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?”
Not knowing what I didn’t know, I started combing the web trying to answer these questions. Here in the greater Sacramento area, we have a ton of options. Salmon, stripers, stealhead and american shad all have runs through the local rivers. Largemouth and smallies abound in the delta and lakes. Ponds are full of sunfish and bass. Within an hour and a half’s drive, there are wild and stocked trout galore. One might say we have a veritable cornucopia of fishing option here in Norcal. To me, however, so many options can be a curse. I wanted a set up for each and every situation. Heck, I had bikes for every type of riding, why not a rod for every type of water.
Of course, it turns out 2012 found us with three kids at home, a mortgage, as well as some credit card and car payments; not to mention, food, utilities, clothes…y’all get my drift. I’d walk into a shop and just get bummed out. so many set ups to choose from. Too many set ups to choose from. I was overwhelmed beyond belief.
Then one day I was surfing videos of small stream fishing and saw this dude hocking his trenkani rods (that’s what Doug calls them to this day), and having a kickass time doing it. I searched up more vids and watched them intently. No reel? Was this a gimmick?
I soon found sites that further explained what I’d been watching: tenkaraflyfish.web.com, tenkarabum.com, tenkaratalk.com, and tenkarausa.com. I immersed myself. The first rods that caught my interest were the Fountain heads. at the time, Chris Stewart and Jason Klass had reviews of both the stone fly and the caddis on their sites, and I had questions. I fired off an email to Mr. Stewart, and he wrote immediately with a recommendation. For whatever reason, I didn’t pull the trigger and buy one.
For the next couple months I went back and forth between buying a tenkara rod and saving for a whatever weight western rod. I joined the Tenkara USA forum and continued to read and watch whatever I could find on the web. Between September and February, I bought Kevin Kellerer and Misako Ishimura’s tenkara book, a regal vice, the variety set of flies you find on Amazon, and a copy of the Curtis Creek Manifesto. Nevertheless, I continued to spend hours at my creek-down-the-way casting bait to the bluegill and bass with my ultralight.
February 12, 2013, I wrote in to Jason asking him about the Iwana and Ayu II vs. the Fountain Heads. He gave me excellent feedback. A few days later, I happened upon a Yamame for sale for $50 while looking through Chris’ used rod page. I got a hold of the seller and bought it. I then ordered lines and kebari from Tbum and TUSA. All that was left was heading to my creek.
I spent the next year at the creek angling in the tenkara style. I caught bluegill and redear and largemouth and shiners and black crappie. I use to be embarrassed to admit it, but the first fish I caught took a red worm. I didn’t trust flies and/or kebari for some reason; moreover, I knew that the worms worked and I wanted to catch a fish with this crazy-longass, reeless rod. After a couple days, I gave up bait all together and began casting micro poppers. I still shunned the kebari (don’t ask me why. I’m just weird). One thing for sure, the subtle movements a tenkara rod can instill in a well placed popper was not lost on me. Nor was the pure joy of fighting even a tiny ‘gill with a fixed line fly rod. Each trip…each cast for that matter, spoke to me. They said, “this shit is freakin’ magical!”
Here is that first fish.
2013 was a good year for me. I learned a lot. I ask a ton of questions and built relationships online. I was continually dumbfounded by how helpful and welcoming everyone in the community was towards me. I once asked a question on the TUSA forum about my line, “landing in a heap.” Within a day, there were detailed instruction, illustrated diagrams, and even animations posted in reply. It was awesome!
I bought a couple more rods and started tying kebari. I took pics of my catches and posted short trip report hear and there. I fished my creek often. I even started fishing (and catching fish) on kebari I’d tied. It was awesome, but I knew there had to be more. I took a solo trip up into the foothills and caught some smallmouth (WAY fun with a tenkara rod). I did not, however, go out looking for trout. reflecting on those days, I am not sure why I didn’t fish any trout streams other than I just didn’t feel ready.
Sometime near the end of the year, TJ posted a request for volunteers to come the Sacramento International Sportsman’s expo and work the TUSA booth. I immediately volunteered and, thank the good Lord, was invited to attend. once at the show, I realized I could not hide my stoke for tenkara.
