Article by John Vetterli
If you happen to be new to tenkara, sooner or later you will run into the phrase “The ten colors of tenkara”. It basically means that if you ask ten tenkara anglers what tenkara is, you will get ten different answers.
This simple concept has been the root of at least two “Tenkara Wars” here in the United States.
The tenkara wars were a series of extremely heated online/social media arguments between tenkara anglers who want to pursue the “pure tenkara” and those anglers who want to explore fixed line fly fishing for a wider variety of fish species other than trout found in high mountain streams.
So, here’s my question for all of you.
Is there really a wrong way to fish tenkara?
I think that before you answer that question, we need to discuss some definitions and terminology to help organize and develop a common language around tenkara as it is done outside of Japan and in particular here in the USA.
This is how I define a couple of things:
TENKARA: A system of fixed line fly fishing using a telescopic fishing rod made of either bamboo or synthetic fibers designed to cast a light line using a single or multiple set of artificial flies targeting trout/char in high gradient mountain streams. This style of tenkara closely follows the modern Japanese tenkara methods and philosophies.
FIXED LINE FLY FISHING: A system of fixed line fly fishing that can utilize telescopic fishing rod made of either bamboo or synthetic fibers that can be designed for fixed line mountain stream bait fishing, tenkara fly fishing as described above, and utilized for fly casting with either a single fly or multiple set of flies on a single line.
Water types and conditions can vary widely from mountain streams, large rivers, warm water ecosystems, lakes, and ponds. A wide variety of fish species may be targeted to include micro fishing, carp, trout, steelhead, bass, panfish, or salt water marine fish.
With all that on the table, there are two completely different types of fixed line fly fishing being done here in the USA. In Japan, there are dozens of specific fixed line fishing systems that are clearly defined and differentiated with specific rods and terminal tackle for each specific discipline of fixed line fishing.
Here in the United States, “tenkara” has become a generic term used for every type of fixed line fly fishing. In the beginning of tenkara here in the USA, we as a community of tenkara anglers dropped the ball and lumped everything together under one word. Now tenkara is akin to Kleenex. Kleenex is a brand of facial tissue and yet everyone refers to all facial tissue as Kleenex. Tenkara is any type of fishing using a telescopic fixed line rod.
Now, back to my original question, is there a wrong way to fish tenkara?
I don’t think there is, but that is just my opinion.
I do think it is important for us as a community of anglers to more clearly define if we are actually doing tenkara or fixed line fly fishing. One is not higher than the other. In my eyes they are equal yet individual.
How we further define the sport is becoming more important as the sport continues to grow. Clear definitions really help newcomers to our beloved sport and eliminate a lot of stupid arguments that drive people away from wanting to join in or even leave it behind altogether and search for some other outdoor pursuit with less drama.
I bounce back and forth from tenkara as practiced in Japan and fixed line fly fishing all the time. I don’t feel one is a superior art compared to the other, some days I want to catch big ass carp, some days I want to work on refining my mountain stream fishing techniques, and other days, euronymphing is what works best so I’ll switch my line rig to suit that.
As long as you are getting out there and enjoying your fishing however you choose to do it is the right way.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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