Please ask any questions you may have about tenkara here. It doesn’t matter if it’s probably been answered 100 times before, if you’re not easily finding it, I’ll be happy to answer it here. And, if it hasn’t been answered before it may just become a new blog post too. Ask away!
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by Adam Trahan
Adam: I went through the phase of researching as much as I could from known Japanese masters and through Daniel and Dr. Ishigaki, I began my own training (from afar) of a tenkara kebari “one-fly” approach. I settled on a simple Takayama Sakasa Kebari and used it everywhere varying only the size. I caught fish; more fish than I’ve ever caught on the streams that I had been fishing with lite line fly rods for many many years.
It was crazy.
When I went to Japan, it was still hard to leave the comfort of my little Wheatley fly box filled with my knowledge of the different hatches and fliess that go along with it only to take a odd looking fly box that had only one style of fly. I caught fish all over Japan too.
“What is your approach to fly selection on a small stream? With your tenkara rod, are you just using the same flies or are you in Japanese Fly Fishing mode?”
Dave Hughes: I’m where you were with your little Wheatly: I have a small-stream fly box that I use when “western fly fishing”, and I carry the same box when tenkara fishing. It has a narrow selection of dry flies, nymphs, wet flies, and streamers that I’ve found effective on small streams over many years…now many decades…of fishing them. I’ve never tried to narrow my choice beyond keeping my burden light…my goal out there is to please the trout, which have difficult lives, and I’d like to give them a bit of pleasure.
One fly I’ll add, and its history and description are more thorough in my book, is a Saito-San Special. It’s a parachute pattern, rust brown body and blue dun hackle. I first encountered it when fishing with Megaku Saito, bamboo rod builder under the name Old Crab, near his home in Furukawa. He outfished the heck out of Masako and me. He loaned us a few of his flies–he only used the one, like a true tenkara fisherman, though we were not fishing tenkara–and we caught yamame and iwana on it as well as he did…almost as well.
When I brought the fly home, it outfished my old Royal Wulffs and Elk Hair Caddis here as well as it did there. I’ve been using it ever since.
Another small stream fly that catches lots of trout for me, tenkara or otherwise, is Chuck Stranahan’s Brindle Bug, a parachute dry…it’s on the web, or better yet, order them from Chuck; he’s on the web, too. It’s a great fly in size 12, and if trout only nibble at it without taking, then it’s stout enough to support a size 14 or 16 beadhead nymph of your choice…yes, I do that, too, tenkara and otherwise.
Adam: I have conversed with another excellent author of a few of my favorite books on fly-fishing. We have been in contact, off and on for quite some time. I wanted to introduce tenkara to him, answer anything that he might have. In so few words, he told me that the rods where too long and not well adapted and if he wanted to fish a minimal style, he just stuck the reel in his pocket and used it as a hand line.
“What is your experiences with some knowledgeable fly anglers, have any of them given you the business for fishing tenkara?”
Dave Hughes: Nobody’s given me any business. I’ve been presenting a slide show titled “Introduction to tenkara: Unburdened” for a few years to fly fishing clubs. It’s well received. Out here in steelhead and salmon country, I expect only about 10% of an audience to be very interested…I advise them to do no more than outfit themselves inexpensively for tenkara fishing and give it a try. A few do; the rest don’t.
At the end of one talk, an experienced friend came up and told me, “Tenkara sounds like fishing with a frozen reel.” It meant my slide show had missed some points…tenkara is far from fishing with a jammed reel.
But nobody has ever scolded me beyond the wonderment I get that I’m wasting my time fishing for little trouts when I could be fishing for steelhead and salmon…it’s just like my dad telling me I should be studying birds rather than wasting my time studying aquatic insects…you get used to it.
Adam: I’ve come to understand that with Daniel, he is an “original seed” and his version of tenkara is authentic, as I have verified from my research in Japanese media, old tenkara fishers and from my visit to Japan. He is the reel deal, pun intended.