I worked three days of the show and it was awesome. Sharing something that you love is just the best feeling, ya know? I met and worked with TJ, Trevor Segelke, David Ethier, and Troy Meadows – all accomplished anglers.
The ISE show was an epiphanic moment in my life.
The night the show ended, Trevor and I made plans to fish at a spot in the mountains. It was way to cold for the fish to bite, but we had a good time. A few weeks later, I met up with Dave and fished in the foothills. We got skunked, too, but it didn’t matter. A couple more weeks went by and, while looking into waters close to home, I found Putah creek and met Jeff Smith. Jeff, Dave, Trev, and I made plans for a group outing and the Tenkara Anglers of Northern California and Nevada was born.
Since then, I have worked a number of shows for TUSA, and given a couple presentations/demos to clubs and groups. Trev and I started the Facebook page, and I’ve shared my appreciation it with friends, families, and strangers. I’ve fished a ton. I have even begun tinkering with a website/blog/forum, made some goofy tenkara related shirts and stickers, and looked into creating a side income teaching or guiding during the summer months…This was a long answer to your short question, but honestly Adam, I feel like I am just getting, “into tenkara.”
Adam: So many of us got started the same way. It does not take a historian to see where tenkara started in America.
I started out fishing using a cane pole and a length of line tied to the end, pretty much the same gauge that I use now for a line. Although my fishing as a kid is not the same way I fish now, the same elements are there and more importantly, the reason why I fish is exactly the same, adventure. I would have to say that my fishing as a child and the way I fish now is more similar than it is different.
I got into fly fishing early on, a boy of 10 and my first experiences where on a small stream. I took the rod and held the line against the cork, I figured out how to cast on my own. I was taught to shoot line but I couldn’t do it in the forest so my first experiences with a fly rod where even more similar to tenkara, soft hackle wet flies and all.
“What are some of your earliest memories of fishing?”
Mike Willis: When I was five or six we lived in San Antonio. Friends of my folks had a ranch a couple hours from town and the ranch, of course, had ponds. We took a trip, and in addition to watching a cow get birthed, ride in a real jeep with no doors, and shoot a .30-.30, I got to go fishing for the first time. I remember standing in the mud with my borrowed Zebco, learning to cast, and wanting to catch a fish so bad I cried. The crying didn’t help. My older sister caught fish. Heck everyone did, except me. The only thing I hooked was my sister in the arm. After however long, it was time to leave and I cried again. We got back to the ranch house and my mom, who is a saint, asked if there was another pond close by which there was. Just before sunset, I hooked and landed a catfish. I’ve wanted to do it again and again ever since.
Over the next few years I fished five or ten times a year. I’d go with my parents or friends. My dad got me a tackle box and I started collecting tackle. He and I would fish the San Antonio River in Brackenridge Park. Once while staying near Corpus Christi, I launched myself into the drink while casting off a pier. Thankfully, my sister had gotten over the hooking-her-in-the-arm incident, and pulled me out. When I was 11, I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Fortuna, Ca. My uncle took my cousins and I to the Eel and Van Duzen rivers, and it was fishing those rivers that I caught my first trout (and trout limit. Thank you Uncle Steve and Uncle Panther Martin).
I know you asked for my earliest recollections, but the more I think about it the more memories that come flooding back. There’s my granddaddy teaching me to fish for stripers on the banks of the Sacramento, and my cousins and I catching like 50 shakers each on hot June evening. One very early memory of fishing does not involve me actually fishing at all. My grandpa had photographs in his office of him fly fishing the sierras in the ’30s and ’40s. The rod from the pictures hung from his mantle, and I was forbidden to play with it. It, like many things in a grandfather’s house, wasn’t a toy. Of all the things he taught me, and there are many, fly fishing was not one of them. I was kinda a spazz as a kid, so I get it. It is funny that somehow I am crawling around on the same streams he fished 80 years ago. Reckon I had some dues to pay.
Adam: My Mom was kind of a tomboy. She took me to Huntington Beach in the mid 60’s and I saw the beach and the ocean for the first time. I saw surfers riding waves. I have this distinct picture in my mind to this day; it looked like they were standing up on canoes. It was one of my earliest memories. My Mom gave me her skateboard to ride and that sent me off on a different direction. I followed a couple of paths in my life. There was the town path and a country path. The town path was well worn from riding my bike and skateboard. They both went together so well and the country path was fishing. Fishing was adventures away from blacktop and sidewalk.
