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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tenkara - Help Me Understand

Simple or Complex?

If you had to chose one fly for the rest of your life....

My father in law is the guy who is responsible for putting a fly rod in my hands, and he tells some great stories about how he and his brothers would take a snelled Royal Coachman down to the "crik" and cut a willow to fish it with.  No rod needed, and they learned how to stalk and catch fish.  They did it because they didn't know any different, and to them it was fishing!  They eventually switched to fly rods and reels because it opened up a whole new set of doors for them.  When I told him about the Tenkara movement (I'll explain why I call it that), he just kind of had a puzzled look on his face.

I will fully admit that I have never cast a Tenkara rod, tied a Tenkara fly, or had the though on the river that "man... I sure wish I had a Tenkara rod for this application..." and here's why.  Similar to when my wife came up to me last night and informed demanded that I go Christmas caroling with her and the kids, my natural reaction was to shut down because I was being ordered to do something.  Call me a Grinch.  No. I will not be sharing my musical talents with the neighborhood.  Tenkara seems like the same sort of thing.  I don't respond very well to having something shoved in my face over and over again.  I'm not saying that there are not applications where it would be fun to try it out, but some guys are passionately religious about it as if it's some sort of revolutionary "Tenkara Movement," and somehow if you aren't fishing Tenkara you are a neanderthal that lives in a cave.  I think it would be a fun technique to try on high mountain creeks full of the brookies that my Father in Law used to catch, but when guys tout it as the ultimate fishing experience that can cover all bases - that's when I shut down.

The flies.  So they are basically just soft hackle patterns with the hackle tied in facing forward.  Sure, I could tie that in a billion different varieties that would catch fish, but this alone would severely limit my desire to tie flies at all, and what if the gran pappy under the bank just wants some real live meat in his face?.  I know. You don't have to throw those flies exclusively, but are you really taking advantage of the pure simplicity of Tenkara if you aren't fishing with them? ;) ;)

Simple is good.  Tirelessly preaching about something that is supposed to be simple to the point that it gets complex is just that - complex.  Also, ditching the reel and focusing on one style of fly might not actually make your life all that simple anyway.  Picture this scenario (It happened to me).  You are walking from a higher vantage point along a small stream that has notoriously spooky fish, and they are particularly skittish and spook each time your sasquatch size 14 wading boot hits the soft dirt.  They are readily feeding on top, but not if you spook the hell out of them first.  Through fancy research you calculate that you can get about 60 to 70 feet away before they go berserk.  You have two options: A) Put on a ghillie suit and get on your belly and inch toward the fish using Navy Seal sniper techniques so you can make a short cast at them and hope they eat your soft hackle, or B) comfortably stand behind the pool and use your casting ability to lay down a cast at distance using a fly that precisely matches the hatch.  Option B seems a little less complex doesn't it?

I don't really want to assign a standard prototype to "Tenkara Guy," because there are a lot of them out there who understand that it's an application that might not cover all the bases.  I mostly shut down when guys build up tenkara by putting down all other types of "fly" fishing.  I have heard that there is even turmoil within the tenkara ranks about what "real" tenkara is.  Rules suck, and it seems like tenkara has too many of them.  I'm also not saying that I'll never try it... now hand me a tenkara rod and some mittens so I can go out caroling with my wife.

37 comments:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree. It also makes me laugh that in order to go "simple" and eschew "complexity" I have to buy a new piece of gear instead of using what I already have. Where's the minimalism in that?

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    1. Exactly... Or - you could just cut a switch next to the stream and tie some tippet to it.

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  2. I fish tenkara, but love my reels as well. I was getting pretty lost in it for a while, but I agree.....a ton of arguing going on among some of the tenkara anglers on what a real tenkara rod is, and what it isn't. I know you will find some discord anywhere you go, but it seemed to be really high with some of those guys.

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    1. I could see that. I really dig trying new stuff. I fish with conventional gear a lot and I love the challenge of figuring out a new technique for bass.

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  3. Unfortunately, like everything else, the vocal minority tend to ruin things for the silent majority.

    As a tenkara angler for 5 years now (although not an exclusive one), that's really frustrating to me. It's a few loud voices that tend to make things intimidating, or judgmental, or create barriers.

    Simply put, it is a form of fishing that was developed for high gradient mountain streams. That's where it excels. If you do it in that environment, the advantages (like a drag free drift) are clear. Like how short ice fishing rods excel when sitting on a bucket jigging for crappie.

    We're all just fly fishers. The tenkara "snob" is the same person as the dry fly "snob"...just in different clothing. As a tenkara admirer, I apologize for the stuff that's floating around on the internet...even if some folks have subsequently adjusted their point of view...sadly, Google never forgets.

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    1. Well put. Tenkara Snob is one of "those guys" huh? Thanks for the comment.

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  4. "Momement"? Jeez Louise. Forget the movement. Just fish. In deference to MIchael, I'll not replay "Tenkara Wars, Vol. III" but face it, there's a lot of crap that has been posted over the years. Just forget it.

    Is that a tenkara fly? Sure, if you want it to be it is. Would I choose it as a mythical "one fly"? Of course not. I wouldn't pick ANY fly as ONE FLY. The whole "one fly" thing really is a bit like your granpappy. All he fished was a snelled Royal Coachman because that's all he had. He was a one fly angler. He used it because he caught fish with it. He caught fish with it because he used it. Oh, and most tenkara patterns don't have reversed hackles. Google "my best streams." There are lots of tenkara patterns.

    Forget "Tenkara is Simple" - it's only as simple as you make it, and western fly fishing doesn't have to be complex. Forget "Tenkara is Fly Fishing Without the Reel" - you can fish with your fly rod and not use the reel. (Ever hear of Czech Nymphing? Those guys don't really use their reels.) Besides, if you think of tenkara as fly fishing without the reel, you'll fish it as if you were fly fishing, just without a reel. That will prevent you from learning of it's real advantages - which you'll never realize if you fish it as if it was a fly rod and use a PVC coated floating fly line.

    Tenkara has advantages and it has disadvantages. You've pointed out a major disadvantage. To really understand the advantages, you'd probably actually have to try it. Anything I can say about advantages will just sound like I'm promoting the movement.

    Rules? Tenkara? It's just fishing.

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    1. Czech nymphing... yep. Do it all the time, and I rarely have more than the tip of my fly line out. I fish a 10' 4 wt and I always make sure I have a really nice disc drag in case I catch a big fish that decides to run. I've seen guys try to land big fish in fast water with tenkara rods, and it's not the prettiest nor most effective way to do it. Frankly I think it stresses the fish more than it ought to. I'd rather land my fish than have to run down stream so they don't "spool" me.

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  5. Cheech, shoot us an email info@tenkaraguides.com. Be happy to hook up and give you some hands on instruction. We are based in SLC. Tenkara myth busting is our specialty. Want to catch 20"+ trout or 15-20 pound carp with a fixed line fly rod? We are the guys to show you how

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    1. If I can escape the vise at some point I might have to hit you guys up.

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  6. Yup if your lucky enough to get out , who cares what you use . That said I paid 350$ for my smooth drag and another 600$ for my rod & I hope my tenkara buddies snap off every big fish they hook ( and it has happened , .....PRICELESS) .I don't hope that cause I'm jealous , its cause if I toss a grand to my local Flyshop I want my buddies to as well.

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  7. Cheech, no need to understand. Fish the way your want to fish. If you like simple, fish simple. If you like complex, make it so. Want to match the hatch, do it. Want to fish "one fly", go for it. No need to understand. Using a reel or not, its just fishing -- it's what you make it.

    -Teton Tenkara

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    1. Excellent post. I agree with that. I just fish however makes me happy even if it involves pouring custom plastic worms and fishing them for bass on a baitcaster and 50# braid...

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  8. Every now and then something new comes along - just when we thought there wasn't much else to be known.
    Tenkara is like that. It's old, in truth, but new to us.

    It's probably inevitable that it appeals to those elitist minds that seem to gravitate to fly fishing.
    New + fly fishing + esoteric = snootiness.
    It's a natural.
    I will say that the sekasa kebari and a couple of other tenkara flies come close to being "The One Fly" choice. I've used them to catch many different fish.

    Would I want tenkara as my sole choice? No.
    Your point there is solid.
    COULD I get by with tenkara only?
    Yes, as long as I was willing to work within its limitations.

    I'm not, but, we could say that about anything... Couldn't we?

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    1. That equation is gold. Snootiness ruins everything regardless of what you are doing.

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  9. Interesting post, and comments as well. Having tried tenkara many times, I have to say I agree with you Cheech. It is fun for small streams, but it is certainly not a "new, magical" method with endless applications. But as others have pointed out, it is only a small majority of the tenkara fishermen who claim this - most just enjoy it for what it is, and many of them fish with standard fly gear as well.

    The biggest problem I have encountered is losing fish due to a lack of line. I have to hold the end of the line, so I don't get "spooled" (despite the lack of a spool), and then with no give, I am forced to chase the fish down. If I can't, it's gone, which is why I only use tenkara for small brookies.

    I personally could never use tenkara as my sole choice. I like making fly fishing complex, and I like targeting bigger fish as well, that can not consistently be caught on tenkara gear. And yes, I know that tenkara can be made "complex", but not to the same extent as conventional fly fishing.

