I started tenkara seven years ago.
I was motivated by the decline of the striped bass fishery and I wanted to try something different but not traditional fly fishing.
What a wonderful way to fish. The first couple years I bought a ton of rods, a ton of lines, a ton of flies, then a fly vice. I fished everywhere. Fresh and saltwater. For every species at one time or another.
After those first couple years I came to the conclusion that using fixed line is fun but really has the most efficiency in fishing for trout in the small high gradient streams where the techniques were founded.
Over the years as an angler I have gravitated to a more refined/limited toolset. Less is more. Tenkara really nurtures that philosophy. Finding utility in less.
The irony of my journey is that I bought about a dozen rods, some are held in high regard including tb40, an oni, and a nissin royal stage, yet I continue to reach for the two rods I started with. The tusa rhodo and the sato. Those rods are just workhorses and as unrefined as they are… I have learned to just prefer them.
This season I peaked by fishing literally one fly, one rod, and one line. The same rig for the whole season so far, and can say that I have caught enough fish to be plenty content. This was not intentional but more as a by product of how I have become lazy and dont care about fussing with stuff in my fishing as I once did. I find my outings to have become more zen and focused. The only decisions I make are about where and how I want to present the fly. I have become a perfect simpleton.
A couple weeks ago, I hooked the biggest trout I have ever seen. It makes that 24" class beast brown I caught years ago look like a mini. This was a 28-30" class rainbow that must have gone wild in a stocked river. I suspect it must have been feeding on the stocked fish. It had a beautiful form and deep,deep, color. I could not believe my eyes as it is a fish one could not even imagine in our dreams. It was beautiful. Although I did not land it, I had a joyful laugh when we parted ways.
Thank you Tenkara.
Wonderful post and a great description of the power/beauty of the tenkara approach to fishing. Minimalist, focused, effective…zen.
What a great post.
It really hits me because today I decided to “go light” – I still carried a lot of junk, but took my TUSA Rhodo and fished just over an hour without changing flies. I still caught ~7 fish, in exactly the way I find most delightful (small water, simple peacock herl and dun hackle jun/classic wet fly). I often find it hard to restrain myself from changing everything all the time, but I even fished the rod at two lengths today (same line) and practiced that.
I can’t say that I’m ashamed, but I have a lot of rods. Luckily, the expansion has slowed to a crawl since I’ve learned what I like. The whole TUSA lineup is full of workhorses, fairly versatile workhorses especially when I think of the Sato and the Rhodo.
I still fish a rod and reel sometimes, but even with that, I prefer a mono-rig/euro step which is such a natural way to nymph fish if you have done significant nymph fishing with tenkara. Going back and forth reinforces what I like and don’t like, and these days I’ll almost always pick a fixed-line setup unless there are very technical reasons I think I shouldn’t (and I always have T rods with me).
It seems that many will come to the same conclusions you have at some point, though most of us need to discover that for ourselves even if others preach it. I’m pretty nerdy and like technical tinkering, but just like in my work in electronics – the more you know, the more you tend to favor the simplest way of solving problems… fishing isn’t that different for me. The main difference is that as a pure hobby, “deliberately silly” can be introduced (mostly when it comes to fly patterns or presentation) and can be quite a bit of fun.
Again, great post, and perfectly timed with the conclusion of my brief outing today.
Great write up on your experiences. Playing with gear does seem to become the activity instead of actually fishing at times. I think I’m starting to feel overburdened by gear as well. I’m curious what one fly you are using. I’ve found it difficult to stick with one fly as sometimes the fish are just dialed into certain things. But sometimes it’s not the pattern but rather the size. Do you vary the size of your one fly?
I have also enjoyed my tenkara experience. I really enjoy the extremely light approach, I have learned quite a bit about fishing from Japan
I also enjoy surf fishing out on the Outer Banks with bait and 1 ounce weights, Spring Creek and Small Creek Fly Fishing and Micro Fishing.
So I guess it’s all good.
.Herl over gold body with light dry hackle, futsu style…size 12.
There are times that it does not produce, but it forces me to be creative which sometimes will result in convert fish. In the past I have found that sometimes changing size or color can make a difference, but I would say that switch may be a coin flip in terms of odds, sometimes less. Often it is something about the presentation that draws the strike so sticking with the same fly can make sense. This fly is high contrast and broken into sections visually. I think this helps it to appear as smaller individual parts, as well as a whole. At least that is what i think increases its effectiveness.
Last year I discovered a couple of streams that are closer to home. The Rhodo has been the perfect rod because they are not very wide and overhead canopy can be an issue. What’s funny is the Rhodo had never been on my radar because the streams that I had been fishing were more open and my 12’ and 13’ rods saw a lot of use. I often think where I’d be had I not received the Rhodo in the Mystery box that I bought from TUSA during the pandemic.
I’m still not a one fly guy. But I do fish more traditional Japanese tenkara flies than I use. I think if I had to fish with one fly it would be a PT Soft Hackle. I love fishing with that fly.
The first fly I tie on is always a pheasant tail reverse hackle… it’s usually the fly I’m still fishing at the end of the day.
I take care when tying them with a eye towards durability (a scant drop of thinned head cement here and there at certain steps) because I’d rather just enjoy fishing and where I am rather than tying on new flies.
Same fly for me, with a peacock herl or olive ice dubbing thorax. They just work! I occasionally use reinforcement i.e. a half hitch, fine copper wire ribbing, head cement (usually glitter fingernail polish ) but I often try to put my fly into tight spots and get snagged, and then there’s the trees… , so my flies seldom get torn up enough by fish that I need to change for that.