I have never considered fishing to be a sport, at least not the way the word is used by most people. Perhaps the best way to put it, in my opinion, is how I once heard a comedian say it, “fishing is the only sport where the opponent doesn’t know he’s playing” (I believe this was said by Brian Regan, but can’t find the joke right now). But, at the same time I’m not sure there is another word that really encompasses what fishing is. It’s a leisure activity, it’s a hobby, it’s a way to experience and commune with nature, and yes, it can certainly feel like an outright sport sometimes. Even if the way I fish often involves climbing gnarly boulders or hiking for hours, I continue to hesitate on using the word “sport” to describe fishing. However, today I realized that an angler and an athlete have a lot more in common than I had thought. If we look at three pillars of an athlete’s life: sleep, diet and training. These same pillars also affect an angler.
In my previous blog post I talked about how jetlag has been affecting me since I returned from Japan. It’s been 10 days since I came back now, but sadly my sleep pattern is not yet 100% back to normal. As a result I have been going to sleep much later than usual while still needing to wake up early on most days. Today I had a relatively early start to my day as I had scheduled to go fishing with some friends. It was their first time tenkara fishing with me. I gave them some instruction and shortly after I started I missed my first fish. It would have been a nice brown trout. Then we started fishing, with each of us finding our own pool, convening on occasion to chat but mostly fishing on our own. And, boy, did I miss a lot of fish today. Sure, I landed a few fish, but I can certainly say my reflexes were shot and I was missing a lot more strikes than usual. Like myself, the fish seemed to be kind of sluggish, with very slow takes, but even that didn’t help me. I took comfort in the fact that catching fish is always a bonus and I just enjoyed being there after a week of no fishing. But, I suppose I can attest to the fact that sleep is as important for an angler as for an athlete if he wants to perform well.
After a big breakfast beef jerky and energy bars form the staple of a fisherman’s diet (at least most people I know). A big breakfast (with a nice cup of joe of course) allows us to start fishing and go for a while. The smarter angler will bring with him a sandwich or something more substantial to eat. Me? I often sustain myself on beef jerky or granola bars, and occasionally some nuts or dried fruits. These items are often in my wader pockets to be consumed throughout the day. Alas, today I had a tiny breakfast, and only one unsubstantial bar in my pocket. I have very high metabolism and after a couple of hours of fishing and with the bar already gone, I found myself getting hungry and moving very slowly. I was sluggish and really not moving as much upstream to checkout new pools, and also avoiding climbing large boulders if I could. Typically when a pool isn’t producing I’ll move and try the next one to find more fish. Not today. My reflexes also suffered a bit as a result. While my diet is normally good, and the pressure on me as an angler is not nearly as high as on an athlete, today I realized how important an appropriate diet is for good performance while fishing.
I’m not sure how important this part really is, but my experience today makes me think there is something to be said about training, which really just means fishing regularly. It has been about 10 days since I last fished. Prior to that I had several days of fishing in a row, and I felt like I was doing well. Every day of fishing seemed to build upon the last. I perceived micro-currents differently, I noticed my fly and line quickly, and I reacted appropriately, almost instinctually. Now, I realize I have been fishing very intently for many years and I have learned and practiced things so many times that I won’t forget. Yet, I felt just a little rusty when I started fishing today. Whatever resulted from a lack of “training” came back to me after a few minutes of being in the water, so no big deal. But, it does make me realize the best way to get better and feel sharp and in tune with what’s going on while fishing is simply to fish more often. You notice things that usually go unnoticed when you’re fishing often.
So, what do you think? Is fishing a sport? Do you have these experiences as well?
There is a 15-hour difference between Colorado and Japan. They are one day ahead of us. While right now it is 10pm in Colorado, it is already 1pm the next day in Japan. Due to the time different and having just returned from the trip, right now I feel absolutely miserable.
I wonder how much of that “misery” is due to the time difference and how much it is due to many 15-hour long days in Japan. When I arrive in Japan I always feel fresh and ready to go. My main strategy to cope with jetlag is to focus on my breathing and meditating during the flight. It works well on the way there, but on the way back I am never able to do it; there are too many things going on in my head, too many ideas. And the 15-hour travel time between the last place I visited, Yamagata, and our home in Boulder was certainly not easy on my body this time.
You may have noticed I haven’t shared as much “live” content in our blog. I typically shoot images and videos and then work on content as I travel between different cities. I do well most years, just look at our “Japan” posts here. But, this time, in between places I was utterly exhausted from many early starts, long days and late evening beer, sake and yakitori outings. This trip was much more introspective and reflective than usual. That is not to say I don’t have a lot to share still, there are some highlights that are spinning in my head. For now I’ll share a brief journal of the trip as a whole:
The bulk of this trip was spent filming for a TV show with my teacher Dr. Ishigaki. This is a show that will air on September 20th on a fishing channel in Japan. It will focus on the history and story of tenkara, showing the past, present and future of tenkara. They invited me to Japan to participate in the show as a representation of the future of tenkara.
