This article was originally written by Daniel Galhardo for Ryan Jordan, of Backpackinglight.com, with the theme “Pack Less Be More”:
The More you Know the Less you Need
The first time I read the phrase “The more you know, the less you need”, it was attributed to Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. A Patagonia employee was wearing a t-shirt with the quote during a tenkara class I was teaching in Japan. A couple of months later I met Yvon in person, he admitted the quote was a favorite of his but it was probably from someone else, Thoreau he guessed. Some quick online research indicates it is often recognized as an “aboriginal saying” (aboriginal = native born). No idea what aboriginal people are being credited with it, but perhaps the saying came from Japan.
The first time I saw tenkara, the Japanese fly-fishing technique that uses only a rod, line and fly, I realized I would be able to pack less when backpacking, but still enjoy that activity that is an excuse to send me outside: fly-fishing. The one thing that seemed too indispensible to fly-fishing, a no-brainer, was now disposed of.
It was so obvious, so clear, that it would be possible to fly fish without a reel, yet no one had bothered dispensing with their reels in pursuit of fly-fishing with less. Sure people had spent a lot of time thinking of how to lighten their fly fishing gear, make things more portable and still enjoy fly-fishing: use lighter materials for the rod, for the reel, for the line, shorten the rod, break it into seven pieces instead of two, get rid of the backing, make the reel smaller, maybe leave the extra fly-box at home.
Yet, getting rid of a reel was out of question, it seemed.
It turned out, the reel was dispensable, and highly so. Learning that there was, on the other side of the world, a legit fly-fishing technique that didn’t include a reel was like being awoken from a deep hypnosis. All of a sudden I could look around me, in a bit of a daze, and question all the other little items I was carrying. Do I really need floatant? Split-shots? Strike indicators? Multiple fly patterns?
The more I learned about tenkara, the more I realized things could get even simpler, that I could pack even less. The more I learned, the less I needed. I learned that tenkara anglers in Japan rely on only one fly pattern, so I started learning how to use my one fly pattern and could leave all others at home. I learned I did not have to carry split-shot, or floatant, but instead could rely on currents to make my fly sink, on technique to make it stay on the surface, or on knowledge to know that fish also take flies just below the surface if they are not dressed. I could even dispense with my knife, that hardest thing to let go of, when I learned I could clean a fish with a simple stick – didn’t even have to open it.
My current kit of essentials is a tenkara rod, spool of line, spool of tippet, small box of flies, nipper and hemostats. I add a whistle and lighter for emergency, and a small Frontier Pro water filter (this was added after drinking water directly from streams for years, but unknowingly carrying giardia all along).
I know that if fish is the only goal I could even leave it all behind and try “ticking” a fish for dinner. But, I am an angler.
Through Tenkara USA, I introduced tenkara outside of Japan. In doing so we were the first to say, “hey people, you don’t need a reel – and fly-fishing can be simpler!” Like it had happened to me, that simple act of removing a reel from the equation opened the eyes of a multitude of anglers to the fact that maybe they were carrying a lot of other unnecessary items too.
Awake from our hypnotic state, tenkara allowed us to look beyond our fly-fishing kit. We looked at our packs and asked, “what can we get rid of? What skills can replace pieces of gear?” We looked at our lives and asked, “what else can we learn? How can we be more?”
Who knows whether we would have ever awoken from that hypnotic state, the one that told us reels were necessary for fly-fishing, if tenkara wasn’t there, deep in the Japanese mountains, waiting to be discovered?