Thursday, October 18, 2018

#Tenkara: a representation of the West's contribution to Tenkara so far?

Its been a while since I've felt like writing... a lot of things that are annoying, boring and generally not worth discussing on a blog have been going on in life, and so I've been less inspired to write... instead spending all my spare time out fishing, hiking, riding a bike and generally trying to feel free again when possible. It was a productive summer for me in terms of Tenkara... but I've hit a wall. Maybe Tenkara has hit a wall. I don't know that I can progress further without more one on one instruction, was bummed about not being able to get to Oni School - and that got me thinking... some might say Tenkara is also kind of in a rut right now. Not for everyone, but for many.

The arguments, the noobs, the will to disagree before learning, the same old story of minimalism and always having a compact rod with you; marketed to the same old group of massdrop-loving, kickstarter-backing, enthusiastic outdoor-lovers, has created a predictable and totally boring stream of new anglers that will never even know what an advanced Tenkara angler looks like. 

Sadly, chances are most Tenkara anglers in the West don't yet understand the fundamentals of casting a rod that needs to be loaded with correct casting stroke rather than weight of fly line, and who will never reach their full potential as fishermen following #Tenkara. That is not their fault, though. And by no means is this article meant to attack them in any way. It is about the state of Tenkara in the west, the lack of good instruction and factually correct information disseminated, which voices get heard in "public" and the effect of all of that on the sport as a whole. Not all agree that the effect has been good.

This is not a popular opinion. Most of my opinions aren't. That makes me an unpopular guy in the Tenkara community in the West - and as you've likely seen or guessed by now, I really couldn't care less about that because I know that it is worth whatever complications come along with calling out those who co-opted the sport we love in order to attempt to preserve it from being altered completely.

Is this really a good way to get more eyes on your regurgitated products with new colors and brand names?

I also don't feel the need to "pad" the facts for people just so they won't get defensive in reacting to something that they were wrong about. Nobody has ever padded the rough realities of life for other people except maybe their families... and not every kid even had that luxury. Its not how people all think, especially not where I am from. Thankfully, not everyone takes offense to being corrected, or to people who don't pad their wording. A saying comes to mind: "Do not correct a fool for he will hate you, but correct a wise man and he will thank you." Best attitude towards learning is right there in that quote.

Wrong species... that plus Rapala really spells Tenkara, doesn't it? 

But who am I and what is my authority?

I am nobody. Just a guy who has been to Japan, been privileged enough to fish with and hang with some of the most legendary Tenkara anglers of this generation, and calculated enough to listen to them rather than argue. And I want them to be able to tell their story, rather than us telling it for them. It doesn't matter if I'm right or wrong... what matters is really who tells the story.

In my pursuit to help educate a small niche on what Tenkara actually is, (and what it is not,) and to attempt to spread a different message than the American "Tenkara rod" companies, I have, as a result of my consistent and unpopular opinions, isolated a lot of people I didn't know by mistake; ranted, shared important facts and knowledge, pushed certain techniques, been wrong, been right, made friends, lost friends, made enemies, and made friends again with countless people.

I am constantly being told to go away, be quiet, constantly being blocked from groups and always being told to change my message or the way I communicate it "for my own good." That won't happen, and this isn't about me. Tenkara rod companies here showed Tenkara to the west, made some fantastic content and good products, then soon after changed the message in order to have a broader audience to market to. "Growing Tenkara" is really about selling more Tenkara rods and helping more people catch fish without really knowing what Tenkara is. Am I the only one who weighs the benefits of the cozy image of those beginners smiling, catching fish and having a great day while helping companies stay alive and profit, against the risks of turning Tenkara into fishing for people who want to buy a compact or light-weight rod but don't know there's more to it than that? Does one become informed or an expert after a few hours of watching videos online and looking at hash-tagged photos? Or through seeking existing knowledge and thirsting for more? Does buying gear from one company or another mean you are fishing Tenkara? Or is it something else? Do people stop to ask themselves these questions? Some do, some don't. I did not, for a long time. I am glad I now do.

