I remember quite a while ago I thought I was a serious small stream fly fisher. Way before I transitioned to tenkara. I was making bamboo fly rods and had been fishing my flys for many many years in the stream, river, lake and sea. At the time, I was at the top of my game and really enjoying it. I wanted to make a long split bamboo rod to fish our family farm ponds and maybe do a little fly fishing with and a fellow fly rod maker told me to contact Daniel at tenkarausa.com which I did and I got a rod from him.
That first tenkara rod from a company in the United States no less sent me down another path, it totally derailed my fly fishing.
Or did it?
Interview with John Lawrence Geer
I’ve known John for a little while now, I met him through social media. Recently, I joined Tenkara USA as a writer and contributor. At the 2017 Tenkara USA Summit, we shared some time together. Having met him in person, he is a super nice, knowledgeable about fly fishing and tenkara. In short, I look forward to the next time we meet and I hope I am able to do a little fishing with him. So with that and without any more introductions, I want to get into the interview.
Adam: Hey John! I know this might be a stretch for you (the interview) but I appreciate you doing it. Outside of Tenkara USA, I want to tell you that the pictures you post tell a thousand words. You are an experienced fly angler, a tenkara fisher and your story is worth telling, even if it’s just a little slice here.
Let me begin with a thank you for accepting my invitation. I appreciate it and I’m sure our community will enjoy getting to know about you.
“Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?”
John Lawrence Geer: Hi Adam. Thanks for interviewing me and the nice intro. I grew up fishing in southern Illinois on strip pit lakes and farm ponds. We’d took most of our family vacations when I was younger to fish in Missouri on their trout parks, which are basically spring creeks managed as put and take fisheries, and then the large warm water fisheries there when I got older.
Tenkara USA Amago
There are few places more ecologically similar to tenkara’s birthplace than the Pacific Northwest. Cascading streams abounding with trout are annually invaded by anadromous trout, char, and salmon. The Amago is a tenkara rod that provides plenty of enjoyment while catching 10″+ trout but has the backbone needed for a chance encounter with a larger sea-run fish. However, if you want a dedicated rod to take on small salmon, big trout, or the occasional river Smallmouth Bass the Amago is my rod of choice.
…from the book.
Learning tenkara is easy. You don’t need the internet to become proficient at this simple form of mountain stream fishing. All you need is a rod, line and fly and the excitement to spend a little time in a great place of your choosing.
I am an early adopter of tenkara (outside of Japan) and come from a long history of fly fishing small streams. I got my first rod from Daniel at Tenkara USA in 2009. I was so excited about this new to me form of mountain stream fishing, I decided to investigate the history of it by traveling to Japan. In 2013 I made my first trip and was excited to see that Tenkara USA was a part of the Japanese interest in spreading tenkara. I saw this in the Japanese media and the friends I was making there, they wanted to know if I knew Daniel. I have visited Japan again in 2016 and I am happy to report that I chose the right path doing tenkara only for nearly 9 years.
In my research of tenkara, I have collected many books on the subject and all of my books have been with the help of Japanese friends. I have been told by more than one Japanese tenkara angler that my collection was larger than any one that they have ever seen. I have had a couple of these books early on, translated to me by my friends. Over the years of collecting tenkara books, I have found that a lot of the books have the same type of content. This is not unusual, fly fishing books written in English fall into the same pattern of describing the stream and the methods that work for taking fish.
The Rhodo story
By Daniel Galhardo
Ever since the release of the first 12-foot long tenkara rod in the US there have been requests for a 9-foot tenkara rod to be made. I get it, 9 feet is the length everyone is accustomed to when looking at using a rod and reel set up. That’s the length anyone will tell you should get if you’re just getting into fly-fishing. Plus, 12 feet is scary!
There was certainly a lot of work to educate the public that with tenkara longer is usually better. And that for the vast majority – but admittedly not all – places going to a rod under 10 feet in length would negate the advantages of using a long tenkara rod. It was not to say that a tenkara rod shouldn’t be shorter, but I certainly wanted to push people to go longer. A short tenkara rod has its places, but it shouldn’t be the default option.
I can guarantee that if our first tenkara rod was 9-feet in length or under, it would have been the best-selling rod we made for a long time, perhaps up to today. We would have also gotten more people to try tenkara in the first couple of years too if I had gone that route and offered something less intimidating in length. However, I feel that people would have completely missed out on the advantages of using a 11, 12 or even 14foot long rod.
By the end of 2009, the year I started Tenkara USA, I was offering 3 tenkara rods at tenkarausa.com (and a couple of variations of some of them). We had the Iwana, the Ayu and the Yamame. All 3 were named after Japanese fish (Iwana and Yamame being trout). At the time, the Ayu, at 13ft long, was the longest rod we had on offer. And, while that length scared people who were just taking up tenkara, I had fallen in love with the longer reach of the rod. But, I wanted a bit more reach, which would allow me to keep line off the water more easily for the best possible presentations.
So, I started to work on what I envisioned would be my favorite rod. It would be longer than the Ayu, I knew that. As I started playing with different prototypes, I realized that the longer the rod became, the more tip-heavy it would feel. At that point, I decided to start working with our factory on making a good adjustable rod, which would allow me to fish it at 13ft long, or go even longer when I wanted it.
