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January 22 2012

Lefty Kreh, TFO: “Tenkara is a fad”

“Tenkara is a fad and it won’t last long”, Lefty Kreh, the legendary fly-caster and face for TFO (a fly-fishing company) told me this morning as we walked toward the Marlborough Fly Fishing Show here in Marlborough, MA.

As we got in the elevator this morning, I introduced myself. He asked me, “You’re that tenkara guy?” I nodded, and in turn asked him, “What do you think about it?” His complete statement was, “to me fly fishing is a lot of things: the rods, matching lines and different leaders, long casting…I think tenkara is a fad and it won’t last long. That is just my honest assessment.”

Lefty seemed to be a very friendly man, his response was not said in a mean tone. He actually reminds me of my grandfather, to whom I’m very close and is also not afraid of giving his honest assessment of things. Mr. Kreh spoke with the sincerity of a person who has seen many things and is not afraid of saying what he thinks. To be clear, I am not criticizing Mr. Kreh in this post. And, I am not at all upset by his response, please read on. Mr. Kreh shared with me his honest opinion (everyone has theirs), and I respect him for it.

As we stepped out of the elevator, I proceeded to ask Mr. Kreh, “So, in that case what do you think about TFO making their own tenkara rods? You know about that, right?”

Tenkara Lefty Kreh TFO

About two weeks ago, NY journalist Morgan Lyle first reported that TFO was eyeing the tenkara market, ” ‘TFO hopes to bring some tenkara tackle to market within a year’, partner Brandon Powers said. He’s never used a tenkara rod himself.” In the article, Power stated, “This is definitely off our radar screen, so we’re kind of getting a crash course in tenkara.”

Unfortunately, while attempting to build some credibility in the tenkara segment, in the original report TFO stated that Misako Ishimura, a good friend and supporter and co-author of the first book on tenkara, Craig Mathews of Blue Ribbon Flies, and Yvon Chouinard were “pro staff”. While Mathews and Chouinard agreed to review their prototypes (as they may also evaluate of our rods), TFO’s claims were a bit overstated. I called Misako, who confirmed she never advised them on tenkara, had no idea they were developing tenkara rods, and the only interaction with TFO regarding tenkara was to gift the guys at TFO one of our rods!

Neither Mathews nor Chouinard are on their payroll or exclusively working with TFO on tenkara. They confirmed they have talked to TFO about tenkara, and may review rods to “help anyone make a better rod”, as they review our rods. In fact, Mr. Chouinard confirmed he did not want his name associated with TFO’s tenkara rods and the first prototype he saw “was terrible” – TFO then asked to copy Chouinard’s 20-year old tenkara rod!

After we were out of the elevator, Mr. Kreh continued his response regarding TFO and tenkara: ” I don’t think they are going to offer it. Yes, I know about that, but they will probably drop that. They tried to make some rods but they didn’t turn out well at all. It is very difficult for them to get the right mandrels and to make them work and match. I don’t think they can do it.”

While you may have assumed I would have taken his “assessment” personally and badly, I was actually very happy to see the level of “buy-in” on tenkara from one of TFO’s most prominent advisors (interesting quote from the link, which points to TFO’s page on Mr. Kreh: “There is an old view of fly fishing that has circulated around the sport fishing community for too many years that fly fishing is an “elitist” sport. This view, which has long been troublesome for Lefty, has been perpetuated, in large part, by the fact that fly fishing gear was very expensive.”)

Of course, he is only one person saying tenkara – a method of fishing that has been around for hundreds of years, thriving in the US for the last 3 years since we first introduced it here – is a fad. There are others who have made the same statement when we first started. Whether it would be a fad or not was one of the things that kept me awake when I started Tenkara USA 3 years ago…until it no longer kept me awake.

I realized tenkara was no longer at the risk of being fad when some of the most prominent names in the sport embraced it, when our customers continued telling everyone about it, and when someone got a tenkara tattoo. I realized that the only reason tenkara could ever pass by and be perceived as a long gone fad was if I made poor decisions and went out of business – we are the main driving force for tenkara, promoting the method and spreading it – and yes, if we run out of business, tenkara may end up being perceived as a fad that came and went.

We are looking forward to TFO’s entry into the tenkara market. While not pleasant to deal with a company with deep pockets, it reinforces the fact that tenkara is here to stay. It will help introduce many people to the method, and by default to our company via our videos and other content. Our main concern is the fact that neither TFO and not a single person there has any idea whatsoever of what the method really entails, no one from their organization will go learn tenkara – the method. Tenkara TFO….what do you think?

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