I can really see the tenkara community loving this one... 😂

For many adopters of Tenkara as currently defined, disappointment over feeling abandoned and shunned by the reps of the companies or the owners themselves turned into to shame, shame turned to resentment, resentment turned to anger and anger turned into arguments and childish behavior. The reaction from most Tenkara influencers was the same - shut out the dissent and quiet the voices that shared inconvenient facts from Japan because it created friction. Guess what? There is no life without friction, especially in a pre-Trump and Trump-ruled fact-less America. The grey area has gotten so big that there's pretty much no more black or white left... 

Most who cared about details and learning more than how to hook a fish with a Tenkara rig left the popular spots in the online community to create new groups... and those same issues just moved from group to group, so they left those groups too. There is no escaping the angry mob who wants nothing more than to remove all disagreement from the internet, or for it to "all just be fishing," which is impossible, and leads to stagnation... where we are right now. Many of the people who first discovered Tenkara or who embrace the current definition exist in dark corners of the internet, sharing memes, photos of fishing, cold beer, and fine cannabis. Those who want to learn seek us out and we teach them individually, in real life, passing on what we hope is the most "authentic" version of modern Tenkara, using the tools we have today.

Remind you of a certain character from a Hayao Miyazaki film?

Throughout all of it, the goal has remained the same - help prevent falsehoods and assumptions from being spread about Tenkara, and try to shift the focus away from beginners and to more intermediate and advanced anglers who can embrace the complicated nuances and specific sets of techniques that make Tenkara special. I have not realized until recently how to do that - or why it hasn't happened naturally yet... but it is so clear now I don't know why it didn't occur to me...

The fact is that the "story of Tenkara" has been told or co-opted by white or Western and non-Asian business owners, globally. The story of Tenkara has never been told by the Japanese. The language barrier is real and English spread wider and faster... but now that I have this in mind I know what I think we need to do next.... help give the Japanese more of a direct voice here.

Oh yeah...this one is DEFINITELY Tenkara, right?

Most of the rod companies would love it if people who think and talk like me would shut up. It would be more convenient. Less "controversy." As I write this I am sure I am being blocked by another group who is offended by this very message. The fact that they choose to approach it this way and try to block it out speaks volumes to the truth and the realities of what is going on... self serving interests or simple human emotions, possibly also reacting in fear to inconvenient truths. It is hard for any of us to recognize when we have lost our way or to accept we are wrong, and it is easy to place blame but reality always brings things full circle eventually...

Fact is, if we as a western Tenkara community or industry can give a voice to the Japanese and not for profit or marketing visibility of our Western companies, we'd be doing the world a favor... at least the world of Tenkara.

Nothing says Tenkara like a pile of dead fish in the mud and some slow/warm water...

Going so far as to ban or block certain perspectives to protect selfish interests, business interests, egos, or the old boys clubs that formed early on just isn't going to help, even though it might feel like it will. One cannot remove dissent or disagreement from the internet. Nor can one expect never to see a rant. But westerners will continue to argue without the facts - psychology dictates so -  unless we help shift more of the story back to being told by the Japanese, the original source of Tenkara-related facts.

Hell, who knows, maybe in the end I'll be wrong and the Japanese will reveal through their stories and facts that Tenkara has a new definition. But I want that to come from them, not our businesses, start-ups and selective story-tellers with money to make or lose.

Epically representative of Tenkara, right?

But for now we should be asking... where is the content from Japan? Where is the Japanese voice? Who is funding or giving a platform to Japanese anglers that doesn't involve making a profit? Who is willing to put money up without their logo being prominently displayed? Who is willing to pay to translate a slew or books and DVD's without having to sell it as theirs? I see pretty much none of that... I can only hope at least some of it happens behind the scenes. I am sure it does. But we need more.

Is it so wrong to ask why the story of Tenkara, a Japanese sport, is always told by us "Western" or white people? Instead of writing magazines full of "fair weather tenakra anglers" why not fund 100% Japanese content and keep our western logos small - offering help and money rather than trying to gain it "ourselves?"

Man I wonder why this one isn't on Fujioka-San's website yet!? 

#Tenkara now reflects the choices we in the west have made. #Tenkara is a mirror image of what we have done to confuse the public, the industry, and beyond... and I think it makes sense for that to stop, don't you?

Just go online and pull up #Tenkara and see what comes up. As you've likely figured out by now, all the photos in this post were pulled from that very search. Bluegill. Ocean fishing. Spinning rods. Fly reels... the list goes on. It isn't the entire picture... but it shouldn't be ANY of the picture really either.

