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Celebrity, published author, fly casting instructor, and fly-tying guru Steve Hudson says the attractive Georgia woman shown above [wishes not to be identified by name] is the first ‘natural’ he has ever taught fly casting and fly fishing. “She could feel a fly rod load and deliver the fly on target repeatedly within hours, not days. She could also immediately repeat fly delivery and in-water fly management like a veteran tenkara angler. She out-fished me – I’m still looking for a plausible excuse.”

The song of tenkara

Steve Hudson, former field editor for Fly Life, at a local North Georgia fly shop – promoting fly tying. A Trent Sizemore image.

By Steve Hudson

There we are, she and I, standing shin-deep in a little creek that flows cool and clear almost within sight of the interstate. We’ve been there a while. She is having a fine time, I do believe. She is fly fishing and catching fish, impressive numbers of beautifully colored fish, and it’s looking like she may be getting hooked on this fly fishing thing.

That is good. That is very, very good.

“This is simple,” she says. “And fun!”

The “this” she’s talking about is something called the “tenkara” style of fly fishing. Like traditional western fly fishing, tenkara uses a rod and a fly and a line. But the difference is that the line (which is of a fixed length and often about the same as the length of the rod) is attached directly to the tip of the rod. There’s no reel, in other words, and thus there’s no need to get a Ph.D. in line management before you go fishing. That makes tenkara great for newcomers who want to experience the thrill without having to deal with all that line.

Is tenkara really fly fishing? Sure it is. The technique developed in Japan more than four centuries ago and is a lot like western-style fly fishing except for that fact that there is no reel. In other words, that sometimes-troublesome reel full of fly line (and all the challenges that seem to come with it) simply is not there.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with fly fishing with a traditional reel and line. I do it all the time, and I love it.

Look to the lower right. Hudson’s client assesses the Georgia mountain terrain with a tenkara rod at the ready.

Besides, when done right, it’s beautiful to behold

I remember one time years ago when I was fishing a pond down near Macon somewhere. This was ages before I even knew there was such a thing as tenkara, and I was fishing with traditional fly fishing gear. I was drifting along on a calm, glass-smooth pond in a beat-up silver-gray canoe, sculling along the shoreline, working the paddle with one hand like my daddy had taught me while casting my fly rod with the other. As I recall, it was one of those good days when I was casting pretty
well (if I say so myself) and I had caught a few fish too.

After while it was time to call it a day. I turned the boat toward the shore, where a couple of friends sat on a blanket enjoying ham sandwiches and a bottle of wine while watching me probe those middle Georgia waters.

“That was soooo elegant!” one of them gushed as I nosed the little boat up onto the shore. “You were poetry in motion!”

You’ve got to be careful, or that kind of thing will go to your head

Yes, there are few things like the satisfaction that comes from fly casting done well. But what if you’re less experienced? What if you’re still working out the details of bending all that fly line to your will?

The truth is that line management can be a pain. If you’re a beginner, that poetry-in-motion thing can easily turn into something more akin to five-hyperactive-baby-cats-with-a-big-ol’-ball-of-yarn.

Yeah. Darn that line

It’s time like those that the tenkara approach really shines. It’s piscatorial minimalism at its finest, and I kind of like that.

She does too

“Absolutely,” she says as she eases yet another fish off the hook and slips it back into the water and then does that little thing with her forearm and wrist to flip the tiny fly back onto the water.

On this particular day, she is using the “Little Mighty” rod, a modern entry-level tenkara rod from B&M Pole Company. It’s a telescoping rod with an extended length of roughly 10 feet. To the rod’s tip is tied about a rod’s length of line, and on the far end of the line is a small orange foam spider.

She goes upstream a couple of yards, moving quietly, armed only with that rod and a pink foam spider. Easing within range of an enticingly deep run near the far bank, she does the arm and wrist thing again and makes a cast that drops the tiny imitation six inches from the shoreline. The fly floats about a foot, and then –

Steve Hudson reviews a new tenkara brand rod – capturing several small panfish [sunfish family] on the surface with a self-tied foam terrestrials.

“I’ve got one!” she says, laughing

“You mean you’ve got ANOTHER one!” I reply.

And so it goes for the rest of the afternoon. By suppertime the tally is 20-to-6, and I’ll bet you can guess who had the half dozen.

Is tenkara the be-all and end-all of fly fishing? Am I about to put all my traditional gear in the box and
cart it off to Goodwill? Not a chance. I will never give up my traditional fly fishing gear, for there are
times and situations when tenkara isn’t the tool of choice. In many cases, my “regular” fly gear is
always what I’ll set in the back of the car.

But there are also many times when tenkara is just right. When I want simplicity, when I’m looking for
a simple, restful day on the water where I don’t have to worry about much of anything at all, tenkara
may be just what I need.

My mind wanders a bit, and I realize that this new old thing called tenkara is addictive. I’ve got to
admit that it’s –

“I’ve got another one!”

I hear her voice, music on the water, and I come back to real time. I smile as I look upstream to see her rod bent in a graceful curve as she brings in yet another fish. Yes. We are going to play with this more.

Elegant…almost effortless…
It’s like fishing with someone who’s just right.
It endures. And it really is fun.


Author Skip

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