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
Adam: I had an old 71 that I just loved. That thing was my aircraft carrier (hang glider) surf attack vehicle and den of inequity. So many stories in that old van, woken up to a machine gun pointed at me in Mexico, out in the middle of the desert without brakes, speeding along ten thousand feet above it in my hang glider while my wife drove on the freeway and I was pulling ahead! I raced above my van while my wife drove it on the freeway below me!
I loved that van.
“Can you tell us some stories or why you like them?”
T.J.: Makes me think of a gift my wife purchased for me many Christmases ago. License plate frame that says “Don’t Honk! I’m pedaling as fast as I can”. 😉
I would have to say the biggest adventure or story I have is when I purchased a different 1967 Westy years ago from a guy in Colorado. Flew out there to pick it up to then drive it home all the way to California. The bus was not up to what they told me over the phone, or maybe he did not really know any better. But I purchased it anyway. Brakes were as hard as bricks, one wheel cylinder was leaking brake fluid, and there was so much oil blow-by in the engine bay that every 50 miles I had to get out and wipe the whole engine compartment off of oil and topping up the oil. Had to keep adding brake fluid too. Did this all the way from Colorado to California during the hottest 100+ degree days during a 4th of July weekend. And fireworks I did see ! I made it home but not without breakdowns and big delays. The pulley that the fan belt wraps around literally exploded right as I drove through Salt Lake City! Stranded me for the whole weekend until I could get it fixed come Monday. Was rather comical breakdown too. With the weather so hot, I had tied a water soaked bandanna around my forehead trying to keep cool in this toaster breadbox of a bus. I had some Bob Marley playing on the radio when I looked out the rear-view mirror and see smoke billowing out the engine bay. Out jumps this fat little bearded man with a bandanna from this bus stumbling to the engine bay with his fire extinguisher. I must have looked mighty funny to the Utah residents watching all this unfold. That day Utah tried to take me but I bucked up and was able to get the pulley replaced on Monday. That weekend was wasted staying at a Holiday Inn Express. Add to that when I arrived in California it was one of the worst fire seasons seen in a long time and the air was filled of smoke. So not only was I hot, I could not breath, and felt I was on the cusp of hell. I later sold that bus and no longer like Bob Marley. Twice Bob has brought bad juju on me. LOL
As for why I like VWs… all about the simple. Simple design to me is the most beautiful thing in the world… Simple lines… Simple to work on…. Must be why I love tenkara so much!
Adam: I used mine for plenty of camping and fishing adventures. I’ve lived out of mine for a couple of weeks.
“What’s the longest you have stayed in yours?”
T.J.: 2 weeks here also. My wife and I do not take big expensive vacations. Our vacations are taking 2 weeks off and traveling in a VW Camper and enjoying nature. We mostly go to the redwood coast in Northern California for 2 weeks of camping, eating, relaxing, and fishing.
Adam: I really enjoyed your story in the first issue of Tenkara (the magazine) and I want you to know that here. It is an honor to share print with you in the pages of that inaugural and unique magazine.
“Have you ever been published before?”
T.J.: Not that I recall or remember. I believe that article in the Tenkara Magazine was my 1st in printed media like magazine or book.
Adam: Pretty cool. T.J. I always enjoy knowing the story of how a person learned to fish. It usually involves family and early times of childhood on favorite waters.
“Can you tell us the story of how you started fishing? Who taught you?”
T.J.: Fishing was something most start as kids and no different for me. My two brothers fished so wanting to be like them, I did the same. In those days it was not uncommon for 3 kids on cool bikes with kick-butt sissy-bars riding down the road in the wee hours of the morn’n with either shotguns strapped to their arms or holding one handle bar with one hand while carrying our fishing rod in the other. We were either fishing or hunting. This all took place in Livermore, California where I basically grew up after moving there in 1971 from Rhode Island. So I would say my two brothers showed me how to fish and hunt. No fly-fishing for us though. It was all spin reels and zebco setups.
