Monday, December 19, 2011

Fishing a New Style , Tenkara, an ancient Japanese fishing expirence


In 1986 while working as a guide for the Rivers Edge in Bozeman Mt, one morning two men came into the shop looking for a guide. One of the men was American, the other was Japanese, the American was an interrupter for the man from Japan. We all met and were getting ready for the day when I noticed that the Japanese man had a something in his hand he was trying to show me. It was a tube that was around 18 inch's in length, I had no idea what this was, but the American said this is his rod for fishing. Just then, the man started pulling out the rod in the shop, it was very long once it was all out, maybe 14 ft in total length, a telescoping rod made from fiberglass. Of course I asked if he had a reel with Fly line, when I noticed that there was no guides on the very long soft, flexible telescoping rod. The Japanese man was very excited, and was trying to mimic just how he used the rod for fishing, but he did not speak a word of English, so I was completely in the dark. He was holding a horse's tail that he presented from his back pocket, in which just confused me even further. Then the American re-appeared, and explained the process that we would be using to fish that day. He said that there was no reel, but that the single strand of horse tail would be tied on to the tip of the rod, the length was around 2-3 feet Then, a hook would be tied to the free end of the single strand of horse tail. On the hook, the Japanese gentleman would put on what ever he could find to entice the fish to feed,  that lived near, or in the river.
We decided that the three of us would  float the Yellowstone River near the town of Livingston MT. While I was preparing the boat for the days float, and getting the boat in the river, I noticed that the Japanese man was turning over rocks in the river and collecting a fair number of golden stone fly nymphs. He was very happy with his bounty, the American said that these would be perfect for his style of fishing. So, off we went, the American in the front of the boat and the long rod fishermen was fishing from the back of the boat. Once we were off and floating, introductions were re- established, the Americans name was Bob, and the Japanese gentleman's name was Ichiro. Bob told me that Ichiro was a well know and extremely successful business man from Tokyo and that Ichiro had wanted to fish the American western rivers for most of his adult life, and today, was a dream come true. Then Bob told me about the style of fishing that was taking place in the back of my boat , it was called Tenkara, and that it had a very long history in Japan, Bob was not sure just how long , but he thought for hundreds of years this style of fishing had been popular, usually with small creek fisherman. Just then Ichiro was screaming from the back of the boat, he had a fish on, I moved the boat into the shallows to anchor and try and land the fish that was just in the surface slashing wildly. As I reached out with the net in an attempt to subdue the fish when I noticed it was a whitefish. Oh , I thought, too bad, I would have loved to see his face if it would have been a beautiful Brown trout, or a colorful Cutthroat , or fiesty red striped Rainbow, but the dull , greyish colored whitefish seemed like a constellation prize for a man who came all the way from Japan to catch a wild trout. But, I could not have been more wrong, Ichiro was beaming with complete delight, he said to Bob, that his day was made, if he did not catch another, it did not matter. Ichiro jumped out of the boat and into the shallows, splashed the water from the Yellowstone river on his head and face , turned to the Big Blue Montana sky and yelled something in Japanese, that Bob could only say, he is very happy, very happy indeed.
The morning was typical for June in this part of Montana, cool, with intermitten clouds, with hopes of a  better day to come. As Ichiro re-entered the boat, the sun broke though the metal -grey colored clouds  and emitted a warmth that warmed all three of our souls, and we continued down the beautiful Yellowstone River through the Valley they call Paradise. Ichiro kept hooking fish, some were trout, these were just too strong for the horse hair tippit, and would break usually after becoming airborne. With each hookup Ichiro would let out a yell in Japanese, no interpretation was needed from Bob, it was  a sound of pure joy.
Just after eating lunch around mid-day, Ichiro was hooking fish on a simi- regular basis, 9 out of 10 would be the dull brownish- grey Whitefish, but on the rare occasion even a trout would become airborne and break free. Then, around 2:00 pm Ichiro stopped fishing, he told Bob that he had caught too many , he felt guilty for catching so many fish, and wanted to go home. Ichiro was ashamed of himself  for letting his emotions get the better of him , and he felt like he was being a glutton. OK said Bob, lets go home, Ichiro has caught enough.
The ride home was quiet, we returned to the parking lot at the Rivers Edge, Ichiro bowed, then shook my hand and thanked me, Bob shook my hand and said, I'm not sure you will undrstand,  Ichiro felt like he caught too many, it is not the way of Tenkara fisherman.
We as western Fly fishermen can learn alot from the Style of fishing called Tenkara. I have to say as a long time professional guide, I loathe the Fly fishermen who starts out the day with , "all I want to do is catch a mess of fish, and I don't care how we do it". What a dichotomy from the typical western "client" and the style of fishing called Tenkara.. I find myself somewhere in the middle, and comparing both ends of the spectrum, it seems like a nice place to be.

1 comment:

  1. This is a wonderful story! "We as western Fly fishermen can learn a lot from the Style of fishing called Tenkara." is spot on.

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