“I understand that you guys fished together, will you tell us a little bit about it?”
Honestly, I’m a fisherman, I enjoy fishing stories, even the mundane, I’m sure there is a little story in your meeting.
Dave Hughes: The story I came away with, after fishing two days with Daniel, is a bit aside from tenkara fishing. I was amazed at how he did it…I’d been doing it for 20 years, but never had any instruction. Let me promise that Daniel instructed me and Masako.
We learned a lot.
But the story that might be more important: simplicity. Masako and I were there ahead of Daniel, on Oregon’s Crooked River tailwater. We had our tent trailer set up, with all the comfortable etceteras. Daniel showed up in a Prius, having driven from San Francisco. He set up a backpacking tent. He cooked on a tiny stove that fed on a few dry twigs and leaves. His camera was a fixed-lens pocket-sized large-sensor compact that fit in his shirt pocket, but took better photos than my neck-breaker Nikon and big zoom lens. Of course he fished tenkara gear with his one fly pattern: simplicity exemplified.
You get the picture: Everything he did was pared to the bones, and focused on what he was there to do. I learned a lot about tenkara fishing from Daniel, but what I felt was more important was what I learned about living life. I don’t intend to pare my life down to tenkara and one fly, but I can see that I’d benefit from hanging around Daniel a bit more, get some hints on things I might jettison.
Another thing: Daniel has fished his damp kebari fly so long that he sees everything that is going on with it, and around it. I stood next to him and watched him catch trout after trout without any hint about why he set the hook. I’m not exactly inexperienced, but I’ll never have Daniel’s eye sight, and I’ll never have his depth of experience in fishing that one style of traditional Japanese tenkara fly.
Adam: One day I hope to fish with Daniel but if I could fish with anyone, it would be my Grandfather who is gone, he didn’t even fish, he taught me to fish but he didn’t do it himself.
“Who would you like to go fishing with?”
Dave Hughes: I have to admit that I married lucky. Masako is a writer for Japanese fly fishing magazines. She loves to camp, and she is the best camp cook I’ve ever met…we eat fairly close to a Japanese diet, even in camp. She’s an excellent fly fisher, she looks a lot better in a photo, holding a trout, than you or I do. She’s just next to 5 feet tall, and has small hands, so when she holds a trout for a photo, it always looks like a big one.
So I’d like to just go on fishing with who I fish with most of the time: my wife.
Adam: “Where do you think tenkara will be in the big fishing scheme of things in a few years?”
Dave Hughes: I like your philosophy of looking back to see where things are going. I have a small saying, “The future looks more like the past than it does the future.” I’m not going to explicate on that; it gets into tedious detail, and none of it is about fly fishing.
I don’t think tenkara is a fad. I do think its growth will slow at some point. I know I’ll still be doing it, but I’ll never make a religion out of it: I’ll never set aside my “western” gear when it fits the situation better than tenkara…I want to please those trout.
Adam: The Japanese tenkara books that I have from the seventies and eighties actually detail the modern tenkara of today. Same thing they were doing then, people are doing now. The equipment is better but the gist is the same.
I read anglers here talk about “an American Tenkara movement” which I see as a vintage tenkara movement. Patagonia embraces the “simple fly fishing” with a telescoping rod that is used to cast a cut off fly line. I’ve spoken to Yvon Chouinard about it myself; he doesn’t even call it tenkara. I see it as dumbed down fly-fishing.
For me, some of the Americans want to define it for themselves by changing things around but really what I see is that all this has been done before in Japan. Same exact stuff.
“Can you tell me what you think? What is tenkara to you?”
My own way is an adaptation of the tenkara tools to my old ways and old flies. I fish dries, nymphs, quite often soft-hackles and other wets, not yet streamers but I might some time. I do a lot of micro fishing on tiny streams, with delicate little rods that Daniel tells me are not to be confused with tenkara.
Tenkara, to me, is what I want to do when I want to go unburdened, when I want the most direct connection to a trout that I can get, when I want to go out to a stream to think about things…hell, it’s personal: tenkara is what I want to do when I want to do it, where I want to do it…and honestly, more often, it’s what I’ll be doing when I’m on a small stream by myself, nobody else around.
My best friend from grade and high school passed away recently. A bunch of friends and I had lunch after his funeral in my home town, Astoria, talked over his life–he was a medic in VN with the Marines and saw a lot of things that I didn’t, and it affected the rest of his life. After lunch I declined further offers, saying I had to get home to Portland…but on the drive I stopped off at a little stream I hadn’t fished in years, got out a tenkara rod, and spent a couple of hours in deep thought while that delicate rod, furled leader, 5X tippet, and a size 14 Saito-San dry fly danced some trout from beautiful little pools. I hardly noticed them, or my own passage along the stream, but it was tenkara that I took there, or tenkara that took me there, I don’t know which.
Adam: “How many people do you think you have turned on to tenkara?”
Dave Hughes: I don’t know. I’ve given my slide show on tenkara perhaps 8 or 10 times, to clubs from 15 to 150 people, from Pennsylvania to Oregon. I don’t hear back. I suspect a few take it up each time, and a few of those stick with it. I’m not on any mission. I call the slide show “Tenkara, Unburdened.”
Adam: I’m seeing a trend of people that talk about tenkara as a “tool” in the toolbox. I’m glad to see that too. I fish only tenkara on small streams because it is the most effective method but I certainly am no tenkara police. A nice, well-balanced fly rod is certainly effective too.
“How do you see it? Is tenkara just another tool in the box or is it the way for small streams?”
Dave Hughes: You can tell by now that I’m not going to call tenkara “the way” for small streams. That would turn it into a religion, which it seems many folks like to do. It’s one way. It’s a great way. Traditional tenkara is actually best on what I’ll call a ‘big small stream’, more like a small medium trout stream, one with lots of pocket water rather than long pools, one with a high overhead canopy or no canopy at all, rather than brush that crowds down around you. John Gierach got the description of perfect tenkara water right in your interview with him…I’ll refer your readers back to it, because re-reading John has always been one of my favorite things to do.
Adam: I want to just say “thank you” for accepting my interview. They always seem to take on a life of their own. It’s a process that I am honing. I would like to offer you the end of the Interview to say anything you would like. Thank you again and I hope to read much much more about tenkara from you.
Dave Hughes: I’ll say here what I say there, in my book and when I conclude my slide show on tenkara: Everybody should outfit minimally for it, give it a try. Some will think it’s crazy. Some will think it’s fun, and do it whenever the situation is suitable to it. Some will convert it into a religion, sell their western reels, convert their fly lines to clothes-lines, break up their traditional rods and use them as kindling for campfires.
They’ll all be precisely right…for them.
For me, tenkara provides a lot of satisfaction that I can’t get any other way.
This is a two-part interview conducted as a conversation by Adam Trahan of Tenkara-fisher.com. Both parts in our blog have been abridged.
For complete conversation please visit this page.
Part 2 will run on November 21, 2014
It has been 20 years that I’ve been fly fishing with light fly rods in small streams. During that time, I have searched out as much information as I could; I have an insatiable desire for it. Dave Hughes is always at the forefront when referencing books on small stream fly-fishing. I was pleasantly surprised to see Daniel had met Mr. Hughes and had done some tenkara fishing with him. I was equally delighted in understanding that Dave Hughes has been into tenkara longer than the American introduction that Daniel brought to us.
Adam: Mr. Hughes, thank you for taking my Interview, may I call you Dave?
Dave Hughes: In my youth I commanded 35 men on a communications site on the Mekong River…it’s not a small stream; I didn’t fish it. One day one of my men–Carter, I remember–came up and said, “Sir, you know what we call you behind your back?”
