Around two or three years ago, while on a seemingly insatiable quest to refine my outdoor gear setup towards some unobtainable endpoint approaching weightlessness and nauseating simplicity, I stumbled across an entirely novel—and incredibly rad—method of backcountry angling; tenkara fly fishing. Tenkara, or fixed line fly fishing (think of a normal rod, minus the reel—sorry Shimano), was just then surfacing on the American interwebs, but had been utilized for centuries in Japan as an immensely effective method of stream fishing. Historically, Japanese anglers implemented long (10-15 feet) flexible bamboo rods, and braided horse hair lines fixed to the rod tip. Current renditions of the rods maintain the same approximate lengths, but are now derived from telescopic, high-modulus carbon fiber blanks, collapse down to nearly pocketable sizes, and regularly weigh less than a pair of Clif bars.
Initially, tenkara’s most staunch American supporters seemed to come solely from the somewhat exclusive ultra-light backpacker community. For them, tenkara served a great purpose; an unbelievably light and simple method of supplementing caloric intake while on the trail. Essentially, four ounces of fly fishing equipment could provide pounds of tasty high Sierra trout fillets over the course of a multi-day hike. For me, as a primarily catch-and-release angler that prefers pedaling over walking, the idea of supplementing my food intake while backpacking was intriguing, but even more so, I was drawn to the pack-ability and simplicity of the method. Ever since I purchased my rod I’ve been carrying it in my Camelbak M.U.L.E. for backcountry excursions.
One of my favorite rides in southern California weaves its way along the headwaters of a once mighty river, a river that is now so dammed, altered and channelized downstream that its presence through the urban landscape bears little to no resemblance of its former self. But upstream, far above the hustle and bustle of the southern California metropolis, a relatively pristine creek still tumbles through large granite boulders, over fallen sugar pine and incense cedar, creating crystal-clear pools that churn with cold water. Here is where I first brought my tenkara rod.
Having never fly fished before, my casting was anything but graceful, and after retrieving a couple of flies from the branches behind me, I finally landed one on the water. Within seconds, a fish rose to it and took it under. I quickly set the hook, and held on while I attempted to maneuver the fish around the plentiful fallen logs and aquatic vegetation. Before I knew it, I had clumsily landed my first wild trout on a tenkara rod, and before the day’s end, I added another twenty-something to my tally.
From that day on, my tenkara kit has accompanied me on dozens, if not hundreds, of rides and hikes into local, interstate, and even international mountains. It has even become a highly enjoyable supplement to the majority of my outdoor endeavors. While the methods and techniques of tenkara fly fishing are beyond the scope of my ramblings here, the simplicity and effectiveness of the method are undeniable. If you happen to stumble across any decent trout/bluegill/bass water, as I luckily did on my first ride out with my rod, I assure you, you will catch fish, and I’d be very surprised if you didn’t enjoy it.