Tenkara and Native Fish – It’s Cut and Dry

Essay by Bob Mallard

As a society, we are notably more ecologically literate and caring than we have been in the past. The average American understands the impacts of our actions on the environment far better than prior generations. We understand that our ecosystems are a complex set of interacting parts, and when we add or take away pieces, the impacts can be significant and broad ranging.

Today we are dealing with what is arguably the biggest threat to our environment in human history, climate change. Great white sharks, once rare in my home state of Maine are now common. Naturally hybridized polar bear/grizzly bear crosses have been documented for the first time, the result of range overlap caused by a warming world. Wildfires, droughts, and floods are now daily events.

Trout anglers were once the best stewards of the resource in the sporting community, a claim I no longer believe we can defend. While other user groups have changed as the situation, science, and what we know changes, we trout anglers are stuck in a conflicted 50-year-old conservation model, and a flawed 150-year-old resource management model.

No group of sportsmen is more accepting of nonnative species, and reliant on stocking and other forms of husbandry than the trout angler. As a group, we encourage, enable, or fail to challenge the proliferation of hybrids, triploids, pigment deprived, and other unnatural forms of fish. And we recreate in some of the most heavily altered habitats such as tailwaters and reservoirs.

While we decry climate change, water drawdowns, mining, aquaculture and other threats to our fishing, we defend naturalized nonnative fish, and in some cases stocking. When we do challenge the status quo, it’s usually defending wild nonnative trout as better than stocked trout. Some even go as far as to defend nonnatives over natives because the former get bigger or fight better.

Recent podcasts involving Tom Rosenbauer (Orvis), Kirk Deeter (TU), Matt Supinski (Hallowed Waters), and yours truly showed just how far apart some of us in the fly fishing community are in regard to nonnative and native trout. Deeter challenged native grayling restoration in Michigan, while defending nonnative browns, and both he and Supinski challenged the fact that brown trout are invasive.

Historically, the spin and bait community has been notably missing from the native/nonnative debate. And when they do chime in, they are as likely as not to defend nonnatives, hybrids, triploids, stocking, etc., based on what I see on the online chat rooms and bragging boards. Warmwater anglers have been relatively silent as well.

Small streams are the most native centric waters we have left. They are the last stronghold for wild native trout in most states, and in many cases the only coldwater ecosystems that have escaped stocking. Tenkara is the most small stream centric form of fishing. Therefore, it is fair to assume that tenkara is the most native centric form of fishing.

As a relatively new movement in the United States, the tenkara community is not burdened by decades old philosophies or a huge and difficult to sway demographic. Like the burgeoning native fish movement, you have the luxury of defining the rules as you go, and based on today’s science, ethics, and environmental consciousness, not an ecologically flawed model that has been in place for decades.

The tenkara community has an opportunity to take a leading role regarding the promotion, conservation, and preservation of wild native fish. You have the opportunity to help bring the sportsman/conservationist model in line with todays science and revive the trout angler’s position as the best steward of the resource in the sporting community. I hope folks agree…

Tenkara and Native Fish - It’s Cut and Dry - Bob Mallard
Photo: Emily Bastian

Bob Mallard has fly fished for forty years. He is a former fly shop owner and Registered Maine Fishing Guide. Bob is a blogger, writer, author, fly designer and native fish advocate and founding member and Executive Director for Native Fish Coalition. He is the Publisher and Northeast Regional Editor for Fly Fish America magazine. Look for his books Squaretail50 Best Places Fly Fishing the Northeast, and 25 Best Towns Fly Fishing for Trout. He can be reached at or

This article originally appeared in the 2022-23 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Do you have a story to tell? A photo to share? A fly recipe that’s too good to keep secret? If you would like to contribute content to Tenkara Angler, click HERE for more details.

Let's Discuss in the Comments:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: