Book Review: tenkara, Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing

tenkara: Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing (2011)
by Kevin C. Kelleher, MD with Misako Ishimura
145 Pages
Lyons Press

In his book Tenkara: Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing author Kevin Kelleher (with Misako Ishimura), has brought tenkara literature to America. Up to this point everything that you wanted to find out about tenkara was going to come from online resources. And although there is wealth of great information available online, it is nice to get some of it here in one place, in print. I’m old fashioned when it comes to my reading. I enjoy it most when it comes from the pages of a book. I like to get a cup of coffee, sit in my spot on the couch, put my feet up, maybe put on some music – that’s how I like to read. Sitting at a computer reading from a screen is less like reading and more like ingesting information. The irony that I write this blog and that it’s read from a computer screen is not lost on me.

The book opens with some discussion of the birth of tenkara in the mountains of Japan (interesting stuff). Then it moves to discussion of tenkara gear and rigging. After reading these chapters the curious western angler will know what he needs to get started as a tenkara fisherman. The emphasis is always on the ease and simplicity of the tenkara set-up.

The principal appeal of tenkara fly fishing lies in it’s simplicity, pared down to a rod, a line, and a fly. In comparison to western fly fishing, the amount of necessary gear is minimal…Take only what seems essential and fitting. Scrutinize everything. It must serve you, not burden you.

In the introduction, the author mentions that this book is written so that it will be useful to the complete beginner as well as for the seasoned western angler that wants to transition to tenkara. With the beginner in mind there are chapters that tackle basic fly fishing subjects such as likely trout lies; dry fly, wetfly, nymph and streamer tactics; trout stream bugs; proper stalking and wading techniques, etc. The more experienced fly fisher will find much to learn in the discussions of tenkara gear and rigging, tenkara casting, making tenkara lines and tenkara style flies and presentation. Also, to be honest, I can always use those reminders about wading carefully and being stealthy on small streams.

The chapter on casting is called “the simplest cast in fly fishing”. Much of the appeal of tenkara lies in simplicity, and tenkara casting is no different. Here’s what the author has to say on that:

One of the strengths of tenkara lies in its cast…A beginner can use a tenkara rod to place a fishable fly immediately without instruction.

This is indeed true. I can vouch for that – give a kid (or adult) a tenkara rod and they’ll pick up the basic cast almost intuitively. In this book, the author Kevin Kelleher is not only presenting the tenkara style of fishing, he is also presenting a philosophy of fishing (and maybe even living). Keep it simple. The author says:

It’s the intimacy, unencumbered by excess gear and gadgetry, that takes us outside of ourselves. We need our quiet places, both internally and out in the world, and tenkara can help you find them.

I think that this book will appeal (and be most helpful) to those folks just beginning to get into fly fishing, and those more experienced anglers unfamiliar to tenkara and looking to transition. If you are an experienced fly fisher that has followed tenkara’s growth in america via the web and various tenkara forums, and who already has a tenkara rod, then maybe this book will not be deep enough for you. For example, I would have like to see a much more detailed section on tenkara flies and tenkara fly tying. And perhaps more info on the history and current state of tenkara in Japan.

Is this book the “last word” in tenkara? No, it is not. Is it a good beginning point though? – yes definitely. I am very glad to see this book published. Hopefully it is only the first of many tenkara books by Kevin Kelleher and Misako Ishmura.

Disclosure: I received no monetary compensation for reviewing this book. However, this book was provided to me by the publisher.

what say you?