In other Interviews I have written about my experiences growing up and I don’t want to get into it with you, but I do want to know.
I’m pretty sure you have other things you have done that are on par with tenkara.
“You know about my Redline bikes, can you tell us about your other interest?”
Mike Willis: I do have a number of other interests…football, bicycles, photography, God, nature, and cars come to mind. I dig music and film of all kinds. I am interested in old stuff. I majored in history. I like to understand things. I’m interested in spending time with my Susan, with my kids and family, and with friends. I am interested in making the world a better place.
I appreciate the notion of the town and country paths. I’d add to it the organized and unorganized paths which can be found in both the manufactured world and in nature. I very much enjoy following each type.
From a very young age, I have loved football. I love to watch it and to play it. I love the team part of it, I love the one-on-one battles that occur every down, and I love the fact that anyone can play it…anyone can be the hero. Baseball and basketball, especially once you get into adolescence, take certain natural skills. In football, anyone can make THE crucial tackle, THE key block, or THE decisive throw, run, or catch that wins the game. I played for my high school, and had lots of fun. There is nothing like running into someone else at full speed in pads. My fondest memories, however, are of playing pickup games. In the street, in the park, where-freakin’-ever, I was always down to play. I love the football itself. I love the way it does what it wants. Only recently did I stop carrying one in my trunk (wait, I might have a nerf in the jeep). My body and football are not friends anymore. I still watch, of course, and I do the fantasy thing, but that is about it.
The first time I rode a bike was just like landing a fish; I wanted to do it again and again and again. I am not necessarily great at any one thing, but I have a hard time hiding my joy when I find something fun to do. Riding a bike is fun. BMX became a huge part of my life in the early eighties; almost flunked out of 9th grade because of it. Besides the riding and learning to fix my own stuff, I loved the culture and the comradery. I raced, rode ramps and street, and tried to do ground tricks, but I was a squid for the most part. I crashed a lot, but I had fun. As I got into my late teens, I got better at it, but was never really very good on a 20′ bike.
Around 1990 I got a mountain bike. I’d sworn years before that I would never get one, but a dude I knew had one he needed to sell, so I bought it for $100. The frame was junk, but it rode ok. I upgraded the frame and forks to a Cannondale and got up into the hills. I raced a little, both cross country and downhill, but like BMX, mostly rode for the fun of it. I wasn’t a squid, but I still crashed a lot.
In general, I love bicycles. I have done stints as both a bike messenger and a bike mechanic. I pay attention to the different tours and Xgame events. The progression intrigues me. Unfortunately, I don’t ride in the mountains at all anymore (it turns out that all that crashing is not good for you), and I miss it. I miss the group trips. I especially miss the sensations of climbing until I met the bear and of maching into a turn with both wheels breaking loose, yet saving it.
Sometimes you have to stop doing some of then things you love in order to pursue the rest of the things you love. It is like Inspector Callahan said, “A man has got to know his limitation.”
You wrote in your last interview, “When the words are down on paper they start becoming old and are immediately in the past. You no longer have control over them so it is important for me to get it right.” Photography is to me very similar and very dear. I was given a camera in 1976. It sits on the shelf next to me. It is a 110. In Jr. High, I learned to process and print black and white. Today, I take pleasure in both shooting and editing photos. The camera, like the pen, is the bridge between the country and town paths, as well as the structured and amorphous. As with almost everything I am interested in, I am drawn to both the controlled and uncontrolled aspects that are in play each and every time I press a shutter switch or create a print.
Tenkara seems to fit wonderfully into line with many, if not all of my interests. It offers diversity and structure. Fish in the city love it just as much as fish in the wilds. I can choose to fish it alone or with friends. I can do the one fly thang with a traditional kebari or nymph it till the cows come home. It fits in with my photography, and has reenergized my creative spirit.
