A curious question
I was reading the interview with CM Stewart and Jason Klass and how Chris has gone to Japan a few times on business and all. It made me wonder how much does being interested in things Japanese have to do with being interested in tenkara? I admit I love certain things about that culture and when I found out about tenkara's Japanese origin that made it all the better. So the question is how much did tenkara being japanese have to do with getting started in tenkara?
What really persuaded me to give Tenkara style fly fishing a try was reading Ryan Jordan's article on Big River Fly Fishing and Why Tenkara Beats Western Fly Fishing Methods. Here is a link to that piece for those who have not seen or read it: http://ryanjordan.com/blog/2011/05/b...stern-methods/ Not that I have all that many big rivers to fish in my area, but primarily because I believed Tenkara tackle would work even better on the small streams that I fish than it does on the bigger rivers, and also because I believed Tenkara tackle would offer similar advantages on some of the high lakes that I love to fish so much. Which in both cases has proven to be truer than I could ever have imagined or thought it would be. Some of my best friends happen to be of Japanese descent, but for me Tenkara fly fishing's Japanese origins had nothing at all to do with my taking up this Japanese form of fly fishing in the first place.
As a matter of fact my Japanese friends have so far refused to give Tenkara fly fishing a try, even though I have offered many times to take them up fishing and provide all the tackle they would need in order to try it. I gave Wes a copy of Kevin Kelleher's Tenkara, Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing, for Christmas this year. Not because I am trying to convert him into being a Tenkara fly fisherman, but because I thought he would enjoy reading about his Japanese fly fishing heritage, and because he has a young nephew who he would like to teach fly fishing to. Tenkara fly fishing would be much easier for any youngster to pickup than Western fly fishing is in my, and many other people's, views. Wess's main love in life is fishing for steelhead. We did some Tenkara casting in my backyard about a year ago and he liked it, but he felt that Western tackle was superior for the kind of fishing he most enjoys doing the most. Many years ago I took Wes to the small mountain stream where he caught his first trout on a fly, and he does still trout fish on a much larger local river. But once he became addicted to catching striped bass, steelhead and shad, his days of fishing mountain water were over. And rightly so, Wes does not feel that Tenkara tackle offers much for him in angling for those fish.
Jason didn't want to start the interview the same way all of them seem to start "So, how did you first learn about tenkara?"
For me, the fact that tenkara is Japanese really had nothing to do with it. I guess I'd have to go back to the first time I saw a photo of a North Country wet fly on the internet. The North Country style is called that because it was the style of northern England.
I was struck by the sparseness and the almost austere beauty. I wanted to learn as much as I could about them and how to fish them. I soon learned that when they originated, people used very long rods. The rods were called loop rods because they had a loop of twisted horsehair at the rod tip, and the line (also horsehair) was tied to the loop. There is a good book called The Angler and the Loop Rod, which you can read online, but there isn't really much else specifically about loop rods. I first came across a mention of tenkara while researching the horsehair lines that were used with loop rods. It turns out that the ancient tenkara anglers also used horsehair lines.
I soon learned that tenkara rods were about the length of the old loop rods, so you could fish the North Country wets they way the were originally fished. However, the rods are not only lighter and more convenient to transport, best of all they are commercially available so I wouldn't have to find someone's woodshop to try to make a loop rod. I started researching tenkara. Back then (2007), there was virtually nothing about tenkara except for Japanese websites. A few of those were in English, but most were in Japanese and the computerized translation is almost useless. That made learning anything pretty difficult.
I know a lot of people are attracted to tenkara because it is Japanese, whether because they like Japanese culture or are attracted to Zen or perhaps martial arts. To me, though, now that I've learned a bit more about it, what continues to attract me to tenkara is its effectiveness. I catch a lot more fish than I did before. The reason for that is the long rod and light line allow me to keep the line off the water, so there is less drag. Less drag means better presentation and that means more fish. Tenkara doesn't catch more fish because it's Japanese, it catches more fish because it gives you better presentations.
I really believe the Japanese origin helped to create interest in tenkara in the US, but I also believe that at least in the US, tenkara has to grow past its origins. Although interest is growing, a backlash is also growing among people who are put off by a perception of elitism or hype or a cult-like bashing of western syle fly fishing. To avoid creating a greater backlash, I think tenkara has to be presented as just another niche within the larger sphere of fly fishing, and one that has advantages in specific applications. Whether the method is Japanese or Italian or Macedonian isn't important.
I have to admit it was the flys that got me going as well. I kept studying them and how they where made. Simple yet beautiful. After that I figured i have to give them a try on an actual tenkara rod, but how would it work in warm water. Turns out it works very well flys and all. Thanks yall for the response.
For me, it doesn't matter at all that it's from Japan. I would like it same if it came from France, Switzerland, or the USA for that matter. I just like the method. But, I also happen to like Japan so as HOSSCOOPER said, that just makes it better.
I find it to be fun. Also found that it works with many flies that are brought in just under the surface.
