Middle River Dispatches is a gumbo of posts about fly-fishing, conservation, politics and days afield.

Exploring the simplicity of tenkara fly-fishing

New and interesting places to fish are not really hard to find. New and interesting ways to fish, especially fly-fish, on the other hand are somewhat hard to find.

A while back I read an article in Fly Rod and Reel magazine about Patagonia founder and CEO Yvon Chouinard. Chouinard was named angler of the year by the magazine and talked about his efforts to simplify his sports and life.

He mentioned that he had been given a tenkara rod. His description of the rod and the style of fishing intrigued me. That description and the notion of simplifying fly-fishing stuck with me. I was on the lookout for a tenkara rod and the “how to” of tenkara fishing.

Tenkara, a traditional Japanese method of fly-fishing, reduces fly-fishing to three basic elements, a rod, a line and a fly. It has been used for centuries in Japan’s high mountain streams to fish for Yamame trout.

The idea that such a rod and style of fishing might be applied to our own native brook trout in the mountain streams here in the Valley fascinated me.

One of Chouinard’s close friends is my good friend Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, Mont. I called Craig and asked if he had seen Chouinard fish with the tenkara rod.

“Oh yeah, we have been fishing O’Dell crick with them, it’s a blast,” said Mathews.

Tenkara rods range from 11 to 13 feet, weigh as little as two and a half ounces and collapse down to 20 inches. The line is very light and supple, doesn’t hold water and designed to balance with tenkara rods. These light lines, resembling furled leaders, make for very delicate and precise presentations with incredible drag free drifts.

I bought a rod made by Tenkara USA from Mathews. It is their Iwana model in the 5:5 action. Action in fly-fishing parlance means how stiff or flexible the rod is and how fast or slow the rod returns to the unflexed position. In the case of the rod I purchased, the 5:5 mean it is very flexible and slow.

Tenkara rods have evolved from bamboo to modern day graphite composites. These new rods are light and strong like today’s conventional fly-rods. Tenkara USA’s rods are telescopic, with all pieces fitting inside the handle, making then easy to transport, set up and take down. The tenkara fly-line is attached to the tip of the rod with a girth hitch.

Many people upon seeing a tenkara rod think it is just a fancy cane pole and you are just “dapping” the fly. Not true at all. All the casts you would make with a conventional fly-rod are used with a tenkara rod.

I have yet to try it in the mountains but did have a chance to try it out on Mossy Creek with my wife recently. We adjusted our normal casting techniques to the slower action of the tenkara rod. Very quickly we were making precise overhead casts and getting far longer drifts with a dry fly than we would normally get.

What struck us both was how easy it would be for someone just starting out or wanting to learn fly-fishing. Tenkara makes teaching the basics very easy, getting you on the water and fishing sooner. It allows the teacher and student to focus more on fishing.

Tenkara USA’s Web site, has a wealth of information. There you can find information on the origins and history of tenkara, video’s and diagrams of casting techniques.

Perhaps the notion of a simpler life with a focus on skill rather than gear sounds good to you. Check out tenkara, you just may find you like the simple life.

You can read more of my columns at the News Virginian.com.

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