Although…. my 1st memories of fishing were a stick with fishing line tied to the end with actual flies I had killed and stuck in a jar. They were a bit crunchy by the time I used them. But… I guess I was destined to be a tenkara fisherman since I really did start with a stick, string, and a fly. LOL. I just did not know this for about 40 years.
Adam: Fly-fishing has been with me since I was a young child. I remember some of my earliest drawings where of flys for Salmon. I remember drawing them in second or third grade. That is my earliest memories of fly-fishing. Just after that, I was taken on my first fly fishing trip where I was taught to hold on to the fly line in my grip hand and just cast a little fly line and leader, very much like tenkara on a small stream. No shooting line, like dapping. I know I know, tenkara is not dapping but when you are a kid and you are dapping, it’s like tenkara…
Where was I going with this, oh.
“Who taught you tenkara? How long have you been at it?”
T.J.: I have kind of an interesting story on how I found out about tenkara and eventually it becoming my life’s passion. In 2008 I started exploring fly-fishing. It had been basically 30+ years and late 1970s since I last fished since high school started for me in 1980 and girls and fast cars became more important for me. So around 2008 I had this bug to learn fly-fishing. I attended a Fly Fishing Federation Event near by and went to Cabela’s too and was able to cast a fly rod. This whole fly-fishing had me interested so I started to look into gear. Then in 2009 I purchased all sorts of gear…. a nice Redington series with all the fix’ns. Cost me an arm and a leg. Then in late 2009 I stumbled across an ad for Tenkara USA and was immediately smitten. My face went flush when I saw the ad and I immediately knew I just wasted about $800 for western fly-fishing gear I would never use. I had never cast this rod yet and decided to sell this new gear all for about ½ what I paid and invested my pennies back towards an Iwana set.
Then for all of 2010 and part of 2011 I posted on Tenkara USA forum my bitching & moaning on how much I wished I could fish more but my IT company I owned meant I was on call 24/7 and I could never fish.
So one day Daniel emails me in 2011 telling me he was heading to Japan for a super long trip and wondered if I could do the customer services for Tenkara USA while he was away. I think he knew I was a good fit as I was always on the job 24/7 so probably thought to himself, that man needs to work for me. LOL. My wife had recently been out of work so I agreed and figured we would both do it. Well that never happened as my wife found new work and I did it all plus running my own company.
Two months passed and Daniel was back. Somehow I never stopped performing customer services for Tenkara USA and Daniel never asked me to leave, so I ended up becoming the face of Tenkara USA customer service. (btw…. glad we added a 2nd face to our customer service team not long afterwards as tenkara was about to go kaboom in the USA. Even though John Geer and I look alike, we are indeed two different people… hehehe)
Then in 2012 I decided to leave the IT world (too stressful being on call 24/7 and never able to fish) to become the Director of Customer Service for Tenkara USA. I think Daniel and I both saw good fits and the rest is history. Wife thought I was crazy closing down a perfectly good company to become a Tenkara fisherman. I like being crazy!
As for who taught me tenkara, I would have to say the original 2009 Tenkara USA DVD & videos on Tenkara USA website is what I started with and how I started to learn basic tenkara. After watching the DVD and reading all the posts on the Tenkara USA forum, I went for it.
Who can forget the original video that Tenkara USA did? It gives me goosebumps!
I purchased all my gear in Spring of 2010 and then went for it. I caught some bluegill in a local pond and I was hooked. I then attended the 2010 Dr. Ishigaki Tenkara Event in San Francisco and learned even more there. Met Daniel for the 1st time at the event too. Then as the years have went on and I eventually became a Tenkara USA employee, Daniel has showed me much more where I have now fine tuned my Tenkara and I have really taken up the traditional methods that Daniel was taught and brought back with him from Japan.
I also like to say I have learned fishing from just about everyone. Everyone is my teacher. From beginners to masters alike. I watch, learn, and listen. I think everyone has something to say and I like to grasp little nuggets from each and every person I meet. It has made me the Tenkara fisherman I am today.
Adam: I loved my first tenkara rod, the Ebisu but I didn’t love it so much that I hung on to it. I’ve bought and used and sold a lot of rods. I’ve sold some that I regretted selling but I don’t look at a tenkara rod as an irreplaceable thing. The skill that you learned on a particular rod is important and I am grateful for having the experiences with so many rods however, I don’t think it is necessary to become a good tenkara fisher.
I think you could do it with a small quiver of two or three rods from the very beginning and your whole life, you could become very skilled at tenkara with that small quiver. I don’t think you need a bunch of rods to become good. I think if anything, it may slow you down learning the nuances of each new rod…
“What do you think about this T.J.? Do you have or have gone through a bunch of rods? Do you have that addiction like others do to buying the latest and greatest?”
T.J.: Well, I am in a unique place. I provide support for a very full line of great rods from Tenkara USA and feel it necessary to have used all of them so I can get good sense what they do, can’t do, etc… So I own every Tenkara USA rod other than the Hane. There are a few oddballs in there I don’t own like an Iwana 5:5 for example but the core product I own and have used all.
That being said…. one does not need to own all the rods. I can easily see me getting by with 1 or maybe two rods. The Rhodo and Sato make an awesome One-Two punch. Both rods do really well at what they were designed for and I would say 75% of the time I use the Sato, 20% the Rhodo, and 5% the Ito. The Ito is the ultimate in long casting and the Rhodo is super stealthy in small tight creeks I enjoy fishing.
But I enjoy all my rods to some degree and every so often take one out I have not fished for a while to rekindle some memories with it.
Of course new rods come onto the market and I am sure I will continue to add to my collection.
But if you were to corner me and allow just one rod to use, the Sato is hands-down my favorite rod. I had a stellar 2014 and caught so many trout, big and small, on the Sato. The Sato makes me smile!
Adam: Tenkara is an escape for me. It’s a world where I get to be who I want to be. It’s not an escape from being a husband or a father; it’s an escape from the stress of city life. Its simplicity allows me to spend quiet moments in the forest without really thinking but my moments are quite focused. For me, it’s about being in the woods and the stream is the reason.
I call it the zone.
I’m not alone in this; I’ve heard many people talk about it. A lot of the time, I am getting up at 3a and driving four hours or so to my favorite streams. I get out of the car; I stretch, look at the water and assemble my equipment. The next thing I know, I’m miles from the car digging around in my pack looking for my sandwich and dunking my spirits into the stream to cool off.
Eating my shore lunch, I start thinking back of the different sections, how the stream has changed. I start thinking of the season and how it is progressing, I lay my poncho liner down and I take a nap…
When I wake up, I realize that I have to get back to the car before dark and I start to move, fishing the favorite areas on the way back.
Time is no longer relevant; it just isn’t a part of my understanding how it works. I know I have to get back but I am unaware of it’s passing. Back at the car I know I have to get home, I’m going to be tired driving through the Salt River Canyon with it’s switchbacks and hairpin turns. I can feel the pressing sensation of gravity pulling me against the seatbelt and I resist by leaning to the inside of the turn. I’m thinking again of a section of the stream that I caught so many fish, I can see the oxbow of the stream just like the hairpin of the turn, and I’m lost drifting back and forth from driving to fishing.
At home my stuff is put up and I’m showering, going out to eat with my wife and back home I turn on the MacBook and I’m back again reliving the day in my photographs.
Fishing is the fabric; time being the thread that holds it all together. I’m always wearing a comfortable shirt and clothes made of my fishing and I’m able to recall those times easily but it is that slipping of time that makes fishing so special.
“Do you ever get in the zone T.J.? The place where you are dreaming about tenkara and you are in the dream doing it? Do you have any stories about it?”
T.J.: Must admit I think about tenkara 99% of the day. I am infatuated with every aspect of it. From me thinking about my own fishing trips to thinking if a new customer just getting their first kit is having a good time. I enjoy seeing others fish and experience tenkara and there are days I enjoy that more than me actually fishing.
An example…. I went fishing with my NorCal buds this summer multiple times. We all ended up with double digits of trout caught but my engine started to idle after I caught my 1st one. You see… I don’t need fish after fish to be happy. I like to just be out their fishing. So I had already caught a buttload of trout and I was basically done for the day, just poking around if some patch of water struck me. All the while my buds were still hard at it, getting every cast in they could before it got dark. I started watching them fish and enjoyed seeing what they did, how they did it, and the smiles on their faces when they caught yet another wiggly trout. Remember… everyone is my teacher. This is how I expand my own knowledge of Tenkara.
One of my buds saw I was not fishing and wondered if something was wrong. I said, on the contrary, I am just in the zone, and part of my fishing day includes me watching others and cheering them on. Nothing is cooler than seeing a friend catch a trout and then yelling down to them, with a big scream of support and happiness for them.
One time John Geer and I watched Brian Fleming (Tenkara Fly Tying DVD) and Daniel going after a trout in a nice big pool in Colorado. It was snowing out… John and I sat on this ledge… watching and screaming down to the two of them when we saw strikes but no takes. It was rather cool experience cheering them on from above.
So my zone is all encompassing whether it be me in the zone, losing track of time, watching others fish, talking over whisky and fly tying with buds, to chatting with Tenkara USA customers.
It is my life…. It is who I am.
Adam: Although I would like for fishing in the zone to be the only mystical and magical zonetime I’ve had, it isn’t. But fishing in the zone is fantastic. You can’t make it happen, you can put yourself in a situation over and over waiting for it to happen but you can’t make it happen… That being said, I’ve been in the zone with my hang glider many times where I was up in the air for just a few minutes and it ends up being a couple of hours cruising around in the clouds and having fun. Being in the zone is about being focused and practicing what you been practicing for.
Speaking of practicing, do you strictly practice catch and release?
Something makes me feel like you have done some kotsuzake. You are now the third person that I know that does it.
“Can you tell us about it?”
T.J.: Funny thing is…. for almost 5 years now being into tenkara, I have been a Catch & Release fisherman. Actually, once it was Catch, Hug, & Release. My buds in NorCal will know all too well about my hugging trout fetish. .
Up until this year I had never purposely taken the life of a trout I had caught. Every single one was released back into the water in hopes it could be caught again another day.
But… I had been itching for the day I would take my 1st trout, and some inner voice told me 2014 would be that year.
That morning I knew I was going to do the deed. I posted about it in a blog post on the Tenkara USA site. For the full skinny, check out this link.
The quick version, my face went red and flush with emotions when I did the deed of taking the brook trout’s life. I soon got over it when enjoying the taste of fresh fried brookie at home. I performed my 1st kotsuzake and was fun. I do look forward to the day though I get to do kotsuzake with my fellow Tenkara USA partners in crime, Daniel & John. That will be special!
Adam: I learned it from Daniel but I investigated it on my own and have come up with much much more about it from Japanese friends. A lot of things I learn this way. Daniel has introduced me to a lot of things that I did not know about but I went on to investigate on my own and I give back by disseminating what I learned.
In my Interview with Dave Hughes, I learned a little bit about Daniel from my questions to him. His story about his meeting with Daniel is very interesting.
“Do you have any stories about Daniel that you would like to share? Now be careful TJ, he might be reading this…”
T.J.: Ummmm… there was this time in Utah that Daniel and I were soaking in a hot tub telling fish stories and he…. ummmm…..
Ok there was this time in Colorado that John, Daniel and I were fishing this awesome secret place and all of a sudden….. ummmm…. errrr..
No comment. LOL
Actually…. kind of a funny little one… at least from what I experienced.
So the Tenkara Summit 2014 was held in Colorado. Ever heard of Colorado Brownies? So Daniel ate…. ummm…. better not go there. 😉
Adam: You know I appreciate your candor. You are one of the people that I have come to know through what you write, your pictures, and the things you are interested in. I know I want to visit you guys in the Northern California Tenkara Anglers (FB) group.
“Have you met anyone online that you really ended up liking and carrying on a real friendship?”
T.J.: Oh I have met so many cool people. If I had to single out a few, it would have to be my NorCal boys. A group of us have become good friends and during 2014 we have all fished together on a number of occasions. Many of these guys offer their time too during the California Fly Fishing Shows. So cool of these guys to help Tenkara USA present at these shows and by doing that, we have become good friends.
So good in fact we all fished together during trout opening the last week of April and at season closing, most of us got together for a Tie Until You Die & Whiskey Event at my home in November. We had a blast tying flies, telling stories, drinking whiskey, and pigging out. Was super fun and I highly recommend doing these kinds of events with friends. Makes Tenkara that much more fun.
So a big shout out to Mike Willis, Trevor Tsegelke, David Ethier, and Jeff Smith. This is the core group of guys I have enjoyed being with in 2014.
Of course since Tenkara USA is a multi-office company, I have also made good friends with my co-workers whom I don’t see all year. We see much of each other 1st quarter of every new year doing all the trade shows, and then a few other events during the year. I basically consider these guys family now. Daniel, John, and Faith are a pleasure to work with and play Tenkara. Could not ask for a better work life.
Adam: I meet my wife online. We are married ten years now and we have a child together. Some of my favorite people in the world besides family, I’ve meet because of a web site I’ve made or something. The Internet is really super cool that way.
“Do you have any cool Internet stories of meeting someone or something that you have done?”
T.J.: None come to mind for meeting someone. Of course though I have met many new people through tenkara that I would have never net. Facebook is a great way to meet like-minded folks. Also a bad way to meet non-like-minded folks too. But over-all I have met many new faces via the Internet and thankful for that.
As for something I have done, and it being started via the Internet… I would say couple hobbies I am into I have been able to research and learn much via the Internet.
I am into old air-cooled VWs, Retro Computers, and Tenkara. Those are my main 3 passions. I have made friends and learned much via the net for all my hobbies and created a virtual life with some, as they say. I have a room full of Atari and Amiga systems and a shop full of VW doo-dads.
I prefer meeting face-to-face though but without the forums and Facebooks of the world, I would say I would not have learned as much or met so many without it.
I really enjoy Facebook. On it all the time. Since I work at a remote office and not seeing fellow co-workers all the time, helps me keep linked to their everyday lives that I would miss out on if it were not for this platform and virtual arena.
Adam: Very cool T.J. Can you tell us a little bit about your Tenkara? What rod you like, what type of kebari, your favorite water?
“What are your favorite things in Tenkara?”
T.J.: Well I have been doing tenkara almost 5 years now. Starting learning about it in 2009 and buying my 1st gear in early 2010. I have learned much in the last few years for sure.
I am very traditional in my approach and a one-fly guy. I tie my own one fly, the Salt & Pepper Sakasa Kebari, with very little variation to it other than hook size. Sometimes I will add a red hot spot at the butt but that is about it. Still consider it a one-fly as I seldom add the spot of red these days.
Really been a “one-style-fly” since getting into tenkara. I pretty much only use Sakasa Kebari but since some Utah friends (drug dealers really) sent me some beaded flies, I had to use them to be nice. That is what I tell myself. Hehehe. I see a place where weighted flies are needed but I tend to die off in winter myself and take a break from being super fisherman so don’t mind leaving the bottom dwellers alone in winter. As I need a break… so do they… is the way I look at it.
But I enjoy the aspect of one-fly and hopefully it has helped me be a better traditional tenkara fisher, at least how the traditions have been passed onto me.
My rod of choice these days is Sato and Rhodo and use of my one fly. My favorite water is a mountain stream of any flavor and mountain meadows where you have to really be sneaky to catch trout.
