The idea of organizing the second edition of the National Tenkara Gathering (NTG) arose immediately after the conclusion of last year’s inaugural event, held in Preore, Trento province. As Tenkara Italy, we had done an excellent job with a large turnout and a highly appreciated event.
It was clear to me from the start where to hold the next gathering: in Valsesia. Valsesia has a strong and longstanding connection with tenkara, a history that dates back ten years, when a Japanese guy living in Italy discovered that in an alpine valley, there existed a fishing technique similar to tenkara.
About Tenkara and Valsesiana
The aformentioned valley is none other than Valsesia, and the fishing technique used there is called Valsesiana. Ryuta Okano, the Japanese gentleman, embarked on a journey of research and study, which led him to introduce this technique to his tenkara Master in Japan. The Master then came to Italy, forming a deep friendship with the representatives of Valsesiana and establishing a pairing of mutual respect between the two techniques.
Tenkara Italy has always fostered ties with Valsesiana fishing, and the idea of organizing a gathering in Valsesia arose precisely with the aim of renewing this long-standing and deep friendship.
Planning the National Tenkara Gathering
In this spirit, everything began to take shape, and I identifed a couple of potential locations to hold the gathering. The final choice fell on the Torrente Mastallone, a fantastic stream that is extremely suitable for tenkara. On its banks, in the locality of Cravagliana, lies Il Piano delle Fate, a facility that can easily accommodate a good number of participants, providing both food and lodging.
The next step was to choose the dates, and it wasn’t an easy task. Naturally, Spring seemed like the ideal season for fishing, but the window between the end of winter and the thaw is only a few weeks long. I was torn between the first and second weekends of May when suddenly, some great news arrived…
On April 22nd and 23rd, the European Fly Fishing Fair (EWF) was to be held in Munich, Germany. It is one of the most important trade fairs in Europe dedicated to fly fishing. Gianluca Bonomi, an expert angler, AIGUPP fishing guide, and owner of a fishing store in the province of Bergamo, had reached an agreement with the fair organizers to set up a booth dedicated to tenkara within the EWF. Furthermore, tenkara would be presented as the tenth special exhibition of the event!
Gianluca, given the significance of the event decided to ask Tenkara Italy to participate, and most importantly to bring two prominent figures of tenkara to Europe: Luong Tam, the creator of Tenkara Tanuki rods, and the renowned Japanese tenkara Master, Masami Sakakibara.
Having Master Sakakibara in Europe so close to the timeframe I was planning for the National Tenkara Gathering was an opportunity too good to pass up. Therefore, together with Gianluca, we asked the Master if he would like to come to Italy after the EWF weekend to participate in the NTG. Master Sakakibara was delighted with the invitation. It was important for him to reunite with his friends from Valsesia, Arturo Pugno, Andrea Scalvini, and all the others he had met ten years ago. He gladly accepted the invitation!
The news was exhilarating: “Sakakibara at the Gathering?!” It’s almost unbelievable!
The date was set, and I immediately started with the preparations.
With the confirmation of Master Sakakibara’s presence in Italy, I decided to organize a limited-capacity clinic that would take place on Saturday, the day before the National Tenkara Gathering, where the Master would act as an instructor for a full day on the Sermenza stream. The interest in the clinic was so high that within 24 hours, we reached the maximum number of participants.
Organizing a gathering is no easy task, and considering the amount of work to be done, I asked for help from my friends at the Tenkara Club Bérghem, Maurizio Capolaro, and Giovanni Anelli. Together, we were prepared to officially present the National Tenkara Gathering – Valsesia 2023 to the Italian tenkara community.
But first, there was the European Fly Fishing Fair!
Tenkara at the European Fly Fishing Fair
Representing Tenkara Italy at the EWF, I joined Maurizio Capolaro at Gianluca Bonomi’s tenkara booth. On Friday afternoon, we met Gianluca, Master Masami and his wife Kyoko, Luong Tam and his girlfiend, as well as Andrea and Ottavio from the Alps Store, who would manage the booth. The following two days were a true celebration. The atmosphere in the booth was fantastic!
A tightly-knit group was formed, and everything unfolded in an atmosphere of fun, happiness, and joy. Even in the evenings, we all gathered for dinner, turning it into a festive occasion. The booth was a great success for both days, with a continuous flow of people and a high level of interest in tenkara. The performances by Tanuki and Master Sakakibara were mind-blowing, captivating the audience from start to finish. Truly two unforgettable days.
But Maurizio and I needed to stay focused and get back to work right away on Monday because the date of the National Tenkara Gathering was approaching, and we needed to take care of the final preparations.
The Saturday Clinic with Master Masami
Unfortunately, the weather forecast didn’t look promising, and the usual rigidities of the local authorities forced us to make some program changes. But everything was ready for the big weekend. Saturday was reserved for the lessons with Master Masami.
We gathered at the Foresteria Valsesiana on the Sermenza stream, which, fortunately, is in good condition despite the limited rainfall and snowfall during winter. Masami started with a theoretical lesson where he shared his tenkara approach and the philosophy behind this technique. He then delved into more technical aspects, discussing rods, lines, river approaches, and more.
