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Footsteps of the Masters

Footsteps of the Masters
By John Vetterli
Tenkara Guides LLC

June 1st 2014, two American tenkara fly fishing guides, Erik Ostrander and John Vetterli, along with Erik’s wife Ann traveled to Nagoya Japan to begin the tenkara journey that would profoundly change my views on tenkara methods, tools, cultures, and most importantly, is tenkara different in the land and culture of its origin as compared to what we know back home in the United States?

We have been very fortunate to make some fantastic friends in Japan. People who most western tenkara anglers know only by name and reputation. Friends like Eiji Yamakawa, Kiyoshi Ishihara, Masami Tanaka from the Harima Tenkara Club. Hiromichi Fuji, Nissin tenkara rod designer and pioneer of modern tenkara. Dr. Ishigaki, Daiwa tenkara rod designer, and the World Tenkara Ambassador.

And my mentor, teacher, and friend Masami Sakakibara (Tenkara no-Oni) Designer of the famed Oni rods and perhaps the greatest living tenkara angler in the world.

All this name-dropping has a purpose. Erik and I traveled to Japan to meet, fish with, and learn from some the best Japanese tenkara anglers alive today.

When we arrived in Japan, our first adventure was to travel by train from Nagoya to Mazegawa fishing center to meet for the first time, Masami Sakakibara, his wife Kyoko, and Rocky Osaki, our newest bestest buddy and translator.

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Masami Sakakibara is and incredibly humble man. Unassuming, no ego, quick to make a joke, and an incredible caster and angler. We spent time learning about the biology of Iwana and Amago, where they live in the rivers, their personalities and feeding habits and then it was off to the water.

The next several days consisted of early morning breakfasts long days on the water accompanied by lots and lots of skill tweaking and instruction of Masami’s theories about fishing strategies, casting mechanics, bio-mechanical efficiency, and just a hell of a lot of fun. Masami is a true friend who will freely share with you as much of his 35 years of tenkara knowledge as your brain can process.

During one of our many conversations he said something to me that rocked my tenkara world. I asked him “How does someone become a tenkara master in Japan?”

He simply said, “There are no real rules to become a tenkara master. You simply work very hard to develop your skills, innovate whether it be a product like a rod, lines, flies, a casting technique, a method of fly manipulation, etc. Then you must share your knowledge and continue to refine and perfect what you know.”

So I condensed that to Explore, Innovate, Share, and Repeat. It’s a never-ending cycle.

After several days with Masami we hooked up with our old friend Dr. Ishigaki for several more days of fishing at Itoshiro Village and to attend the Itoshiro Fisher’s Holiday. A meeting of all types of mountain stream anglers. Western fly fishers, tenkara anglers, spin casters, keiryu bait fishers, it’s a chance to see the mountain stream fishing spectrum of Japan all in one spot.

We met Dr. Ishigaki at the first Tenkara USA Summit in Montana in 2011. We immediately hit it off with him and a great friendship began to develop. Over the years Dr. Ishigaki has been a great resource of information for me as we kept our friendship alive via email.

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Dr. Ishigaki is the face and voice of tenkara in Japan. If there is a tenkara celebrity, it is Dr. Ishigaki. He appears on television shows, magazine ads, articles and interviews, lectures, and teaches many students. His personality is infectious. This is a guy who takes his fishing very seriously but himself very lightly. A man with a great sense of humor, a hell of a lot of fun to hang out with and just a great all around guy.

We spent long hours discussing the arts of fly manipulation, stream tactics, and a lot of fishing. And I learned that Dr. Ishigaki could probably eat his weight in rice. Man, that guy loves his rice.

During the Itoshiro Fisher’s Holiday we met hundreds of other anglers of all types. Fished side by side with keiryu bait fishers and spin casters. Met some extremely talented western fly rod designers and craftsmen. Talked about what fishing is like in the Western United States. Answered lots of questions about cowboys and Indians.

(Apparently the American Wild West is a fascination of the Japanese). The festival was an amazing experience to meet a lot of people.

I also asked Dr. Ishigaki about how one becomes a tenkara master in Japan. Strangely enough, his answer was the same as Masami Sakakibara’s answer.

Explore, Innovate, Share, Repeat.

After several great days of fishing in Itoshiro, we were on the road with our great friend Eiji Yamakawa headed to Kyoto to meet up with the legendary Hiromichi Fuji.

We met Eiji Yamakawa, Kiyoshi Ishihara, and Masami Tanaka at the 2nd Tenkara Summit our company hosted with Tenkara USA in our hometown of Salt Lake City, UT.

Eiji, Kiyoshi, and Masami are members of the Harima Tenkara Club. One of the oldest tenkara clubs in Japan. These guys are awesome! They are some of the most fun people I have ever fished with. Eiji taught me how to build tapered furled tenkara lines from fluorocarbon. Masami is a supreme stream tactician; Kiyoshi is perhaps the most humble man I have ever met. They each bring their own version of tenkara to the table. Each man has developed his own complete system of tenkara. It includes rod type, kebari patterns, casting methods, stream tactics, line types. Each has his own distinct style.