    Again, just my opinion. I'm not sure why some people are taking such offense to the post. It's not like Cheech said "tenkara is for low life scumsuckers"; he just put his opinion out there, and that's why we read it in the first place.

    ~Troy

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    1. Thanks Troy. Getting "spooled" is a major concern... I like reels;)

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    1. until a big fish runs in fast water.

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  11. I agree with much of your article. TenKara is an interesting form of fishing to me. Many jumped on early and push it as being best. But many do the same with conventional fly fishing as well. I enjoy fly fishing as my favorite style of fishing but don't down other types. If the person has never tried fly fishing and wants too I will get them going if I can.

    I want to try tenkara sometime. But I definitely won't be trading off my conventional fly tackle anytime.

    Love you blog. Lots of thought provoking stuff. Thanks and keep up the good work!

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    1. Thanks. I hope people realize that it's nothing personal. I just rant sometimes and my opinions are only really valuable to me... Most people probably think I've lost my mind anyway!!!

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  12. Tenkara is a basic and limited form of fly fishing. It's an old fairly lowbrow approach so it's funny people are trying to be snobby or think they are part of a new wave. I like my fly fishing very simple but I actually enjoy the casting component immensely.I'll never give up being able to place a fly within an inch of my target at 30-50 ft 90% of my cast without thinking about it. A Tenkara rod has a place in my arsenal just like a bamboo rod does as I occasionally get nostalgic. Now if anyone mentions "Tenkara fly" in my presence my response is I have to go now. Don't argue or tell these folks to get a life as they're already a lost cause.

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    1. What about if they correct your pronunciation of tenkara? ;)

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  13. Absolutely agree with this post cheech. Rules blow, i love flies (especially big ones), trout aren't the only species I target, love big water and i love throwing meat at trout. Tenkara just not for me.

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    1. Yep. 100% OK by me... As is loving tenkara and fishing it exclusively. Whatever it takes to have fun.

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  14. Tenkara--like nearly all fly fishing gear--is just another toy in the toy box. Fishing is play. More toys = more better.

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    1. More toys=more better is not true for everyone. Not talking for Cheech but after reading the article, I think is trying to say that we don't have to try everything that's out there in fly fishing, and just because some guy(s) are high on a particular technique, fly, water, fish, or gear doesn't mean everyone needs to try it or buy it. Some one once said, "We fish for pleasure, I for mine and you for yours." I've spent 40+ years fly fishing and have tried all aspects of it--warm water, cold water, dries, nymphs, wets, lakes, pond, streams, creeks, large rivers, and used bamboo, glass, boron, graphite, in different weights, sizes, and colors. I've finally narrowed fly fishing down to what brings me joy and enjoyment. It's probably too narrow for most fly fishers, but it's my selfish way. I have fished the same rod and reel and the same handful of flies for over 15 years now without much deviation. it's my gig. I don't need more toys. So for me more toys doesn't equal more fun.

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  16. I don't have anything to add, but I like tenkara and recommend it. I would suggest you take up John's offer and fish with him or ERiK, they'll show what it is all about..
    Great fly you tied up here as usual.
    Brian

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  17. Spooky fish and a ghillie suit...Demands for swinging a soft hackle from a Winston TMF 😄

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  18. Hike your own hike. Glass I've completely bought into. Tenkara...less so though I do agree it's a phenomenal way to get beginners fishing with flies. I think it teaches good nymphing habits too.

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  19. I'm beginning to wish I never read this article. I didn't know anything about Tenkara so I did the GTS thing. Now my Facebook page and every forum I visit is full of Tenkara ads.

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  20. Lord Cheech, AMEN, AMEN, AMEN, and finally THANK YOU for finally laying out there what most of us are thinking about. Lol. You said it perfectly.
    -Justin Aldrich

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  21. I really like fly fishing with conventional equipment and I really like fly fishing with my Tenkara rod. No doubt that having a reel is an advantage when it comes to bigger fish in bigger water, and there's no doubt that the tenkara approach can be more effective in small mountain streams, especially those that involve tough bushwhacks between pools. I'm far from being a purist and feel completely free to try all kinds of hybrid approaches to fly fishing. Bobbers & tenkara ? Check. Those Euro coil strike indicators & Tenkara? Check. Kebari flies & conventional gear? Check. I don't listen to no dogma. I just fish and have fun.

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    1. Larry,
      I'm not trying to cause trouble just need some questions answered. Can you give us some specific reasons why Tenkara can be more effective than conventional gear for small mountain streams? How does it help in bushwacking situations too? Thanks!

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