Three years ago, on January 22nd, 2012, I rode an elevator with the legendary fly angler Mr. Lefty Kreh. In the 30-second elevator ride I was able to ask Mr. Kreh what he thought of tenkara, and his response was, in short, “I think tenkara is a fad and it won’t last long.“. I wrote about this experience. Within hours the post went viral, with nearly every fly-fishing blog reposting it in the following days and, by my estimates, well over 700 comments being written in response.
Fast-forward to January 24th, 2015 and we officially have a change in the status of tenkara in the fly-fishing world. On that Saturday morning we were getting ready for the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, when Mr. Lefty Kreh appeared in our booth looking for me. Oh, oh…was I about to get an earful for publicly writing about our conversation? Not at all. Mr. Kreh said he wanted to talk to me about our conversation three years earlier, to “clear the waters” as he put it, about his comment on tenkara being a fad.
I confess, I had wanted to talk to him in the years since but never felt very comfortable approaching him. I never felt there was any animosity between us, but he is Lefty Kreh, a celebrity usually surrounded by many people. I was delighted to see him coming over. He sat down and we chatted for a good 20 minutes. Those around me will tell you I had a smile from ear to ear, Lefty, after all, is an angler I have looked up to since I started my career in fly-fishing, and I rejoiced at the chance of chatting with him for longer than 30 seconds. Two of my favorite things about having created a business in the fly-fishing industry are that I can talk to like-minded people all the time, and that it has put me in touch with those I had looked up to since I first learned I could imitate bugs with hooks and feathers.
Lefty told me that in the several decades he’s been fly-fishing he’s seen many things coming and going, so tenkara could have been one of those. But, he has had a change of heart and has been looking into tenkara a lot and “no longer think[s] tenkara is a fad”. In fact, he said, tenkara has “many great applications, particularly for the trout angler and for teaching people how to fly-fish.”
I was particularly delighted when he told me we have a great website and that he’s been spending a lot of time looking into tenkara right here. He knew a lot about tenkara, and could tell me about the knots and the flies, and more. And, yes, Lefty has fished with tenkara and has been experimenting with it too.
By far my favorite part was when he told me:
“make sure to keep it [tenkara] simple; you are doing a great job, just continue to keep it simple.”
Scott Hunter created his company, Vedavoo, at around the same time we were starting Tenkara USA. He learned to sew and soon realized there was good demand from tenkara anglers for packs that would fit their needs, and his designs fit. I have been fortunate to get to know Scott through the Fly Fishing Show tour, which we both attend in the winter months. Scott just released the first issue of their ambassador publication, Torch. I was delighted to see his piece on tenkara in it, which he kindly let us republish below. Check out their publication (This is an exclusive publication intended only for their “Torchbearers”, but Scott let us share it with the tenkara community. Little secret: some sweet discount codes in there).
By Scott Hunter, founder/CEO of Vedavoo
I’ll be the first to admit it. I was that guy. I thought tenkara was a fad… and never saw myself without a reel mounted firmly to the butt of my rod.
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.
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.
Brian and Colby Trow own the Mossy Creek Fly Fishing shop in Harrisonburg, Virginia. They saw the opportunity in carrying tenkara at their shop very early on, embracing it to the extent of having the first dedicated tenkara guide in the country, Mr. Tom Sadler. Rather than seeing tenkara as a threat to the industry or a fad, they saw it as a possible “gateway drug to fly-fishing” or something that would once again excite their long-time customers. I believe what makes a fly shop a great fly shop is that open-mindedness, the ability to embrace diversity in a sport perceived as traditionalist. The Trow brothers give aways their secret here.
When I started Tenkara USA 5 years ago, I knew that tenkara fishing was destined to take off. Teaching tenkara through these years has taught me that people are hungry for simplicity and connection to our environment. Tenkara created a revolution in the fly fishing industry by improving the way people fish and changing the way they think about and teach fly-fishing. We are always excited to see more people learning about tenkara and want to welcome Patagonia to the tenkara community. Whether you’re a large company or one person teaching a buddy how to cast, you are spreading tenkara and that’s what we love!
A big part of why we exist is to get more people fly-fishing, simply. And, we believe the simplest way to fly-fish is to look at the tenkara anglers in Japan, which is what we have done for the last 5 years with innovative rod designs and sharing techniques.
If you are intrigued by tenkara, then you’ve come to the right place. Here are some highlights about the tenkara story and techniques to get you started. We hope that you will dig into our resources and let us know if you have any questions or want to learn something specific.
1) How to cast with tenkara
Tenkara casting does not have to be fanciful. It is super simple actually. Here’s a good video on how to cast with a tenkara rod:
2) How to setup your tenkara rod
3) Main techniques for tenkara
Here are the 6 main techniques I have learned from tenkara anglers in Japan to help you entice fish.
Ever wonder how simple fly-fishing really can be? Tenkara fishermen in Japan don’t even change flies! Seriously. This is the hardest concept for most fly anglers to embrace, but by far the most liberating. Over the last several years we have followed this philosophy, and have not lacked for fish. Learn more about how to use only one fly and simplify all the way!
6) How to Tie a Tenkara Fly
And, of course, we invite you to continue perusing our blog. We have some great posts and videos accumulated over the years, such as this one combining canyoneering and tenkara fishing, or this “Tenkara Diary” video of spending time with one of the tenkara masters in Japan, or this story about the last commercial tenkara angler in Japan.
Take a look at this Kickstarter campaign for what looks like may be a very nice fly-box that should hit the market soon. Their goal has been reached, which means they will be funded and should therefore produce the box. You can still get in on the super-early-adopter phase of the boxes with $15. Checkout their campaign here.
Tradeshow season is just about to start for us. As a matter of fact, it starts in just 3 days!!! For the next three months the Tenkara USA crew will be leaving the comforts of their home to travel a lot, sleep little and spread the word about tenkara far and wide. If you’ve been curious about tenkara, or just want to connect with us in person, we hope to see you at one of the following shows:
THE FLY FISHING SHOWS
January 3-5: Denver, CO
January 17-19: Marlborough, MA
January 24-26: Somerset, NJ
February 7-8: Winston-Salem, NC
February 15-16: Lynnwood, WA
February 21-23: Pleasanton, CA
March 1-2: Lancaster, PA
January 9-12: Sacramento, CA
January 16-19: Denver, CO
March 13-16: Salt Lake City, UT
We put our name on our rods for a simple reason, we stand behind each one of them. In our short existence we have established a new and tough-to-follow standard when it comes to the warranty process of a fishing rod, and I may even say it is likely the best warranty process in the industry.
It was only 6 months ago that I had participated in Chris Hunt’s “20 Questions” interview where he asked me what my greatest regret was, and I answered “Settling down in a great city that is so far from good mountain streams! I live in Pacifica, just outside of San Francisco. My wife loves it here but I want to be nearer a stream. I’m writing this from the airport, on my way to Colorado with Margaret, and I’m hoping she will fall in love with it and we’ll move there tomorrow!”
It’s now official: Tenkara USA is moving to Boulder, Colorado!
Ever since visiting Colorado for the first time (on this trip with John Gierach and Ed Engle), I have been trying to convince Margaret that we should move there. San Francisco, after all, is not really a hot fly-fishing destination, and more and more I started dreading the long 3-hour drives to enjoy mountain stream fishing. Plus, every time I read a blog about tenkara fishing in Colorado, like this one by Jason Klass, or this one by Paul Vertrees, or this one by Kevin Fricke, or this one by Karel Lansky…I’m reminded of how there is a lot of fishing in the state and also how active the tenkara community out there is.
While I’m really not enjoying the process of packing, I’m super excited to start calling Colorado home in a week. There were a lot of things that prompted us to move there. First, the fishing is the state is great. I can be in some great streams in less than 10 minutes from the new HQ, and if I’m willing to drive a couple of hours there is a whole world of fishing. I’m really hopeful the move will inspire some great content for this site, in addition to a new boost of inspiration for developing and refining our product-line.
