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My Journey to the Land of Tenkara

Posted by on April 29, 2012

As we all know, life is a journey replete with unexepetcted detours.  And so it has been with my fishing life.  As a very young child my dad introduced me to “tightline” angling from the river bank with doughbait for carp and catfish.  At some point we became devoted spinfishermen for bass, crappie, and the like.  Then at age 50, a friend suggested that I might like fly fishing, and I was immediately smitten.  The technical aspects of casting, mending, tippets and leaders. fly selection, etc. appealed to me in a visceral way.  Also the tradition behind fly fishing provided me the feeling of being a part of a large and historic fraternity.  And  trout…perhaps the handsomest freshwater fish on the planet; the pleasant alchemy of its feeding habits and the rhythms of fly fishing.   I learned to tie flies, and although only a middling flytier, I haven’t purchased ten flies in the last several years.  That , and tying my own leaders, gives me a feeling of self-sufficiency and frugality that I find very satisfying.

So, for a dozen years I honed my fly fishing skills and expanded my knowledge of entomology and fish biology.  About two years ago, while scouring the internet for all things related to fly fishing for trout, I became vaguely aware of tenkara.  I can’t say that tenkara had an immediate appeal for me; I didn’t really see the need for such a fishing system until…my wife and I were hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The trail paralleled a small high-gradient freestone stream, and, as promised, I had not brought my flyrod along so that we could actually hike instead of stopping constantly to fish.  That, of course, did not hinder me from studying all the good-looking pools and pockets, many holding visible trout.  And it suddenly dawned on me:  reaching slack water on the far side of this stream would be very difficult with my 8 1/2′ flyrod.  But I could imagine myself accessing those lies with a 12′ tenkara rod.

I began to read and research all things tenkara, and I knew that I was destined to own a tenkara rod.  Eventually I purchased a 12′ Iwana from TenkaraUSA and had the exceptional good fortune of fishing it the first time with Chris Stewart, the Tenkarabum.  That day we shared on his favorite New York stream really accelerated my tenkara learning curve, although I struggled a lot that day learning to change my casting stroke to accommodate the specific demands of the new rod and line.

Since that day, I’ve had the opportunity to return to that Colorado stream with my Iwana, and it met or exceeded all my expectations concerning tenkara for small stream fishing.  My son, who is not a fly angler, accompanied me and was catching beautiful brook trout within minutes.  Walking with the rod “folded” to its 20″ length never failed to get curious looks or questions from other fishermen.

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After returning home, I’ve used my Iwana on my local spring creek many times, and the enjoyment continues unabated.

After a year as a tenkarafisher, my impressions (none original to me) are that

1)  Tenkara may indeed be the perfect implement for small stream fishing.  Think of how often we use our traditional Western flyrods as we would a tenkara rod (high sticking, etc. ) without the reach a longer rod affords.

2)  Tenkara is also an excellent tool for large rivers, IF they are shallow enought to wade into position to fish spots otherwise beyond the reach of tenkara.

3)  Tenkara is very intuitive and is perhaps the best method to introduce fly fishing to a neophyte.  Some may remain tenkarafishers; others may want to “move up” to traditional Western fly fishing.

4)  Although each angler defines his sport for himself (or herself), I would argue emphatically that tenkara IS fly fishing.  All the familiar rules of fly selection and presentation apply.   The casting stroke is similar and familiar to all fly fishers.  You can even perform reach casts and rollcasts with tenkara, should you want.

5)  Due to the minimal drag on the fluorocarbon tenkara flyline, achieving and prolonging the desired drift (or animation) of the fly is simpler.  This applies equally to dry and wet flies.

6)  Tenkara is a superior winter fly angling method, without guides and reels to freeze.

7)  The need to adopt a stealthier and closer approach to my quarry with tenkara makes me a better fly fisher.

8)  Tenkara is NOT the best tool for landing large fish (although we are seeing posts describing exceptions to this).  A fish that will show you the backing on your six weight will not be landed on your tenkara rod, and landing fish with the long rod can be a bit awkward.

9)Mainstream vendors (Orvis, Bean, Cabela’s, etc.) have been puzzlingly slow in jumping on the tenkara bandwagon.  While tenkara will always remain a niche in our sport, tenkara anglers do need rods, lines, waders, nippers, flies, etc., etc., etc.  Also tenkara has the potential to introduce new anglers to a sport that, by all accounts, is shrinking in our digital age.  Certainly endorsements of tenkara by such luminaries as John Gierach, Ed Engle, Craig Matthews, and Yvon Chouinard will gradually catch the attention of the marketing guys.


My advice?  Try tenkara!

One Response to My Journey to the Land of Tenkara

  1. Daniel @ Tenkara USA

    It was great learning how you came to find tenkara and take it up.
    Thanks for all the great posts, providing for a pleasant reading this morning.

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