What is the state of American Tenkara?

I am sometimes attracted to  something – to an image, a song, a phrase, even a word – and my mind rotates this thing around and around.   I’ll find myself thinking about it all day long – maybe not always on the surface, but maybe buried under the day’s dust and detritus.  At these times I’ll try to decipher what this obsession means – it is not always possible.  Sometimes however an idea comes into focus and differentiates itself from fuzzy background noise of my brain.  That’s what happened with this photo.

When I looked at this photo it seemed full of meaning and metaphor – but I couldn’t quite put words to it.  Then an idea began to incubate and finally hatched.  This picture made me think of poise and potential; of initial and boundary  conditions; of chaos and prediction.  In short it made me think of the current and future state of tenkara in America.  Is tenkara that erratic boulder, sitting on the edge, poised and improbable? Will it fall in to the lake? Will it remain on the edge? Is tenkara that scraggly Charlie Brown pine tree, growing on the inhospitable purchase of that rock ledge, doomed to a crooked and stunted life, but still somehow hanging on, still nobly struggling?  Is it the melt water from the glacier, distilled on high in rarefied air, dropped on us from out of the blue, then melted into the greater lake of fly fishing? Who knows.  It will be interesting to watch the development, one thing is for sure –  it is impossible to know.  But I’m glad to play a bit part in the movie.

What do you all think? Please let me know.

10 Comments on What is the state of American Tenkara?

  1. Anthony, this is a terrific post. What a great photo to use to frame the questions. Like you I am very curious to see where the tenkara journey leads. The recent trip out west showed the range of tenkara. The myths continue to fall and the future seems quite bright. Thanks for being part of the journey.

  2. Anthony – you are quite the philosopher. Tenkara has become part of my live, an important part, that was previously occupied by fly fishing. I believe Tenkara is here to stay and will continue to amaze us what is possible with such simple equipment. Maybe it will even rejuvenate the entire fly fishing sport, drawing young folks being able to catch fish “just like Huck Finn, but more high tech” (and I hope they know who Huck Finn is).

    • Karel,
      I don’t know about philosopher – I do think too much about things though. That’s probably born out of not getting on the stream nearly as much as I’d like. :)

      You say “Tenkara has become part of my live, an important part, that was previously occupied by fly fishing.”

      How much of a distinction do you make between tenkara and “fly-fishing”?

  3. Anthony….First things first, that is a beautiful picture! Second when I look at it and think of Tenkara I see Tenkara as the tree, simple, beautiful, and fragile. Third, I see it as the boulder, soild and dependable with a long history. Last, but not least, like the sky line in the backround and whether you go left or right Tenkara will increase in elevation/popularity.

    • Chris,

      I love this dialog! It’s great to hear yours, and the other guys’ ideas on this topic.

      “…simple, beautiful, fragile.”, “…solid and dependable with a long history.”, “…like the sky line in the backround and whether you go left or right Tenkara will increase in elevation/popularity.”

      All nicely stated.

  4. Karl Klavon // May 25, 2013 at 7:25 PM // Reply

    Anthony, your excellent picture brings up another topic that is very close to my heart – fixed line fishing in high mountain lakes – which is an activity that Tenkara tackle is actually often better suited to do well than Western fly tackle is in my experience. While there are many Tenkara anglers out there who would not consider stillwater Tenkara fly fishing to be a true form of the sport because it is not done in Japan, I see no reason why lake Tenkara fly fishing can’t become a valid aspect of Tenkara fly fishing here in America.

    • Karl – perhaps lake fishing is not traditional tenkara – that’s ok. I love fishing ponds for panfish with my tenkara rods. If I lived near high mountain trout lakes – you can bet I’d be fishing those with my tenkara rod.

  5. Colin Bruner // December 15, 2014 at 1:19 AM // Reply

    Great thoughts Anthony! The question resolves in my mind, to some extent, when I think of how I discovered Tenkara and how it changed my whole fishing attitude. Attitude and pride in what you’ve been doing vs what you can do presents itself. On the Tenkara page of the Orvis (YES, ORVIS!) web site they are selling an Iwana Tenkara package. The reviews averaged 4.7 stars out of 5 that praise Tenkara and Orvis for selling it. Interesting to me was the review of someone who seems to be a pillar of their community. A “1000 Plus” contributor from SLC, Utah. He gave Tenkara a 1 rating with the following statement:

    “Trendy but not very versatile. If you want to stand out in the crowd buy it. Also good in very select conditions for very young children before they can get basic casting with fly rod down. If your child is already 4 or 5 years old and reasonably coordinated skip it. If you aren’t into the fashion show with what you wear fishing then this attention grabber probably isn’t for you either. Doesn’t outperform a descent fly rod in any situation other than the toddler age group.”

    See: (Look under REVIEWS ALL then scan through)

    I felt sure that his type never has given it a try and I figure those alike are deeply and stubbornly invested and vested in the typical fly fishing world. For many, IMO , they are afraid of giving up what they know and are comfortable with and feeling to do so would be a treason of sorts. Not to mention the possibility of letting dust settle on $1000 worth of equipment and hard won casting skills nurtured over many years. I think Tenkara will grow exponentially in the next several years, then flatten out to a destined level determined by the forces of marketing and shared experiences. Back when I was a young man you were either Ford, GM or Dodge guy. Stealthily these foreigners started showing up…Datsun 240Z, Toyota, Nissan, Daiwa, Iwana, Nissin ,…

    • Colin – wow! I know that there is still some resistance to tenkara in fly fishing circles but that comment that you shared from the Orvis sit is just ridiculous. I suspect that there is some “trendiness” with tenkara – and that we have not yet seen the peak of that trend (it is just beginning I think). Is tenkara, as it currently exists, good for everything? No, but neither is a 3wt rod or a 12 wt rod. They serve a purpose and do it well within there proper limits. I can honestly say that I didn’t come to tenkara with the intent to become a “tenkara angler” but rather tenkara took over. And it took over because is was extremely effective and fun for most of the places that I trout fish. I certainly had no agenda or plan to have it happen that way – it was simply that tenkara is perfectly suited for most of what I do.
      I think you’re right, tenkara will grow – and maybe it will become more trendy and faddish – some folks will buy rods and use them a few times then put them in the closet. But enough folks will see that tenkara rods and techniques are perfectly suited to their needs and preferences that it will become a regular part of the fly fishing world.
      And I would also add – in reply to that guy that posted about tenkara being suited to children – that’s fine by me. After all it’s all about having fun, messing about in water and being a child at heart.
      Cheers to you sir! and catch a few for me.

what say you?