So, after about a 5-hour drive and an intense trip through Osaka rush hour freeway traffic. (Los Angeles traffic is nothing compared to Osaka Japan). We reached this tiny hut alongside a fairly busy mountain road across the street from this beautiful river that flowed through the valley. As we pulled up to the hut, a small group of about 6 men ranging from ages 20-75 came to the cars to greet us. We were immediately introduced to Hiromichi Fuji. A quiet and unassuming man about 75 years old.

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For a man who is for all intents and purposes, the father of modern tenkara, he is very warm and approachable. He is quick with a joke, a perfectionist in everything he does, and a very patient teacher.

We dumped our gear in the hut and immediately began fishing the river across the street.

Hiromichi Fuji or Sensei as his students refer him to, is the guy who pioneered the use of monofilament line materials for tenkara. He is most likely the first person to use nylon and fluorocarbon materials to build the first furled lines of these products. He is also the designer of the Nissin Airstage Fujiryu family of tenkara rods. These rods were my first true Japanese tenkara rods. If you have never used one, you are missing out on something unique.

Fuji Sensei discussed his casting technique with us and began to immediately teach the subtleties of his methods and his personal tenkara philosophy.

Fishing with Fuji Sensei was one of my life’s greatest honors. He is a living legend, one of the modern sports greatest innovators, a fantastic teacher, and just a fun and interesting man to talk to about everything from his experiences in Japan during World War II and how the country rebuilt itself after the war, tenkara history both ancient and modern. His many different kebari patterns he ties and uses, and most interestingly, how the sport is evolving now that it has left the country of its origin. Fuji Sensei looks to the future of tenkara with great excitement. The West is pushing it in new directions, unexplored regions, new cultural ideals, evolving, and developing new skills. I get the strong feeling that Hiromichi Fuji sees the full circle at this moment. He has seen the evolution of tenkara from mystery and a practically lost art to the modernization of rods from bamboo to fiberglass to carbon fiber, lines from horse hair and silk thread to fluorocarbon level lines and now the surge of new ideas freely flowing from a distant culture that is a bit wild and unencumbered by past history. We are just going to do what we are going to do best. Adapt and make it our own.

One evening Fuji Sensei and I were sitting on the steps of the hut, just the two of us and I asked him my now infamous question “How does someone become a tenkara master?”

Fuji let out a little laugh and said “Learn all you can, explore and make your own tenkara, share it with others, never stop learning.”

The next morning we left the fishing hut and headed to Fuji Sensei’s home in Kyoto to visit his workshop where he ties kebari for Nissin and manufactures the spectacular Nissin PALS furled fluorocarbon tapered tenkara lines.

After spending several hours learning about his line designs and watching him make several lines, he sat at his desk and tied a few of his signature kebari and then it was done. Our time with Hiromichi Fuji was over. We then piled into Eiji’s van and we were off to our next adventure. Somewhere in the middle of the Japanese wilderness. I have no idea of where the hell we were headed, but I was very excited.

We first spent the night at this really cool village an hour or so out of Kyoto. This house we stayed in is around 250 years old. A building that existed during the reign of the Samurai.

The next morning we headed out with Eiji and Masami for a few more days of fishing. We travelled up high into the mountains and explored streams that I cant even do justice trying to describe. Steep canyons, volcanic rock and granite, the clearest water I have ever seen, lush cedar and bamboo forests. After a few semi-rappelling descents into the canyons, we hit the water and started fishing.

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Fishing with Eiji Yamakawa is always a lot of fun. Eiji or “Eddie” as his friends know him, is a legitimate tenkara master in his own right. He has no interest in titles or recognition. I like to refer to Eddie as the “Reluctant Master”. His casting skills are deadly, the way he approaches a section of stream and analyzes it, allows him to pull fish out of the most unlikely places that 99.999% of anglers would pass by. His personality is very laid back and filled with humor.

Masami Tanaka is another “Reluctant Master”. He and Eiji have been fishing partners for decades. They move through a stream together as a seamless team. Each has their own distinct style and methods that equally balance out the other. There are simply no gaps in techniques between the two. They move through the water leaving no potential lie untouched by more than one method of casting, fly manipulation, drifts, or angles. With these two guys in the stream, the fish just simply don’t stand a chance.

So, following the theme of my trip to Japan, I asked Eiji my question “How does someone become a tenkara master?”

Eiji may very well be the originator of the term “The 10 Colors of Tenkara”. He simply said, “You must find your color of tenkara. Take the basic skills and explore them, shape them, make them your own. Find your tenkara.”

And just like that, I was sitting on a Boeing 747 leaving the ground at Nagoya Airport and my first journey to Japan was over.

I had 18 hours of travel time to digest everything that I had experienced in Japan fishing with several of the best and most renowned tenkara master anglers alive today. Met hundreds of people along the way. Ate some of the best food I have ever had. And had a hell of a lot of fun.