Because Tenkara means spin fishing too, right?

Are the Japanese Tenkara anglers happy with where we have taken Tenkara? Do we even care? Hard to say, for so many reasons. But we should care, shouldn't we? Tenkara is, after all, Japanese.

My favorite Tenkara meme of recent...

Is #Tenkara - as it is right now - what we want the legacy of Tenkara in the west to be?

Did we really want to create #Tenkara so that every start up who wants to sell a product to hipsters or any angler and have the next viral kickstarter project use it to get "more attention?" Is it not hilarious we have reached this point?

Warm water fixed line angling for bass is still not Tenkara... yet.

Do we want Tenkara to be the thing everyone has to tag their fishing photos of so that people will think they are cool? Do we want the next generation of Japanese anglers to learn about Tenkara from the west, and learn it wrong? Or did we want to put all the effort we can into getting this right and supporting those who created success for the western companies?

Martin Luther

Am I the only one in the world that finds the current state of Tenkara in the west somewhat depressing and kind of a mess? Maybe. But I know if many of the influential people in the sport thought hard about this, they could not entirely disagree. After all, we are talking about money and business. But one can always dream...

Would you consider this to be a hamburger if that's what half of the hot dog stands had called it when you were a kid because they didn't know any better? 

So in the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, I created a fund and have been adding to it as I can. Its called the "Tenkara Education Fund" and I plan to use it to fund the idea of translating and giving a voice to more Japanese anglers in the West. If you want to know more get in touch. The aim will be to crowdfund our own content to some extent, and to try to provide some funds to support people in Japan who want to make said content and share it or sell it to the rest of the world, without an American or "Western" voice in between them and us. 

Now that is #Tenkara...

And in the meanwhile, stay tuned... I have tons of content from the last year or two that so badly needs to be shared, and I am gearing up to do that... embracing the season of writing, tying and waiting for that first headwaters trout from 2019! If I haven't pissed you off yet then thanks for sticking with the ideals I've tried to support... Happy early winter fishing to all.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

When In Melt-Out Doubt... Fish The High Alpine Lakes

After the "secret season" in March and early April, melt-out begins and the rivers rage and boil over until June or sometimes even July. During that time the best move is to focus on the hiking, early season mushroom hunting, photography... and fishing the lakes as they melt out!

Once soil temps hit the 50's I start to see mushrooms popping here and there. False morels are a common site in conifer forests along streams. The real thing is much harder to find in the high alpine environment.

Wildflowers are in bloom, birds sing their songs, and life returns to the mountains.

As much as one is tempted to search for that elusive hole or pocket, it is, assuredly, nothing but a waste of time...

Reaching a stage where one doesn't feel the need to rush into the season and force oneself into unrealistically difficult fishing conditions holds its own rewards. The things you see when you aren't anxious about where you'll catch the next fish are usually some of the best things to be seen...

Usually the warm sunny weather melts the snow near the trailheads and down below in the canyons... but not the snow up high. Many people presume that they can easily get to the lakes and forget the difference between early June and Late July...

Spikes for your shoes, maps, off-trail navigating skills, knowledge about post-holing and a non-minimalist gear set are necessary tools for survival here. Early season lake fishing means you get good exercise navigating the more difficult trail conditions... its always an adventure.

This is what you want to see when you arrive at a lake in the early season... some ice still clinging to the shores, ensuring hungry trout that feed with wild abandon.

An astute angler notices the little details as well as seeing the big picture at the same time. 

While you can use a Tenkara rod to catch trout in lakes without an issue, and while it is a super effective technique that often shocks the local western anglers and leaves them in varied states of disbelief; I have been spending some time with a UL Japanese spinning rod for the sake of fishing in the high wind, and because it allows me to leave Tenkara alone and not contribute to any confusion about what it is and what it is not. Because Tenkara is defined to exclude lakes and still water, and because I have been pushing myself to fish Tenkara as it is defined properly, the spinning rod feels a lot like the "right tool for the job." 

The fish definitely agree. I often use the current and the wind in specific ways... and I have found that trout here appear to really like a slow and jerky action on a spoon rather than a fast and cleanly pulled spinner.

There's so much beauty in the high mountains, and even though sometimes I can tell conditions will be rough in the streams, its not just about catching fish for me.

