Interview with Mike Willis
by Adam Trahan
I asked Mike to sit for this Interview with me based on a small group of anglers that I have been following from afar in social media. Over the years, we have had conversations on our interests centered on tenkara. I know Mike has an interest in bicycle moto cross like Christophe’ Laurent and I. Like many anglers that I meet, we all have varying interests but Mike and I seem to be on the same page on many fronts.
Adam: Hello Mike! Hopefully this Interview will not be awkward for you as we have had some discussions about how I manage the process. Actually, it may help you with your own development in that skill having been the target of it. We have had some conversations about my Interviews and you and I have similar interests.
With many of the Interviews that I do, the story of how we get into fishing and ultimately tenkara is always interesting. I would like to start our Interview that way.
“Mike, how did you get into tenkara?”
Mike Willis: Sup adam?! Sup Tenkara-Fishers?!!!
I found tenkara in September of 2012. I was searching the internets for information about western style fly fishing and looking to buy a new rod. I’d recently bought a house next to a bigtime western fly fisher and he’d been after me to expand my quiver from a 7 1/2′, 5wt. L.L. bean special and the ultralight Ugly Stik I kept in my trunk. My fly fishing experience to that point had been a trip to the west walker river and a couple float tube excursion to mountain lakes – all with my neighbor, Doug. Doug has been fly fishing most of his 65 years. He’s fished all over the world, and he knows his poo. Doug and I would often have long conversations about the sport, but when I’d ask what I should get for my “next” rod, he’d always reply with, “Well, what do you want to fish for? Where are you going to fish? How much do you want to spend?”
Interview with Thomas “TJ” Ferreira
by Adam Trahan
I already have meet TJ (online) from my own web site and Tenkara USA circles. He is a super nice guy and I want to start off by apologizing to him because this Interview was delayed. I had planned to ask him because he is such a nice guy and really enthusiastic about tenkara. So I did ask if we could do the Interview and not kidding, the next day I got a letter asking for a couple of writing projects. The detail of finishing those projects was that they needed immediate attention in order to time the different parts to get done. I had to ask TJ if we could delay his Interview. As I thought, “No problem Adam” and all those projects got done and here I find myself pecking away, thinking about TJ.
So, TJ, I apologize that it took so long, thank you for your patience.
I’ve have been wanting to do this interview with you since I found out a little bit more about you on Facebook. You are a VW bus enthusiast! Still! I dig that. Some of the best times I’ve ever had on the road have been in my 1971 bay window, VW microbus. So let’s just start from there.
Adam: “So what is in the stable? What kind of buses do you have?”
T.J.: Hi Adam… hope equally you don’t mind that my answers to this interview come slowly. LOL.
My stable of VWs has changed over the years but today I own 3 Volkswagens. 2 older Air-cooled and 1 Water-pumper. My 1st VW is a 1960 Single Cab. I still have this but between money and laziness and time, it sits in my garage after I pulled the engine and started brake work. That was like 8 years ago . I have other running VWs that I soaked my money into instead so figure the 1960 Single Cab may not run again until I retire (yeah right!) and have time for a full restoration. My next VW is my favorite… a 1967 Westfalia Camper. I enjoy driving this one to local VW shows and to our local VW clubs Ice Cream socials. Then the granddaddy of them all is a 1987 Syncro Vanagon Camper. This is a 4×4 camper that VW only made a few of. This is the one that gets the most money and time. We camp in this yearly and take it on 2-week camping trips. Nice to have more comfort in the dual beds and more room to get around. I have owned more and over years sold them to get what I have now. It seems to be a never-ending cycle but I think I am now locked into these 3 and hope to have them forever. I would not mind though getting a Karman Ghia convertible one day. Oh and another VW Thing. Oh and a… you get the picture. LOL
The biggest tenkara event – ever! – happened this weekend.
The 2017 Tenkara Summit brought together the largest gathering of tenkara anglers anywhere. Just over 300 people from all over the US as well as Argentina, Norway and Japan attended. Attendees enjoyed a great series of speakers, clinics with experienced tenkara anglers (including Dr. Hisao Ishigaki), vendors, and a very fun fly-tying evening that featured a live band as well as tying contests timed to their songs, plus magic by Dennis Michael.
I am still stunned by the participation. In the past Tenkara Summits we had up to 150 people show up. I was fully expecting this year to count on the same number of people, so when I went to pull the final tally I was shocked to see about 240 people registered and another 60 walk-ins. I had tremendous fun meeting so many people in the community as well as spending time with an incredible crew of staff and volunteers that made the event possible.
After a week of taking Dr. Ishigaki fishing around Colorado, hosting our staff and then working at the Summit I will say that I am pretty beat. In fact, I may even take a nap in a few minutes, which is a very rare thing for me to do. But, I wanted to share a little update as well as post some photos from the event. These are photos that some of our crew or myself took; we actually had a professional photographer shoot photos and video at the event but it may be a few days before we get to process and post some of those.
There were several highlights that stood out for me. One of them was once again spending time fishing with my teacher, Dr. Ishigaki. The Tenkara Summit really started as an excuse for Dr. Ishigaki to come fishing in the US; in 2011 he wanted to fish in Montana but said he wanted to speak at an event to justify the trip to his wife. Since there were no events taking place I decided to put the Summit together. It turned out to be a tough week of fishing, with us visiting several different places that didn’t seem to be “on” (I will have to add “river otters” to my “Excuses to use when not catching fish“).
Another highlight was meeting and talking to a large number of people about how tenkara has had a positive impact on their lives. It always gives me a warm feeling when I hear those stories of how people are enjoying tenkara in one way or another, of how sometimes it gave them a different perspective on some aspect of their lives. And I absolutely loved meeting a few young kids who are in love with tenkara and asked their parents and grandparents to bring them to the Summit.
The fly-tying evening was a pure fun part of the event. In the evening the band Paper Moonshine entertained the audience as people tied flies, enjoyed their beers and whiskey, and shared stories or made plans to fish the next day.
The event was recorded in its entirety and we will be posting some of it online in the near future. More photos to come as well.
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.
Yesterday part of the Tenkara USA team (myself, my wife and our husky Shiso) hit the road for the first leg of what I expect to be several road trips in the new tenkaravan. On this trip, which will last three weeks, we’re making stops in Oregon, Washington and then Montana at several different events primarily focused on book signings.
The full schedule and details are kept up-to-date in our events page but for now here are our next stops. I hope to see you at one of these stops.
July 19 – Book signing and Q&A at Central Oregon Fly Fisher’s Club – Bend, OR at 6pm
July 20 – Social gathering and a quick talk + book signing at the Fly Fisher’s Place in Sisters, OR 4-7pm
July 21-23 – Tenkara Bugout, Oakridge, OR
July 25 – Book signing and talk at Creekside Fly Shop, Issaquah, WA
July 26 – Book signing and talk at Wayward, Bellevue, WA
Augu 4-5 – Fly Fishing Fair in Livingston, MT
It’s amazing to have looked at our schedule and even with 3 weeks not be able to hit a bunch of other places I wanted to stop by. I have already been getting a bunch of messages on social media about whether we are stopping in other places along the way or other parts of the country, and while we are not at this particular tour it makes me feel that I need to spend more time on the road. These 3 weeks will show whether I’m cut out for the vanlife lifestyle.
We should be easy to spot now, so keep an eye out for us! Yesterday we had the first person come say hi to us right before we drove into the Flaming Gorge/Green River in WY. Soon after we had our first peak at the not-so glamorous vanlife lifestyle…I’ll tell you that story next time I login!
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.
Many have noticed the cover for my new book spells tenkara out in lower-case, and a couple of people have already asked if that was done on purpose.
YES! Good eye!
I made a very deliberate decision to have tenkara written in lower case on the cover of the book, as well as throughout the book whenever I discuss the method of fishing. I see the word Tenkara with upper-case in many blogs and magazines. But, you see, tenkara is not a proper noun; it is a simple noun, like “fishing” or “fly” and it shouldn’t be capitalized. However, tenkara can become a proper noun when discussing a brand, like Tenkara USA.
I’d make the case that one should write tenkara in lower-case when discussing the method. Although I suppose we could just choose to end up with our own version of fly-fishing, flyfishing and fly fishing and never be certain which is the correct one (I always write it fly-fishing).
Simplicity is a choice. It is easy to make many things in life complex, but these complexities don’t usually add to our experience. Even when we learn that we don’t truly need a lot of flies we can choose to carry multiple fly patterns with us “just in case”. We can carry multiple line weights and change them any time winds change. We can carry accessories to indicate the presence of fish when we could have kept an eye to line to do that. It may seem like carrying additional items in our fishing kit will make fishing easier or more effective. Often it does not.