Although Tenkara fly fishing is generally thought of as being a or "THE" method for presenting unweighted wet flies (either Sakasa Kebari or North Country style wet flies) to trout in running water, I find, for me personally, a Tenkara style rod works a lot better with dry flies. Both on running waters and in still waters as well I catch a lot if not most of my fish on dry flies. There is a common misconception going around in this country that most Japanese Tenkara anglers fish with only a single Sakasa Kebari type of fly pattern all the time, relying on fly manipulation techniques to hook their fish rather than changing fly patterns. But if you look at any number of Japanese Tenkara fly fishing forms (and it does not matter if you can't read Japanese in order to do this), you will clearly see that there is a much greater variety of flies being tied and fished in Japan (including dry flies as well as weighted wet flies) than we have been lead to believe by some of the people promoting Tenkara fly fishing in this country.
When I first started my Tenkara fly fishing, I used the same fly patterns that I had used successfully before on the same waters, where I knew for sure they would be effective. But like Chris said, the Tenkara rod and light lines just made it a lot easier to get drag free drifts, and present my flies in places and in ways that I never could do before with my Western fly fishing tackle. But it took a while and some T-fishing experience for me to learn that. My first season with a T-rod I didn't fish it all that much - maybe about 50% of the time in an off and on inconsistent way. The next year I fished a T-rod a whole lot more, but I still carried my Western tackle into the high lakes as I felt Tenkara had too much of a distance casting handy cap to always be effective. At the end of that second season (after out fishing a friend who was using Western fly tackle with the same fly patterns on a high lake at a little better than 5 to 1), I had all the confidence I needed to go Tenkara cold turkey for the next trout season - and I have pretty much done T-fishing only ever since then. Not so much because it catches more fish for me, which it truly does because of all the reasons given by Chris above, but because I simply enjoy catching my fish so much more on my Tenkara tackle.
John (the friend I out fished who didn't even notice how badly he had done in comparison at the time) has also taken up Tenkara fly fishing as a result of us fishing together. Not because he has seen how effective it can be in comparison to Western fly fishing tackle, but because of what it feels like when you hook, play and land a fish on a Tenkara style rod, which we both find to be much more enjoyable than fishing with our Western fly tackle. John still fishes his Western tackle a lot more than he fishes Tenkara, partly because of who he is fishing with. But he is actively encouraging all of his other angling friends to give Tenkara fly fishing a try. He is a much more dedicated Tenkara evangelist for the sport than I am. I do not say much when I fish around or with Western fly fishing anglers unless they ask me questions. I just fish and let them make up their own minds if this might be something that they would like to try. Most anglers, whether fly fishermen or not, don't ask any questions.
There are some statements I made in the above post that I believe needs a little farther explanation. The last day of the season on that high lake, when I caught 16 brook trout and John caught two brooks and a nice rainbow, he didn't notice the difference because we were fishing on the opposite sides of the lake from each other. It was only after talking about how we did on the way home that I became aware of the disparity between our performances. I was fishing a 10.5 foot long tapered T-line on an 11 foot 8 inch long T-rod, making mostly bow-and-arrow casts to fish swimming within a few feet of the shore line in most places. As a matter of fact I had caught 3 fish in the time it took John to assemble his rod, mount his reel on the rod and thread the line through the rod's guides, and he had not even tied a fly on his line yet. John fished a 9 foot long fast action rod for a 5 Wt. western floating fly line that day, with a leader and tippet a little longer than his rod was long, so he could very easily cast at least 3 to 4 times as far out into the lake as I could cast with my Tenkara tackle, so the ability to cast a lot of line did not automatically gurantee catching more fish on that day.
However John's ability to cast 40 or more feet of line gave him a false sense of security. Where my short line made it necessary for me to sneak along the shore line, moving from tree to tree on this timbered right up to the water's edge lake in most places, with me hiding behind every rock and bush that I could find to hide myself from the fish so I would not spook the shore cruising trout that were coming my way. While John marched right out in the open up to the end of points, stood on top of downed trees to cast, and made no attempt at all to hide himself from the fish, thinking he could easily cast his fly far enough away that the fish wouldn't become alarmed by his presence. The trouble was he was already spooking more than 90 percent of the fish in the near by shore water before he even got into his casting positions. And I had fore warned John right before we started fishing that we would be fishing to fish that would be nearly at our feet in the water at this time of the year, in this lake. But John spent most of his time searching for the trout much farther out into the lake than where most of the fish were swimming.
Another problem John had with his western tackle was that this lake has very limited back casting room, so John just skipped most of the high percentage water in favor of fishing the places where he had ample room to throw a lot of line. The bow-and-arrow cast works just as well with western fly fishing tackle as it does with T-tackle in this kind of situation. Most of my casts were made with out using a back cast at all. I really believe one of the major advantages Tenkara tackle has over western tackle is that your relatively short casting reach forces you to be as stealthy as you can be, and much more aware of your surroundings and how the fish have adapted to the fishing environment than western tackle encourages you to do as an angler. So it isn't so much that Tenkara style tackle all by itself is inherently more productive than western tackle is on lakes and streams (although the fixed line rods do have all the advantages we have already talked about above before this post), but that the added reach western fly tackle provides its users with does not encourage the necessary elements of stealth and prey observation that are so sorely needed to become the best angler that you can possibly become. That is not to say that western fly fishermen can't also develop equivalent angling skills, just that the casting range western tackle provides us with makes it that much harder to develop those needed skills.