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Joy in Tenkara

Joy in Tenkara

This picture was shared with us today by Kirby Wilson (of Kirby took his son out to a local stream for his son’s first tenkara lesson. The image captures a subject I have been meaning to talk about for a few weeks. Seeing his son’s smile provided the energy to put the words down and talk about something the tenkara community (myself included) has forgotten to relate recently: JOY.

When I started Tenkara USA about 3 1/2 years ago, my vision and the message were very clear: fly-fishing is simple, and tenkara is a joyful activity. The first videos I made (1, 2, 3…) probably encompassed the joy best. They were done when I paid little attention to others and just stuck with my message. There were also no distractions. The vision for my business was also pretty clear: keep the business simple, and do not pay attention to what others are saying; after all, if I paid attention to what anyone had said it would be clear that tenkara would never have a chance in the US.

And then, I got caught up. I got caught up with defending whether tenkara is fly-fishing or not; I got caught up with understanding and sharing the deeper aspects of tenkara – things that appeal greatly to me, such as the culture of the method, the techniques, and what tenkara looks like – but may not appeal to everyone. And, recently, as people start trying to capitalize on tenkara, I got caught up with defending the method from possible bastardization; I got caught up on sharing information on what tenkara is and also what it is not. But, as was pointed out to me a couple of times, a message that contains a negative is not the best way to spreading joy.

All of this has eaten me up. What happened to the original vision of 3 1/2 years ago? What happened to the joy I wanted  to share? I still feel it every time I go out, but I also want others to feel it too.

The fly-fishing community tends to be perceived as elitist; fly anglers as snobs. That was something I had set out to ameliorate through Tenkara USA. I can’t believe I got caught up in that part of the sport too.

Most people understand that I have been creating a community that wasn’t there before, and that I am passionate about sharing the method . Today I felt joy when received an email from a friend indicating that understanding: “I know you have a personal style and like to let people know how you like to fish – and to preserve tenkara as you believe it should be seen – so that their is a reference point and a continuation of that tradition. I have never gotten the feeling from you that you are trying to tell others what to do.”

Indeed I do not intend, nor ever wanted to tell people how to fish. On the contrary, I have written a fair amount about “Searching for Tenkara”. As I have written on our catalogs/books, I see the search for tenkara as a personal one. To me, tenkara is the place where one will find most joy on the water, with as little as possible between him/herself and the fish.

JOY. That is the ultimate goal, I think.

A few months ago there was a discussion on our forum about how someone had dismissed tenkara as a “fishing for children“.

And, then a great response from Eiji Yamakawa, a good friend from Japan who has been sharing great information with anglers in the US:

“Fishing for children” is a great compliment to me. I usually wish to enjoy fishing like a child, being free from the constraints of the world. We used to fish by very simple tackle — a pole, line, bobber, sinker, hook, and worm–, when we were children, and that was very fun.

I like to fish by a very simple tackle like a child, and it is tenkara for me now. The simpler the tackle and the technique are, the more enjoyable the fishing is.

Enjoy fishing like a child.

Indeed, enjoy fishing like a child. If Kirby’s picture of his son does not make you want to feel that joy and forget about what anyone tells you regarding what fishing should or should not be like (myself included), then I think our search for tenkara will lead nowhere.