Dr. Ishigaki and I fished together and also took turns. They joked about naming the show “student becomes the master”, and Dr. Ishigaki joked about retiring from tenkara when I started catching more and larger fish than Ishigaki. The only thing I could say was that I lucked out this time. At one point the producers must have gotten a bit frustrated as I pulled out my cell phone to get a picture of the beautiful amago below.
The weather wasn’t great for the most time, it rained a good amount while we were there and it looked like filming would have to be postponed on occasion. But, we eventually got some nice breaks in the weather and would experience gorgeous scenery with fog lifting out of the water as above.
I also got to explore some very remote and difficult to reach streams while I was visiting Maze in Gifu prefecture. We were no longer filming at this point so I took the opportunity to explore a new-to-me stream. It was definitely worth paying a visit as I found a few beautiful Iwana that I know hardly ever see a hook.
While in Tokyo I got to spend a little time in two great stores. I visited Mr. Sasaki again at Sansui. He informed me sales of tenkara are going through the roof to foreigners stopping by to see their tenkara rods and mentioning our website videos. I had always expected this would happen, that once tenkara started becoming popular outside of Japan it would again gain popularity in its country of origin. Japan has a well known concept called “gyakuyunyu”, which roughly means “reimportation”, which is something that originates in Japan becomes popular elsewhere and then finds popularity in Japan too. I’ll have to write more about this another day.
The other store I was unfamiliar with until I got a tip about its existence while visiting a bar in Tokyo. One evening I was following my friend Rebecca through a couple of neighborhoods in Tokyo. Rebecca is the main writer for Lonely Planet in Japan, and is always scooping out cool hang outs. We had to visit a bar that was on her list, a little secret spot. It was not a busy evening so I got to chat with the bartender who is also the owner. While talking I asked if he liked fishing, “I love fishing” he responded. I thought he “loved” it, as in “yeah, I fish sometimes”. But, it turned out he was absolutely crazy about fishing and had just come back from a fishing trip in Thailand. He didn’t do tenkara but had been hearing about it recently, possibly an effect of gyakuyunyu. So, he told me about the Tousaku fishing store, which has been around for over 230 years and where the owner and his predecessors (father, grandfather and so on) have always made bamboo fishing rods. They didn’t specialize in tenkara, and only had a couple of tenkara rods available. But, it was still incredible to see his goodies. I interrupted him as he worked on a new rod (a spinning rod actually) and spent time talking to him for quite a while in my very broken Japanese since he doesn’t speak English. So, that was an example of serendipity, running across the owner of a bar who loved fishing and tipped me off about a great fishing store which I plan to return to next time.
And, lastly I want to share one of the main treats I get to indulge in while visiting Japan: Yakitori. While yakitori literally means grilled chicken, it refers to a variety of grilled foods, generally skewered. I have always been a huge fan of skewered meats, and other grilled items, and Japan offers the best of this style cooking. As author Mark Robinson writes, “[yakitori] is one of Japan’s simplest dishes”. Perhaps the simplicity of the dishes, not much more than some cuts of meat sprinkled with salt and grilled, has an innate appeal to me, in a similar fashion as tenkara. The simple pleasures in life are my favorites, and I joked with Margaret this trip that I should write a book, “Yakitori, onsen, tenkara”, which will be my version of “Eat, pray, love”.
As most of you are waking up, I’m now preparing to sleep. Tonight I will have a new sleep experience. After many nights sleeping in the countryside, to the sound of streams and crickets, tonight, for my first time, I will experience sleeping in a capsule hotel at the Tokyo Narita airport. Tomorrow morning I’m headed to China for a few days to meet with our factories. I feel more like I’m in a Sci-fi movie set. Luckily I’m not claustrophobic, and this doesn’t feel any smaller than the tents I use while camping. Only thing I wish for right now is the sound of crickets, a gushing stream nearby, the smell of a campfire and a sleeping bag. We will see how this goes. Good night…er…morning.
Was out filming with a TV crew this morning. We had a 6am start, yikes (contrary to popular belief, not all fishermen like starting that early). Caught plenty of fish today, but couldn’t take picture since we were in the middle of filming again. But as I brought this fish in I couldn’t resist but to pull out my cell phone. The film crew wasn’t particularly appreciative of me stopping to take photos, but I believe you will understand why I had to do it. This is an amago, a Japanese trout, one of the prettiest I have caught I’d say.
I’m currently on my 6th annual pilgrimage to Japan. My schedule this time is way busier than I have ever had it when visiting. There are many people I wish I could see but won’t be able to this time. Right now we are in the middle of filming for a Japanese TV show. It has been very difficult as the area we are visiting now, Kaida Kogen, is experiencing a lot of rain. We had to wait it out for most of the day today. Finally the weather have us a break and as the film crew got ready I caught a couple of fish that I was able to photograph. To my luck they were Iwana but of two different kinds: Yamato Iwana and Nikko Iwana. Wanna guess which one is which? I will post the answer here in a day.
Top one with whitish spots is the Nikko Iwana, bottom is Yamato Iwana, though David’s comments and links are definitely worth a read!
Hey everyone! We’re working on the 2nd volume of the Tenkara Magazine, which will come out in December. We would like to invite you to submit your stories and photographs for consideration.
WHAT we are looking for: The Tenkara Magazine is a tenkara lifestyle publication designed to inspire people to get outside, to show that fly-fishing can be simple, and to embrace the lifestyle that goes with a life of simple yet rich experiences. While there is a large variety of stories that will be in this issue, the theme this time is TENKARA+, the idea that tenkara can go well with anything (think backpacking, foraging, cooking, kayaking…..). We’re particularly interested in your TENKARA+ stories but will consider other topics you feel could be a good fit. Read some sample articles from the last magazine here.
HOW to submit: write to email@example.com with your draft or images.
NOTE: Please understand that this is primarily a physical, printed publication, and thus we have space constraints. We will likely NOT be able to accept all submissions this time. We will compensate for articles and images we can use
DEADLINE for submissions: September 10
We look forward to receiving your pieces for consideration for the second Tenkara Magazine.
I love how the Japanese have terms like “shower climbing” and “forest bathing”. The second, forest bathing, or shinrin yoku, is a new one to me, but it has been one of my favorite activities for as long as I remember. As Doug Schnitzpahn of Elevation Outdoors describes it, “In Japan the term shinrin-yoku refers to the act of getting out and simply walking in the woods and breathing in—both metaphorically and actually—the healing aromas of the trees. The term roughly translates as “forest bathing,” or, more romantically, as taking in the essence of the forest, walking quietly, aware.”
Yesterday, late in the afternoon, I went forest bathing.
I needed it. The week prior we had worked at the Outdoor Retailer show, the world’s largest tradeshow in the outdoor industry. With driving and setting up it was a week-long show for us. The show was an enormous success for Tenkara USA, we were very welcomed by the outdoor industry, but it was also very tiring.
I tried catching up with some work yesterday but I was drained. I tried taking a nap, but napping is one of the hardest things for me to do (not matter how much I enjoy it when I get a chance to). So, I decided to drive up the mountains and enjoy one of my favorite forested areas.
It’s not that I said to myself, “I should go forest bathing today”. Rather, as is usually the case, I had activities in mind. The tenkara rod kit was the first to go in the pack. Then I added a small mesh bag and a knife in case I found mushrooms, this was in my best mushroom spot after all. And lastly, since I was running low on energy, I figured I’d take a small camping coffee kit with freshly ground coffee to be brewed streamside.
Almost immediately upon arrival I decided to cross the stream, figuring fewer people would have touched the mushrooms on the other side of the water, which requires getting the feet wet. My feet would remain wet for the remainder of the day, but I don’t mind.
It quickly became clear the mushrooms were not to be found in as large numbers as last year, despite the great amount of rain we’re getting. Where I found lots last year, this year there were none showing yet. Perhaps the season is delayed. Mushroom hunting has become one of my favorite pastimes, it has a lot in common with fishing in that it allows my brain to tune off everything else besides the forest in front of me.
After not finding many mushrooms, I just started enjoying being there, being present, being in the forest. I started looking up from the ground a bit more. I soaked in the smell of the pines, the smell of the moss, the spruces and the occasional musty whiff of the mushrooms that alluded my eyes. I was still interested in finding them, but I realized the mushrooms were simply an excuse for me to get out and soak in the forest air.
It was not an early start by any stretch. I had left home at 5pm, arrived in the woods close to 6. It would be getting dark soon. Although I didn’t bring a headlamp, I knew the area fairly well, there was a stream to guide me, and it was a nearly full moon night (a “super moon” had happened the day before). Worst case scenario, I told myself, I had a fire-starting kit, fuel, coffee, a handful of mushrooms and the trout would be easy to catch. That allowed me to relax, and continue walking upstream at a snail-pace. I didn’t want to spend the night there, it is chilly up in the mountains now, but I could if needed and it wouldn’t be a big deal.
