Category: Bamboo rods

Simply Tenkara

Tenkara fishing

Tenkara fishing supposedly originated in Japan at least 200 years ago. While doing some research in preparation for a visit from some new friends from Japan who hope to experience some extreme Golden Dorado fly fishing, I came across this ancient fishing style which seems to really be catching on. A site I found in Japan states:

Since the feudal time, as record states, there have been 2 schools of Japanese traditional freshwater fly fishing. One is commonly known asdobu using group of nymph-like wet flies in a sinker rig. Another school is known as tenkara using single soft hackle fly to catch mountain creek trouts such as yamame and iwana. The former became artifacts for it was enjoyed by swordsman class, and the latter became craftwork of remote site fishermen .

According to Wikipedia, the first reference to tenkara fly-fishing (テンカラ, literally: “from heaven”, or “from the skies”) was in 1878 in a book called “Diary of climbing Mt. Tateyama” written by Ernest Mason Satow, an able linguist and British diplomat during the early modernization of Japan.

Tenkara rig

Traditional tenkara used bamboo hand rod, horse tail for taper line, and silk for tippet. Fly patterns were soft hackle which cover mostly beaneath the surface film. Modern tenkara use glassfiber or carbon hand rod in 3:7 reflex for taper line and 5:5 reflex for level line. Lines are now made out of fuloro carbon and fly patterns welcome western dry fly patterns as well.

Most common rig uses running line (tapered or level) between 3.9-7m and tie a 1m 4lb test leader. The length of running line is deterimined by the size of the stream, and in the deepest of small stream, leader is directly tied to the tip of the rod to execute dapping.

Wikipedia claims that tenkara is one of the most popular methods of angling among fresh-water fisherman in Japan.

On the TenkaraUSA website there is extensive  detail about the equipment and technique used in tenkara.

The reasons that Tenkara seems so attractive to many people and is apparently catching on in the US and other western locations, is firstly due to it’s simplicity. Fly fishing is notorious because of its barrier to entry for traditional anglers due to its relatively higher cost of equipment, even though rising costs of angling equipment have tended to level the playing field and thus we’ve seen more and more people get into fly fishing over recent years.

This leads me to the second reason why I believe tenkara is so attractive, and that is its shared essence with western fly fishing as a means for getting closure to “oneness” with nature and the object of our numerous hours spent on the water; the elusive aquatic scaled vertebrate in your local honey hole.

I had no doubt corporate America would outdone by a cheaper means of supplying us fishermen with a way to get our fix – I mean fly fishing has become a huge industry, let alone angling – so I started checking out some sources of gear. There are a number of suppliers out there and one you’ll probably run across pretty quickly is TenkaraUSA. (Great name… not so original, but to the point.) From what I could gather from visiting their site, the cost savings between tenkara and traditional fly fishing comes from the absence of a reel. All or most of the other elements still seem to be in place from the various line types (fly line, leader and tippet; no backing of course), flies (of course), to all the other complimentary equipment (waders, etc.) and some alternate equipment (special gloves vs. landing net).

So if you are already a fly fisherman the cost to entry into this apparent predecessor to your current hobby, is basically the cost of the specially designed telescoping rod for modern day tenkara. The cost is anywhere from around to $100.00 to $150.00, and I’m sure there are, or will be, more expensive versions out there.

telescoping rod

So basically I’ve become curious to find out whether or not the cost / benefit analysis will indicate whether or not tenkara really has a future in the west. I’m sure that with adequate marketing in the US you’ll see some growth in the practice of this sport there, and many will want to be the first kid on their block to show off their new toy (I will probably fall into that category). I’ll also be watching here in South America where, at least in my mind, the  true test of “stickiness” of this new trend will be whether or not locals pick up on tenkara.

Travel light

My conclusion at this point is that tenkara is simply more simple particularly for those of us who want to travel light and fish smaller, harder to reach steams, spending less time rigging lines and reels or switching reels or untangling backlash. I certainly don’t think tenkara will replace western style fly fishing. It certainly won’t for me. Part of the fun of fly fishing is its intricacy, technique, style and uniqueness.

For what it’s worth, I haven’t stopped angling since I started fly fishing, and I expect that if I try tenkara I might very well then have three different options to practice my favorite hobby.  I expect that many others will follow the same path.

