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5 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Tenkara Experience

Article by Dennis Vander Houwen

I am often talking about “taking things away to simplify and improve my tenkara experience.” We all know the advantage of tenkara angling is that everything is simpler. No bulky vests and no multiple spools of varying tippets, no giant selection of flies in different sizes and keep it simple right? But in this article, I want to suggest that there are some very nice things you can “add” to improve your experience and some of those things aren’t really “things” at all.

Typically, we load up our gear, jump in the car, head for a blue line, and start casting. Fishing this way can become a habit and eventually leads to a disconnected and mediocre experience. It becomes a game of trying to get as much fishing in as we can so that we can feel the “drug of the tug.” Our experience becomes about catching as many fish as we can, and that impulse causes us to rush and make decisions that are not the kind of mindful and intentional fishing that we should be striving for. We may spend a couple of hours, or we may spend all day doing this and then we get back into our car and drive home. We may measure it as a good or bad day based on our success or failure to catch fish.

On the surface our escapades can be encapsulated in the term “going fishing.” But is that really all we are doing? Aren’t we really attempting to connect with nature, clear our heads, and take a break from the so called “real world”?  Who says our “going fishing” needs to be reduced to the trivial or stereotypical? We should take this activity we do with more reverence and embrace the experience with more than just the rote exercise of casting and catching fish. Our time fishing is more diverse and more rewarding than that and we should give it the attention it deserves.

We have a choice in how we want to relate to our time. Are we just doing things or are we living and engaging those things we do with intent, value and a reverence that goes beyond just doing the action of fishing?  What if I told you your experience could be even more enjoyable and have a richer and more engaged experience?

I have found a simple list of 5 things you can do to improve your outings and make them more than just “going fishing.” Many of these additions to your experience don’t require much in added gear, if any,  but I do recommend putting a plan in place long before you go so that you do have everything you need for a more rewarding tenkara experience. This list is just a few of many things you can do to give your practice of tenkara fishing more purpose and depth. It is a place to start. You can try one or more of the suggestions and decide which is the most rewarding and interesting to you or discover your own chosen activity that enriches your experience.

1. Take a Journal / Sketchbook / Camera

Taking a few minutes either at the midway or at the end of your day of fishing you can take a few minutes to write down your thoughts, reflections, details about your catch and location notes, or literally anything that you are interested in writing about or keeping track of.  Journaling is a great way to cement and keep your memories deeply to your mind. You might also find enjoyment in filling a sketch book with your doodling of the landscapes, pinecones, and other still-life around you, or you may want to start taking an occasional picture of something other than the fish you are catching.

Dennis Vander Houwen - 5 Things Improve Tenkara Experience - Journal

2. Take an Intentional Break for Coffee, Tea, Sake, or a Snack

You may already be doing this but calling it “lunch.”  But taking a lunch is not what I am talking about.  I am suggesting a very well-planned break. Think of it a ritual part of your fishing experience. Make a special small meal or snack, bring a small coffee or tea making set up.  A small alcohol stove and a backpacker’s water pot doesn’t take up a lot of space. Too much to pack and deal with? Just bring a thermos along and plan on taking that “civilized” break. Imagine yourself as a modern version of  an old school, Japanese mountain fisherman and pour yourself a sake.  Whatever it is, make it special for you. This break is a quiet time that becomes a pleasant pause in your fishing. The point is really to make this small break a special thing you do. It is as much a part of going fishing as the fishing itself.

Dennis Vander Houwen - 5 Things Improve Tenkara Experience - Meal

3. Meditate or Just Sit Still for a Bit

There is a lot to be gained by stopping all activity of fishing for a while and to just sit quietly. If you practice a form of meditation or not, just sitting and being quiet and listening to the water, your breath, and the wilderness can really be a great moment of appreciation and gratitude for the day. I find that these breaks also help to slow me down and become more focused in my casting and presentation when I return to fishing. Meditation is just a physical exercise in doing nothing and being present to the moment you are in. Sitting quietly, we can watch what thoughts come up, we can watch those thoughts come and go as we breath in through our nose and out through our mouths.

Dennis Vander Houwen - 5 Things Improve Tenkara Experience - Meditate

4. Forage and Gather Sticks

Our rivers and streams are part of a larger ecosystem. Taking a moment to explore beyond the stream may turn up some very interesting things.  I have taken to foraging along trails and have collected edible plants such as rosehips, dandelions, burdock, purslane, raspberries, and juniper berries. There are likely books specifically written for your specific area that tell you what plants and berries can be found in your area. I know that my own goal is to learn to hunt and identify edible mushrooms this next year. Foraging doesn’t have to be for food though. It can be for small stones, interesting, water washed, river driftwood, etc.

Dennis Vander Houwen - 5 Things Improve Tenkara Experience - Forage

5. Pick up Trash for 15-20 Minutes

I am regularly disgusted by the amount of trash I come across on some of the water that I fish. Some of it comes out of cars that drive along the road running next to the water and others is left by the lowest breed of anglers and river abusers. Trash is a real problem.  Bottles, cans, bait cups, fishing line, candy bar wrappers and cigarette butts, are too often scattered along the banks of our streams and of course this ends up in the stream eventually.  I am recommitting myself this year to spending 15-20 minutes to collect what trash I can. This is good stewardship with the land, water, and wildlife. Take a small plastic trash bag with you and fill it up. Collect all the garbage you can at the end of your day. If we all do this it can make a big difference. Be a warrior for the waterways.  

I leave you to think about how you have been fishing and how you could be fishing in the future. Consider what would be an activity that would break up your day of fishing a little and give you time to reflect, slow down and process being in your own skin. I promise that taking up this little practice of making your fishing experience about more than just the hunt and the catch that you will become a better and more thoughtful angler. I invite you to give it a try and if we meet on the stream we can sit together for a moment, share a sandwich, and a cup of tea. See you there.

Dennis Vander Houwen is an early adopter of tenkara, he lives and fishes all over Colorado.  For more information on living simply or approaching a richer life with fewer things check out his blog, Tenkara Path, where you can also support his tenkara lifestyle by purchasing one of his amazing, handmade tenkara line spool, fly keepers.

To read additional articles from the Tenkara Angler 2020-21 Winter Showcase, click HERE.

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  1. Very thoughtful and appreciated. I always stop midday and take the time to have something nice to eat, relax, and appreciate where I am.
    When I resume fishing I find I’m refocused and often a bit more successful than I was in the morning.
    Thank you for writing this.

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