These people are just that, people. Here in the West, there has been a tendency to put them on a pedestal and idolize them. Maybe that is just our way of romanticizing tenkara. It has centuries old history based in a distant and exotic culture, in our countries outside of Japan; tenkara is still in its infancy. So it seems natural that we would look to the land of origin for heroes to follow.

So, here is what I really learned from my time both in Japan in 2014 and even as I write this article. Tenkara is not mystical, exotic, Zen, or any of that. It is just simply a method of fly-casting. There are no hard rules. There is no single and correct tenkara method. Tenkara is a reflection of the angler who uses the tools and techniques to suit his/her natural environment, fish species, knowledge and skill base they bring to the table from past fishing experience. Tenkara is just you.

I believe that the next generation of tenkara masters is in the process of being created right now, at this exact moment in time. This next generation will most likely come from the West. We are pushing tenkara in directions it has never been. Carp fishing, warm water species, and ocean fishing. We as a culture are unencumbered by tenkara’s history. We are completely free to Explore, Innovate, Share, and Repeat.

The history of tenkara and its origin is Japan. The future is being forged here in the West. There is no other time in the fly-fishing culture that such a dramatic swing has ever occurred. We are all a part of this paradigm shift.

I had a conversation with Hiromichi Fuji about how he feels about how tenkara is being changed and adapted outside of Japan. He finds this exciting and a necessary evolution of tenkara’s future. The sport was gradually dwindling in popularity in Japan. The peak of its popularity was most likely in the early 1980s. Once tenkara left Japan, a true revolution occurred. There is a lot of speculation among tenkara anglers in Japan that tenkara is vastly more popular in America than it ever was in Japan. There are more tenkara anglers outside of Japan now than inside.

This is the future and we are all taking a part in shaping it.

To follow the footsteps of the masters is impossible. For as soon as every one of the Master’s footsteps are made in the stream, the water washes them away. There is and can be only one tenkara path. Your path.

Go and Explore, Innovate, Share. Find your own tenkara. Make it yours. Share what you know, never stop questioning what you know.

And above all have fun.

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This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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

Wool Bodied Flies

Wool Bodied Flies
by Tom Davis

Everybody has their favorite flies. Some are traditional patterns, some are new designs. Some use time tested materials, while others incorporate the newest in synthetic or UV offerings. Some catch a lot of fish; others catch more fishermen than fish! But whatever their characteristics, we all have our favorite flies.

The one fly style that seems to epitomize or is iconic to tenkara is the sakasa kebari. This reverse hackle pattern seems to fly in the face of western patterns that attempt to “match the hatch”. With its forward facing hackle, the sakasa kebari is more of an attractor or impressionistic pattern, and relies on movement to entice the fish into striking. While relatively easy to tie, there are some nuances that, if followed, can make the tying process a little easier.

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In my part of the western United States streams originating in the Rocky Mountains tend to be of moderate to high gradient and freestone in type. These streams and creeks all tend to hold trout species, whether introduced, like brook, rainbow and brown trout, or native, like cutthroat trout. Since the waters are fast moving, these fish have only a split second to decide if a fly pattern represents food or flotsam. Therefore, in these waters, the forward angled soft hackle adds life-like movement and seems to fool the fish more frequently than stiff, realistic fly patterns.

Some of my favorite sakasa kebari patterns involve wool. Wool helps build the body up, making the fly easy to see in turbulent mountain streams. Wool, once washed of its protective lanolin, absorbs water readily, making the fly sink quickly and thus getting it down into the pockets where the fish lie. Wool is also easy to work with and very robust.

When tying these flies, always start by tying the thread in at the eye and working backwards towards the bend of the hook. This is generally opposite of traditional fly tying, where you start near the hook bend and tie forward towards the eye. Tie the head first, then add the hackle. Make sure that the curve of the hackle faces forward towards the eye of the hook, then wrap the hackle two to three times around the shaft. Tie off the hackle on the body side of the fly and then wrap your thread back to the end of the hook shaft. Tie in the body material and ribbing. Wrap the body material forwards, tying it off just behind the hackle. Wrap the rib forwards, again tying it off just behind the hackle. Dub the thorax and wrap it from the hackle backwards over the first part of the body. Whip finish just behind the thorax. It’s that easy.

Here I present four of my favorite wool bodied flies.

1) Grave Digger

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The Grave Digger is a fly originated by the Tenkara Guides, LLC of Salt Lake City, Utah. This fly is a real producer for me and often is found on the end of my line. I made some substitutions in materials, since one of the original materials for this fly is fur from a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. I don’t have this fur readily available. Also, I tend to make my fly body thicker and more prominent than the original.