Perhaps I can persuade my Japanese friends to bring a tankara rig with them when they visit so that the waters of Argentina can say “kon nichi wa” to tenkara. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

More reading and places to start your own investigation:

A Japanese Form of Fly Fishing Gains Fans in the U.S.New York Times article about Tenkara

Tenkara Fly Fishing blog

TenkaraUSA website

For some time now I’ve been planning an off-road trip with some friends to the Valle Hermoso region in the province of Mendoza, about 500 kilometers to the south of the province’ s capital city of the same name. Within the group of 4×4 enthusiasts, who call themselves “Inedito 4×4”, I am to be the only fly fisherman on the trip. [I’ll be posting my first of multiple entries on the trip soon, so keep an eye out for that.]

CMF Bamboo Fly Rod 7553

CMF Bamboo Fly Rod 7553

As part of the preparations, (and preparation is where the trip actually starts of course) I called up my good friend Claudio Fanchi and asked if he’d been able to repair a bamboo fly rod that I had given him. The tip of the rod was broken because I had over-weighted the #4 rod with a #7 line. (Yes, a rookie mistake perhaps, but I didn’t have a lighter line at the time and thought I could pull it off… lesson learned.)

When I called up Claudio he suggested we meet at our usual café in front of the Rosedal Park in Palermo, Café Martinez. We often meet there to talk about fly fishing, look at his new rod creations, and sometimes walk over to the park and try them out with a few casts.

Claudio had arrived early and already downed a cappuccino, but still ordered another along with mine. In no time at all we were both wide-eyed and jabbering about our shared addiction (fly fishing, not coffee — one addiction at a time). I explained my trip plans to him and he gave me a few local contacts in Mendoza to follow up with to check on fishing conditions and get other tips on the area in which I’d be traveling. [Claudio had heard of the Rio del Cobre and Rio Grande, but some of the other spots he wasn’t sure of. Later I got some great tips from Eduardo at Mendoza Fly Fishing aka Old Smuggler Fly Fishing.]

So finally, when I couldn’t wait any longer, and the caffeine had me bouncing in my chair, I asked about my fly rod. Claudio explained that he hadn’t had time to fix my rod but he offered me a trade. That’s when he produced a eye-catching #5 rod, 7.5 feet in length, and with a stripping that housed a beautiful rose colored agate. Also, unlike his previously crafted rods, this rod didn’t have a wood handle base [reel seat], but rather the toasted bamboo extended past the winding check  to become the reel seat, ending at the spacer/butt cap. The reel would be held in place with reel seat rings evoking silver bijouteri; and this time he remembered I like the water design!

All I could say was “wow… uh.. wow, Gracias!”

Fanchi bamboo rod 2009I have two CMF bamboo fly rods. The procurement of the first was how I came to know Claudio in the first place. I’d been doing some work, back then, with the US Embassy in Buenos Aires and since fishermen seem to find each other one way or another, a TSA agent friend named Joe showed me his recently acquired CMF rod. Like a Pavlovian dog I ogled over the sublime brilliance of the artistically crafted gem.

[Argentinians are very creative people, in many respects, and it shows in their capacity for artistic expression.]

I’m very much indebted to Claudio for his friendship and for his generosity. It’s not often that you meet people who are so naturally talented and at the same time are barely aware of it. Claudio is the kind of guy who lives life like it should be lived… or at least gives the impression that he’s just taking life as it comes. Maybe in his own mind he’s dealing with stress and suffers life just like all of us. But unlike many of us, he gives at least twice as much as he takes from life.

Jumping a week into the future, I found myself placing a Prince fly just above a visible drop-off 15 feet offshore with my new CMF7553 in the Laguna de Las Cargas. After catching three fish in 20 minutes, the adrenaline of the first-casts-of-the-tip and the unexpected luck with the Prince gave way to an EGO Time epiphany.  My surroundings;  the arid valley unknown to all but cattle, sheep and eco-trekkers, the clear blue skies juxtaposed with cathedral-like mountain peaks; all of this started to sink in and create a “moment”. A moment, that when I think back on, is more about a country, a passion for fly fishing and a friendship – all represented by a rod.

Thanks for the rod Claudio. It’s priceless.

%d bloggers like this: