I read a post recently on the web. In that well-written essay, the author explains how, in his earlier incarnation as a “regular” fly angler, he had become so obsessed with insects, their identification, and their life-stages that he became virtually paralyzed on the stream trying to identify which insect the trout were consuming, which stage of that insect they were taking at the moment, and what fly to choose to imitate it. Perhaps the one-fly approach of tenkara is a great antidote to this complex fly calculation. There exists, of course, a large middle ground.
Trout angling is largely illusion. So much print and rods, and reels, and flies (thousands!) are employed in the narrative and practice of fly fishing for trout when, as I believe John Gierach or Ed Engle wrote, you could catch 90% as many trout using just a parachute Adams and and a Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear, long before we had ever heard of tenkara. The myriad of fly patterns that have emerged, and continue to emerge, from the vises of flytiers the world over are more exercises in the craft of flytying and the desire to put one’s own personal spin on a fly than creating something that is really needed to catch trout; as if the old patterns cease to work after a while. Just in the last couple of days, the TenkaraUSA blog has featured a variety of flies tied in Japan by tenkara masters, almost none of which sport the forward-leaning hackle of the sakasa kebari. In fact, these flies inspired one self-professed tenkara purist, to tie a series of palmered “tenkara” flies (really nice ties, I might add). Perhaps only a subset of Japanese tenkara anglers, such as the esteemed Dr. Ishigaki, are fising the sakasa kebari style fly. So, as we peer behind the curtain, we see that a “tenkara” fly is whatever you’ve tied on the end of your tenkara line at that moment. The most valuable lesson of tenkara, I believe, is that presentation largely trumps pattern.
I don’t speak Latin, streamside or otherwise, however I generally can tell a mayfly from a caddisfly from a beetle or ant, and I believe this enhances the enjoyment of my day on the stream. When I select a fly based on what I see happening on the creek, and it works, I feel as though I’ve accomplished something, figured something out. Of course, perhaps I could have done just a well with a minimarshmallow on a hook. I remember the time my son caught a bass on a plug that looked like a little Budweiser can.
What I’m saying in a roundabout way is that, if we carry this one fly concept too far,if we define tenkara too narrowly, we might actually lose something valuable in the process, something that connects us to the traditions and larger community of fly anglers.
Don’t get me wrong; I really enjoy how the collapsible , reel-less tenkara rod, monofilament flyline system has simplified my fishing. On many streams, including my local Spring Creek, tenkara has created fishing opportunities that were simply inaccessable to my old five weight. But being 95% a dry fly angler, I’m not willing to give up my parachute dries or beetle kebari. I would just miss too much the visible take of the fly on the water’s surface.
So, feel free to take your tenkara rod, or your “tenkara” rod, your sakasa Kebari, or your Flavilinea, and ENJOY yourself.
As Chuck Berry once said, “Live like YOU want to live!”