I keep some of my other interests to myself; however, it doesn’t take much to coax them out…
Adam: I have found that the most interesting people have more than one passion. I know my passions have changed…
Fly tying for example. I got into it prior to tenkara and then sold all my feathers and thread. I just didn’t need it. I could tie all the patterns that I used but it just wasn’t important. I still have some of those original Elk Hair Caddis and they are pretty sharp if I may say so myself but I just didn’t feel like I had to tie up my own flys anymore. It was much more important for me to spend my free time maintaining the site.
Tenkara has changed that.
Now things for me are very different. I do not tie as many different patterns but it is much more important for me to have my own in my box. In addition to tying up my own, I really enjoy having a few of my friend’s patterns in there as well. I’m not sure why. The best way that I can explain it is that I enjoy the skill. A couple of months ago, Jeff Smith posted some images of a purple thread body Para Adams that I thought was cool. I forgot what transpired but the next thing I know, there is a little cup of those flys in my mailbox and they were made on barbless hooks that I really liked.
I was having a great day of fishing and I spied the purple flys in my box and plucked one out and tied it on with confidence. I ended up catching the largest trout of the day switching from nymphing to dry fly fishing with that gaudy purple thread body Adam’s.
It made me happy to show Jeff the picture and the story. It was cool to share the stoke.
I’ve seen pictures of you guys drinking whiskey and tying up kebari. Can you tell me about your kraft?
“Tell us about your fly tying.”
Mike Willis: Never mind…next question…
In all seriousness, is there anything like hooking a fish on your own creation? It is a magnificent feeling. That said, there is no “kraft” to my tying. I tie to fill the need. I have a nice vice, the proper tools, and materials, but I am just not that into it. I think it is a pain thing. I get too knotted up; too intense. Once a month or so, I will sit down and knock out a couple dozen, but I’m not artisan. When we get together, the other guys tie circles around me. They are all very, very good. I still might be able to out drink them though.
To keep my box full, I sometimes barter with Jeff. That dude ties flies that fish want to eat. I will also buy from TUSA. The four kebari that Daniel offers work…period.
Adam: My tying is minimalistic at best. I do not tie intricate patterns. I look through the old Japanese books and tie up a few patterns and use them now and then but my fishing can best be described as my fly selection is minimal, even more so than when I used only five patterns when fishing my zero weight.
In the winter, I use a bead head caddis nymph on an indicator. When the weather warms, I will start using dries (Parachute Adam’s and Elk Hair Caddis) because I like the splashy rises. Most of the time I use a Takayama Sakasa Kebari or an Oki kebari and a Ishigaki kebari. That’s about it. I will use a Fuji sensei pattern or one of Soseki Yamamoto’s now and then, mostly because the fishing is so good and I am bored.
“What flys do you tie and why?”
Mike Willis: I started out with the one fly kits Chris sells and pretty much stick to the basic CDC and Elk, and ugly versions of Sakasa Kebari. As I am sure is true for many reading this, I find that both the caddis and the reverse hackle flies to be infinitely adaptable. Last Monday I was fishing an Ishigaki I tied (black body with bright yellow and black hackle), and the fish were loving it every which way I presented it. Dead drift, on the surface, pulsed, skated…it just does the job. The caddis is the same. I like to tie the bully’s bluegill spider, too.
Adam: I’ve done a season of “one fly” literally one single pattern in one size. I did it early on and I caught just as many fish as I ever have. It taught me confidence and how to handle the rod. I did this my third season. During that season, I changed rods many times. It was one of the best tenkara seasons that I had. I fished purely level line during that time.
“Have you ever limited yourself to one fly? What do you think of it?”
Mike Willis: Not yet, but I think it is neat. I respect the idea and admire the discipline it seems to take. I certainly appreciate the attention to presentation. The problem for me taking it on personally is three fold. First off, I am a creature of habit, and my habit is variety. I am not saying I couldn’t be a one fly guy, but I do not know if I’d ever want to be one. Secondly, I also like trying something new when the fishing is good. Third, a spazz like myself loses lots of flies. I lost like six last Monday. In the last year, I probably fished 50 days. Doing the math, I reckon I’d go through more flies than I could comfortably tie.
Adam: I’m totally off it now. I minimized or simplified my fly fishing before I knew about tenkara. So the minimal patterns I use are just an extension of the way I looked at fly fishing and transitioned that to my tenkara.
