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Sorry, Yvon, But It’s Not Tenkara

Posted by on July 11, 2014

Well, on my recent trip to Denver I did not get to the Patagonia store as I had hoped to check out the new Patagonia “tenkara” kits.  Was having too much fun with the grandkids.  I have, however, given a bit of thought to the Patagonia system as described on their website, and I have to conclude that it’s not really tenkara.

If you distill tenkara to its essence, THE central principle or tenet of tenkara has to be the tenkara line.  More than the collapsible rod (a wonderful thing, but I’m sure tenkara anglers of a hundred years ago did not have them), more than the one fly concept (just look at the great variety of flies, both dry and wet, used by Japanese tenkara anglers), it’s the thin, monofilament line that makes tenkara so perfectly adapted to the small mountain streams whence tenkara sprang.  The ability to keep the line off the water, defeating the multiple, conflicting currents of a boulder-strewn high gradient stream and the way this line allows a variety of manipulations of the fly’s drift are what make tenkara so much more than just fishing without a reel.

When I contemplate the Patagonia system, with its floating line, need for a leader between line and tippet, what I see is a western fly fishing system without a reel.  Sure, for a novice there’s no need to learn the intricacies of hauling, playing the fish on the reel, etc., but a day on Chicago creek with this system I think would prove very frustrating.  It seems that this system offers the worst of both western and tenkara angling.  Now, I haven’t cast the rods, and they may be very fine rods when paired with a traditional monofilament tenkara line.

This, I believe, is a classic case where, due to his enormous (and well-deserved) respect in outdoor pursuits and being owner of the company, no one felt comfortable challenging Yvon Chouinard’s concept of tenkara.  Hopefully Patagonia will start offering a level line.

P.S.  Forget the snap-C cast and DON’T throw your rod in the water.

7 Responses to Sorry, Yvon, But It’s Not Tenkara

  1. luis

    Certainly I won’t dare to discuss his fishing ideas, as I won’t dare to discusss yours, and I won’t be exactly happy if someone comes by the bank to tell me what is right what’s not about what I’m doing, each one at its own.

    My main line is a #3 level line, but when season pull us down to bigger rivers I’ve used a floating line, that someone gave me, as if it were a level line, without any leader. It casts beautifully either with my 5:5 and 6:4 rods, also fish well, but it’s hard to have the line out of water, if you want to, and like use a long line. I mean, not what you want to use in a crystal clear stream with a short tippet, but I find it useful in slow, not so clear waters, it let the wets or even dry pass under branches cleanly. It just works, it’s all I’m concerned about.

    • Tenkara Ambassador

      Luis, thanks for your thoughtful comments. It certainly is not my intent to tell others how to fish tenkara, but I think we need to keep the definition and concept of tenkara clear. Using a fixed-length of line and no reel is not necessarily tenkara as most Japanese or American tenkara anglers understand it, and the need for a leader to connect line and tippet seems to be contrary to the concept of simplifying.

  2. luis

    From my point of view using a leader in this context isn’t much more than giving traditionally taught anglers approaching to this fishing style something familiar to grip on. i.e. sales strategy.

    On the other hand in Japan they have a lot of names for similar practices with quite similar rods too, so probably the borders are fuzzy enough to have more to do with a taxonomic interest and baits used than anything else. I find pure tenkara techniques [ as we knew it from the US introducers ] useful in our headwaters and gorges with wet ones (in Spain), but also tenkara is too close to other fixed line traditional techniques used here to be able to discard the acquired experience and preferred ways of fishing, which, in the end, will affect the way we see, and therefore, define things.

    my 2c about this 😉

  3. adam

    Make no mistake, if it looks like fly fishing, smells like fly fishing, it isn’t Tenkara. Wait, Tenkara is fly fishing but simple fly fishing isn’t Tenkara but fly fishing is Tenkara so hmm, Chouinards method must be Tenkara? I’ve asked him myself, he doesn’t personally claim that it is “Tenkara … …. ….” it is simple fly fishing. What Patagonia is selling is simplified fly fishing. I personally call it a “dumbed down version of fly fishing” but Tenkara it is not. You can try to lump in Patagonia / TFO rods into Tenkara but it isn’t, I know, I asked him myself.

    • Tenkara Ambassador

      Adam, thanks for your comment. I don’t really know what to call the Patagonia system. As I said in the post, if you own the company you can call it whatever you want.

    • Tenkara Ambassador

      Adam, thanks for the report. Sounds like some great tenkara fishing. Keep up the good work!

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