Finally, he sat at a table, opened a neatly organized box containing a vise, some tools, threads, and feathers. He places everything on the table and began tying kebari, explaining their dressing and use. Everything was explained clearly and comprehensibly by our friend Ryuta Okano.
Before lunch, we briefly went down to the stream and the Master showed us some casting and presentation techniques that could be used in different spots along the stream. He explained how to approach the river and understand where the fish might be.
In the afternoon, we moved to the upper part of the Sermenza stream, and here the “demon” (Oni) Masami revealed his full power.
It’s not easy to describe the Master’s fishing style. His approach to the water is based on simplicity. Simple because he does nothing unnecessary or superfluous. His movements are precise, and his strikes are extremely effective. He never makes more than 5-6 casts in the same spot, and with his eyes and mind, he’s already onto the next spot, delivering a continuous sequence of deadly attacks.
The catch rate is incredibly high. I was fortunate enough to fish with him in Japan a month later for two consecutive days, and I calculated that out of 10 spots, he caught at least one fish in 8 of them, (it often happened that he caught even more).
His performance was unbelievable, we were all open-mouthed, enraptured by that simple perfection and his moving in the river with agility, precision and speed as only a deer, chamois, or bird can have. Masami Sakakibara taught us many things that day that we will never forget and will accompany us every time we approach a river.
In the evening, the whole group was the guest of Arturo Pugno and Andrea Scalvini at the Valsesian fishing museum in Varallo in which, in addition to the many spaces dedicated to the very ancient Valsesian fishing, there is also a space dedicated to tenkara, as a testimony to the pairing established in 2013.
The museum is a place in which one breathes the scent of fishing history. Where not only adventures and experiences, but also objects, and equipment are kept that would otherwise have been lost to time. As anglers, big thank you goes to all those, and in particular to Andrea Scalvini, who keep and care for this museum allowing the history to live on in posterity.
The National Tenkara Gathering
On Sunday, the big day had finally arrived, the day of the National Tenkara Gathering – Valsesia 2023. The weather forecast was predicting rain in the early hours of the morning, so we expected a slightly smaller turnout than expected, especially since fishing on the nearby stream would be impossible. Instead, people began to arrive, and in large numbers!
Cristina, the owner of the Il Piano Delle Fate facility prepared a covered structure for us under where we set up booths for kebari tying sessions, level and furled line tenkara rods were presented, and fishing products, even handicrafts such as wooden wading staffs and accessories were sold. The Tenkara Club Bérghem and some important figures of the Italian tenkara community, such as Davide Zarlenga of Piacere Tenkara and Aldo Menghini, were also present and shared their experiences.
Fortunately, the rain lasted only for a short time, so there was the possibility in the morning to organize with Master Sakakibara some casting exhibitions with rods of different actions and lengths.
Shortly before lunch, another long-awaited event, the arrival of Arturo Pugno and Andrea Scalvini, and the hug and handshake that had sanctioned the pairing 10 years earlier, in 2013, was repeated. As Masami and Arturo met, I caught a glimpse of the glazed eyes and emotion of some people, including Ryuta, who was translating the words of the two Masters.
Ryuta was visibly excited, seeing a circle closing. A circle that opened 11-12 years earlier when he began his research on tenkara in Japan, contacting among others Master Masami, and then continuing his research on Valsesiana by turning to people in Italy. This research of his and his desire to bring together the protagonists of these two techniques so geographically distant but so conceptually close, led to a pairing that has lasted for ten years and that was reconfirmed with the meeting of the two masters.
During lunch, the atmosphere was fantastic. We were able to congregate in one big room, without separation, thus promoting general involvement in speeches and discussions. Going around the tables you could hear talk about kebari, about 7:3 or 6:4 action, about level being better than furled. All in a great air of celebration and joy.
The afternoon continued under the banner of Master Masami’s demonstrations, which at one point also involved having Arturo Pugno try out a tenkara rod. Easily predictable, it seemed that Arturo had been casting a tenkara rod his entire life! (Experience evidently allows you to do anything).
As is often the case with good things, they end quickly, and this weekend also ended quickly. Everything went smoothly and the happy and satisfied faces of the participants made all the hard work worthwhile. Once again, Tenkara Italy has done a commendable job, and the event was a resounding success!
Since everything went so well, it is also due to a few individuals whom I feel obliged to thank, as without them, the National Tenkara Gathering wouldn’t have been such a success. A special thanks goes to my friend Davide Zarlenga, who provided moral support even when difficulties arose and then took charge of filming the Saturday lessons.
Gianluca Bonomi, who brought Master Masami to Italy and lent a hand with logistical matters, deserves recognition as well.
Cristina from Il Piano delle Fate, for graciously and accommodatingly hosting us in her facility.
Ryuta Okano, whose contribution was crucial in enabling us to “communicate” with Master Masami and make the most of this experience.
Arturo Pugno and Andrea Scalvini, for participating in the event and welcoming us to their splendid museum, also deserve our heartfelt gratitude. Last but certainly not least, a big hug and a huge thank you go to Maurizio Capolaro and Giovanni Anelli, with whom I shared the joys (many) and the challenges (few) of this gathering. We truly made a great team!
What can I say, it was a fantastic experience that left a profound impact on me, and I can’t wait to do it again next year… Stay Tuned!
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