“No,” I told him. It caught me by surprise. I’d been working them pretty hard, and expected the worst.
“Dave,” Carter said.
I laughed. “That’s what my friends call me,” I told him. If we’re friends, you can call me Dave.
Adam: I would first like to tell you that I have been impressed early on with your book on small streams, Trout From Small Streams. I have a collection of fly fishing books on small streams and yours is one of the best.
“Can you tell us a little bit about your interest in small stream fly fishing?”
Dave Hughes: Let me mention that it’s the second edition of Trout From Small Streams that has a chapter on tenkara, and also is loaded up with color photos. When I first wrote the book, more than a decade ago, the publisher at Stackpole read the manuscript, said, “The pictures are in the words. This book doesn’t need photos.” It was quite a compliment, but the book, without photos, landed flat…didn’t sell. When I sent in the second, published just recently, it included about 150 photos, plus the new long chapter on tenkara. It’ been faring much better.
Finally, stabbing at answering your question: I grew up fishing small stream on the north Oregon coast. It’s steelhead and salmon country, but pursuit of those more famous fish was always done in crowds. My dad, who took me and my brothers fishing, was not much on crowds, and I inherited my love of small streams, and lack of favor for being surrounded by people when fishing, to him.
We fished for native cutthroat that had become isolated for thousands of trout generations above waterfalls, which blocked upstream migration of anadromous fish, and therefore caused a lack of interest by most fishermen. We had those pretty streams, and those beautiful little cutts, pretty much to ourselves. It’s what inspired my love of small streams, and I’ve never lost it.
Adam: Daniel told me that you have been into tenkara for quite some time. I did not catch that detail in any of your books that I remember. The early adopters here are into it for five years.
“How long have you been fishing tenkara?”
Dave Hughes: My long history with tenkara is in the chapter on tenkara in Trout From Small Streams. The short answer is that I was on a fishing trip on Honshu, the main island of Japan, with my wife and a friend, in June, 1992…I just looked at the date on the old slides from the trip. The friend got out a short stick, telescoped it out to about 14 feet, went fishing down the stream we were on for half an hour or so. He didn’t catch anything. He telescoped that thing back into itself, put it away, never said a word about it. But that moment of watching what he did ignited a curiosity in me.
I tried it later on the trip, didn’t catch anything, either, but soon after had a similar rod sent to me in the states, began using it on those same small streams I’d fished with my dad…it was a tenkara rod, of course, so I began fishing tenkara close to 25 years ago now.
Let me add that I didn’t fish tenkara all the time, so my experience is long but not deep…the great Daniel has compacted much more tenkara fishing time and experience into the years he’s done it than I have over the longer period that I’ve been doing it.
Adam: Here in Arizona, small streams are small, I don’t mean small, and I mean micro. My favorite stream, the Little Colorado which starts near the peak of Mt. Baldy at nearly 11,000’, it is a step-across stream. There are so many versions of what a small stream is. As far as classifying streams go, the best way that I have found is the Rosgen method of classification.
“Can you describe to us, what is your version of a small stream? Say, the stream you would call your favorite near your home?”
Dave Hughes: First, I once fished Peralta Creek in New Mexico with Craig Martin, author of a guidebook on fishing NM, a book everybody in your area needs to track down and buy. That stream was tiny by any standards. We had to mountain bike to it, and it was timbered in where we fished it, so I’d not recommend anything but the shortest tenkara rod on it. We did catch fish. They weren’t big, but they were jewels alongside the drab native cutts on my native Oregon coast.
I refer in my book to small streams in terms of those you might be able to jump across, but I’m no broad jumper, or those a short fly cast across, but I’m not a distance caster…so ended up with a definition in terms of how you feel when you’re wading them: A stream, to me, is small if you can wade up it easily, fish it from side to side with short casts, and perhaps most important, feel dominant over it when you’re inserted into it.
I think folks have to, or get to, define small streams for themselves. We don’t need to agree.
Adam: My interest in the different types of trout could be described by a book by Robert Smith, “Native Trout in North America”. In the early days, I was so excited to catch fish that often I would not certainly know what type of fish that it was. Some browns looked like Apache trout. Brown trout sometimes were yellow and there were all kinds of Rainbow. It was tough for me but I learned through my photography to identify these trout later.
“Will you tell us a little bit about your identification of fish? What did you use in the beginning? Is it that important to you when you catch fish to know exactly the strain?”
Dave Hughes: I’m innocent on this one. I’ve never studied trout, as such. I know enough to separate out the major brands, but not the sub-species and races.
When I was just getting into writing about fly fishing, and had begun the long and difficult process of learning to parse out the aquatic insects, I took my dad on a fishing trip to the Deschutes River. We were camped alongside that big, brutal, beast. I sat at a camp table and sorted out some adult caddis, gazing at them through a magnifying glass prior to pickling them in vials of alcohol, so I could peer at them much more closely though a microscope back at home, with fat books full of scientific keys open alongside me.
Dad said, “Why are you studying those insects? You could be learning to identify birds?” I pondered that for awhile. My dad’s passion was the birds. He could visit the Deschutes, in an arid environment, opposite to our native rainforest on the coast, and identify birds by their calls, without even seeing them. But a lot of people were looking at, and listening to, the birds. Only professional aquatic entomologist Rick Hafele and I were paying much attention to the western aquatic insect hatches important to trout fishermen at the time…our research eventually became the book Western Hatches.
I told dad, “Trout don’t eat birds.”
That was the end of the subject.
There are a lot of sub-divisions in the world of fly fishing. Each would require a lot of study. I chose aquatic insects…or they chose me. I didn’t study trout identification. I don’t think many people understand the amount of time it takes to pursue these things. Only a few folks–Robert Benkhe, Robert Smith–would have the background and study and time to research and write Native Trout of North America. We’re blessed that we have it to refer to when we catch something we can’t identify.
But don’t go pickling trout in alcohol so you can take them back to the microscope…learn from Adam here; preserve them with photography.
Adam: “Please tell us, what kind of equipment you choose for small streams?”
Dave Hughes: [parts ommited for brevity, read entire conversation here] I don’t like noodle rods on small streams, because the brushed-in streams I typically fish demand tight, brisk loops, and soft rods don’t provide them.
This reflects the sort of water I fish. I’ve tried soft rods on rainforest streams, where I’m surrounded by vegetation crowding in to see what I’m up to. If I fished open waters, where I could hit tiny pockets with wide open loops, I’d probably use lighter, softer rods.
I own at least a dozen tenkara rods. When I’m on a small stream, fishing tenkara, I’ll usually be armed with Daniel’s new Rhodo. It has a special ferrule that lets it fish at three lengths: +/- 9 feet, 10 feet, and 11 feet. I can’t explain entirely how great an idea this is, but will mention that I recently wrote the Rhodo up for a Fly Rod & Reel Kudo Award, very well deserved. The rod is excellent at all lengths, and at the shortest length is Daniel’s shortest rod, to date, perfect for small water.
I fish the Rhodo with a 9- or 10-foot Cutthroat Leaders furled dry fly leader. At 9-feet I tip it with 2-3 feet of 5X, and add a couple of feet for each extension of the rod, if I have time when on the stream. Most of the time I stick with one tippet length, and just lengthen or shorten the rod as I fish my way up a stream and pools get longer or shorter.
If I’m on bigger water, I’ll usually be using either my wife’s 11-foot Iwana or my 12-foot Iwana. If she’s with me, and we’re both fishing tenkara, those are the two rods that will be put into play…I have to mention that my Japanese wife very often fishes western gear when I’m fishing tenkara…I’ve caught the tenkara bug far more seriously than has she.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2, on November 22nd.