  • Hook: Barbless competition curved pupa hook, size 10-12
  • Thread: 8/0 chartreuse
  • Hackle: partridge
  • Body: Shetland Spindrift, Purple Haze (1270)
  • Rib (my version): silver wire, small
  • Thorax: Hare-tron Seal, brown

2) Red-assed Monkey

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This fly, like the Grave Digger, originated with Tenkara Guides, LLC and was originally tied as a jig fly. It works great when tied as such, but it also works very well as a more traditional sakasa kebari pattern. Once again, I’ve substituted material for the thorax as the original pattern also uses dog fur.

  • Hook: Barbless competition curved pupa hook, sizes 10-12
  • Thread: 8/0 black
  • Hackle: partridge
  • Body: Shetland Spindrift, Sunset (186)
  • Thorax: Hare-tron Seal, brown

3) Oxford wool kebari

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This is one of my patterns, as you can tell by the boring name. When the water is low and the sun bright, like on an autumn day, this pattern really produces.

  • Hook: Barbless competition curved pupa hook, sizes 10-12
  • Thread: 8/0 red
  • Hackle: partridge
  • Body: Shetland Spindrift Oxford (123)
  • Rib: red wire, BR or medium
  • Thorax: Hare-tron, black

4) Soft Hackle Grey kebari

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This is my variation on the classic soft hackle wet fly that has been around for decades. It is a top producer, particularly when caddis are active. I tie this pattern in two variations, one with grey thread and the other with red. I’m a believer in hot spots on sub-surface flies and the red head seems to induce takes when other flies will not.

  • Hook: Barbless competition curved pupa hook, size 10-14
  • Thread: 8/0 grey or red
  • Hackle: partridge
  • Body: Shetland Spindrift, Sholmit/Mooskit (119)
  • Rib: gold or copper wire, BR or medium
  • Thorax: Hare-tron, grey

So there you have it, four of my most favorite wool bodied flies. I tend to use these from spring to autumn; I don’t find them to be as effective in winter, except in jig form with tungsten beads. I hope you also find them to be useful and that they find a place in your fly box!

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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

What’s Your Code?

What’s Your Code?
by Dave Blackhurst

Lately, while I have been on the river I have been reflecting on why tenkara has been so refreshing to me. I know we all like to get out and land a few fish, but why has this style changed fly fishing forever for me?

I work as the art director for a local magazine and recently we did a photo shoot with two local fishermen about different styles of fishing. While I was taking photos of the fly fisherman, I asked him if he had ever heard of tenkara. He mentioned he had and went on to tell me that he owned a tenkara rod but it was just not his thing. However, he asked me a few more tenkara questions, which gave me the chance to share the reasons I put my reels on the shelf.

I went into detail about the style of tenkara that I have adopted (sometimes I feel like a politician on the stump). I let him know the basics about a fixed line, no weight or indicator on the line, perfect drifts and the same fly pattern used year round. When I share the simplified tenkara approach, it initially sounds appealing to fly fishermen tired of carrying gear and loading up for the river. However, as the conversation continues, I realize that for some the gear enhances the experience. I let my friend know that for the smaller streams and rivers I prefer, tenkara works great.

I gave him a few kebari, said goodbye and he went on his way. His approach to our conversation reminded me of where I was several years ago. I wanted a quicker and simpler method to fish mountain streams in Utah. I loved the lighter fly rods and was simplifying my fly box but I felt I could not simplify any more. Magically tenkara came into view. This was the ticket for me. It was everything I wanted.

Tenkara is not magic, but it can be magical if you let it.

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What I have learned after being a snooty, stuck-up fly fisherman — loaded with gear — for more than 20 years is that fishing is fishing. Fish don’t know how they are caught. There are as many ways to catch a fish as there are fish to catch. My respect for all fishing styles has increased. Many friends of mine think tenkara is cool, but don’t consider it fly fishing.

Wherever tenkara fits in the fishing world, I like it.

And my conversion does not mean it’s as simple as a hook and a stick. Recently I read a great article by Jason Klass on tenkaratalk.com that mentioned the general rule in tenkara of 12-12-12 (don’t get these confused with the code numbers from the TV show LOST 4 8 15 16 23 42), 12-foot rod, 12 feet of line and a size 12 kebari.

This is a great rule of thumb but I wanted to figure out what my secret tenkara code would be.

Two years ago I adopted the practice of fishing only one fly. I tinkered on the vise for a few months, trying different sizes, but still lacked the confidence to commit. Eventually, I realized that when my confidence was lacking on the river, I would always pull out a pheasant tail bead head for trout. I took this into consideration and began tying a size 12 pheasant tail with a reverse kebari hackle. I eventually simplified it even more with a size 14 hook, brown thread, green flash and one Hungarian partridge hackle.

Magically (and with a lot of hard work), my one fly appeared.

Next was my line. Many mountain streams in Utah are small. Sometimes I can step over them. The trout are beautiful but the foliage is frustrating. The 12-foot line and rod just would not work in these places. I needed to dial in my tiny creek tenkara code.

I picked up a Rhodo rod from Daniel Galhardo at Tenkara USA. This zoom rod would fish as small as 8 feet and keep me just under the branches. I had my small creek code now — 8-8-14.

