Inspired by traditional Japanese fly-fishing, Patagonia is launching a new product for tenkara fly-fishing. Tenkara, meaning “from heaven” or “from the skies” evokes the meditative tone often associated with fly-fishing. Its minimalist form is appealing because it’s easy to integrate into other activities like backpacking, paddling, and hiking.
Popular with mountain stream trout anglers, tenkara goes back over 200 years in Japan, though remained virtually unknown in the US until recently. By using lightweight far-reaching bamboo for rods, Japanese anglers negated the need for a reel, minimizing weight and gear. All they need is a rod, tenkara line and fly. The focus is on the fish, not the gear. Modern tenkara anglers typically use telescoping rods made from lightweight material like carbon. The tenkara line is a twisted monofilament that creates ease of casting.
Patagonia’s new line is inspired by the work of Yvon Chouinard, Craig Mathews and Mauro Mazzo, who were writing a book about tenkara. Chouinard was given a tenkara fly rod 25 years earlier and became interested. “The target audience is newcomers to the sport,” says Patagonia director of fishing, Bart Bonime. “Chouinard is confident that this program is the most appropriate gateway of attracting people to the sport. It’s simple, it’s highly effective, and the cost of entry is far less than traditional fly fishing techniques.”
“Chouinard thinks if you can get young people excited about it, they will really cherish the resources that provide the sport,” says Bonime, in true Patagonia spirit. “They will get passionate about the environment and work to protect those resources. The new consumer will be far more likely to appreciate the sport and stay involved.”
Lex Story, who is the Washington Tenkara Ambassador and teaches Tenkara Clinics at Creekside Angling Company in Issaquah, says that the Yakima River is a great place to practice tenkara year round. He recommends the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River and any river on the Skykomish system, but cautions that part of the art is finding your own spot. He encourages anglers to put the miles on their legs in effort to gain the rewards of navigating to remote ripe places in keeping with tenkara’s allure. “With a collapsible rod, I can get to water no one else is going to touch. The compactness is conducive to hiking and bushwhacking,” says Story. He likes to find small creeks with richly colored energetic fish that feed on aquatic insects.
“Before it was always about equipment, but with tenkara, it is about extracting all the extraneous noise. It cuts right through the bullshit,” says Story. The question becomes how to entice fish with technique and not gear. Story only fishes with the more difficult barbless hooks and practices catch and release. He likes the challenge.
He’s carefully considered every detail and has the excitement of a kid talking about it, but uses restraint in his practice. “Every time I get a fish my heart stops,” he says, “there’s a deep beauty in the idea of getting on a fish’s level.” Quality over quantity is at play. “At first it was about catching a really big fish,” he says. “Then it became about refining the art.”
Environmental stewardship goes along with the territory, “Most fly anglers understand it’s not just about the fish but enjoying what’s been put there by mother earth and leaving the place better than you found it.”
They say the joy of fly-fishing is the anticipation of success on every attempt. Story is passionate about tenkara, in stalking fish, reading the conditions and mastering the art. “The moment it’s called upon you to use your skills, time slows down,” he says. “You’re like a giant in a playground. Your brain is on fire.” Doesn’t that make you want to try it out?
Patagonia’s new Simple Fly Fishing Kit includes a tenkara fly rod (available in different lengths), the Simple Fly Fishing book, by Chouinard, Mathews and Mazzo, a Simple Fly Fishing quick set-up guide, line and leader, and a box of 12 Chouinard-recommended flies. The entire kit will retail for $259-$279, depending on rod.