Today we celebrate the 9th anniversary of tenkara’s introduction outside of Japan and the inception of Tenkara USA!
On April 12, 2009, Daniel Galhardo launched Tenkara USA with the goal of introducing the concept of tenkara, a simpler way to fly-fish, to the world. Since then we have witnessed the growth of an awesome community of people who have been inspired to seek simplicity, share adventures and tell the story of tenkara. We would not be here today without your support, so thank you all very much for taking up tenkara and sharing the tenkara story.
While it may feel like it was yesterday that the first tenkara rods arrived and were put in your hands, today is a reminder that Tenkara USA has not been an overnight success, and the adoption of tenkara was not made in an instant. The last 9 years have been filled with incredible experiences, and milestones. If you have not seen it yet, take a look at our interactive timeline:
I’m an American tenkara angler that is influenced by Japanese tenkara and my own experiences at home. I initially learned about tenkara nine years ago from Tenkara USA (Daniel Galhardo) and subsequently deepened my knowledge from researching Japanese blogs and web sites. I used what I knew from my own fly fishing knowledge and by researching and interviewing famous Japanese Tenkara anglers. I shared many of those interviews with the community here.
What follows is a basic look into the equipment that I use to wet wade and fish my own home streams and as I travel around North America and beyond.
My primary tenkara rods are the Ito, Sato and Rhodo. I’ve been fishing these rods since they have been available. I own a couple of Japanese brand rods in my quiver but my Tenkara USA rods are my first choices to go fishing in my home streams. I think if I had one rod to choose, it would be the Ito. It is a rod where I can hunt small native trout in wild places and then further down the mountain where the stream flows into the high meadow lake, I can catch stacked up big trout coming from out of the lake. It’s a rod that has length and makes a small fish fun yet I can catch 20” fish with it all day long.
Whether you are a fly fisherman that uses tenkara as a part of your toolbox or a dedicated tenkara minimalist, the Tenkara USA strap pack is an excellent organizational storage solution. I’ve been using one since they have been available. I use it for everyday fishing and for travel and on my last trip to Japan. It held all the pieces of kit that I needed for traveling for an extended stay.
I set mine up as a cross chest pack but have left the quick clip at the top to attach to a strap on a daypack or a belt. It’s highly versatile and I even use it for storage when I am just fishing out of my pockets.
Most of the time when I am interviewing or having a written conversation with a person, I ask them for a couple of paragraphs to tell me who they are. I meet Jeremy at the 2017 Tenkara USA Summit and he and his wife are super nice, like all the people that I have meet in Tenkara USA. I knew he was an artist and a family man but beyond that, I did not know much about him. So I asked him if he would pen a brief “about me” so that I could develop a deeper understanding of his interests to develop our Interview.
What caught my attention in his response was not the things that I thought I needed, it was an actual fishing moment describing resting a pool. He brought me there with his words.
I’m excited to have a chance to share a conversation with Jeremy with you as he is an interesting and aesthetic loving individual.
Adam: I’m not sure I discussed the process of these Interviews with you Jeremy so I will do it here. I write the thing in one single whack and send it to you. You fill it out and send it back. When I create the document, I think about the subject and then bring out his or her interests and hopefully get them to build a picture, a interesting inner view of who they are.
Your answer to my request about fishing, spooking a pool and then sitting down and drawing, waiting for the pool to resume it’s peace struck a cord with me. I was taken to one of my own streams, I have been fishing it for 50 or so years. There are distinct pools that always have dinks flitting about chasing flys on the surface. If you approach too quickly, they scatter for the undercut or the log. But if you sit down, have a drink, check your fly, lay back and relax for about 10 minutes or so, the trout slowly come back to their feeding and playfulness.
“You have obviously been fishing for a while so let me thank you for taking this interview and sharing with us a little bit about you.”
Jeremy Shellhorn: Thanks for interviewing me. Yes, I guess I have been fishing for most of my life. I am glad my Dad took me when I was young. My family has always encouraged me to pursue the things I love to do…fishing and design. I am very very fortunate.