Our new tenkara hat and shirt designs just arrived and we’re psyched to now have these on offer for you. This year we have been focused on trying to figure out our brand and we have been fortunate to have run into Jeremy Shellhorn, who’s helped us find a unique look to share.
The trucker hats are very comfortable and have fit on every head that has tried them so far. It features the Tenkara USA “Te” mark on the front and a dark underbill to keep reflection off your eyes. Get it here.
“Tenkara fishing is very simple, which makes me feel I am a part of the mountains.” – Yuzo Sebata
The shirts are based on the 2014 Tenkara Summit shirt design by Jeremy Shellhorn. The artwork will be a classic; it embodies the tenkara ethos in its simple line drawing with you, as the angler, becoming one with the mountains. Get your shirt here.
Last Sunday my wife and I sat outside for lunch, I was wearing a t-shirt and was very comfortable. On Monday morning it was 65 degrees out; by lunch time temperatures had dropped to freezing. It was shocking to see how fast the thermometer continued to drop the rest of the week. Wednesday night Boulder experienced temperatures of -11 degrees (Fahrenheit)! I thought fishing was over for a while. On Thursday I headed to Saratoga, Wyoming to give a presentation to the TU group up there. My wife thought I was crazy when she learned I was taking waders and boots; I didn’t disagree with here, and I didn’t exactly expect to fish while on my short visit. But, I saw some nice water that was still open (much of the North Platte, where I was fishing) was frozen over at that time. So, I waded up and headed out before coming home. I learned a few valuable things while fishing in Saratoga. Here are some cold weather fishing tips:
We are on the final stretches of putting the Tenkara Magazine together.
Tonight I’m doing some late night editing. It’s my first time going thru most of them, it’s turning out absolutely great. There are some very fine pieces and photography in this issue. I can’t wait to share the content with you all.
How appropriate to relive time around a campfire in Japan with Mr Sebata by editing and interview with him by the fireplace?
Scott Hunter created his company, Vedavoo, at around the same time we were starting Tenkara USA. He learned to sew and soon realized there was good demand from tenkara anglers for packs that would fit their needs, and his designs fit. I have been fortunate to get to know Scott through the Fly Fishing Show tour, which we both attend in the winter months. Scott just released the first issue of their ambassador publication, Torch. I was delighted to see his piece on tenkara in it, which he kindly let us republish below. Check out their publication (This is an exclusive publication intended only for their “Torchbearers”, but Scott let us share it with the tenkara community. Little secret: some sweet discount codes in there).
By Scott Hunter, founder/CEO of Vedavoo
I’ll be the first to admit it. I was that guy. I thought tenkara was a fad… and never saw myself without a reel mounted firmly to the butt of my rod.
Save the Date: the Tenkara Summit 2015 will be held in Estes Park, Colorado on September 19th, 2015.
More information, schedule and registrations will be posted on the event page: http://www.tenkarausa.com/summit
After looking around at all the possibilities for a place to hold the Tenkara Summit next year we have decided to hold the Tenkara Summit in Colorado, literally at the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a very central location with very easy access from many parts of the country. There is incredible fishing right on the property as well (YMCA). We will be hosting and participating in other events throughout the country throughout the year, this will be our main yearly event.
Fly tying can be as simple and spontaneous as one wants it to be.
Yesterday I met up with a couple of friends for some wine at their place. As we started chatting the conversation turned, as it always does, to fly-fishing. More specifically we started talking about flies. My friend, Salome, had just bought a fly-tying kit and had some questions about tying flies. I suggested she bring out the kit. Then her roommate came home and was very intrigued; her roommate Sibel had never seen an artificial fly before. And, before we knew it we were enjoying a great evening wine and tying session. It was spontaneous, unplanned, and just plain fun. Sibel started recording it, and here’s the video. Fly-tying can be simple too!