Now I just had one final challenge. Find the code for medium-sized rivers that need a bit more line. The whole point of tenkara is to use the longest rod you can get away with. I absolutely love my Sato rod from Tenkara USA. The zoom ability is great for different lengths but at its longest reach (almost 13 feet) I get all I need. Add 13 feet of line and I’m there. Now I had the final piece to my tenkara puzzle. 13-13-14.

These are my setups. I wish I only had one code but two isn’t bad. They work for 90 percent of fishing situations I face in Utah. Figuring out a code does not take long, but it means more time on the river — don’t worry, your spouse will understand … maybe.

Fishing truly is about confidence. Find your code and be confident.

Now grab your tenkara rod and get figuring your code.
Simple right?

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This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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

Traditional Japanese Fly Fishing? Which one?

Traditional Japanese Fly Fishing? Which one?
by Chris Stewart 

For years now, every time I’d read the phrase “traditional Japanese fly fishing” I wanted to ask “Yeah, which one?” Of course, the writer always meant tenkara, but tenkara is not THE traditional Japanese fly fishing. It is but one of several traditional fly fishing methods, one or two of which might be hundreds of years older, and perhaps thus even more traditional than tenkara.

You will occasionally, although very rarely, read about a second traditional method – dobuzuri or dobutsuri – which is fly fishing for ayu, although no one in the US ever refers to it as traditional Japanese fly fishing. Actually I don’t think I have ever seen it mentioned other than tangentially – through the flies, never the fishing.

Talk about tradition, Meboso Hachirobei, run by the same family in the same location since 1575, started making ayu flies in the late 1800s.
Talk about tradition, Meboso Hachirobei, run by the same family in the same location since 1575, started making ayu flies in the late 1800s.

Interestingly, the late Robert Behnke, (aka Dr. Trout) who had been a Professor of Fisheries and Wildlife Biology at Colorado State University, fished for yamame and iwana in Japan in 1951-52, and saw only dobuzuri flies and imitations of western fly patterns (Japan at that time was a major exporter of trout flies to the US). He saw no tenkara flies. Of course, that was before tenkara became tenkara and had its resurgence in popularity. Perhaps tenkara flies were rediscovered.

But the third or fourth or fifth traditional Japanese fly fishing methods? I would bet most readers have never heard of them. For example, I remember reading that tenkara anglers didn’t use weights, with the reason given that the flies were too valuable to risk getting snagged on the bottom and lost. However, we know that fly anglers in at least two regions did use weight – either applied to the fly or on the line above the fly. It might not fit the definition of tenkara, so I suppose it might be true that “tenkara” anglers didn’t use weights, but other fly anglers certainly did!

Perhaps even more surprising than a traditional Japanese fly fishing method that used weighted flies was the method that in addition to a fly (tied on the line as a dropper) used a bare treble hook a bit below the fly to possibly snag a fish that rejected the fly and turned back down or that the angler missed while attempting to set the hook. You never hear about that one! Perhaps intentionally snagging fish offends our sensibilities, but recall that ayu fishing, which is probably the pinnacle of fresh water fishing in Japan, uses live “decoy” fish and bare treble hooks to snag ayu.

A fifth method, which survives to this day, is called kebari tsuri. Tenkara, before it was called tenkara, was called kebari tsuri. It may well be that kebari tsuri was a much broader and more inclusive term – possibly encompassing any fishing with a fly. After all, the translation of kebari tsuri is “fly fishing.” The kebari tsuri of today is a method that uses multiple flies, generally either five or seven, tied as droppers on a tippet behind a wooden float. The float is cast across the stream and allowed to swing downstream. Today this is a method for catching oikawa (pale chub) and haya (Japanese dace), not trout, but a fishing method differing only with respect to where on the rig the float was placed historically was used in the Iwate prefecture to catch Yamame.

The Japanese says Kebari Tsuri Shikake. Google translates Shikake as gimmick which is actually a good translation, as the Japanese has the connotation of a device inte.jpg
The Japanese says Kebari Tsuri Shikake. Google translates Shikake as gimmick which is actually a good translation, as the Japanese has the connotation of a device intended to trick or fool.

I guess the most telling piece of information, though, is that the earliest written account of tenkara fishing was in either 1877 or 1878 (two separate accounts, neither of which mention “tenkara” but both of which describe a fishing method that might have been tenkara). However, the earliest written account of fishing with a fly in Japan dates from 1678, a full two hundred years earlier! That fishing was for oikawa and haya rather than trout, so it doesn’t fall into the definition of tenkara. When considering “traditional” Japanese fly fishing, though, one really ought to give the greatest weight to the oldest recorded method – haegashira – which is fishing for chubs and dace, and later ayu, in the lowlands rather than tenkara, which is fishing for trout and char in the mountains.