I really enjoy the whole aspect of simple and that is what tenkara is for me. I keep it simple…. simple flies… and don’t get into over-thinking things.
But I will always be a student and learn as I go from those around me. Even the trout are my teacher and some can school me often. Good to get schooled as you come back again to maybe teach that trout a thing or two the next time.
Adam: I think one of my favorite things is my box that Richard made me, I love that box, and it is really nice. I want you to know that I was inspired by yours, the look of it, I finally approached him and asked if he could make me one like I wanted and to my surprise, he nailed it right away. So it is you who have a little bit in the reason why I have that favorite part of my kit.
Ok, I’ve been wanting to ask you this. You seem to have a really good nature, happy, even jolly if I may say so (maybe it’s the beard…) but you have to have some sort of interesting customer service story. Don’t name names, nothing like that but…
“Do you have an interesting customer service story?”
T.J.: Cool about the Rick Setina box. I used mine this year on the water. Had been saving it and decided this year to get it all wet. Been a joy to use. He does really nice work!
Hmmmm…. customer service story…. none come immediately to mind but maybe the prank John Geer played on me. I thought he was a customer.
So I was really sick one day and I think it was right after one of the Fly Fishing Shows we just did. We all seem to get the traveling crud and colds brought back with us. So tired from the long flight and battling the cold, I was not feeling too great and John called acting as a customer and kinda aggressively said, “where the heck do I put the darned reel” or something to that affect. Said he had just purchased the tenkara rod and needed help. Being cold drug induced and all stuffed up, dizzy, ears not hearing well, I had to deliver anyway. So I started to explain what tenkara was and then John started laughing at me mid sentence and told me it was him. He started feeling really bad about what he just did to me but with a smirk I am sure. I told him I will get you back one day! I think I have but forget what I did back to him. We are roomies at trade shows so I knew I had plenty of opportunity to get him back.
Adam: I would like to go on with you about many different things but your boss tells me that my Interviews are too long for the Tenkara USA blog. Well this one isn’t going to be there, it’s going to be at Tenkara-Fisher so, let me ask you this.
“What do you like about Tenkara-Fisher? You are a member there and every once in a while you chime in. What do you like or don’t like about the place?”
You can say what you want, it won’t hurt my feelings, it is what it is and it’s about people, I just keep it going.
T.J.: Well Tenkara Fisher is a forum I do visit daily. I like to get different perspectives of what people say and do with tenkara so your site allows for that. Although I live mostly on Facebook and our own Tenkara USA Forum, I do venture out everyday.
I joined your site a very long time ago when I first started tenkara so has been with me a very long time as part of my tenkara learning. I remember learning some good things about small stream fishing at your site and appreciate that you offer this hangout for people like myself.
Adam: Again I want to apologize for this taking so long to get to you. I write these Interviews because so many people get a kick out of them. I really do too so thank you in advance.
T.J., I want to afford you the opportunity to say anything that you want. Tenkara-Fisher is truly an international gathering place for Tenkara Anglers. Your Interview is just as important as anyone else and I appreciate your time in answering the questions.
Thanks again and I hope to meet you one day soon.
T.J.: No need to apologize and glad you felt an interview about myself would be fun to do and felt others would enjoy to learn a little more about me.
It also took me a little while to get all these answers done so we both took a little longer than expected to get it all done. 😉
I want to thank you for interviewing me and I enjoyed spilling the beans with you. You are also someone I have basically met and become friends with because of tenkara and the Internet. Without the two our paths probably would never have crossed.
I do hope to meet you one day. Will be nice the day we do.
I also would like to say a big Hi to all my friends within the world of Tenkara. This includes customers, dealers, and anyone I have met along the way. I enjoy doing what I do and have become one of the small little Tenkara voices of this birth of tenkara outside of Japan. Hopefully some of my small contributions will stand the test of time.
This interview was originally published on December 26th, 2014