendar in my phone says, “Tenkara USA was sold” there are a couple of years entries for this, I wonder what year that was? 

How long ago did he sell the company?

Time is flying by…

Doesn’t matter, that’s water under the bridge, things are way different now.

It makes me think about why I stopped flying fishing to learn tenkara? Why did I? There are several reasons but the bottom line was I was at the top of my game making beautiful split cane fly rods. Writing about it, I was maintaining a couple of communities web sites on the subject, traveling and just having a ball but I stopped and even sold all my fly rods and reels.

What the f*€< was I thinking?

I could have just stored them in my closet. THAT would have been the better choice but I didn’t.

2009, fly fishing full stop. 

I completely immersed myself in tenkara and learned it from Japanese resources, working within that community to help Daniel build it. G~d I remember how difficult it was, the people new to tenkara and fishing, what they thought it was, the way they went about expressing themselves. 

They didn’t know very much about tenkara. The people in Japan best at it did fly fishing too. And they went fly fishing with their tenkara friends and it really didn’t matter. Tenkara wasn’t fly fishing, it was something different, a brother or sister, a sibling, a good friend, a close ally. I read the Japanese HP, the magazines, the genryu players there, far more hardcore than the best of the best fly fishers here, they climb waterfalls don’t they? 

…and catch trout in ultra clear skinny water. Some fly fish, some do tenkara, they don’t take sides, they exist together naturallly.

Tenkara in America today?

I don’t think so…

…and I’m going fly fishing this weekend. 

My tenkara rods left at home in the rod rack except the Nissin mini, that rod goes with me everywhere. Man what a beautifully engineered pure Japanese tenkara rod. I still crack up when I think about how certain Americans poo poo on it.


It is a machete AND a scalpel capable of dissecting a stream in short order, tenkara sews up a memory like a fine Italian suit. Btw,I wonder what the Italians think about fly fishing and tenkara coexisting?

Anyway, does not matter. 

The best tenkara people here also fly fish. The teachers, the authors, Dave Hughes, John Gerach, or locals like Chuck Kaminski, Chris Theobald, Andy Paschek. Even my nameless #1 tenkara fisher in the US, so proud of him. He just got back from genryu trips in Japan, I taught him tenkara now I’ll help him learn fly fishing for silvery glints off the beach in the surf. The English, Paul and John at Discover Tenkara, they fly fish and to date, their teachings are the best tenkara tuition English speaking people can get into. They do it right. Tenkara is Japanese and that’s where they base their approach carefully introducing this genre from that angle. 

But this weekend I’m going fly fishing!

I want to shoot some loops on a new 1-weight. It’s an 8’ 3 piece un-sanded blank, tip over butt ferrule and a nice flex profile.

Yeah, I’m fly fishing today with another old friend that I’ve known about 25 years. He is 70 something (I’m 63) The stream we are fishing; I’ve been fishing for 55 years. But I’m still learning, thinking about my wind game with that 1-weight, shooting loops in the nooks and crannies of that bendy stream, sending casts in big holes in the wind, it’s still a go!

Driving out of the desert into the mountains, my thoughts go from one thing to another. Connecting the dots is always on my mind but it’s a time of concentrating and at the same time letting go.

I’ve been watching some great TV in the evening, just finished Shogun, wow, so cool to understand old Japan, and I’m on the newest series of , “the Bear” a wild contemporary look at personalities in a great restaurant. Yeah, good stuff.

The Olympic games are on this month, in France! Yes, the French, Im cueing up one of my favorite rappers on my stereo, Octavian as I turn on to the freeway. The sun is rising, thoughts swirling in my head as they do on my drives to go fishing, ohh, there it is, the lyrics…

It's nice to be important

But it's important to be nice

Hell yeah!

That dude rocks, French rapper. Speaking of the French, I wonder if Chris Laurent fly fishes?

Doesn’t matter.

Driving, my Subaru is a perfect choice for me, road car, AWD for dirt roads. It just makes driving there not a big deal. I feel like I don’t deserve it. Nicest car I’ve owned. I worked hard for it and with the help of my wife, my family, I got one brand new! But I deserve it, my wife has one, why shouldn’t I? She said I should drive a new Bronco before I decide. My wife is good about those things.

Seems to me we missed the boat in America. 

Tenkara could have been piggybacked on fly fishing as a choice by showing how badass the Japanese genryu crew are, another tool in the arsenal of rods we use. Looking back, it’s easy to arm chair those things. It got big but we were looked at like beginners by the fly fishing community. 

Maybe because we were. 

A twenty something year old marketing a new way to fly fish? The marketing included, “sell your fly rod and get into it.” I told him this wasn’t the way, but it grew no less. I ended up on the payroll but you can’t tell me how to be me, that’s my job. Everything is behind me now and this is my story.

What’s yours?

We ended up at the Sowbug event in Arkansas. It’s a fly fishing community that has an annual regional fly tying get together. In Arkansas, they are serious about fly fishing, they catch big big browns in the local tailwaters, they know fly fishing. I was there with Daniel and the event coordinator must have recognized me as we shook hands, he looks at Daniel, “Oh, you brought the Sage with you…” I’m not sure who he was speaking to but I know Daniel didn’t like it. Doesn’t matter, we got tenkara rods into a lot of fly fishers hands. As much as I didn’t like the way he was doing it, he was doing it and besides, politics suck, we are still fishers and that’s the importance.

But Daniel left the building and now what do we have?

I don’t know, I really don’t care. 

He and Lefty Kreh figured it out and that’s a good thing.

I know that politics in fishing divides people. When you have people that say there is only one way to do it, already you start dividing. No, tenkara is not the only way to go fishing. You can’t learn tenkara by fly fishing or can you? In my case I stopped fly fishing and immersed myself into a world of Japanese tenkara. It’s from Japan, that’s where it came from, that’s where I had to go. All inroads lead me to the watersheds there and that’s where I went to learn it.

A Japanese fly fisher introduced me to the tenkara experts there. I would not have changed one thing about that.

Whoa whoa whoa, I’m on a road trip to go fly fishing. I don’t need to go there and do that.

It’s 2 something am. I’m in a hotel in Springerville Arizona. Tired from the day, we caught trout on the stream I’ve talked about. Nine thousand plus feet, elevation. I can feel the elevation just laying here but I’m so excited to be able to choose which rod to use. I remember distinctly breaking down little movements, kneeling, line handling, different ingrained movements. The little details, the reel taking away the anguish of bushwhacking a long level line, the rod length managing the downstream drift, so many differences. Today I like fly fishing and it feels great to be good at both. To be able to know the differences and to be able to talk about both.

Compare and contrast came into play but I pushed it out and enjoyed fly fishing for what it was.

It’s been a long time since I’ve operated a lite fly rod sending loops to capture trout in the cool mountain breeze.


Try fly fishing.

You will get good at it fast.

I suggest a lite line fly rod.

Make friends with someone that does both.

That’s where it’s at.


If you do only one, learn the other. Don’t make a mistake and sell your gear to get into it. You’re going to want to do it latter.




Enjoy fishing your way.

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