Realistically, tenkara is probably much older than the written accounts of the late 1870s. Perhaps it is as old as haegashira but we will never know because there are no written records. What we do know, though, is that tenkara is not the only traditional fly fishing of Japan. So next time you string up your seiryu rod and go out to catch a few creek chubs, realize you are carrying on an old if unsung tradition.

And after you return home, fire up the computer and read (or re-read) the wealth of information on traditional Japanese fly fishing that you can find on Yoshikazu Fujioka’s wonderful website My Best Streams. It is mostly about tenkara, but if you read it carefully, you will realize there is much more to traditional Japanese fly fishing than just tenkara.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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

Peeping Caddis Kebari

Peeping Caddis Kebari
By Stephen Myers

Originated from Ralph D’Andrea’s Peeping Caddis Nymph Pattern

The peeping caddis is meant to imitate many of the cased caddis that we see in our local waters, with the added bonus of having a “peeping” larvae (chartreuse chenille) exposed at the rear of the fly. This is a great pattern for any stream or river with populations of caddis flies. Add some wraps of non-lead wire and fish it along the bottom or tie it unweighted and let it roll across the riffles. It’s up to you.

Materials:
– Hends Barbless BL 254 Nymph/Wet Fly Hook – Size 8
– 6/0 Thread (Green, Black, or Grey)
– Small Chartreuse Chenille
– India Hen Soft Hackle (Speckled Grey)
– Masterblend XB English Hares Ear Dubbing

Step 1: Wrap the thread down to the bend of the hook and back just behind the eye.

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Step 2: Tie in the chenille just behind the eye and make securing wraps back to the bend of the hook.

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Step 3: Form a dubbing noodle on your thread with the hares ear dubbing.

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Step 4: Make wraps forward with the dubbed thread. Try to keep an even taper up to just behind the hook eye.

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Step 5: Build a tapered thread base behind the hook eye to tie in your soft hackle feather.

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Step 6: Stroke back the fibers of the soft hackle feather to get an easy tie in portion, then tie in the feather with the bowl shape of the feather facing upward.

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Step 7: Make one wrap of the soft hackle feather around the hook and secure the feather with a few wraps of thread. Add some super glue to the thread and take two or three more wraps around the hook.

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Step 8: Add some hares ear dubbing to the thread and take a three turn whip finish around the hook to secure the thread. Cut or clip the thread. You’re finished!

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This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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

Tenkara Fly Fishing on a Pacific Isle

Tenkara Fly Fishing on a Pacific Isle
by Rory E. Glennie

From its birthplace on an island along the far western edge of the Pacific Ocean, tenkara style fly fishing has successfully emigrated to an island along the far eastern edge. Much like the mountainous Japanese birthplace of tenkara, Vancouver Island is blessed with countless waters particularly suited to this style of fly-fishing. Small streams during normal/low summer flows offer good trout fishing opportunities. Streams like the Englishman, Little Qualicum and her Big Qualicum sister, Tsable, Quinsam and Elk rivers come to mind, as do many tiny mountainous headwater flows of larger rivers.

Tiny Deep Green Pools Hold Surprisingly Big Trout

There are some streams I know, where at places you can actually jump across without getting wet. They hold some surprisingly nice trout in the random deep spots. These are without exception pretty trout in pretty surroundings. This is secretive fishing in intimate surroundings. The nature of tenkara fly fishing is much in keeping with the laid-back lifestyle which comes with living on a small island along the Pacific coast of Canada… no rush, take it as it comes.

A tenkara setup is perfectly suited to handle small trout in small streams. By small I mean our wild, native-born Cutthroat and Rainbow trout in the ten to sixteen inch length, in streams where you can easily maneuver into position to bring the fish to hand. These fish most often strike with wild abandon, once. After making the move to your fly and missing it, they seem to get very cagey about rising again anytime soon. The clarity of the water and the natural survival instinct of these wild trout probably collude against the fisher.

Native Born Rainbow Trout Are the Perfect Tenkara Quarry

Zen in the Art of Stealth

Simplicity in tenkara style fly fishing frees your mind to concentrate on becoming one with the environment. Dress in muted Earth tones to blend in. Move with purpose and dexterity so not to alarm your quarry. Cautiously ease into the water only when absolutely necessary. Visualize the rise before making the cast. Meld with the moment… and enjoy the surprise as the shock of reality snaps you back into being when a good trout takes your fly.

Wading Wet is Refreshing on a Hot Day

Summertime flows limit trout to specific habitats; greenish hued pools where you cannot see the bottom. Undercut banks with overhanging bushes. A washed-out hole in the substrate near a partially submerged log. The dark watery cavern next to a log jam. These are the prime spots to sneak up ninja style, and drop in your fly.

The Excitement Quotient

These are hungry trout that are willing to oblige with a solid surface rise to a dry fly. The principal is the same as in using a traditional kebari. Toss the fly up into the perceived hot-spot. One or two quick twitch-hops to enliven the fly, then repeat to cover all the prospective fish holds. Unfortunately for many tenkara fishers, that often means experiencing a close-combat style reaction to this visual stimulus; as none of the muscle twitching excitement of a good fish rising up in a lazy S-bend to suck in the fly is missed.

