Tenkara: Weightless Fly Fishing

Tenkara Fly Simplicity

“Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it.” – Norman Maclean

I grew up a bait dunker which sometimes gets stigmatized against fly fishing and lure purists, but as a young man on the shores of my favorite trout lakes, bait was all I knew. Over time, I read many books that spoke of methods of fishing that I was unfamiliar with, and I fell in love with the idea of fishing small streams and rivers with lures made of fur and feather. I wanted to fish like my long-ago ancestors had done with simply rod, line, and fly.
I learned to tie flies before anything else, around ten years old, and in the absence of a fly rod I would tie the weightless nymphs to my line anyway and cast just like the fly fisherman had on the videos I watched. In this fashion I played with my imagination and used a spin cast rod to turn myself into a fly fisherman on a big river in the mountains. And then, one evening at camp as the sun set and the fish rose to the surface, I tied on one of my own simple tangles of rabbit fur and pheasant tail and toyed with that image. To my surprise, the fish actually followed it! I was young and mesmerized by the fact that a fly I had tied myself was enticing enough to garner strikes.
I ran back to camp ecstatic! Relaying the events of the evening to my father, he tied on a clear plastic bubble for me to use with my fly, and I walked back to the water’s edge with sheer confidence in my tackle. Cast after cast the fish ignored my fly until, one last toss, as the bobber came close to the shore, a large wake came flying up to my fly, and I felt the tug of a bite ripple into my hands. Though I missed that first fish on one of my first flies, I was very easily hooked on fly fishing.
Fast forward a few rods, a few flies, a few fish, and we find ourselves on the edge of the water with a Tenkara rod in hand. I was brought back to the memory at camp, the light shining down through the thick trees and falling on the water glistening in my favorite, gentle evening light.
I had found myself back at my youth, the simplicity of rod, line, and fly I sought after had become a reality in my hands.
The first thing I felt was a stronger sense of the relationship between man and river. It’s as if the length of the rod forces you to get to know the water and the rocks and your shadow in the way it falls so that your consciousness is always experiencing the moment. A subtle sense of focus pervades your every movement but not overpowering enough to lose yourself in the details.
Your mind assumes the same frame as your cast- gentle, delicate, and full of intent.
I believe a Tenkara fisherman can assume the same flow of a blue heron stalking prey. A grace and sense of intention fills every step and every detail down to how the foot falls to the bottom. The back is hunched but not pained for the bent knees lower the tensed form down to a gentle coil. And as the wrist flicks back to send the hook down from the heavens, it’s a mirror for the way a heron’s neck strikes out precise as a bolt of lightning from the sky.
And yet where this comparison ends is in the intent of the hunter. Should the fisherman be searching the waters for a meal the fish will meet the same fate as one in the beak of a heron, however, should a fisherman hunt for a sense of unity, philosophy, the fish will be released with a minimum of pain back into the water from whence it came.
And that is the beauty of Tenkara. To me, its simplicity greatly rivals that of traditional fly fishing and connects a practitioner deeper to their ancestral roots. I am smitten with it. Three is my favorite number and is supposedly a number filled with creative and imaginative energies in many spiritual disciplines and while the unity of Tenkara is up for you to decide, the fact remains that it is a technique of thirds.
Tenkara, the unity of rod, line, and fly.




Hiro View All →

A young writer and photographer who loves the outdoors with a significant passion. I believe that what the environment needs is people who have a close relationship with the land through the things they do out there. Check out all TheOutLife social media avenues and feel free to send some feedback!

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