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6 things tenkara taught me about fly-fishing

On October 22, 2014 • Comments (0)

Before I discovered tenkara I had been fly-fishing for nearly 13 years. I picked up western fly-casting fairly quickly, and because of that I thought I was at least adequate at fly angling. But, I could not consider myself a good fisherman. Indeed, casting is not all there is to fly-fishing. I wasn’t bad, but I think for too long I focused on the wrong things. Thinking back about my fly-fishing career, and especially looking at my last 6 years practicing tenkara, I think I have learned a few things.

1) The fish rising on the other side of a lake, river, or stream are just trying to distract you. They are taking one for the team, trying to fool you into thinking that all his companions are there with him, on the other edge. With nearly unlimited amounts of line on a spool it’s easy to think if you cast to him you’ll catch him. And, he knows that too, but he won’t be fooled. He’s fooling you. There are plenty of fish within 30ft, which you can easily reach with tenkara. Not all fish are 100ft away.

2) Drag is not the nemesis of fly-fishing; undesired drag is. You see, most of us think of drag as the thing to be avoided at all costs. And, yes, I do agree that many times drag is what will keep a fish from taking your fly. But, with tenkara I learned a few techniques that use drag (e.g. drag the fly on the surface of the water). It’s about having drag on the line/fly when you want that to happen.

3) Casting beautifully isn’t the goal. Contrary to popular belief the objective of fly-fishing is not exactly to get a beautiful loop formed in the air, or a cast that will drop jaws at a fly-fishing club. Rather, the objective of a fly cast is to deliver your fly efficiently where you want it. Sure, it’s nice to see beautiful casts, but tenkara taught me that an efficient cast is often more desirable than a “shadow-cast“, which as the name may imply will cause a thick fly-line shadow to spook all life from beneath it.

4) A 12-pocket vest doesn’t have to hold 12 fly boxes. What got me interested in fly-fishing to start was the flies, then I got my first fly rod and reel set. The next thing I really wanted was a fly-fishing vest, one with 12 pockets. That’s what I saw in magazines when I started fly angling, and I was tying so many flies that I figured that’s what I needed. Then came tenkara, and the idea that I could use one fly if I wanted to. Ironically, my teacher Dr. Ishigaki, continued using a fly-fishing vest. Many people would ask, “if he uses only one pattern, why does he wear a vest?”. Well, in one pocket he has a cell phone, on another a snack. And, since he’s a teacher, on the other pockets he usually has multiple spools of line he can setup his students with.

5) You know that quote by John Gierach, ”Something to think about: If you fish the wrong fly long and hard enough, it will sooner or later become the right fly.”  I have found that to be true.

6) Talking of flies, a fly does not have to be tied with polar bear hair to be effective. There are a myriad of fly-tying materials out there, some swear by the effectiveness of snake-skin, others polar bear hair. Learning how to use a fly tied with the simplest materials and catching as many fish as the guy using flies tied with golden-pearly-unicorn-pheasant will show you the fly can be pretty simple and still be the “right fly’.

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My fly box yesterday

On October 19, 2014 • Comments (5)

Lately I must have been giving too many flies away (and sure, a few were “given” to trees too!). Yesterday I went fishing with some friends and this was what my fly box looked like when I arrived. I had only 7 flies to use for the few hours I would be fishing, and each one was identical in size, color and shape. Size 8 Oki kebari.


Four years ago (WOW! Typing that just made me feel like time is flying way too fast…pun totally intended), I wrote a post about finally letting go of my “just-in-case” flies. It was a turning point for me. After 12 years of being indoctrinated in matching-the-hatch, and one year after learning that I could use one fly (or, rather, any fly), I was finally gaining some confidence in the approach.

It had nothing to do with tradition, rather, it was a step I saw toward liberation. How cool would it be to learn how to use my fly and not worry about hatch books or stopping by a shop to ask what to use? On that post, I also posed the question: “If you only had one fly pattern in your box, could you still catch fish? If you ran out of your “go-to” fly pattern, would you feel okay and continue fishing, or would your day be ruined?”

While I continue to call it a “one fly” approach, in reality I have carried with me 4 variations of what could be considered the same pattern. A dark and a light-colored size 12, a size 16, and a size 8 (the 4 flies that we sell here). Mostly because I do believe size can make a difference. So from the beginning of my one-fly journey I have decided I’d at least carry the 3 sizes of flies.

Yesterday, when we arrived on the stream, I opened my box, and that’s what I saw. My only thinking was, “today will be a true one-fly day”. It was fun not to change flies a single time. It was not exactly a new experience for me. I have fished many days without changing flies a single time.  But, it was an interesting experience to have no other flies to even think about. In the course of 2 hours I proceeded to fish in a way that only comes from paying attention to the water in front of you; and nothing else.

So, how would you feel if you arrived on the water and your fly box was like that? Nearly empty and completely devoid of variation. Would you turn around and go buy more flies? Or, would you just fish?

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Leapfrogs and Ducks

On October 16, 2014 • Comments (3)

When I started getting into fly-fishing, it was for me a solitary activity. Perhaps I wanted to hide the poor line management and inaccurate casts; or perhaps it’s just that I was usually seeking solitude. Nowadays I absolutely love fishing with others, and it’s not because my casts are now accurate and I don’t have to worry about line management, I just realized it’s a lot of fun to share my experience, my evening in the water, with others. Sometimes, I find it is actually a little sad to have a wonderful evening in the water, witness fish rising around me, watching a spectacular sunset, colorful fall foliage or a majestic bird and have no one to turn to and say, “did you see that?”


This week I went fishing with people on a couple of occasions. When you fish with others you have two choices: stick together, take turns at each good spot or leapfrog one pool at a time, always staying in sight of one another. OR, fish more on your own, leapfrogging longer distances and leaving a lot of pools in between for one another. I find the second option a good compromise between seeking solitude and desiring company.

Now, if the second option is the approach you’ll be taking with a partner, or a few friends, I have found that there must be a system to tell your partners where you started fishing. After all, if they can’t see you, and you already fished an area, fishing for them won’t be all that great. When leapfrogging, I suggest using the Duck system. Continue reading

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Tenkara Summit 2014 Video
or, The Tenkara Movement, part 2

On October 15, 2014 • Comments (3)

Yesterday I showed you the clip of the crazy dancer starting a movement. In today’s video you can see the tenkara movement happening. Here’s the Tenkara Summit 2014 video.

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Tenkara Summit Shirts now available

On October 14, 2014 • Comments (0)


Tenkara Summit T-Shirts, $24

SHOP NOW, Shirt sales ends Oct 21st.


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The Tenkara Movement

On October 14, 2014 • Comments (1)

Yesterday I wrote a post I titled the “The Tenkara Industry”. It would have been equally apt to title it “The Tenkara Movement”, for that’s what it is. I talked about how I enjoy not being the “only crazy dancer” around, with a link to a 3 minute video. I suspect most people wouldn’t have clicked it. This video, narrated by Derek Sivers, is one of my favorite video clips and I wanted to share it with you. It shows, in under 3 minutes, how a movement is started. This is exactly what’s happened to tenkara, which is not just a category within fly-fishing but a movement of sorts. Thank you all for joining in the movement and making me not feel like a “lone nut”. Just pretend that instead of dancing in the park you’re seeing people fishing without a reel.

“As more people jump in, it’s no longer risky. If they were on the fence before, there’s no reason not to join now. They won’t be ridiculed, they won’t stand out, and they will be part of the in-crowd, if they hurry.” – Derek Sivers

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The Tenkara Industry

On October 13, 2014 • Comments (14)

In 2008/2009 I started creating the business of Tenkara USA. The objective was to show people how simple fly-fishing could be by introducing the method of tenkara outside of Japan. In the course of developing the business, before I officially launched it, I realized I was about to create a brand new category within the fly-fishing industry. I also realized a new category would eventually become bigger than ourselves.

A new category within an industry is not something that happens very often, but when it does it has the potential to create a movement. And, of course, it also has an even greater potential of not taking hold. When a new category successfully gets established, one clear sign of its success is that it supports an entire range of companies entering the market to support it and to compete in the space.

One day, as I started working on Tenkara USA, I was talking to a colleague at my previous career and talked about my vision for what would happen. I told him I suspected there would be a range of companies that would emerge in support of tenkara: backpacks, guides, accessories, lines, flies, and eventually others would compete by offering rods too. It was far fetched at the time, but I believed one measure of success would be when more companies started offering tenkara too. Fast-forward 5 years and that original vision has started to realize.

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Tenkara Highway

On October 12, 2014 • Comments (2)

You, tenkara anglers, have just adopted a highway!

If you’re anywhere near Boulder, Colorado, drive up Boulder Canyon. On mile 37 going upstream, and mile 35 going downstream (just about 6 miles into the Canyon), you’ll now see this sign. If you see it, stop by, take a picture and share it with us here, on Twitter or Facebook with the tag #TenkaraHighway.


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Tenkara USA Rhodo receives the Kudo Award

On October 10, 2014 • Comments (3)

The Tenkara USA Rhodo, an adjustable tenkara rod we released earlier this year, just received the “Kudo Award” from renowned author and tenkara angler Dave Hughes and Fly Rod & Reel magazine (and yes, we do love the fact that a magazine with “Reel” in its name just gave us a Kudo Award”).
When I emailed Dave to thank him for the nomination, he responded of how he was showing the rod to someone, “I held my fingers on each side of the +/- 3″ section that has the extension ferrules, and said, ‘This three inches of rod deserves the Kudo.’ Then I caught a fish on it.”
Along with the 12ft Tenkara USA Iwana, which received an award in 2012 as a Best of Show at IFTD, the Rhodo is the second award given to a tenkara rod by the mainstream industry.
Dave has been doing tenkara for probably longer than anyone else in the USA, and his latest book “Trout from Small Streams” has a terrific chapter on tenkara.

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My 1st Kotsuzake

On October 9, 2014 • Comments (1)

[Editor's note: We, as a company, heavily promote Catch and Release practices. Yet, we believe on occasion keeping a fish, where they are very abundant can provide an experience that puts us in touch with nature in a different way. We do not encourage keeping fish that are native to the water, the story below is of catching brooke trout in California, where they are not native to and are also prolific breeders. Please practice Catch and Release as much as possible]

My 1st Kotsuzake….. been waiting 4.5 years for this. It ended up being a solo adventure and that was probably how it was meant to be.

In almost 5 years since becoming a tenkara fisherman, I had never taken the life of a trout for edible enjoyment. I happily released each trout go to be caught another day. But… my tick-tock clock been ticking for a while now and I knew soon, even after all these years, I would do the deed.

This morning I decided to explore new places to fish along with hopes of finding a nice mountain lake where I could take my wife for some Fall kayaking fun. I was a bit all over the place, driving around a lot, but with little fishing…. but I still did fish and caught a nice Brownie right off highway 49 in Northern California. I did eventually find a cool mountain lake to take my wife to this coming weekend. So my efforts were being rewarded…but I still needed to get some serious fishing in as most the day I had been putzing around in the FJ Cruiser.


Around 1:30PM I decided it was time to head to my secret Mountain Meadow, which I have written about before, in hopes to catch a few brookies. So off I went figuring I would be fishing again around 2:30PM and could get in at least 2+ hours of solid fishing. I went prepared with the normal goods…. Sato, Rhodo, 3.5 Orange Level Line, Salt & Pepper Sakasa Kebari, some snacks and drinks. When I arrived out came the Rhodo and I went to work. Continue reading

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