It takes a modicum of self-control to not yank the fly out of the fish’s mouth… thankfully, with practice, that response can be learned.

This original entry was penned by Rory Glennie, a resident of Vancouver Island, British Columbia who has been fly fishing the mountain streams for wild, native-born trout since 1970. He is the only Canadian member of the Tenkara USA Guide Network and has been a Staff writer for Island Fisherman Magazine since 2009. His work will also appear in the upcoming Spring issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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One Really Big Hole: A Story of Trout and Tenkara at the Bottom of the Grand Canyon

One Really Big Hole.
A Story of Trout and Tenkara at the Bottom of the Grand Canyon
By Rob Worthing, with photos by Kaylan & Phil

“Oh, hell yeah.”

That’s the only logical response when Phil, your best friend from college, calls you up to say he’s got a cabin reserved at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Never mind how he got it – cabin reservations at the canyon’s historic Phantom Ranch book thirteen months in advance and within minutes of opening. After twenty years of talking about fishing the Grand, he’s got reservations. So that’s exactly how I replied. On behalf of both my wife and myself, with zero hesitation.

“Oh, hell yeah.”

THE SOUTH RIM

It’s December, and I’m looking out my window at a really big hole in the ground. Phil, my wife and I are spending the night at Bright Angel Lodge, where the rooms practically fall off Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Tomorrow, we’ll make the seven and a half mile hike down the South Kaibab trail to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch.

The South Rim (Copy)

I’m a little nervous for the hike. It’s been a bit since doing something of this scale. Not like my wife, Kaylan, who just finished both the Camino de Santiago and Appalachian Trail. Or Phil, who is the kind of guy that seems to be giving Father Time the perpetual middle finger by growing stronger with age. So I busy myself by going over gear one last time.

The cabins at Phantom Ranch come stocked with linens and the like. No need to carry shelter, ground pad, or a sleeping bag. Two meals a day and a sack lunch at the ranch dining hall means packing a lot less food, too. Normally, that would make for a pretty light pack. But I’m including a few luxuries on this trip. Weather at the rim is cold this time of year, with snow and ice a real possibility on the upper section of the trail. Days are warmer at the bottom, but still cold when the sun goes down. My base pack weight for a winter trip usually comes in around ten pounds. Items like my favorite thick wool shirt with the collar that stands straight up, heavy wool cargo pants to match, a couple cigars, and a healthy dose of quality Kentucky bourbon quickly jack my pack weight to an estimated sixteen pounds or so.

Then comes the fly fishing gear. There’s trout in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. More importantly, there’s trout in Bright Angel Creek, a tenkara-perfect freestone flowing directly past Phantom Ranch and our cabin. Or at least there used to be tout. For the past decade, the Park Service has undertaken the Bright Angel Creek Trout Reduction Project, an attempt to eradicate non-native brown and rainbows inhabiting the creek. The project is one of conservation, with the ultimate goal of restoring native species like the speckled dace, flannelmouth sucker, and the endangered humpback chub. Years of electroshock harvesting while a weir dam traps fish near the creek’s mouth might mean precious few fish for me in Bright Angel. But I plan on being ready anyway.

For this trip, I pack two precision instruments for tenkara fishing in mountain streams – the Oni Type I, and the Oni Type III. At 390cm and 360cm respectfully, the two rods will allow me to cover a wide variety of conditions, and will back each other up in case of a mishap. I pack the two Oni rods along with the Tenkara Bum 36 (an all-arounder, and my wife’s favorite) in my beloved Zimmerbuilt Rod Roll. A single Tacky fly box filled with Ishigaki and Oni kebari, Red Assed Monkeys, and Grave Diggers slides into a Zimmerbuilt Strap Pack along with #3 green level line and my Arizona state license. Combo hemostat scissors and a spool of 5x tippet complete the kit. No wading gear. Just a pair of waterproof Seal Skin socks to keep my feet dry in case I find it necessary to soak my trail runners.

THE SOUTH KAIBAB

I’m more of a backcountry guy. I usually shy away from the main attractions in our National Park system. The South Kaibab and Phantom Ranch are a bit of a main attraction. Though difficult, they stay busy, both with foot traffic and burro trains. At some point during prep for the trip, I guess I had quelled my enthusiasm a bit thinking about piles of hikers and mule shit. Man, was I wrong. Yes, there is plenty of foot traffic. Yes, there are plenty of piles of mule shit. But the vistas are spectacular, truly one of a kind. I am very glad to be exactly where I am.

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Halfway down, I approach a hiker that looks like he could use a break from his uphill slog. He’s carrying a 4wt Sage in a rod tube strapped to the side of his pack, and I happily provide him with an excuse to stop and rest. “Do some fishing? How was it?”

