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Legalize It! Tenkara in Washington

Legalize It! Tenkara in Washington

A few days ago I made a post on Facebook saying that I hoped those visiting Colorado for its now loose marijuana law would find themselves at the Fly Fishing Show and take up fly-fishing instead. Another state that will have such an issue soon, Washington, has legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Yet, it considers tenkara illegal in some of its waters! Something is wrong with that picture.

Tenkara can be used legally, and without a problem in the majority of states and in the vast majority of waters in all states. The two states where there is currently some doubt are Washington and New Hampshire. Both are now considering adding tenkara to the list of allowed methods in fly-fishing only waters. A list of all states with ambiguous regulations and Tenkara legal in my state responses received from those states’ authorities.

When I started introducing tenkara to the US, it never occurred to me that a legitimate method of fly-fishing (arguably how fly-fishing started) would be illegal in some state’s “fly-fishing only” waters. After all, tenkara uses flies (typically single flies, weightless, and often barbless too), tenkara uses a cast that is identical to western fly casts where the line is what is being cast forward, not a weight at the end of it. And, well, that’s how fly-fishing started. Yet, soon after opening doors a customers warned me tenkara could be considered illegal in some states due to their interpretation and definition of “fly-fishing” for the purpose of fly-only waters.

You see, some state’s regulation books have a definitions page with confusing statements like: “use a conventional fly rod and fly line” (Massachusetts, which has declared tenkara legal). What is “conventional”, after all? Other states, like PA, state that: “Fishing must be done with tackle limited to fly rods, fly reels, and fly line.”. Does that mean one must use a fly reel?

Washington is one such state. Their regulations have one statement which could be open to the interpretation of wardens, and which states that in Fly-fishing-only waters “(b) Fishing line other than conventional fly line, except that other line may be used for backing and leader if it is attached to not less than 25 feet of conventional fly line”. Something doesn’t sound right with this statement, and unfortunately it could mean tenkara is illegal in some waters.

Tim Harris, of the blog “Northwest Tenkara”, has now taken this issue into his own hands and decided to petition Washington state to take a look at tenkara and consider a revision to its regulations. His post describes his communication with the state. Washington will review the request on February 14th, starting at 8:30am.

Fly-fishing-only waters comprise a very small minority of any state’s waters. For the most part, one may use a large variety of methods to fish. Yet, we want to make sure you are aware of the issue. We have put together a list of states that have ambiguous regulations and states from which we or our customers have received responses.

If you’re in a state where the regulations may be ambiguous, you may send them a message describing what tenkara is and asking for clarification. If you do so, please kindly post the response on our forum so users can have access to them.

We strongly believe tenkara, with its benefits to the health of users as well as the environment those users will want to protect, should be legal. Don’t you?

Below the fold is an example letter you may use when communicating with your state:


To whom it may concern:

I’m seek clarification regarding the regulations for fly-fishing-only waters in [STATE], which states that in fly-fishing only waters all anglers must use a “[AMBIGUOUS STATEMENT FROM THEIR REGULATIONS].

Specifically, I would like to know if traditional Japanese-style fly
fishing, known as Tenkara, is legal on fly-fishing-only waters in the
state. This style of fly fishing uses a telescopic rod, usually 12-15ft in
length, with a Tenkara fly-line affixed to the rod-tip (no reel is used),
usually the line is approximately the same length as the rod. Just as in
western fly fishing, Tenkara relies on the weight of the line to cast an
artificial fly. Casting is performed in the same manner as western fly
fishing. The only significant differences between Tenkara and western fly
fishing regard the length of the rod, the type of line, and the lack of a
reel; the tactics and methods of fishing are essentially the same. Tenkara
offers responsible catch-and-release anglers a simpler way to fly-fish.

For further information see about Tenkara