It was April 2011 when I received the latest prototype of the rod I started working on about a year and half earlier. I was spending 2 months in a mountain village in Japan learning more about tenkara when the rod arrived in the mail. I was excited to see the package come in, after the pretty good previous prototype I was anxiously anticipating its arrival. The rod had a beautiful semi-matte blue and black finish. The factory paid good attention to all the details required and it just felt good in the hand. That day I was just hanging out at the Mazegawa Fishing Center, which is all of 200 yards away from the Maze river. I walked to the water and proceed to start casting with a few lines I had on hand.
It cast them beautifully.
At that section, the Maze river was very wide, about 90 feet across, but it was a mountain river with lots of pockets and features. I extended the Ito to its fullest length, 14ft 7inches. And, suddenly I was reaching waters I had not been able to reach until then. It was and felt beautiful! I collapsed the rod and drove further upstream, to where the stream closed in and became narrower. The rod performed beautifully there too. Its shorter (13ft) length was manageable in the tighter section but when the stream opened up here and there, I was able to fish it just the way I wanted it.
The rod became available shortly after, and it has been my go-to rod ever since. I know its long length can be intimidating and I sincerely wish more people would give it a try for it is a very special rod.
by Daniel Galhardo
“Which tenkara rod should I get?”
“What tenkara rod is best for beginners?”
“What should I get for my first tenkara rod?”
These are questions we have been asked daily at Tenkara USA for the 8 years we have been in business. Below are a few things to consider and further below I share my specific recommendations. I also cover the Tenkara USA rod lineup in this video.
How to Choose a Tenkara Rod
Choosing a tenkara rod could feel like the most daunting aspect of tenkara. The advice I usually give is to follow a couple of basic suggestions but to not overthink it.
A good tenkara rod should be designed to fish well in a large range of conditions. The main criteria for choosing your first tenkara rod will be its length, which is primarily dictated by the size of water and amount of overhead coverage you will encounter. Other things to keep in mind are: fish size, quality of materials, features, price, collapsed length, and warranty.
Adam: John, thank you for allowing me this interview.
I’ve read your new book; “All Fishermen Are Liars” and I really enjoyed it however I would like to start the interview with a question on an older book of yours. I’ve spoken with a lot of people that are into Tenkara that know nothing of this book of yours and I would like to make them aware of it. I think it is a great way to look at fishing a small stream and even a good introduction to fly-fishing.
“Can you tell us about your book, Fly Fishing Small Streams”?
John Gierach: “Fly Fishing Small Streams” was published by Stackpole Books in 1989 and is still in print. It was essentially a second installment of my earlier book “Flyfishing the High Country” (Pruett, 1984) for those who didn’t have 14,000-foot continental mountain ranges in their backyards. Small stream fishing wasn’t unheard of in the late 80s, but at the time it wasn’t considered sexy enough to be covered by the fishing magazines. Everyone wanted to catch 20-inch trout in big water in Montana or fish for steelhead and salmon; fishing for ten-inch trout in little creeks was considered kid’s stuff.
I’ve since been accused of popularizing small stream fishing and I’m certainly not blameless, but I think it would have happened anyway. As your readers know, it’s just too much fun to have stayed a secret for long.
Adam: I really like it and still pull it out from time to time to reference or lend it out. In the chapter, “The Comforts of Stuff” you describe your time searching for the “all around fly rod” and then the specialty rods for small streams. I enjoy the parts you wrote on the lite lines of 1 and 2 weights. It is this natural interest that you have that probably brought you to Tenkara rods and fishing that sort of equipment, I don’t know, maybe you could comment on that.
In my own experience, the search for a rod that will deliver a fly with such delicacy yet have so much control over it that brought me to Tenkara. The simplicity is sort of “anti comforts of stuff” but it is all fishing.
Eating Fish Shioyaki Style
by Daniel Galhardo
I will occasionally eat fish when I’m out. Killing fish, and eating them seem to be a part of the human instinct. I’m a big believer that generally “a fish is too valuable to be caught only once”. But, I also try to avoid being a hypocrite. I eat meat, and I eat fish too, and there is no reason I should be able to do it only if bought from a market where the act of killing and the connection that brings to the food you’re about to eat are outsourced to the fishmonger. But, in order to reconcile my love for sport fishing, and my desire to eat the occasional fish, over the years I have come up with a rule of thumb for the occasions I’ll allow myself to take a fish’s life and eat it: stocked fish or places that I’m fairly certain see less than one angler a week, or where there is a clearly huge abundance of small (8-9″ fish).
It has been some years now since I’ve learned about tenkara, an efficient form of mountain stream fishing. Through my experiences using this simple, old style of fishing, I have found that I can apply principles of minimalism to nearly everything I do. I’ve learned about efficiency and different ways of looking at everyday challenges. In applying these concepts, I have come up with a formula that works for me. It can be summed up with the following sentence.
The more you know, the less you need.
For this installment, I will approach traveling and using what I call, the tenkara lifestyle, to promote efficient travel.
In my own experience, I have realized that nothing is better than experience to realize just what you need. Packing for a trip shouldn’t be difficult. There is some homework involved if you are new to traveling light but as you reduce the contents of your pack, you will realize that each component of your travel kit becomes more important on its own and as an integrated system.
Key to the concept is to check the weather where you are going and make a pack list for up to a week. If you can get through a week with your packing list, you can easily live for two weeks or a month or longer. Packing for one week, I have a comfortable pack size and I am able to be prepared for just about any activity. Hiking, fishing, going out to dinner, hot springs or lounging with friends or distant family. At the end of the week, I’m going to do some laundry whether it be washing my clothes in washer or in the shower, bucket or near a stream and hanging them to dry but I’m ready for another week.