Colorado also has one of the most active tenkara communities in the country, and I’m excited to be in the middle of it. Lastly, Boulder has a good mixture of everything my wife and I need: a great University (where Margaret will hopefully be going in the future), a booming community of outdoor-industry entrepreneurs, and great opportunities for other outdoor activities, and amiable climate with a winter everyone is promising to be mild enough that even a guy from Brazil and his wife from Southern California will survive.
To be fair, it’s not like it’s a huge corporate relocation. Essentially, where I go Tenkara USA follows. We don’t have a retail location (and for the time being Tenkara USA will not have a retail location in Boulder); our warehousing and distribution is outsourced to a third-party fulfillment company; our customer service will continue to be handled by TJ who lives up in the California mountains and additional support and repairs by John Geer who is out in Montana. I’m fortunate to be able to move anywhere I want due to the way I setup the business. And, I’m partially convinced that this fish is the reason Margaret finally agreed to move.
If I don’t answer your email or respond to this blog for the next week, now you know why. I hope you all have a very happy Thanksgiving, and if you’re out in Colorado, let’s connect soon. If you’re not there, you’ll have a reason to visit with the 2014 Tenkara Summit.
People seem to love the packaging for our flies. They come in a glass vial, with a cork that is branded with our logo. In fact, the flies are so simple to tie that I suspect a good percentage of the flies are sold because of the packaging. And, I have been asked several times this question, “so, who puts all the flies in those little vials?”
Daniel Galhardo: John, most people we are familiar within the small world of tenkara are those who regularly participate on online forums, write blogs about tenkara, or are engaged in social networking within the community. You are a reminder that the tenkara community expands well beyond the realm of online activity. You have been very engaged with the tenkara community in many levels, attending the first Tenkara Summit, participating in some video productions (not yet released) and more, but most people don’t know you yet. Tell us a bit about yourself.
John Geer: I grew up in southern Illinois. My father and grandfather were coal miners, so I did a lot of fishing on strip pit lakes, and also a lot on area farm ponds. My family would take vacations to Missouri, where my father is originally from and my parents live now, and fish Missouri’s trout parks, which are mostly small spring creeks managed as put and take fisheries. That’s where I caught my first fish and my first trout on spinning gear when I was about three or four years old. We were really more bass people back then and took more of our later vacations to some of the large warm water reservoirs in the Ozarks, like Table Rock and Bull Shoals. Somewhere in there my grandparents started spending thier summers in Idaho near Yellowstone and I got my first taste of western (states) fly fishing.
I’ve moved around a bit since high school, and have lived in Virginia, Colorado, Missouri, and now Montana. It makes ten years here this October. I fish around the Yellowstone region, mostly in southwest Montana, but also in YNP and a little in Idaho on the Henry’s Fork. For the last five years (six summer seasons) I’ve worked for Toby Swank at Fins & Feathers Fly Shop in Bozeman. I’ve been really lucky with who I’ve worked for and with, in fly fishing industry. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s all led me to the point I’m at now, which I’m very happy about. Continue reading
Today is day 4 of spending time with our factories in China. It was a very productive day. Margaret joined me in evaluating working conditions at the factory that makes the Yamame rods for us. She provided a keen eye for detail; requesting that workers put on their mask even as they may not like doing it and those are available to them. A good portion of the day was dedicated to teaching tenkara to our rod engineers and evaluating rod designs and processes to ensure good quality control going forward.
I don’t have a whole lot to write about today. Normally this would be a quick writeup with pictures posted on our socialnetworks/microblogging platforms, but unfortunately I do not have access to those where I am. I will leave it at that so I don’t lose access to this blog as well.
Written by Daniel
I have been in China for about 3 days now (5 more to go), following a 2-week long stay in Japan. This tour of Asia is very important and I believe will translate into ever-better Tenkara USA products. And, I’m already seeing concrete insights and results from being here.
For about 4 years I have focused on developing authentic tenkara rods. I do not copy any rods and have my own design philosophy when it comes to making (and releasing) new tenkara rods. Futher, for the last 4 years I have been taking your feedback into account into everyone of our rods. As you can see, I brought all those notes here with me.