That simple approach goes towards my fishing in general. My streams are small. I can comfortably fish all day in flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt. I don’t use a vest, I use a small bag and if I am hiking more than a few miles, I will carry a light pack with lunch and a rain jacket.
I’ve seen pictures of some of your trips. Your water is bigger, not sure how far you are hiking and with how many people.
“Can you describe one of your fishing adventures, what you use and what the day involves?”
Mike Willis: A trip to my favorite stream is straight forward. I like to get to the water early. If I leave my place at 6:00 a.m., I can easily have a fly in the water by eight. I try to keep my gear ready to go. I take a small rubber bin with wading boots, a towel, and either waders or neoprene booties. There was a time I used keen sandals, but I have found the boots offer the ankle protection my style of wading demands. I bring a small duffle to leave in the car that holds extra tackle, dry cloths, snacks, etc. If I went tomorrow, I’d wet wade and wear a pair of Columbia convertible pants. I switched to long pants early last season. I was coming home to with my legs torn up and realized that I am just too agro for shorts. Long sleeve fishing shirt, a buff, and maybe some sun gloves round out the ensemble. I’d carry my Zimmerbuilt/TUSA pack (I made it into a slingpack with some paracord) I would also carry a small day park. I have been using a camelback M.U.L.E. (san the bladder) to carry rods and other essentials (sun and bug spray, first aid, fire starters, etc.) into the wild. I recently bought a Vedavoo Spinner and shall be retiring the M.U.L.E. at some point. I carry a folding knife and cheater reading glasses, too. I also keep the sawyer squeeze system in my pack…and I always bring a boonie hat.
I have a nice Simms vest (that Trevor gave me), and wear it when I know it is going to be a deep wade. This brings me to a point about myself that I can share. I do not mind hand-me-downs. In fact, I relish them. I feel the same way about buying used gear. Yes, there are some things that must be purchased new, but slightly worn is just fine, too. Take those Columbia pants I mentioned above. I have four pairs, but I think I’ve spent a total of $30 for all of them combined; found them at goodwill and the like.
Anywho, once at the stream, I might hike, or just drop in and fish. Variety again. If friends have joined me, we will fish together as well as leap frog one another. We do this throughout the day. Our crew understands each other pretty well and we all seem to enjoy both watching each other fish a hole as much as we do trekking a bit ahead. I always seem to be the person to cross the stream. Just my thing, I guess.
Often, there is a lunch break, but not always. More than once, we have powered through without a break at all. I do not know if it the same for others, but I sometimes forget to stop and hydrate. This was especially true when in first got up into the hills. I was way too gung-ho. The whole experience was just so awesome and I wanted it all right away and all day. I have since learned to slow down. A couple really hard falls helped. Even mores, my friends have helped me to see that, after one fish, the rest is gravy. I still get pretty intense till I catch that one fish.
I have also had to learn when it is time to stop and head back to the truck. The gents will tell you of outings where each one would have left me if I hadn’t been the one who drove. “Just ten more cast.” I have said it more than once. It reminds me of my mom urging me to get out of the pool and I would say, “Ok, just one more dive,” then I’d dive in and swim as slow as humanly possible to the ladder.
The average day trip begins to wind down between three and four in the afternoon. A couple of the guys live in the greater Sacramento area, but the others are spread out. Subsequently, one of usually has a long drive ahead. Even on solo days, I knock off no later than 5:00 p.m. when the lighting in the canyons starts to get a little spooky.
Adam: I really enjoy fishing with others but, as I’ve said, our streams are so small. Any more than two anglers and you are putting a lot of the water down and you are so spread out. I’ve fished big water with a few friends and it’s just a blast.
I enjoy the companionship in the outdoors. I also enjoy overnighting by backpacking, sitting around the fire, being immersed in nature. Because tenkara is Japanese (but is now becoming American and worldwide) I like studying the Japanese fishing culture. I like collecting good books and having them translated by bits and pieces from friends and acquaintances. There is a lot about tenkara that I enjoy that does not involve the fishing.
“Is there anything about tenkara that isn’t fishing that catches your interest?”
Mike Willis: I like this question. There are, indeed, many aspects of my tenkara that does not involve fishing. I enjoy fellowship of talking shop and learning what others use on the water. I dig the DIY and the new creations folks share.
