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My Journey into Tenkara

My Journey into Tenkara

Written by Amanda Hoffner

Hi! I’m Amanda, but everyone may already know me as @LadyTenkaraBum on Instagram. I dubbed myself LTB within the past year and boy has it been an eye-opening experience. It has jumpstarted my journey into the worldwide tenkara network and fixed line community on Instagram and Facebook and has allowed me to increase my knowledge in pursuit of becoming the tenkara angler that I aspire to be. What is that exactly? I am not 100% sure, but I am sure that I am going where my heartstrings are pulling me.

 My grandma and grandpa raised me from an early age and fishing with my grandfather comprises some of my earliest memories; they are purely simple and genuine. My favorite place to fish was on a property down the road from my great aunt’s house that was within walking distance from my grandparent’s house.  Every year on the April opening day for the fishing season in Pennsylvania, before the sun even came up, we would take worms we had dug up the night before, a can of corn, and a basket creel and sit by this local creek. You had to be there early or there wouldn’t be space left at the prime spots.

I eventually graduated to spinning baits and spinning reel fishing from my Zebco 33 reel and backyard worms. This led me to a more remote location in the forest (and away from people). I fished throughout high school, took a break while I was putting myself through college and nursing school, and restarted just about three years ago. I have always kept my reels and poles including some unused family heirlooms I have been given over the past several years, including my brother’s fishing equipment.

My brother had several loves in his life, mainly sports, and fishing in particular. He loved fishing for bass and other warm water fish with these big plastic bait worms. I still have those tucked away, but it became painful to touch them since I really didn’t get the chance to fish with him in our adult lives before he took his own life in late 2014. It was after this time in my life that I began my journey into tenkara.

With my brother’s passing, I started on a path of self-reflection and dove deep into the sport of fishing. I really wanted a way to connect with my brother somehow as my family is a strong component of who I am and I never have forgotten where I come from.  I found some bamboo fly rods in the back of my grandpa’s red pickup truck many years ago. Add on the fact that my mother was adopted from Japan, I began researching Japanese fly fishing. Ultimately, this led me to the Tenkara USA website and I was on my way from there. I was determined to dive deep and “show my brother what and where passion and life can take you” and dove headfirst into tenkara.

Though I started researching tenkara over seven years ago, I really didn’t get as involved with it until about three years ago. I was working a 12-hour nightshift position in an ICU south of the Poconos, Pennsylvania, and was in a prime location within just an hour radius from some seriously good tenkara water.

These mountain streams are what I saw at the edge of the forest when I was a child. I can close my eyes and still see that exact creek and now I can smell the air and feel the coolness that slaps me in the face when I start descending into the valleys of the Appalachia. There is nothing like walking among the trees on a barely carved trail…stopping… listening for the faint sounds of trickling water… or was that the wind blowing through the trees? Gotta keep going…

Every step I take into the mountains I feel like I am inhaling the freshest air I have ever encountered. I walk until I find the stream; sometimes I immediately whip out my rod and other times I just sit there and stare. When I become so familiar with a stream, I feel like I am coming home and that is where my heart is, where my heart strings have been pulling me, and where I wish I could take my brother. He is with me in every pocket of water I fish and in the warmth of the light that I step into on a sunny spring day when it darts to the floor through the canopy of trees I am surrounded by.

When do I fish? I fish when I can. When I am not working and when it isn’t raining. I don’t like fishing in the rain. In PA, you can fish any time of year in the Class A streams with a license and a trout stamp. It is a lovely thing. I was isolating myself on the streams in the wilderness long before keeping our distance from people was a part of our everyday life. The nature and space between voices and all other human-created noises is very liberating. I was introduced to the Gaia app when it was being promoted through Tenkara USA and it has been with me ever since. It is a great tool for when I don’t have service, which is quite often so that I can find my way back out of the forest without having to follow the stream.

I started my tenkara journey during the spring season and it is still my favorite time to fish (and, therefore, my favorite season). I start fishing as soon as it is warm enough to wet wade. I feel good when I step into a creek in my wading sandals, especially on a hot summer day when nothing cools you down quite like a mountain stream’s trickling water. I like to tell everyone I am “warm blooded,” not because that is what my grandmother always said when I was growing up, but because I am always warm and can tolerate colder temperatures pretty well. It actually feels good to me in the purest and most liberating way. It is so comforting being hugged by the stream.

There is an art in fishing tenkara. The way your body instinctively learns to cast the rod because second guessing often turns into flies lost in branches or missed targets on the water which frighten the fish. There is something about scouting both new and familiar areas while you are walking upon it. I find that I can look back on past trips and use those experiences to guide the current adventure. With that in mind, you aren’t second guessing yourself and you aren’t losing flies, concentration, or your motivation and goal to catch fish in the more remote places that most people don’t care to wander into, be that because it is too far from the road or it isn’t stocked.

I fish in these remote areas and thus don’t necessarily have hiking trails to walk on except the water-worn earth that has carved its path. I grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania mountains and that is where I have spent most of my life fishing and exploring. Tenkara is what has taken me into places I wouldn’t normally be motivated to get to nor that I even knew I needed. I have traversed through seemingly endless thick brush only to come upon an oasis in the middle of the woods. It has given me an escape I didn’t know was available in such a technology-dependent time in human history.

Honestly, I thought I appreciated where I came from before I started my journey with tenkara, but it truly has opened my eyes to a new world.  A world I would have never otherwise been to and never knew even existed while aching for it all the while. There is something about nature’s silence… when the silence you’re looking for isn’t the actual absence of sound but rather quieting your mind to everything except the natural world around you. These fish that I chase in the mountain streams… from streams I can jump across… are fascinating and in my opinion some of the strongest animals in nature.  They are certainly the most beautiful. They are so clever to me and it is astounding how they can hide and camouflage themselves in such tiny places. Of course, I am talking about the brook trout; the only truly native trout in Pennsylvania and the Eastern United States.

So, I got into tenkara to take my brother with me places that only tenkara anglers can comfortably get to because of the equipment’s portability and ease of use. The backwoods of Pennsylvania and down into the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains can be fished with western fly setups, but I wouldn’t believe anyone who says it is easier to navigate with than tenkara. It has been an enlightening experience meeting people around the world and across the United States who enjoy doing what I do with tenkara and fixed line fishing. The community in which I have involved myself, @fixedlinefreaks on Instagram, has been hands down the best group of people to open my mind to varying techniques and exploring different areas to curb my obsession with tenkara. Of course, my passion and heart will always be in the mountain streams of Pennsylvania catching native brook trout, but I look forward to exploring states like California, Tennessee, and North Carolina this year. I am excited to see what they can offer regarding opening my spartan senses and mind with my approach to tenkara and exploring different terrains. And I know my brother will be with me every step of the way.

Amanda Hoffner, a half-Japanese angler from Pennsylvania, began her tenkara passion when researching fly fishing methods from Japan. She can be found deep on a blue line in the Eastern Pennsylvania mountains fishing for native brook trout from early spring to late fall and at her vise when it’s too cold to wet wade. She was recently featured on the cover of Tenkara Angler and is currently filling the role of “Fly Master” for their 2021-2022 Winter Kebari Swap. You can find Amanda on Instagram at @ladytenkarabum

Waterfall photo credit goes to her girlfriend and best hiking buddy Rachael Rosenstein, @rachrosenstein on Instagram.

Amanda’s favorite TUSA rod is the Tenkara USA Rhodo 8’10″/9’9″/10’6″ (adjustable)