The zen of tenkara — how I learned to love fishing
I always sort of hated fishing. People talk about how fun and relaxing it is, but that never seemed to match what I’d see when folks go fishing. Lugging huge tackle boxes around, constantly untangling fishing line, staring aimlessly at a bobber on lake. This did not seem fun and it definitely did not seem relaxing. Hiking is enjoyable and relaxing. Fishing seemed like an exercise in frustration to me.
There is a different way to fish, though. An incredibly simple, minimalist approach that erases all the unnecessary bits of fishing and leaves you with just the good parts. Being in nature. Being present. Listening to the water. You’d be forgiven for falling asleep out there if it weren’t for the sheer exhilaration of landing a fish and bringing it in.
Calm beauty punctuated with waves of elation. That’s tenkara fly fishing.
Tenkara is simple
If you have a soccer ball in your car, you can have a quick kick-around with friends and family anywhere. There’s no need for lots of equipment or rules and you can have fun with a few friends or even by yourself. Tenkra is like that. Because the equipment you need is both minimal and compact, you can take it anywhere and enjoy it anytime.
Tenkara uses telescoping fishing rods, with a fixed-length line that you attach, with some thin fishing line called tippet, to a fly. To fish, you extend the pole, connect your line, and cast. That’s it. You can go from “that creek looks neat!” to actually fishing it in about a minute.
When I want to go fishing, I just toss this shoulder bag on and walk or ride my bike toward the water. That’s it, really. I can fish for 20 minutes or all day, with just what’s in this bag. Let’s take a look at what’s inside.
My on-the-water tenkara kit
- The shoulder bag is a Gossamer Gear Bumster bag
- The rod is a Tenkara USA Hane — 10'10" extended that’s just 15" when collapsed
- A roll of spare tippet — this is the really thin line you tie your flies to
- A Tenkara USA tapered nylon tenkara line kept wrapped neatly around a foam line holder, with a fly already tied on
- My portable fly box is an Altoids tin, with a silicon fly holding insert from DoddysFlies
- My flies are primarily from Hillshire Flies and Tenkara USA
- A bottle of Gink dry fly flotant (A nice-to-have, keeps flies that are meant to float on top of the water, floating on top of the water)
- A pair of nippers and Dr. Slick forceps, which I clip onto my shoulder bag for easy access
When I’m feeling lucky, I also bring along this landing net that hangs neatly off the shoulder bag with a magnetic retractable coil. For anyone who hasn’t thought about fishing nets in a while, they’re different now. It turns out those old nets made with polyester string aren’t so great for the fish, so new nets have a soft rubber netting instead.
Find some water and chill
There’s a special state of chill that seems to come from tenkara fishing. How you cast, how you bring fish in — it’s all very intuitive and is probably what you would do on your own anyway. You’ll be casting a minute or two after you arrive at the water, and that’s when it hits. Deep, slow breathing. Being fully present in nature. Being aware of the wind, the water, the current, the glint of a fish swimming just below the surface. The weight lifts off your shoulders and you can finally fully relax. Until a fish tugs on your line, at least.
A bit of inspiration
I’ve only been tenkara fishing for a few weeks now, but it’s been an absolute blast. It’s so great to have another excuse to get out on the trails, find a new body of water, and get some relaxing fly fishing in. I’ve taken the long way home, just to drive past a nice river or creek I can fish for a bit. It gives me more moments every week, to stop and and soak things in for a little while. It’s fantastic.
If you’re curious to learn more about tenkara, here are some great places to start:
- Tenkara Addict — Tristan posts the very best tenkara videos online, and this is a great place to get a sense for what tenkara fishing is all about, featuring beautiful fishing on mountain creeks and rivers in the rocky mountains
- Tenkara USA — Tenkara USA is responsible for bringing tenkara fishing, a japanese tradition, to the United States. They have countless instructional videos to get you started.
- Tenkara Rod Co — Another great tenkara company from Idaho, with great videos on technique, gear, and good times
- Dragontail Tenkara — An innovative outfit of affordable tenka gear and more (I ordered their new Mutant zx380 on Indiegogo and should have it soon)
- TenkaraBum — Tenkara is japanese, and this is the best online resource to buy japanese tenkara equipment directly