I've only been a fisherman for three years. It all started after my wife signed me up for a free introduction to fly fishing class at the local fly shop - Western Rivers Fly Fisher. I went with my friend Mike. Mike never really took to fishing. But, I started down the proverbial slippery slope - fishing on weekends turned to fishing on my lunch breaks. My first rod basically disintegrated from excessively hard use, a Redington Crosswater outfit, so I upgraded to a 10 foot Orvis Helios 2 outfit, and a 6'9" bamboo number I picked up on sale for Christmas, and now I have a cart full of Tenkara rods ( a few I brought back from a fishing trip to Japan). Things really started to spiral when my wife gave me a rotary vise and a month of fly tying classes at Western Rivers. Now my office has more fur and feathers and fly tying books and magazines than medical texts.
Even for a casual observer, it's easy to peg me as a nutty fly fisherman. And yes, I have a longstanding record of pouring myself into a thing with a kind of singular focus that comes from a secret desire to master it. Though I generally will settle for becoming pretty good at whatever my current obsession is.
One of the best ways to coax improvement from me has been to hang out with the "Best". I like tackling the streams with real pros and folks I consider way above my skill set in the hopes that their magic will rub off on me.
The young trout bum that ran my "Intro to Fly Fishing" class was Nick Teynor, a fine fisherman, and "Best of the West" fly casting champion. The first time he took us to the Middle Provo River in Heber, Utah, it seemed like he was pulling rabbits out of a hat. Little brown trout materialized on the end of his line, sometimes interrupting him mid-sentence as he tried to explain the basics. He was actually annoyed by all the pesky fish that wanted to hit his nymphs. I'm still a terrible caster and I still can't pull fish out of the same water Nick fished no matter what I do. But, he opened me up to what was possible with fishing fur and feathers and the hidden goings on in the river that fisherman are privy to.
Erik Ostrander of Tenkara Guides started to pop up everywhere. On blogs that I was reading and not just Tenkara blogs, but he showed up on mainstream blogs like Orvis News, fly tying videos, and on television. That was the last straw, I had to meet this guy. It was this episode of KSL Outdoors that made me bite the bullet and hire my first guide trip. And yes, it was a Tenkara trip. I'd pretty much settled on the idea that I needed to break down fly fishing into digestible chunks, and so, dispensing with the heavy reels and lines let me focus more on reading water and handling a fish on the line.
Erik literally walked me through a run full of fish and broke down how to focus on productive water and keep things moving. Up to that point my image of fishing was a lone angler working a honey hole for hours silhouetted by a golden sunset. But, Erik kept moving briskly upstream to cover as much water as possible. We fished many different styles of flies, lines and rods including classic kebaris in the custom of the original Japanese fisherman/fishmongers (they made a living off of the fish they caught). They have an abstract beauty in their form and function that a match the hatch purist would shake his head at, in the same way a museum goer might react to a dadaist work of art, asking himself "What were they thinking?" But, the kebari perfectly matches the light flourocarbon line and telescopic carbon fiber rod as if they were made for each other - and they are.
Then again our Western rivers are different from the streams in Japan and Americans, being as they are, like to tinker with things and brand things in with the red, white and blue. That's why our favorite foods are Italian pizza and German hamburgers with a side of French fries. We like to gorge ourselves on misnomers that the originators don't find recognizable as Japanese, Italian, German or French (because they really aren't anymore). Erik and I fished a bunch of these tenkara "Western Hybrids" using Czech nymphs and bead heads and dry droppers with sighters built into the lines.
Managing fish instead of managing line, was liberating and a pure joy.
It was great for me as a beginner. And, the very next day I used the techniques I learned to catch fish in that original Nick Teynor water that was opaque to me prior to discovering tenkara. Come to think of it, Nick was high-sticking during his presentation to me and the other newbies...hmmm eerily similar to tenkara.
From the Heavens
This is the Harima Tenkara Club of Japan...
Harima is the ancient name of the area South East of Kyoto that includes the city of Himeji. In modern Japan the area is called Hyogo prefecture. Tenkara connects these eclectic fishermen to near forgotten traditions born in these high mountain streams, so it is fitting that the club goes by the region's ancient moniker.
Not all the members are as hard core as Eiji and Masa. Those two dudes are lords of the 10,000 meter club. They'll hike over 6 miles to get to a stream, fish for 6 hours, and drive 6 hours to get home. Some of the Harima guys are strictly 1,000 meter club folks and want to be on the water in less than 1 mile and might even be found napping streamside.
My journey began with Beginner Welcome Novice Stream followed by Twin Waterfalls and then collapsing from exhaustion at our camp in a park along a mountain village riverbank.
The next morning, my legs were still jello and I had very little gas left in the tank, so I was downgraded to the 100 meter club.
But first, Eiji worked on casting light lines with me. He took me step by step through laying out the line on my back cast as well as the forward cast. He also taught me a neat trick of casting in a giant oval in front of me in order to cast very short distances with accuracy and a bit of elegant flare. That way I was able to hit water near and far with graceful casts rather than collapsing line on the water or overcompensating by extending my arm too far forward.
I was amazed to witness Eiji rigging up a 35 foot line and putting his whole body into the cast to lay out line perfectly across the park. Eiji uses these long lines for placid pools and stillwaters with spooky fish. Even more amazing is that after a few pointers from Eiji I was able to cast that line. I really did not think it was possible to cast such a long line with a 12 foot Tenkara rod. I'm constantly surprised at what is possible with Tenkara.
We fished a stream running through rice fields bound for bottles of Sake. I daydreamed about guzzling sake while I trudged the 100 meters or so from the road to the river.
I practiced my casting and was really starting to get the hang of it. It's not that I couldn't cast before, but that I was getting more of the name sake " From the Heavens" kind of casts that leave almost no splash from the fly when it enters the water. These are the kinds of presentations that fly fishermen the world over dream about. Those amazing moments when the clouds part and the stars align that seem to play in slow motion and end with me thinking, "Damn, if I were a fish, I would eat that fly!".
Luckily my casting arm was still working, because my legs were jello.
I'm sure they could see how wobbly I was, even without any libation in me. So they finally gave in and drove right to a spot along the river where I could lower myself into the water from the car.
Welcome to the 1 meter club Ladies and Gentlemen.
After fishing the high mountains of japan, the kind members of the Harima Tenkara club hosted me for a traditional O-Den style dinner in Himeji, Japan beneath the shadow of the famed Hakuro-Jo (White Egret Castle).
A tiny shop. An L shaped wooden bar. A venerable old man in back and a sweet woman up front holding court over a copper cook top brimming with savory broth and a variety of delectable morsels - roots, seaweeds, kabobs, seafood. I just pointed and nodded and she served up a dish with a splash of broth. The memories make my mouth water. I was told that this style of food was a traditional dinner for family gatherings and that every family has their own take on the potpourri of ingredients that they serve.
Special thanks and warmest regards to the Harima guys:
10,000 meter Club
1,000 meter Club
Minoru Tashito "Suikyo" the Water Mirror
100 meter Club
1 meter Club