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?
…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.
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.
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.
Since Tenkara USA was founded in 2009, we’ve heard a lot of different stories of rod breakage from our customers. Some of these are pretty obvious, some sneak up on you. It’s important to realize that all of these can cause damage that may not show up as a breakage at the time of the incident. The actual break may show up later while casting, making it appear that the rod can broke for no reason. Here I want to share some of the most common causes of tenkara rod breakages to serve as a heads up so that your fishing trips will be more trouble free.
1) Tip breaks on set up: When a rod tip breaks close to the lillian, it’s because of improper stress during setup/take down. To avoid this, be sure to keep the graphite of the rod tip buried inside the handle assembly and other sections when tightening down the line/lillian connection. It’s a good idea to keep your thumb firmly over the top of the handle assembly while doing this. This is by far the most common breakage for new tenkara anglers. Also, never try to tie the line to the lillian with the rod fully extended. It’s a recipe for disaster. You can watch this video on the proper setting up of a tenkara rod.
2) The rod broke when hit with a fly/weight: This one often shows up later, but the impact of a hook, beadhead, split shot, or just a heavy fly can damage the rod and weaken it at the point of impact. The fly/weight etc. doesn’t have to crack the segment, it just needs to weaken the scrim of the rod to make a breakage much more likely. This doesn’t mean you can’t fish a little weight with your tenkara rod, just be sure to keep your casting loops open and away from the rod (especially the more delicate tip sections).
3) Sections are stuck next to each other in the rod: Not exactly a breakage, but can still put a rod out of commision, and cause a breakage in the struggle to free the sections. This almost always the result of the rod being opened or closed out of sequence. Be sure when extended the rod to start by pulling the tip section out of the handle, and working progressively to the handle. Closing procedure is the reverse, start with the thickest section and work progressively until the lillian is in the handle. The process is the same with zoom rods, you’ll just have to move down to the staggered adjustable sections as open or close the rod.
4) The sections are stuck and won’t extend after I took the rod apart and put it back together: Again, this one isn’t exactly a breakage but can ruin a rod. Anytime a rod is taken apart, but sure that the sections are all going the correct way. If sections are reversed and forced together, they can become stuck to the point that they’re ruined and those sections will need to be replaced. Tenkara rod segments will usually have some sort of banding, and will always have a rough section at the bottom which can be used to orient the sections correctly.
5) Section snapped while closing the rod: This can be one of those incidents where earlier damage shows up as a breakage, but can also be the root cause. Be sure when closing the rod to put pressure straight down to collapse with as little side pressure as possible. Do not over-tighten the rod, just make sure the segments are snug while extending. Also, keep the hands close together while closing the sections. I like to rest my bottom hand inside of my top hand when closing stubborn sections. Keeping the rod clean will also help, as grit inside of the sections can cause them to be much more difficult to close. Sometimes use of the “rubberband ” method will help.
6) Rod broke when it hit an overhanging tree: This can happen to any of us. Just be sure to be aware of your situation when you cast, and especially when you set the hook on a fish. It’s also pretty easy to get the tip of the rod caught up in a tree while playing the fish, as it’s shape changes throughout the fight. Again, the best you can do is stay aware, and if possible move to an open spot to play and land the fish.
7) Rod broke on a snag: This may be the most common breakage for experienced tenkara anglers. The sudden immovable strain of a snag puts a strain on the rod that will break them, even if they’re only bent to a point that would be no problem with a steady building of force (like when playing a fish). It’s always best to get ahold of the casting line to pull a snag loose, looking away from the snag when pulling on the line to protect your eyes. If you can’t do that, close the rod as far as possible and point it directly at the snag to pull free, again turning your face away from the snag. This may cause the sections to be tighter than usual, but that’s usually less likely to cause a breakage than trying to force a snag loose by popping the rod.
8) The rod broke on a hook set: The same thing is going on here as the snag. It’s the sudden force that breaks the rod. In tenkara, a light quick hookset is all that is needed. It’s a quick motion, but if you’re activating your shoulder or back muscles, you’re probably using too much force. Think quick but light flick of the wrist, like a light backcast.
9) I stepped on the rod while landing a fish: We get this one a lot. It’s best to find a way to hold the rod while releasing the fish. I hold it in the crook of my neck. Dr. Ishigaki can keep hold of the rod in his hands with the tip pointing up while he releases a fish. Throwing it down makes it more likely to be stepped on by you or someone else trying to help, and can also damage the rod on rocks, etc. that will scratch and weaken the finish of the rod. It’s also a good way to get the rod more dirty, which can result in grit in the sections as discussed earlier.
10) The rod broke while walking through brush while closed: This one happens most to those who leave the line tied to the lillian while in transit. We’ve also heard of it happening while the rod is in a car with a bunch of other gear around. A snag can grab the line, then pull on it enough to get the tip of the rod outside of the handle assembly, where side pressure can snap the tip. If you’re going to transport the rod this way often, please consider using a universal rod cap that will help hold the tip down in the rod in the event of a snag. It’s also not a bad idea to have the rod in a sock to block the line from sags. If you spend enough time practicing your setup knots, you may find this method of transport is not as helpful.
11) The rod broke while playing a fish: This one is surprisingly rare. If you’re staying below the 7lbs of break strength we recommend with our rods, the tippet should break before the rod. A lot of these breakages are earlier damage showing up, but if it’s early in the life of the rod, it could be a defect. If you are hand-lining the fish (i.e. line is longer than rod) be aware that grabbing the line at the handle when the rod is sharply bent can cause breakages too.
12) The rod broke while landing a fish: The process of landing a fish can put a lot of strain on a rod, especially if you’re trying to steer it to the net without grabbing the casting line first. This is one reason we recommend grabbing the line and trapping it with the rod hand before netting/landing the fish. That act should take a lot of strain off of the tip sections of the rod. This is also a good habit to develop if you wish to explore fishing longer lines, where hand lining will be necessary.
13) The rod broke while casting: Unless you’re using WAY too much force, casting the rod should put very little pressure on the sections. Almost always a breakage that shows up on casting was caused by damage that happened earlier, usually one of the above issues. If the rod does have an actual manufacturing defect, it will more than likely show up very early in the life of the rod. That does not mean every breakage early in the life of the rod is caused by a defect, but actual defects do usually show up in the first trip or two.
Breakages will happen, and they’re nothing to be ashamed of. But, they’re also never fun and can spoil a trip if you don’t have a back up rod. We hope this list will help you avoid them and have a better time on the water.
You can also listen to our podcast episode on rod breakages:
If you do have a breakage with your Tenkara USA rod, we can ALWAYS help, even if the breakage is obviously not a manufacturing defect. Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 888 483 6527 and we can help you with the repair process.
For more information, please visit our “Tenkara Care” page
This video has no fishing in it, at all.
But I thought you would enjoy the video I just created. Yesterday morning, at the last day of our 3-week long book tour, I woke up in the tenkaravan next to a gorgeous forest. Those who know me will remember foraging is right up there with tenkara in terms of things I love doing. As I had coffee I felt inspired to go foraging and to film it all. Hope you enjoy it.
We have been on the road for 11 days now. Margaret and I have been enjoying our time together (we actually celebrated our 10th anniversary on the road last Sunday!). Living the “Van Life” is not glamorous, but we have seen some beautiful country, fished some gorgeous waters and enjoyed a few experiences we wouldn’t have otherwise.
Time has been short, and it is going by fast. I have been working on some videos and photography but it’s been hard to find reliable data connection or wifi along the way, so almost no time for writing and sharing things. I have been good at keeping our Instagram posts going when I find a bar or two of service on my phone.
