Interview with Bill Holleran
There are many easily recognizable names in our small niche of tenkara. Depending on how you entered the sport, Daniel Galhardo, Dr. Hisao Ishigaki, Chris “TenkaraBum” Stewart, Masami Sakakibara, the Tenkara Guides, and even Yvon Chouinard may immediately come to mind. One that doesn’t is Bill Holleran, the founder of Red Brook Tenkara, a small but growing tenkara rod and accessory supplier based out of New England.
In this profile, I’ll help you all get to know a little bit more about Bill & Red Brook Tenkara in a “quick hit” format.
Mike Agneta: Hey Bill, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Where did you grow up and where do you live today?
Bill Holleran: I grew up in Somerville, Massachusetts, a very densely populated city next to Cambridge. I lived in a 3-family house, referred to locally as a triple decker. Today I live in a suburb south of Boston.
MA: At what age did you get start fishing? How did that evolve over the years?
BH: I used to spend a lot of time in New Hampshire at my aunt and uncle’s cottage. That’s where I learned about pond fishing for bass and horn pout (catfish). As I got older, I used to strap a spinning rod to my BMX and pedal to a pond in Arlington, Massachusetts and fish for bass and carp. I got more into sports and didn’t fish for a long time. I reconnected with my father as an adult and we started fishing together at the famous Walden pond. Then on a trip to Pittsburg, New Hampshire with my wife I discovered fly fishing. Soon after I found tenkara online and the rest is history.
MA: What are some of your hobbies/pursuits outside of fishing?
BH: I love classic British motorcycles like Triumphs, BSA’s and Nortons. If I’m not fishing, I’m probably riding my café styled Bonneville. My wife and I also have three small dogs that we spend a lot of time with outdoors. Two of them are rescues from down south and they’re Italian greyhound/chihuahua mixes. The third one is an Italian Greyhound we got in Maine.
MA: How/when did you discover tenkara? What about it is appealing to you?
BH: I think it was around 2011 while looking online for fly fishing information. I have a background in engineering and the simplicity of it all made perfect sense. Western fly fishing can be a little intimidating for someone starting out. Tenkara just makes sense. As Americans we tend to obsess over “stuff” and buy tons of gear. Of course, I did buy too many tenkara rods. I love tenkara because it’s fly fishing in its purest form.
MA: Do you have a favorite species to fish for and/or region of the country to fish in? Do you have a “dream” fishing destination?
BH: I love to fish for native brook trout and “salters” (sea run brook trout). A salter is a brook trout born in fresh water that travels to the salt water to forage and returns to the fresh to spawn. My favorite region to fish is the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I like to look at hiking trail maps and explore thin blue lines in the mountains looking for native brook trout. Brook trout are by far the most beautifully colored fish.
There is a place in Quebec that I just learned about where you have to take a float plane to get to and the trout are huge!
MA: Do you have a particular tenkara “style” – are there particular flies you prefer using and why?
BH: I still prefer to use furled lines over level lines but I’m not afraid to switch it up. Lately I’ve been using a lot of euro nymphs. I’m going to tie up a bunch of Lance Egan Rainbow Warrior nymphs for this season.
MA: What made you decide to start a tenkara business, and why?
BH: I bought my first tenkara rod and got a little frustrated when the local shops had very little tenkara gear and even less knowledge. This led to my obsession with learning as much as I could. I still consider myself a student trying to master a craft. After teaching some friends they convinced me to take the next step. Since then I’ve been trying to spread the word about tenkara, mostly around New England.
MA: Tell me something about your products, particularly the RBT One. What do value/benefits to you think it provides your prospective customers?
BH: I believe the RBT One is a good do everything well rod. It’s a great value and we support our customers as much as we can because I remember how intimidating it was trying to learn how to fly fish on my own. In New England, we have a “yankee” reputation of being frugal and we’re trying to attract two types of customers. The first one already has a closet full of fly-fishing gear that they spent thousands of dollars on. The second has little to no fishing experience and were trying to get them to try it.
MA: Are there any future plans for your company that you’d like to share?
BH: We’ve been working on some ideas with a local craftsman in Vermont. I don’t want to say too much but I think the end result will be a custom rod that is a work of art. At some point we will offer a smaller rod for those really tight brooks and streams. I would like to do some local guiding as well. We’ve done demonstrations on the water and I really love teaching new anglers and seeing them catch a fish on a tenkara rod for the first time.
MA: Are people able to see your products anywhere in person? Retail, fishing shows, etc?
BH: Our gear is currently available at the North Country Angler in North Conway, New Hampshire. Nate Hill of Hill Country Guides uses our gear as well. We try to make as many shows in the area as we can.
MA: Do you support any conservation-based initiatives?
BH: At the end of my tenkara presentations I always promote three groups, the Sea Run Brook Trout Coalition, Native Fish Coalition, and Trout Unlimited. Our company name comes from Red Brook, which is a beautiful but delicate brook that is home to salters. This brook is the way it is today because of hundreds of volunteers from TU and SRBTC who restored it. Studies done by these volunteers in association with Massachusetts Wildlife are a model for other restorations across the country.
MA: Do you have any advice for the new/novice tenkara angler?
BH: Yes, don’t take it too seriously. Don’t get hung up on rules, just find what works for you. You’re out there to have fun and get away from the daily grind.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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