There was a magical energy in the air when I started breathing it in. It was very energizing. It seemed to take away the hangover feel I had from a long week of work. The interesting thing was to note that even though I was no longer actively looking for mushrooms, I felt in tune with the forest and continued seeing them. Of course, I probably also passed by a good number of them.
After a couple of hours of walking, noticing things I had not noticed before, such as a stand of big aspens and a small wash where roots of nearby trees seemed to be forming a natural bridge, it was nearing time for me to cross the stream back to the other side.
I had not yet fished by this point, so when I saw the water my instinct told me to pull a rod out. I tied the line to the tip of my Sato, extended the rod out and cast an Amano fly to the tail-end of a minuscule pool. On my second cast I caught a nice brook trout, big for those waters.
There wasn’t much time left before I could no longer see my line or anything else around me for that matter. So, I moved upstream for one last cast, cast my fly to a bigger pool, hooked a fish, and saw it was a different species when it got near me, a cutthroat this time. I had no idea cutthroat could be found in those waters, all I had ever caught there were brook trout.
Time to cross the stream, I told myself. But, not yet time to go home.
Often times I’m driven by the activity I want to enjoy, such as mushroom hunting or fishing. It can be hard to just bathe in the forest, to just be present in the moment despite the lack of something to do. It’s not often I can let go of “do”, but rather just “be”.
I still wanted to have a cup of coffee. It would be brewed using the high-altitude clear water from the stream I had been following. This would be the only break from walking, a good chance to really relax into my environment. After crossing, I found an appropriate place for my stove. My feet were starting to get cold and uncomfortable from being wet for the last 2 hours, so I took my water-logged shoes off and walked down to the stream to collect some stream water.
The time needed for the water to boil felt like a short meditation session. My thoughts started bubbling right at the same time the water was coming to a boil.
Coffee always tastes better outside, especially when it’s brewed with water that has no chemical treatment and has run by moss and rocks. It’s hard to describe how good coffee can taste when it’s made like that.
It was getting chilly out, and too dark to distinguish shadows from darkness. I truly felt like staying out there, I could make myself a small shelter ad spend the night. But, I had not told my wife and she would be very worried if I didn’t show up. I still had a two-mile hike back to my car, it was dark, and I didn’t have a headlamp. My eyes got used to the darkness and allowed me to walk with relative ease on the trail. Just as I neared my car, the nearly full-moon illuminated my path and showed me where the car was (one day after the super moon). It was now time to go home.
Tenkara net making may be a good summer activity for kids. But, it’s probably best to start early because of the long drying period – though you can get away with a short drying.
When I met Kyosuke in the Japanese mountain village of Maze, he saw the nets I made. They are a traditional Japanese craft that may be at risk of dying. He had seen nets before at the museum and with other anglers but never saw them being made until I found a branch and started working on one. When he arrived to spend the month with us here in the States, one of the first things he asked me was if I could teach him how to make a tenkara net. Yesterday evening I finally had the time to take him out to look for the perfect branch. We hiked for nearly an hour, I showed him what we were looking for (he doesn’t speak English, and I’m trying my best to speak only in English to him, so we had some challenges, but he got it).
We found several branches that could work but were not good enough to cut. Some had an arm that was thicker than the other and would be hard to splice, others didn’t bend into a circular shape very well. I kept pointing out trees with good potential but told him we would only cut a branch if he was the one who found it, by himself. I found a couple of very good branches but we let those be. After about 2 miles of hiking, looking at probably 30 trees with potential, and just as night darkness started approaching and we’d be forced to return home, Kyosuke started looking at a tree. A couple of minutes later he called me, “Daniel, come.” I rushed over and was surprised he had found a branch with great potential. Not only that but that one branch actually had two nets in it. I passed him the saw and told him where to cut it to get the two nets.
It was dark well before we got back to the car. I had a headlamp in my pack but chose not to use it, remembering one of my childhood memories of fishing alone till it got dark and I had to walk back in the dark; it was terrifying but a memory worth having. We were also treated to a nice spectacle of several owls communicating with each other. Too-woo woo woo they called, and I taught him how to call at them too. We couldn’t see them even though we knew they were near, until one finally took flight to meet another at a bare tree. It was a huge owl, and you can just about make out their silhouette in the grainy photo. We spent a good while just watching them and another pair nearby. I guess that’s the type of thing that attracts me to the woods in search of branches more than the final nets themselves.
We got home and I told him to remove the needles by cutting them (rather than pulling which causes the branch to reveal small holes. He woke up and resumed work, and then I showed him how to remove the bark and finally how to tie it into it’s desired drying shape. He is now on step 3 of making his own net and now it’s mostly waiting before steps 4-9. Scroll down to read the steps for tenkara net making.
Here are the steps for tenkara net making:
1) go for a hike, find and cut the ideal branch (not Y-shaped, but more like trident or + shaped). Focus on only the best branches, you’ll spend a lot of time crafting your net later and don’t want to waste it on a branch that is sub-par.
2) remove needles and secondary stems, and remove bark while it is green (you do not want to let bark dry as it will be super difficult to remove later. When it is green it almost peels off like a banana with some cuts and and there.
3) bend into circular shape, use cord, sticks or a wok-holder to shape it into as best a circle as possible. A circle is the strongest shape for a net, especially where it will be spliced. I highly recommend trying to achieve a circle as the net will last much longer that way.
4) let dry (3 months to a year or more depending on how dry your area is)
5) steam bend to perfect circular shape in areas that are difficult. Putting the area you want to bend over a hard-boiling kettle for a few minutes is the easiest way to go here.
6) splice ends and glue to form hoop (hardest part)
7) carve and sand. Use progressively finer sand paper, up to a 400 grit at least.
8) apply finish, we suggest 8-9 coats of tung oil finish when starting off. There are many ways to finish wood, I have found this to be one of the most beginner friendly.
9) connect mesh bag to net.
Learn more at http://www.tenkarausa.com/make-tenkara-net
We often underestimate kids and what they can do on their own. At least I think I do, and sometimes I forget what I was doing as a kid too.
My wife and I are currently hosting a family from Japan for a month. We don’t have kids ourselves, but now we have a full house with a 1 year-old, a 9 year-old and their mother. I met the 9-year old Kyosuke a couple of years ago when I was spending a couple of months in the small mountain village of Maze, a town of 1,400 people. Kyosuke is a river boy, he likes to spend all his time in the water, and he loves fishing. When I first met him I taught him about tenkara, and also how to tie tenkara flies. But, in the small mountain town of 1,400 he doesn’t get a lot of exposure to the outside world. So, his mom decided to show him there are different cultures to learn from. But, as always, it goes both ways and we’re learning a lot by having them here.
A couple of days ago I woke up relatively early and went to make my coffee. I found the mom with her 1-year old having breakfast, but Kyosuke was absent. Very nonchalantly she told me he had gone fishing at a lake about 2.5 miles away. Wow, that’s cool was my first thought, and I tried to keep only that thought in my mind, but worrying thoughts very briefly popped in my head “is he gonna be ok?” “Will he get lost?”, “He doesn’t speak a word of English, what will he do if he gets lost”.
Coincidentally, just 3 days earlier I was having dinner with our staff and at one moment we chatted about how our childhoods were shaped by spending time in nature and how our parents just let us go do stuff outside on our own, and nowadays it seems like that doesn’t happen. Fear.
And, then, two days before Kyosuke took off on his own my Facebook news feed greeted me with these two articles: How parents go arrested by letting their children play on their own in two separate cases, and a TED talk about “5 dangerous things you should let your kids do”. And I have seen a couple more articles come up about the topic since then. Is that a trend? Are parents waking up to the fact that sheltering kids from dangers and the rest of the world may not benefit them? I have no idea. But, the experience of waking up to see a 9-year old gone and off on his own to play outside (tenkara fish nonetheless) was one I needed to share.
When I was 9 years old, 22 years ago so not many generations ago, I was playing outside on my own and with friends of my age a LOT! And, I should mention I grew up in a big city in Brazil, which never gave me the impression of being particularly dangerous but I’m sure many could disagree. I would go off into the woods and parks, pretend to build shelters and try to make bows and arrows, with a pocket knife and everything. I can’t remember how old I was, but I have one of my fondest fishing memories come from that around that age when my younger brother and I rode our bikes to a nearby lake to catch some panfish (interestingly using telescopic bait rods, which were the easiest to carry in our bikes). I’m very grateful my parents let me go off on my own and play outside. It gave me a lot of confidence to face the world outside of home on my own, it allowed me to be a fairly resourceful person, and of course, it inspired my great love for the outdoors.
My wife and I waited a couple of hours and then took the dog for a walk to the lake to see how Kyosuke was doing. Funny how she and I were a little worried while his mom was not even thinking about it, she’s used to being on his own. Kyosuke had ridden his scooter to the lake with a tenkara rod (which he’d proudly bought on his won a few days earlier) and ready to find some fish. I’d imagine this will be a fond memory of his eventually and like myself, he’ll be grateful he was allowed to play outside.