On the way down to the treailhead I saw some new, fresh mushrooms popping... gets me hopeful for the rest of the season. (It originally looked bad due to low snow pack levels.) 

And how could one forget these insects dancing in the late afternoon light? 

Only one more week until Genryu season begins... more to come then!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Do you even Tomezuri, Bro?

Have you ever had that feeling when you put something off for a long time and then feel overwhelmed with the task of getting it done? That's how I feel about my multi-post series about the John Muir Trail, and since its been slowing the other posts recently, I put that aside and decided to write this one up in the meanwhile... hope you enjoy/

We're back in September of 2017 again here, and this was another dreamy day surrounding the Tenkara Summit, which continues to "haunt" me for various reasons. There are a few people that I no longer associate with that I saw last at the summit, and it continues to linger on my mind how some people can be so different online than in person... but I digress...

Join us in Rocky Mountain National Park, one of many places in this country where we have cold, clean tumbling water that seems "designed" for Tenkara fishing. We arrived to a gusty, cold and mostly overcast morning. I had faith in a beautiful day, but I knew we'd need to let the weather do its thing for a while and warm the water up just a bit.

Partially overcast days make for the best fishing, IMHO... its the best mix of enjoyable weather for me, and creates some cover for the fish as well. The first hour was pretty slow and I took some time to practice casting and fall into a rhythm. 

Soon, however, as the water warmed up and the wind slowed, I got my drifts right and began to catch some fish. Below is JP's (possibly first) Colorado cutty that I photographed for him... I was proud to see him land that first one, and I knew we were in for more all day...

This particular stream is my official favorite place to fish so far in the Front Range. In order to reach this practically magical fantasy stretch of river, one must hike for a few miles, skipping what is clearly fishy water and fighting one's will to stop and cast. If you can hold out, you reach a place where you must scramble into a steep canyon and cross the river, and that's where cutty heaven begins.

Soon after, though, one reaches a difficult to navigate rockfall, where I presume, most fishermen never go above. Obviously we had to go above this section, scrambling over boulders, bracing ourselves between rocks and logs, and finally reaching a second canyon wall above.

Not only was this area extremely picturesque, but it was quite fishy, too. And there was plenty of open space for real Tenkara casting, using longer lines and rods. I watched Mike as he really began to grasp these concepts. Rob gave him some pointers on the river and he was starting to really clean up. I love watching the progress as the ideas and tactics click, as the confidence builds, and as one beings to realize there's actually something behind these methods... a far cry from stabbing around in the dark with a bead-head nymph!

Below, Mike releases a fish he caught in a beautiful run along the rock wall. There were many spots like this, and we took turns hitting them with wild abandon.

Up here above a few sets of falls its all cutthroats, as the invasive trout species have either never made it this far up, or simply couldn't survive. I'd guess the former, and I hope it remains that way.

It was hard to choose the photos to share in this post, I took so many of them, and caught so many fish that it was hard to keep track!

Streams like this and conditions like this make for perfect practice of the many Tenkara manipulation techniques. I spent a lot of the day playing with "Tomezuri," which involves stopping the fly or holding it in the current in different ways.

Most of the time we hear about the upstream style of Tenkara, and here's a video of JP landing a nice little cutty fishing that way:

Full days on the river allow for enjoyment of not only many different ways of presenting a fly, but also different environments in the mountains. I particularly love all the canyon climbing and rock-scrambling... it makes the exploration of the stream more fun, and adds more exercise. It also feels extremely remote to be surrounded by tall rock cliffs, knowing we are isolated from the rest of the park's visitors even if just for a little while.

There were tons of pockets to pick along the canyon walls, and fish came from many of them...

After climbing up again, we reached a fine section of stream, and the sun came out in force. I truly felt like we were in a special place...  As is dictated by Tenkara culture, we took plenty of time to break, laugh, spend time together - snacking, enjoying some cannabis and opening a few beers. The camaraderie in the wilderness is what this is all about!

Everyone wants to fish stretches of plunge pools like this. But how many are willing to put the time and work in to find and hike to them? Not many... and that's just how we like it.

If you take the time and effort to come visit, make the sacrifices necessary to get here... live the Tenkara life for a few days, fish the Tenkara style, enjoy the Tenkara community... we will show you. It is not a secret. But it is a commitment!