“Yeah . . . did a lot of fishing . . . but no catching”, he replied in between huffs. “Fished Bright Angel Creek for two days. Didn’t get a thing. They’ve got the weir dam up. Fished below it, too, but no luck. Don’t think there’s much left.”

We finish the hike and check in to our cabin. The crew at Phantom Ranch doesn’t do much to improve the fishing forecast. Plenty of people trying, they say. One guy a couple weeks ago that caught some, but nobody else, they say. Guess I’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice casting.

PHANTOM RANCH AND THE MOUTH OF BRIGHT ANGEL

It takes me a whopping ten minutes to catch my first rainbow trout that night. A respectable 12 incher on a size ten Red Assed Monkey delivered with my Oni Type I. I remember a trip my friend and fellow guide, Erik, and I took to Utah’s famed Green River. The water was blown out from a large release. Nobody else thought it was worth the time, and we were the only ones on the water.

Phantom Ranch and the Mouth of Bright Angel 1 (Copy)

We slayed it, catching big brown after big brown on heavy wire worms and massive tungsten scud patterns using fixed line nymphing techniques. We couldn’t help but share our enthusiasm with the proprietors of the local fly shop as we bought up more of the same patterns. For the next two weeks, fish reports for the area talked of nothing but wire worms and tungsten scud patterns, all based on two idiots with tenkara rods that reported one good day. I was repeating that lesson on Bright Angel. Whether good news or bad, don’t pay too much attention to what other fishermen have to say. Fish your own game.

Phantom Ranch adn the Mouth of Bright Angel 3 (Copy)

One hearty stew dinner later and we’re racked out in our cabin. We’ve got two nights at the bottom. For tomorrow, we decide on a twelve-mile round-trip hike along Bright Angel Creek via the North Rim section of the South Kaibab Trail to Ribbon Falls. That first fish was near the confluence of the creek and the Colorado River, below the weir dam. I want to know what the rest of this creek holds.

RIBBON FALLS AND THE BODY OF BRIGHT ANGEL

Nothing about this place disappoints. We get an early start, long before the sun’s rays will reach the canyon bottom. Our reward is a cool, mist-laden hike capped with explosions of bight gold where the early light smashes into the highest peaks and faces. By the time we reach Ribbon Falls, it’s warm enough to enjoy the water. I hadn’t taken advantage of the bath house back at the ranch, and shed my clothes for a quick shower, au natural. Bribing Phil and Kaylan to destroy those pics is gonna cost me.

Ribbon Falls and the Body of Bright Angel 1 (Copy)

Dressed and on trail, but not dry for long. I’m right back in Bright Angel Creek, this perfect freestone stream that my tenkara rig and I have all to our selves. Every ten feet of trail seems to bring another fishy hole in sight. The creek is small enough that I manage to do all my fishing from shore. Over and over, I cut off trail and pick my way through the rock and brush on the path to the perfect presentation. I can’t get enough of it. No sense in stashing the rod at this rate. It stays rigged and at the ready, steadied in my right hand with the tip facing aft for the rest of the hike.

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I don’t catch many brown trout. The browns feed heavily on other fish, and seem to be the primary target of the Trout Reduction Program. But there are enough bows, outnumbering the browns 5 to 1 on my line. One thirteen incher comes out of a picture perfect hole, hugging the rock near the tail of the pool, right where I thought he would be. He takes me downstream where a Russian tamarisk blocks me from dropping my rod to turn him. I quickly make the decision to wet the trail runners, ensuring a gentle, successful, humane landing. We might be in the middle of a Trout Reduction Program, but no sense in breaking good habits with bad substitutions. My Seal Skins will once again prove to be worth their weight in gold with these wet shoes.

BRIGHT ANGEL TRAIL

With lush riparian lines along gin clear creeks breaking up layer upon layer of differentially colored rock as old as time, the trail back to the South Rim turns out to be even more impressive than the South Kaibab we took down. My legs turn out to be up to the task of the trip as well. Despite seven and a half miles down, followed by twelve miles along the creek, and a mild hangover to start the morning (turns out they sell beer at Phantom Ranch), we manage to kill the ten-mile uphill grunt in around four hours.

Grand Canyon’s upscale El Tovar restaurant is on the menu for dinner. Steaks and a bottle of red are well earned, and that much more tasty for it. Tomorrow, we fly out. The trip turned out to be beyond great. Better than anticipated, really. And after twenty years, there was a lot of built-up anticipation.

At dinner, I catch myself contemplating the Trout Reduction Program. Back in Utah, we’ve seen successful use of rotenone to clear invasive brown and bows followed by replacement of native Bonneville cutthroat in some of Salt Lake City’s streams. I can understand the need to avoid such a program in the case of Bright Angel, but I can’t help wondering about the limitations of an electroshock strategy. Part of me hopes it isn’t too successful, leaving a few trout to chase. But the better part of me recognizes the importance of such a conservation effort, and looks forward to the day when I can return to Phantom Ranch to chase a not-so-endangered humpback chub on the fly.

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This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.