Creativity springs for unlikely places. Since starting tenkara, I’ve taken more pictures than I had in many years. I’ve also started a small art collection dedicated to trout and the paces they live. I, too, collect books related to fish and fishing: though, my selection of book related to angling in the tenkara style is limited at best.
Good things sometimes have bad sides to them, and the tenkara community is not immune to strife. Sometimes the acrimony, the bitchiness, and the trolling get to me. What ever happened to, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?” I experienced similar conflicts and attitudes in mountain biking. Isn’t it strange how these things creep into a community? For some, it was all about what you rode, where you rode, and who you rode with. Suspended vs. singlespeed vs. freeride vs. cross country…as long as you weren’t a flippin’ roadie (haha)…who the heck cared! I just wanted to get rad.
That said, I have met and interacted with scores of tenkara fishers, and the vast majority are “treat others as you want to be treated” types who share my passion. I am particularly interested in fostering this aspect of our community.
I am above all interested in the advancement of angling in the tenkara style. I am a fanatic. It has become a part of me, and I am devoted to promoting it.
To this end, the work that you, Daniel, Chris Stewart, Jason Klass, Tom Davis, and the gents at Discover Tenkara do motivates me to learn and share. Anthony Naples, Jason Sparks, David Southall, and Kevin Fricke, among many others, inspire me to create. The crew I fish with encourage my growth as an angler and as a friend, and all of the guides, companies, and folks who fish and share tenkara just stoke me the freakin’ heck out.
Adam: I live in Phoenix, Arizona, a huge desert valley metropolitan city of more than four million. It is one hundred miles across and I am nearly at city center. I have two fishing zones, one is about an hour and a half to the north and the other is two and four hours to the east. The north zone is sparse with streams and can be tough as the water is near roads and easy to get to. Hikers, swimmers and sit and fish types, you have to go early and in the off season to be free from harassment.
The other zone is to the east. The nearest is the Mogollon Rim, an uplifted ridge of forested mountain that has streams emanating from both sides. Clear spring and seep type streams that drain the watershed. Brook, Brown and Rainbow trout live in these streams from 4” to 20”+. The streams originate at around 7,000’ and drain towards the desert lowlands on each side of the slope of land. The 4 hour zone is around Sunrise Ski area on Baldy Mountain which is nearly 12,000’ Brook, brown, Apache, cutbow and Rainbow hybrids live in this area. Most of the streams are still small and meander through the meadows that they drain. Trout in these streams can be caught to around 10,000’
Our streams of Arizona are diverse as they are beautiful. Arizona is not all desert like the city I live in. Our Ponderosa forest is the largest in the world. The mean elevation of our state is 4,000’+, high enough where trout streams are cool enough to sustain healthy populations of naturally reproducing trout.
“Mike, I’m not exactly sure where you live but I know mountains are nearby, tell us about the streams in your area.”
Mike Willis: I have seen some of your pictures and read a few of your accounts of your fishing haunts. I would like to fish there someday.
Until the water runs out, northern California has world-class tenkara water. In the past year, I have caught trout on 20 different named creeks, streams, and rivers. The closest of these is Putah Creek. Long rods with short lines are the ticket on Creedence’s Green River. It is a really fun place to fish, but like Jeff said in his interview, it is tightline nymphing tiny flies, and it is not easy. The water is cold and it can take hundreds of cast over the same run to hook up.
Putah flows out of the coastal range that lies west of the greater Sacramento metropolitan area. Heading east out of town are the Sierra Nevada foothills. The fishing there is pretty ok, but the rivers are of often wider and have lost some of their playfulness. Further up the slope, the gradient increases, as does the tenakarableness. Searching the internets, you see blue lines all over. My favorites are boulder rich and lined with pines. The meandering meadow brooks are a close second. The east slope of Sierra is high desert and the rivers are lined with aspen and willows. To the north, there a several waters that I have yet to fish. Some of them are legendary steelhead and salmon water, but also hold ancient strains of trout. I am hoping to explore that area soonly.
Adam: You and I have spoken a little bit about the Interview process. Now you have seen how it works. I’m positive that you have some sort of question that you want to ask me so I’m going to take this opportunity for you to ask.