One of my favorite things about native and wild trout is the slight variation in color between the populations. Some rivers here show cutties with more pink-hues. Others show more orange. In different sections of this river I found different hues on the fish. Fascinating. I can't help but to wonder if there are little sub-species that have developed between different blockages or waterfalls...

.... of which there were plenty! We must have climbed 3 or 4 waterfalls by the end of the day at least.

Later in the afternoon the clouds moved back in for a bit, but the wind pretty much died, making for a fantastic final few hours on the water.

Here Rob fishes a nice pool under a waterfall, and then I moved up and grabbed a few casts after he was done.

I scored one nice fish out of that pool that was worth a photograph...

Climbing around this one required plenty of work, and I somehow lost my 2 way radio along that route. Hope I find it when I go back this season!

Above these falls was another beautiful flat-ish section of river with a bit more cover, and I began to snag and lose some flies here and there.

Up here there is ZERO evidence of other fishermen. We didn't see any footprints that belonged to humans, no fishing line, no trash/plastic or lost flies. I smelled that musky smell of an animal, and figured a bear or moose was nearby. The bear-bell made an appearance on my pack, and I started making more noise as I moved through the brush.

The sun came out again, and while I was spooking some fish, there were plenty still willing to come out and play.

Rob and JP joined me here as I prepared to take a break after netting a few cutties. We each got plenty of time in the lead, and there was tons of water to share. Some pools yielded many fish, breaking the "spooked fish rules" about pools back east.

Taking turns is important. Its almost as much fun to watch your friends catch fish as it is to catch them yourself. If you walk ahead and spook the stream for them, you're a jerk... so if you don't want to be patient, walk at least 10 yards or more from the river when walking around so you don't ruin your friend's water. People have no idea how many fish they spook most of the time... that's major! Don't be that guy who gets impatient and walks ahead spooking the fish for everyone else.

Because of the full sun, we did have to make an effort to avoid casting shadows or making our presence known. Most Tenkara anglers know to move carefully and deliberately on the stream as to not ruin our chances at the fish. This is where it becomes obvious when you get a western angler in the group who isn't used to getting very close to the fish they want to catch.

Never forget that the sport of fishing requires elements of stalking and a good self-awareness. If you stomp around, create too much vibration, cast shadows on the water or slap your line around, you are going to catch less fish, even if they are wildly hungry.

As the evening approached and the sun dipped, we fought with the reality that it was just about time to turn back, since we had a good bit of hiking left to get back to the car...

JP caught one more and, although there were clearly still miles of fishable water to go, we accepted the fact that the sun would in fact go down, and began to re-trace our steps through the canyon.

The walk back was pretty intense, although with the water being low at the end of the season, it made for easy navigation of the river itself. That probably saved us a good 15-20 minutes right there.

Descending the boulder fields was another story, however, and while it was tedious and tiring, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Needless to say we took our sweet time.

On the way back we came across some bear scat, presumably from the bear I thought I had smelled earlier in the day. It was relatively fresh and so we crashed through the brush making as much noise as we could until we got away from the area.

 Once out of the canyon and back on the trail, the going was easy and we made good time.

The walk along this trail has been a favorite place of mine to hike since the first time I visited the area back in 2013. It'll always have a special place in my heart and I think about it during the cold winter months and during melt-out alike, dreaming of the days I can return and wet my line here once more.

Leaving the park we got stuck in Elk tourism traffic... it blows my mind how people are so ridiculous and inconsiderate that they can't pull over to stop before running out of the car to take pictures. I have mixed feelings about this, being that its good for people to be in nature... yet terrible the way they act once there. Secretly I always hope to watch an ornery Elk charge the crowd and send them running scared, but I just grit my teeth. lay on the horn, and continue on instead.

Mid September is an epic time in the Rockies, with the Aspens glowing yellow, contrasted so perfectly by the dark green evergreens and a deep blue sky... its the bittersweet reward for the end of the headwaters season, fast approaching when these colors appear.

Back in town we grabbed some pizza, saw some more Elk at the laundromat/supermarket, grabbed some extra snacks and retreated to the cabin to watch Discover Tenkara videos and tie flies.

The Tenkara life is amazing. Do you even Tomezuri, Bro? ;)