Tomorrow morning I’m headed for a 2-day tenkara event, and next week my schedule is packed. I hope to write more soon, but thought I’d leave you with a post of fishing before I go. This time I want to also share a few Japanese terms for specific types of stream, or terms that I use very often to figure out where to go fishing. Like the often cited example of eskimos have 30 words for different types of snow, the Japanese culture also developed a good vocabulary for describing their streams. To complete the post, I’ll include a couple of my best fish shots so far.
March 02 2011
Rick Setina tied the fly below and says “I chose the sakasa kebari with a black body and a red tail section. I used grizzly hackle because that color combination did so well last fall in the high sierra mountains of Mammoth Lakes. I try to make my flies fairly bushy as far as the hackle goes. I feel the more action the feathers produce in the water the better it attracts fish.” I think this would work very well on a fast flowing mountain stream as well.
Erik Ostrander, who organized our first tenkara fly swap, created the midge tenkara fly below. Erik says, “For the second fly swap I tied a tenkara variation of my successful western fly called the “Drunken Midge”. It’s a very simple tie utilizing wine colored wire – hence the name. I have great success fishing this fly in the winter during the prolific midge hatches. I’ve been wanting to tie a good tenkara style version of the Drunken Midge for some time now, and I believe my design holds true to the original pattern. I call this one “Umeshu Midge”, named after the Japanese liquor made from Ume, the Japanese Plum. The tie is quite simple. Mustad C49S hook in size 18 to 22, gray uni-thread, wine colored wire, and a grizzly hen hackle.”
February 25 2011
Very often people ask me what the name tenkara means. When someone familiar with Japanese reads the name in Roman characters (tenkara), and not in the katakana characters (テンカラ), they read it as if it meant “from heaven”. The sound ten normally means “heaven or sky”, kara means “from”. However, use of the katakana system of writing gives an indication that it may mean something else. How the name originated, nobody knows for sure. However, I do know how it became popular and what it currently means.
Tenkara was not always “tenkara” everywhere in Japan. Before it was widely known as “tenkara” throughout Japan, this method of mountain stream fishing was most commonly known as “kebari tsuri”. You see, “tsuri” is the Japanese word for fishing. “Kebari” literally means “feathered/haired hook”, and is the word for an artificial fly. Japan has a lot of mountains, and valleys. These valleys can be relatively isolated by the high mountains around them, and thus different dialects and words exist. One important note, the general, non-fishing population of Japan does not know the term “tenkara”, and will look quizzically if you ask them about tenkara. In this case, using the term “kebari tsuri” may give them an idea that it is a method of fishing with a feathered hook.
In a few of these mountain stream areas, this method of fishing became known as tenkara very early on. There are several theories for how the name came about, though no one will ever know for certain. Fujioka-san presents a couple of theories for the name’s origin in his site. One of the theories he does not cover, but is also widely accepted, is that one day a professional tenkara fisherman – the original tenkara angler – was casting his fly around a stream and catching a lot of fish. Someone not familiar with the method approached him and asked, “what kind of fishing is this?” (or something to those lines). The original tenkara angler misunderstood the question for, “how are you catching so many fish?”, to which he replied, ” well, the fish sees the fly coming from the sky – ‘tenkara‘… and when it lands, he bites.” And so the word spread around that region that the method was to be called “tenkara”. In other areas, people not familiar with the story just kept calling it “kebari tsuri“, until…
Dr. Ishigaki, my sensei, started getting interested in tenkara about 40 years ago. At that time there was almost no information written or available. He found one book that talked of mountain stream fishing, “kebari tsuri” and gave a few pointers on the method. As he started devoting his time to researching tenkara, he was put in touch with many of the tenkara masters of the day. Some called it tenkara, others kebari tsuri. Suddenly, and in large part because of the research he was doing, articles he wrote for different magazines, and an appearance at one of the largest TV shows in the country, there was a resurgence in interest for tenkara in Japan. Many of the tenkara masters of the time started getting connected. Soon the word of choice for describing the traditional Japanese method of mountain stream fly-fishing, became tenkara. In part because it was shorter, part because it sounded more traditional and, in large part to be more specific and distinguish it from other types of fishing that used a “feathered hook”.
So, what does tenkara mean? Tenkara means the “traditional Japanese method of mountain stream fly-fishing where only a rod, line and fly are used”. Tenkara is a very narrowly defined word used exclusively to describe this exact method of fishing where only a rod, line and fly are used to catch trout in mountain streams.
February 24 2011
The last post was based on the long-held discussion of whether it’s better to fish upstream or downstream. Thinking about it, made me discuss a few pragmatical reasons to fish upstream. I decided to ask Dr. Ishigaki why he likes fishing upstream, looking for more “scientific” reasons. But, instead I was reminded of an important reason that I missed: angler etiquette!
When we go fishing in a mountain stream, we are often looking for solitude. Not only that, but fish in smaller streams will often be spooked more easily and not take a fly if they have been disturbed. So, keeping other anglers in mind, as well as our own interest, the best approach is to have every angler fish in the same direction, upstream. This will ensure that anglers are not crossing each other, just to find the entire rest of the stream spoiled. It will also allow anglers to leapfrog each other if they see someone upstream.
I grew up surfing, and though I won’t discuss the etiquette of wave riding, and surfers tend to be quite different when it comes to protecting their water, they do understand clearly that some etiquette in the water benefits everyone. Sure, there are wave hogs, and most breaks are way more crowded than any stream I have ever fished, but everyone moves in one general direction and that helps keep people happy in the water.