This morning I turned the tenkaravan into a makeshift studio to record a new podcast episode about living life off the tenkaravan and about our very cool experience fishing for smallmouth bass with the fly-fishing author Dave Hughes and his wife Masako. If you’re interested, below is the episode I just posted (more information referenced in the episode please visit the podcast page.
Things are coming together nicely for the 6th Tenkara Summit, which will take place in Estes Park on September 16th. This year we are counting on the presence of Dr. Hisao Ishigaki and Yvon Chouinard who will be speaking at the event, along with Adam Trahan, Jason Klass, Steve Schweitzer. In addition we’ll be featuring clinics and demos on fly-tying, casting and more. This is promising to be a great event, and we hope to see you all there!
You can register for the Tenkara Summit here.
Further details, such as the schedule, lodging, food, etc, on this page.
Last Friday I flew to La Crosse, WI, the heart of the famous Driftless region of Wisconsin. I came to the area to participate in the Midwest Tenkara Fest, organized by Badger Tenkara. This was my first time fishing in the area. And, although the Driftless had been on my radar for many years, it took me a while to get here. It was a phenomenal region to fish and I already can’t wait to return. Tenkara is made for the Driftless, where good presentations and drag-free drifts are the key to catching trout.
A few days before coming to the Driftless I received an email from fly-fishing author Jason Randall who had learned I would be in “his area” at the same time he and Ed Engle. Jeremy Shellhorn and I were planning to camp around here anyways, so we decided to camp with Jason and Ed. On Friday we fished the stream that ran by the camp.
I absolutely loved that stream. In a very short distance the spring-creek changed from looking like a mountain-stream to a slower meadow water, to typical limestone spring creek. Despite the rain earlier in the day the stream was running very clear.
Although the stream we fished is no secret, there is no need to mention specific stream names here. The Driftless regions has over 500 miles of publicly accessible trout streams, so you wouldn’t have a problem finding waters.
Another very cool thing, as is usually the case when fishing for trout in different areas, was the coloration of the brown trout we were catching. More specifically most of the trout we caught had a red coloration on their tail and a well-defined red mark on their adipose fin. It was fun to notice that when Ed Engle pointed it out.
After fishing for some time and getting my own fishing fix, it was time to get Jason Randall to experience tenkara. He had been out with someone before, but they really just fished it like a fly rod. I talked to him about the differences in the way we normally fish with tenkara, just as keeping the line off the water for better presentations. Shortly after his first couple of casts Jason hooked into trout, and then caught a few more.
That’s the thing about tenkara, when it is fished “the tenkara way” it will hook even the best anglers into its advantages; but if it is just fished like a western fly-rod then there is little to keep them using it.
Then Jason turned his buddy Tom into tenkara. Tom was just a tad skeptical about it to begin. After Jason caught some fish he insisted Tom try it. I hiked down to where Tom was and gave Tom the rod. On his first cast he hooked a trout, and immediately exclaimed, “I like this”. And thus we had another convert.
Of course, Jeremy also hooked a bunch of trout that day. And, of course, the big one got away. After dinner and before it got dark, Jeremy went back to the water close to us and caught some more fish to cap the day. Then he hooked what would likely have been the largest fish of the day, he played it well but the hook eventually came off. Well, here is a video of one that didn’t get away.
I have to go visit a supplier in a minute, and then catch a flight, but will see about posting some more information on the Driftless later. On Sunday we got to fish with tenkara guide Mike Warren and also Matt Sment in a completely different kind of stream. You can see a short video I made on Mike’s guide page here.
This weekend Tenkara USA reached a milestone when the first video we created to introduce tenkara to the US and beyond reached 1 million views!!! Not exactly a viral video, but certainly a cool number to reach.
I have certainly learned a lot since that video was created, and some of it makes me chuckle, or even cringe a bit these days. But that video certainly did its job and introduced a lot of people to tenkara. I will save you from it and not embed it here, but you can watch the video and subscribe to our YouTube channel here.
Thank you all for watching!
And, make sure to watch our newest videos at www.tenkarausa.com/tenkara-videos