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

You Say Tenkara I Say Kleenex

The ever-attentive Mr. Klass of Tenkara Talk fame offered an interesting Twitter observation:Screen Shot 2013-02-01 at 5.56.57 PM

For those just tuning in, there has been a bit of a culture war within the tenkara ranks for a while. Apparently it stems from what is and what is not tenkara. The discussion has taken a variety of forms from rods to flies, to lines. It raised its ugly head again apparently (although I missed why).

Personally I think it is a bunch of hooey. Tenkara isn’t trademarked, and the translation in Japanese isn’t even precise. At this point, Tenkara is like Kleenex. How many of us say “bathroom tissue?” You almost feel compelled to lock your jaw and extend your pinky if you do…

So to squabble over what is and is not tenkara seems pointless unless there is some other game afoot. Probably not an unfounded suspicion truth be told.  It reminds me of the old guard of fly-fishing who didn’t want women fishing and looked down their collective noses if you didn’t just fish a dry fly upstream. Their goal was to exclude others. Is that what you want? In any event, it is unseemly and looks silly to folks just discovering tenkara.

Jason is correct tenkara is fixed line fly-fishing. Just like using a cane pole, bobber and a worm is fixed line fishing. The obvious difference is one uses a fly and the other does not. That is all you need to say when that subject comes up.

If what I do is not what you call tenkara, so be it. Call it fixed line fly-fishing if it makes you happy. It is still fly-fishing and it is still fun and to me that is the whole point of being out there.


  1. Anthony Naples says:

    I have gone back and forth on this myself – but currently I think we
    ought to respect the useage as commonly accepted by those that
    popularized sport tenkara in Japan. Tenkara, is used to describe a
    specific activity done in a specific way. It is well known
    that there are variations within that standard, but tenkara is still
    fairly uniform in practice from what I have been told by Japanese
    anglers and by others more knowledgeable. Let me put a couple of
    examples forward: For example if I say “dry fly fishing” you know what I
    mean. You may not do it exactly the same way, but you understand that
    there are limits to the definition. If i put on a nymph and then say
    that I’m dry fly fishing, you’ll rightly say that I am not. I can still
    call it dry fly fishing but it does not make it dry fly fishing. Or if I
    go out to the bluegill pond and with my 2-wt rod casting poppers and
    say that I’m “spey fishing” you know that I certainly am not. Or if I
    put on a stimulator dry-fly and go “Czech-nymphing” you’ll call me on
    that too. If we can accept other standard terminology in fly fishing as
    having a specific meaning linked to a specific set of techniques and
    tactics, then why not tenkara? That’s how I see useage of thee term
    “tenkara”. It personally think it ought to remain fairly specific for
    the sake of clarity. The VERY IMPORTANT point that I think has to go
    hand in hand though, is the idea that there is no value judgement or
    hirearchy of worth. “Fixed-line fly fishing” techniques which are
    outside of the Japanese meaning of “tenkara” are not less valueable or
    less fun, or less anything. They are just something else.

  2. I really value your comments and the chance to have the

    What you are saying is right and don’t disagree with your
    point. What bothers me is those implied value judgments and the negative
    impressions that attend them. My post was meant as a cautionary one. This part
    of fly-fishing is too new in the US to start creating the impression for
    those who are just discovering it that there is some kind of dogma that must be
    adhered to or you will be considered somewhat inferior. As the new entrants
    gain appreciation for tenkara they will learn the language and the culture.
    Specific terms for clarity are important but I just think it is too early for
    some people to start harshing folks over it.

  3. I’m not sure that this is my current view – I think I’ve moved past worrying about it – happily

  4. Tom Sadler says:

    Right on! Too many other things to worry about then what labels we apply to our fishing endeavors…

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