Tenkara shows us there is a different way of thinking about fly-fishing – and often about life too. It shows us we can leave the unnecessary behind. But, we must choose to do so.
This is short excerpt from tenkara – the book
It’s been a long, long road.
I typed its first words nearly 5 years ago. But, as I continued to learn more about tenkara, continued visiting Japan and meeting more teachers, and continued to look at words I typed with an increasingly critical eye, the completion of the book I envisioned a long time ago just kept getting further away. Yet, (at last!) tenkara – the book has been received at our warehouse and is now shipping!
With the help of Jeremy Shellhorn, our resident artist, I believe tenkara – the book turned out to be even better than what i could have envisioned years ago. It is something I’m very proud of having produced.
This has been a rewarding project. It has also been challenging trying to put all I could think of in pages that wouldn’t feel overwhelming; to give those who are deep in tenkara all they may want to know while also attempting to convey tenkara’s simplicity. I believe that has been accomplished.
With this book I also launched a new division of Tenkara USA, the Tenkara Press™, which will help us accomplish the mission of sharing the tenkara story. It has been interesting to learn so much about the publishing industry in the last several months. From concept, to writing, to designing and layout, and then finally the printing (which was done close to us in Denver and I watched the entire process) and now working out the best distribution for it, this has been quite an experience. I hope to get some other tenkara titles in production next year.
Those who have backed our Kickstarter campaign will be start receiving the book momentarily as we took care of shipping them earlier this week.
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
Got some news about the book: the files have been sent to the printer!!! YEAY! We are told about 2 to 3 weeks for delivery. The book will be printed in Denver, so I’ll be going to the press checks and keeping an eye on it as it comes out. I’ll be sending out a survey to ask for addresses from those who have pre-purchased it.
Meanwhile, as Jeremy worked on wrapping the files up yesterday I recorded a new podcast episode, in which I talk about my favorite rod, the Ito.
The Ito is The Ito is my favorite as well as that of many of the most experienced tenkara anglers. Yet, people are intimidated by its length. Listen to this episode to learn about what makes the Ito a favorite of so many anglers and why you should give it a try!
Referenced in this episode:
Landing a large brown on tenkara with the Ito
Facebook live video catching carp and bass with the Tenkara USA Ito
Unfortunately the Rip’Em & Lip’Em videos I mentioned are no longer available on Youtube, I’m trying to get the video files to share soon.
Mr. Sebata with the Ito
Shaun Lezotte with a large 29″ pike caught on tenkara
Me with a large size brown trout caught on the Ito (right after the header image for this podcast was taken)
This is an update on tenkara – the book, which will soon be arriving.
The book is now in its final stage before we print it and mail it. Thank you for your patience! After seeing the near-final product I can promise it will be worth the wait!
Over the last two weeks I holed myself up and focused exclusively on finishing final text revisions for tenkara – the book. The current version is looking so much cleaner than how it started. I don’t say this easily very often about my own work, but I am very proud of how this book has shaped up.
On Wednesday the book designer and illustrator, Jeremy Shellhorn, flew over to Boulder and we got to work together non-stop on the book. It was 3 long days of doing the final layout, placing the final images and touching up every single detail on every single page we touched. It was quite a amazing experience to see Jeremy do the work in front of me and bring words and photos to life in a way that just feel so…tenkara. We did a Facebook live video when we started working on it yesterday morning where we show a bit of what we have done.
The most interesting thing was our process in this last leg of the journey. We sat next to each other at the office, I would send him sections of text that were finalized and he would lay them out with the suggested photograph. But, because Jeremy knows our photography portfolio and tenkara so well, he would remember images that could be even better in a certain section. I’d find the image and send it to him and we would see how it worked. Other times we explored the text and found better, usually simpler, ways of saying things. This is a big contrast with traditional publishing, where the publisher requests that the text and images be completely done and sent over, then there are some several rounds of back and forth between author, designer, editor. In our case, the instant collaboration on every single page of the book has undoubtedly created a better produce. We can not begin to imagine doing this phase in any other way.
I expect about 5 more days to send the file to the printer, then about 3 weeks for it to be ready to ship. So, we are looking at approximately March 15th at the moment.
