The attraction of tenkara is, quite simply, its simplicity. There's a rod, a line, a fly and… well, that's it really. Not even a reel. It's fly fishing much as it was in Dame Juliana Berners' time, apart from the fact that, since the earliest known book on angling in Britain was published, 500 years have slipped by, the rod is lighter, oh and it's telescopic, too.
This pure, uncomplicated and aesthetically pleasing form of fishing has obviously captivated Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia clothing company. As a climber of rugged, wild mountains, lover of the outdoors, environmental campaigner and a keen fly fisher this simplicity seems to meld the angler closer to nature, and it's probably this element which Yvon Chouinard enjoys. So much so, that Patagonia has released its own kit. Based on tenkara – a fixed – line Japanese art, practised by Samurai warroirs - the Simple Fly Fishing kit comes in the form of a short rod-bag, an envelope of fly line plus a leader, and a small card box of a dozen flies. And a spare rod-section should there be a breakage.
It's easy to set up. With the aid of the accompanying instruction booklet a complete novice can be geared up at the waterside and ready to fish within minutes. Simply pull on the lilian (the knotted braid end attached to the rod's tip) and the rod - made by Temple Fork Outfitters - telescopes out to its full 10' 6" length (there's also a 8' 6" version - for small streams and children; and 11' 6" model - for dry fly on bigger rivers).
In the envelope, is a length of level fly line which is cut into three different lengths – 8', 12' and 20'. These can be easily attached to the lilian using a turle knot, and can be switched and inter-linked to attain different lengths of line; all by learning three simple knots – turle, perfection loop, and non-slip loop (for attaching the hook). All are explained and illustrated very clearly in the accompanying instruction booklet. Thus, the angler can equip himself for any river situation – short-line nymph, to long-line wet-fly with this simple kit.
However, aside of the simplicity in the gear and the tackling up, what really strikes me about this outfit is how easy it is to use. A beginner could easily pick up the movements of completing a cast – a simple back and forward stroke – in moments. It's actually very difficult to flunk a cast with this fixed-line set-up. There is no loose line to deal with, no left-hand to haul or shoot, and all line-control whilst fishing is through raising the rod tip ('high-sticking') using the rod-hand (my right). The fishing technique is so easy that I found that my left-hand was redundant – I wanted to figure-of-eight, draw, strip, wind… anything to keep it busy, but with tenkara your 'other' hand is superfluous.
I also found that tenkara fishing encourages full exploration of the water up or downstream of your position. It is an ideal technique for searching pocket-water in rivers, or exploring small streams, because the angler is not concerned about casting further (because that's not possible) – just keeping on the move, to cover new water. Lighter than a conventional rod, reel and line, this is effortless and pleasurable, too.
Casting control with this middle-to-tip action is easy to effect: reach mends, pile casts, etc are achieved simply by refinements in the casting strokes, and accuracy soon becomes second nature.
Also, I tested my outfit on a local mountain stream and was impressed by the lack of clutter involved – a light, slim rod-bag 20 inches long, an envelope, and some flies. Can it get any simpler? No. Ideal for the hiking angler.
However, I think the main driver behind this idea from Patagonia is to get people fly fishing, easily and quickly; to make fly fishing almost instantly accessible. Patagonia claims the system "demystifies fly fishing", and it does. It takes out the complicated and creates a short-circuit to the elated, because - dry fly, wet or nymph – this system works well as a fishing technique, and even a small fish provides a satisfying bend in the rod. Plenty of fun, very little hassle. I found with the longer line attached, once a three-quarter pound Tay wild brownie was hooked it put a generous curve in the rod, but any surging runs were further absorbed by a deepening bend. I then realised that with 20 feet of line plus an eight-foot leader I was going to have to back up the bank and beach the fish. Exciting stuff.
For those who want to take the simple a step further, Patagonia's kit comes with an accompanying book, which Yvon Chouinard has produced along with Craig Mathews and Mauro Mazzo with accompanying illustrations by James Prosek. This is also provided in the kit, and investigates the history and variety of fishing techniques (applicable to both tenkara and rod-and-reel fishing), basic skills, fly patterns and taking the sport further. Very informative, and a good instruction manual.
For those looking for a new angle to their fishing, or those wishing to introduce newcomers into the art of river fly-fishing this is well worth considering. Patagonia may have hit on something here to make fly fishing an easily attainable skill for the uninitiated, unenlightened masses.
From: Patagonia Stockists