“Please feel free to ask me any questions that you may have about anything. Tenkara-Fisher, the book, my area or anything you like.”
Mike Willis: Yes, I do very much enjoy your interviews. I appreciate the format and the flow. It is easy for the reader to think that the interviews are transcriptions of conversations.
“Who or what inspired you in regards to your interviewing style?”
Adam: The thing is, I started making web sites on small stream fly fishing way before the Internet was popular, like in the mid 90’s. I’ve made sites much like this one on Kiting (I’m a pioneer kite boarder) and slalom skateboard racing and some other interests. I’ve been doing these Interviews before the Internet in paper newsletter type of publications. So, this came from writing letters, doing the Interview in one whack and then sending it off.
Let me think, if I had to say one thing about an influence, it would have to be Skateboarder Magazine, the Interviews in there and the section “Who’s Hot” would have to be the earliest influence.
But to truthfully answer, it’s my deal and I’ve been at it for a long time, probably nearing forty Interviews or so now.
Mike Willis: The forum is neat-o, as well. I remember finding it and feeling that I had entered the next level. I emailed my request to join, and while I waited, someone alluded to it being a kinda exclusive club. Once invited in, I began to understand a little about what they meant. Tenkara-fisher.com (like smallstreams.com) requests that its members be active on the forum and in the community at large.
“Who or what inspired you in regards to the way you create and manage your endeavors on the internets?”
Adam: The thing that promotes me to make a web site is my desire to get better at what ever it is that I am making the web site about. It helps me to share what I know and learn from others. I want nothing more than to promote a community and actually be a part of it, not the leader, just to be able to be a part of it is what I want.
Knowledge inspires me, I want to know more.
Mike Willis: The Web scene has changed in a short amount of time. Social media is like a fast food drive-thru.
“Has social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) changed your readership and participation?
Adam: Yes, Facebook has augmented my understanding of the Japanese although it is one dimensional. I believe my Japanese to English friends is about 5 to 1. There are some days that my Facebook feed, I can’t read one word, it’s all Japanese and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Since I have been to Japan, I have learned about Japanese culture and I have brought it into my own life with the way that I look at religion, politics and living life.
Yes, social media has changed my web site and more importantly, my own way of seeing other cultures and people.
One thing to note, if anyone is reading, “I never judge someone by what they write or how they present themselves online.” I get an idea about a person, sure, the people that know it all, the people that brag, these are traits of people that have a character fault but it does not sit higher than an actual meeting with someone.
I enjoy social media because I am a pen pal from a long time ago.
I enjoy writing letters. It started when I was in the Army.
Social media is a great way to learn, education and entertainment.
Mike Willis: I both love it and hate it. Some said that the Internet would replace books, but that didn’t happen. I believe blogs and forums are here to stay.
Speaking of books, you have recently begun to share that you are writing one. I have always been fascinated with the idea of being published.
“Can you tell us a little more about what inspired you to take your craft in this direction, and, more importantly, how is the process going?”
Adam: I touched on it above. I joined the Army and ended up in a lot of places in the three short years I spent away from my home in Arizona. I missed my friends and family so I started writing letters. I took it a bit further and would craft scenes by cutting out colored construction paper like uhh, a surfer getting tubed or a hang glider pilot. Most of the cool stuff went to my girlfriends.
I like writing because you can take simple words and create ideas. You can use a keyboard and create something in the mind of the recipient.
It’s about creativity.
The stuff that I do, I’ve lived 5 lifetimes, done incredible things that people only wish they could do so I feel very fortunate. I like sharing my experiences with other people that have similar interests. I usually end up circling with the best people, literally the best in their craft. Snowsurfing, skateboard racing, hang gliding, fly fishing…
How is the process going?
I’m enjoying it so I am successful.
I’m currently working on the Tenkara-Fisher book. I’ve always wanted to write a book on tenkara but chose not to do it until I felt that I knew enough about tenkara that I could write with authority. I can honestly say that I feel like I have a good idea of what it is. I’ve studied it, I practice it and many of the people that are living ambassadors to the past and present will be included in the book.
Really, we are all part of the foundation of it moving outward from Japan.
Anyway, like anything, it is a process and it is going well.
Mike Willis: Thanks for being so forthcoming with the details. Before this becomes a circle jerk, I just want to say that I am really looking forward to what you put together, and I know many others are, too.
Adam: Developing my own “tenkara style” has been paramount to my interest in it. I’ve seen that there are all kinds of people fishing all kinds of rods, lines and flys, Japan and America. My observation starting from the old Japanese books on it through the current time, western fly fishing has definitely influenced fly and line choices. Other forms of Japanese fishing such as bait and Ayu fishing have also aided the technological advances of tenkara equipment. Ayu fishing in Japan is huge, that popularity drives technology and that trickles down to tenkara…
I seem to like two types of tapers, a soft tip rod transitioning into a progressively stiffer mid to butt section. I also like a fuller flexing rod for light level lines. I enjoy Yuzo Sebata’s multi-strand lines for my stiffer rods and the Daniel’s rod for long light level line presentation.
I’m firmly in the level line camp but I do everything I can to pull myself to the multi-strand line and the stiffer rods that I like to cast them. It’s just what I enjoy.
“Please tell us what you like in tenkara, your equipment, the way you look at it.”
Mike Willis: I am not yet to a place where I am able to speak of tenkara in the terms you and many of your readers do. At the brass tackian level, I am a tenkara Neanderthal. Stick good. Line good. Fly good.
Both fate and choice have played equal parts in the fact that the majority of my rods are from Tenkara USA. The warranty and customer service are impeccable.
A bull in a china shop like myself need both.
I have fished and caught fish with a variety of other rods, and I am beginning to understand the lure of these Japanese tools. Tenkara as it is practiced in Japan is still new to me. I sometimes feel like a 2nd or 3rd generation American tenkara fisher who knows only what the previous generation shares with me. There is so much more I want to find out. In many ways, my tenkara timeline only goes back to Daniel’s “discovery” trip; however, with your help, and the help of my friends and others, I am sure my tenkara future will be filled with the tenkara past.
Where I am today is, again, pretty basic. My tenkara is slowly evolving. Over the past two years, I have learned a thing or two and beyond shedding all the crap I carried in my old fishing vest (and the vest). In addition, I have that I must take more than one rod with me to the stream. I am tough on gear. It is not a manufactures’ thing, it is a Mike Willis thing. To date, I have damaged or broken sections of rods on at least six occasions. I try to be careful, honestly, but I’m not. Sometimes “finding out the hard way” is the best way to find things out.
If I was going to head to my favorite stream in the morning, I’d pack three or four rods…a main rod, a back up, and one I think has been neglected and needs to feel the tug. For me, simple does not always mean less equipment. In this case, it means less hassle and aggravation. With this in mind, I have collected an assortment of rods. Spending on the destination, I carry the Sato or the Rhodo as the main rod in my quiver. The versatility both offer goes perfectly with my angling style. I often add a Yamame as my main backup, but my taste the bend profile has mellowed over time. I recently received an Ebisu and I really dig it. I resurrected an original Ayu and enjoy fishing it as well. The Amago is great for Putah, and the Ito makes bigger water seem small.
Linewise, I use level. I also have used Cortland braded mono running line quite extensively. It is great for stillwater/warmwater and tightline applications, but can be hard to keep off the water. Tippet wise, I use 5x mono.
My tenkara might seem crude to some, but hopefully my joy in it is undeniable.
Adam: Mike, I really appreciate your participation here. I like sharing content with you on social media. You are upbeat and not afraid to show what you like.
As with all of the Interviews that I do, I would like to offer you a chance to say anything that you would like to say, anything at all.
Mike Willis: Thank you for inviting me to do this, Adam, I am both humbled and stoked to have been chosen for an interview. Above all, it was really fun to complete.
To the rest of the tenkara fishers out there, thank you for reading. Many of y’all have helped me along on this journey, and continue to do so. Thank you! Many of you have inspired me creatively as well, and I thank you. I am honored to be a part of this growing community.
Tenkara has amplified my life. It truly is, “from heaven,” and I thank God for it. It has led me back into the wild and has renewed my spirit. It has blessed me with new friends, and much, much more. I sincerely hope and pray it does the same thing for everyone out there. If not, let me know if there is anything I can do to help out.
This interview was originally published on June 14th, 2015