I feel embarrassed that I originally promised the book would be in your hands in January and I didn’t get it ready on time. I am not sure I underestimated the scope of this project or whether I just kept finding ways to make it a better book. This has been the toughest thing I have ever done, but I am incredibly excited about how it is turning out. I do apologize for the delay, if any would prefer a refund for me not meeting the timeline, I’d completely understand.
Now the finish line is very clear and we are just about to cross it. tenkara – the book will be something you’ll be very happy with. Next time you hear from me will be to get your address.
My best regards,
In this installment of the Tenkara Guide Spotlight, we’d like to introduce you to Daniel Pierce II of our Tenkara Guide Network. Daniel Pierce has been a great help to Tenkara USA and the north eastern tenkara community for some time now. Dan guides classic trout waters in his home state of Maine, wild places with beautiful native book trout, landlocked salmon, and smallmouth bass. Besides guiding, Dan is very active at teaching tenkara at area events and can usually be found in the Tenkara USA booth when we are in New England.
Besides tenkara activities, Dan works as a middle school counselor, enjoys spending time with his family, and bow hunting for deer and turkey, all of which influence his fishing and guiding. Dan genuinely enjoys sharing the outdoors with others, as his responses below will support.
What types of environment do you guide tenkara anglers and how long have you been guiding? About how many guide trips and tenkara guide trips do you do in a season?
I guide in the great state of Maine. The number of days I guide changes year to year and depends on the weather but it is usually 20-25 days a year of guiding with clients and then a few tenkara classes through out the year. I work full time as a school counselor at a middle school and started guiding when people asked at fly fishing shows where they could find a guide in Maine. I saw an opportunity and jumped on it! People come from New England to fish in Maine with me because of the native brook trout we have here and because there are so few tenkara guides in New England.
Do you guide only tenkara or also western fly-fishing (or spin fishing)?
I exclusively guide fixed line fly-fishing which has given me my niche in Maine. Maine has a number of outstanding fishing guides but only one tenkara guide!
What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of guiding with tenkara?
Tenkara is great for people who are new to the sport of fly-fishing because there is a quick learning curve if you have someone knowledgable with you. I have found tenkara to be a great “add on” activity to recreational guiding here in Maine. Disadvantages would be sometimes people don’t fully understand the limitations of tenkara fishing.
What are your favorite Tenkara USA rods for guiding on your favorites and are your personal favorites different that what you guide with?
Ever since I got the Rhodo and Sato, I have never looked back. There are times I still fish my Amago but 95% of the time both guiding and fishing on my own, it is one of those rods. The rods are well made and reliable which is why they are my go to rods. Between the two rods I can effectively fish a rod between 8 and 13 feet.
What types of rigs do you fish as far as terminal tackle, i.e. single dry fly, indicator rigs, dry dropper, etc. ?
Especially when I am guiding, I do not get very technical with rigging. Many of my clients are looking for simplicity and effectiveness. For this reason, we rig with level line, tippet, and a single fly.
Has there been anything about fishing and guiding with tenkara that has been a surprise to you compared to your initial impressions of the fishing method?
My biggest surprise was the effectiveness of this method of fishing and the range and variety of fish I have been able to target with tenkara.
So we come to the question of fly choice. I generally guide people who are interested in being outside, learning something new, and hopefully catching fish. For this reason, I fish very few fly patterns. From 2011-2014 I fished one fly; a black hook, black thread, grey turkey feather sakasa kebari. Early in 2015 I started to mess around with killer bugs AKA ( UKB, Sawyer’s, Crane fly larva). I now fish a sakasa kebari 3 different colors and a killer bug in 3 different colors, although 9 out of 10 flies I tie on is a black sakasa kebari. My general philosophy is the more time my fly is in the water, the better chance I have of a fish seeing it.
Do you have a favorite fly? What is it?
Most people would think spring in Maine means early season fishing, when really it means turkey hunting. The two spring male wild turkeys I shoot each year will give me enough feathers to refill my fly box for the season and beyond. I started using turkey feathers in 2011 and have exclusively used them for my sakasa kebari since then. The feathers are a blackish grayish color that have an unbelievable amount of action and turn almost translucent when underwater. So my favorite fly is a simple one; TMC103bl size 13, black thread, turkey feather sakasa kebari.
Do you have a fly fishing or tenkara based online blog? What is the URL?
No blog yet but keep your eyes open!
Do you have an social media presence for your services? What are your Facebook or other social media accounts names?