Tenkara Then & Now – Fins and Feathers Bozeman
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Tenkara Then & Now

This article comes to you from our friend John Geer of Tenkara USA!

Tenkara has been catching steam in the last few of years, and it’s been exciting to see it progress from an oddity in the United States to a strong subcategory of fly fishing. We at Tenkara USA have been very proud to help this movement along, but always like to keep in mind tenkara’s humble beginnings.

Tenkara, at its core was a commercial food gathering tool. Long before the name “tenkara” was heard, Japanese villagers were heading to their mountain streams to catch food to sell in market places, restaurants, and inns. It was hard work; the anglers had to hike to their fishing spots and hike back with heavy catches.

The anglers that would develop what would come to be known as tenkara needed an effective fishing method that could be practiced with tools made from available resources and be light enough to not burden their trips into the mountains and then back home. They found their answer in the form of bamboo rods that could be transported by nesting the smaller segments in the larger ones (a precursor to today’s telescoping rods), light hoarse hair lines tied directly to the tip of the rod (no reel was needed for the fish of the Japanese mountain streams) and simple fly selection that could be crafted without a vice using foraged materials and feathers. Instead of carrying a huge selection of patterns early tenkara anglers wood focus on presentation and changing technique instead of changing flies.

In 2007, my friend and now boss Daniel Galhardo discovered tenkara while researching fishing in Japan. His wife is Japanese-American and a trip to visit family would allow him to experience the beautiful mountain streams there. By 2008, he had seen tenkara first hand and by 2009 quit a promising career in international finance to focus on Tenkara USA. The company’s mission was to sell the tackle needed for tenkara and help spread the message of how simple fly fishing can be.

Today’s graphite tenkara rods are lighter and stronger than the bamboo tenkara rods of old, allowing anglers more options the size of fish they chase and the ways they fish for them. I’ve used my tenkara rods to handle everything from tiny brook trout in beaver ponds to large fish on the Madison, all with great enjoyment on my part. They’re light enough that even someone as out of shape as me doesn’t notice they’re extra weight while hiking to further away fishing spots. They’re also extremely easy to throw in a carry on or boat bag.

Modern tenkara lines made of furled spectra fibers or level fluorocarbon, along with modern tippets allow the techniques of old to be use on much larger rivers targeting much larger fish. A 20’ level line can still be held of of the water for perfect drifts buy a 14’7” rod that weighs less that an 11’ bamboo tenkara rod.

Modern fly tiers have access to much more variety of materials and much better quality of hooks than the tender anglers of old, but is gratifying to see how many new tenkara anglers have enjoyed a very simple approach to fly selection. While we don’t feel a tenkara angler should feel obligated to fish with only tenkara flies, it has been rewarding to us at Tenkara USA to hear stories of how liberating that idea has been to many of the people we’ve shared tenkara with.

It’s also been fun to see what other directions anglers have taken tenkara and what an incredibly versatile method it’s proving to be. Of corse, the core group of tenkara anglers seem to be using it mainly on smaller trout streams, but we now see it used on everything from small warm water ponds to large trout rivers like the Madison. While many anglers prefer sticking with

”traditional” tenkara flies, others are using them to throw patterns like hoppers, San Juan Worms, and Wooley Buggers. Trout are joined by fish like bass, bluegill, and even carp as the targets for tenkara anglers.

It’s hard to predict how tenkara will change in the next five years, but we do hope anglers will keep its origins in mind. One thing is for sure, Tenkara USA will be there and happy to watch the evolution. We’ll continue to provide quality products and excellent customer service and happily partner with our growing list of excellent dealers, like my old friends at Fins and Feathers. If you have questions about tenkara, please feel free to contact us at info@tenkarausa.com or stop in to harass Toby and the rest of the Fins crew. You may even run into me there on my way to fish a small mountain stream, (or the Madison) with my tenkara rod.

John Geer