Book: Simple Fly Fishing – Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel

“Learning to fish with a tenkara rod and a short line is the easiest way to learn to fly-fish. It can be taught to an eight-year-old in minutes. Put her on a riffle with an old-fashioned soft-hackle fly, and she can outfish dad on the first day. Catching fish right from the start is the way to catch an angler for life.”

Yvon Chouinard

Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara & Rod and Reel
Revised 2nd Edition, January 19, 2019
Patagonia Books
Yvon Chouinard, Craig Mathews and Mauro Mazzo

A while back I, just before the holidays, I received the book Simple Fly Fishing – Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel, 2nd ed. in the mail from Patagonia and it sat longer than it should have. I finally got a chance to sit down and read it and here are some of my thoughts on it.

What is This book? Let me start by saying it is not that comprehensive English language book about traditional and modern tenkara as it was and is practiced in Japan that many of us are waiting for. So what is it then? Well…pretty much what it says in the title. It is a book about simple fly fishing. As tenkara purists would accurately point out it is, for the most part, not a book about tenkara— but rather it is a book about fly fishing with a tenkara rod or “fixed-line fly fishing” as it has come to be known. That may be splitting hairs to some, but to others it’s an important distinction. I think it’s a good distinction to make— but with the caveat, to my way of thinking at least, that it is not a value judgment. I enjoy tenkara in its more narrowly defined (and more accurate) form, and I also enjoy fly fishing with a tenkara rod.

“In this book, we use the simplest of all fly fishing methods, a pole with a line on the end, to illustrate how to control the fly without the complexity of modern equipment getting in the way.”

Yvon Chouinard

For the most part, authors Yvon Chouinard, Craig Mathews and Mauro Mazzo stay away from discussing Japanese tenkara. Instead they share their experiences and present the methods and techniques that they developed by combining their years of fly fishing experience with the advantages that a tenkara rod and line gives them. It is a very personal book in that way. That resonates with me. Instead of saying “this is the be all and end all” it’s more like they are saying “hey here are some things that are working great for me, you should try them out”.

I addition to the use of tenkara rods the book does touch on application of the techniques for rod and reel fly fishing as well— but that is not a primary focus.

The Table of Contents of Simple Fly Fishing

What Topics Does Simple Fly Fishing Cover?
As you can see in the above photo of the table of contents, Simple Fly Fishing is configured to give a prospective angler a good base line of fly fishing ideas. The emphasis always being on knowledge rather than on gear. The first chapter, Trout and Their Food, outlines the species of trout most likely to be encountered and the types of foods that they eat and some habits of both. It’s a good grounding for a new fly angler to build on. And as many folks might be coming to tenkara without a fly fishing background I think it’s an important discussion.

“We begin by describing wet fly fishing with a tenkara rod. Not only is it the easiest way to learn to fly fish, but it is possibly the most effective way to catch large numbers of fish.”

Yvon Chouinard

In chapters 2, 3 and 4 the authors present the big three topics of fly fishing techniques; wet flies and streamers, nymph fishing and dry fly fishing. Each section covers the premise of each technique as well as methods for tenkara rods (and to a lesser degree fly rod and reel). Along with discussion of the techniques fly patterns with color photos are presented in each section.

“…I believe that the keys to being an effective fly fisher are two things: to know well the habit of the fish you are trying to catch and to be able to read the water it lives in. Once you master this, even a bare hook can be the right fly.”

Mauro Mazzo

In the last section, Chapter 5: Fishing Situations, the authors tackle the task of breaking down different real world scenarios for the angler. They present specifics about reading water and how to best apply the previously discussed techniques to fast mountain waters, slow meadow waters, spring creeks, freestone rivers and stillwater.

For whom is this book best suited?
I’ll start with what Yvon Chouinard has to say on that:

“This is a book for the young person who wants to learn but feels intimidated by the complexity, elitism, and expense of the sport…It is also for the woman and her daughter who are put off by the image of testosterone-fueled “rip-some-lips”…This is also for the experienced angler who has all the gadgets and gizmos and discovers he or she wants to replace all that stuff with skill, knowledge and simplicity.”

I’d add that if you’re somebody that’s been doing tenkara for a while and are having success and are mostly interested in the more traditional form of tenkara then this is probably not the book for you – especially if you’ve already got fly fishing experience with rod and reel. If you’re already doing tenkara but you came to tenkara without first having some fly fishing experience and would like a more solid grounding in fly fishing basics then this book may offer a nice grounding for you. I’d say the anglers that have the most to gain are those that are interested in fly fishing and who want to use the simplicity of tenkara as an entry point into the seemingly complex world of fly fishing. For those anglers Simple Fly Fishing offers that entry point and provides methods of fly fishing with a tenkara rod – while at the same time filling in enough of the fly fishing background that if they want to transition to rod and reel they are not in the dark.

A Few Final Words
Though I was tempted to point out differences in the way I like to do things compared to what is presented in the book, in the end I decided to refrain from that exercise completely. I think it’s okay to take it as it is and simply allow for differences in technique and gear preferences among anglers. I’d simply say that there are many more techniques and rigging options used by tenkara anglers than are presented in the book. So just take it as a few anglers sharing their personal style and not as any sort of complete survey of fixed-line fly fishing or tenkara.

Yvon Chouinard, a noted fly fisherman (chosen by Fly, Rod, and Reel as “Angler of the Year” in 2009) and environmentalist, is the founder and owner of Patagonia, Inc. He cofounded with Craig Matthews, 1% for The Planet, a group of businesses giving back to the environment. A bestselling author, Simple Fly Fishing is his third book and first release in the hunting and fishing genre. He lives in Ventura, CA and Moose Jaw, WY.

Craig Mathews, with his wife, Jackie, is the owner and founder of Blue Ribbon Flies, a retail fly-fishing outfitter in West Yellowstone, Montana. Craig has authored five books on fly fishing in the western U.S. and Yellowstone NP and is renowned as an expert fly fishing guide.

Mauro Mazzo is an FFF Certified Master and THCI Casting Instructor, and he writes and photographs on a regular basis for European fly fishing magazines. He has fished around the globe from the Italian Alps to Himachal Pradesh, from Cuba to Kola Peninsula. He lives in Milan, Italy.

disclosure: I was given a copy of Simple Fly Fishing by Patagonia Books for review purposes but was in no other way compensated

2 Comments on Book: Simple Fly Fishing – Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel

  1. What book would you recommend for a more in-depth Tenkara approach?

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