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There’s no excuse for fishing without a reel

Tenkara.

I don’t pretend to know much about it, but for those who know even less, allow me to offer forth a nutshell description: Tenkara is a form of Japanese fly angling developed centuries ago, using a long rod, a section of line, and a fly.

What Tenkara does not use is a reel, and it’s easy to understand why: reels probably weren’t invented at the time early Tenkara came to be. And the art hasn’t evolved much since then, save for modern, telescoping graphite that has superseded the original bamboo rods; and monofilament or fluorocarbon that has replaced the original woven horsehair lines.

As our world grows more technologically sophisticated and dependent on gadgetry, many people long for simpler times, harkening romantically back to the good old days before electricity, life-saving vaccinations and fishing reels. Because of this, Tenkara has enjoyed a resurgence, or perhaps more accurately it has gained a certain following in the Western world in recent years. Tenkara USA is an authority on the matter, so if you’re interested I recommend you check them out. Don’t come here looking for any helpful information because I know nothing about it other than what I’ve read. I’ve never seen a Tenkara rod, nor have I observed a Tenkara angler in action. It’s all Greek (or, Japanese) to me, but here are a couple of Tenkara videos to help you familiarize yourself.

So why, you may be asking, am I even taking the time to discuss Tenkara here? Well, it all came about innocently enough. A while ago I commented over at the Lunker Hunt blog. The blog topic was These People are Liars, and the discussion dealt with the reasons why people fish. It was stated, in the first sentence, “From time to time, I hear people say they don’t fish to catch fish. They’re out there soaking up the sun, unwinding, enjoying scenery, building friendships, exercise…that sort of thing. Catching fish is unimportant to these people and I’m here to tell you these people are liars.” Essentially I agreed, by leaving the following comment:

I’m not saying I don’t agree with you, but when you come out west and fish for native winter steelhead, you’ll come to realize that not everyone fishes to catch fish, because these are mythical creatures akin to Bigfoot and unicorns. It’s the love of standing in a cold river while rain beats you into submission and you get better at casting. But yeah, I call B.S. too.

Still, nothing about Tenkara. But then my comment was responded to by none other than Troutrageous! himself:

Kirk…you folks out West need tenkara rods. A most excellent tool especially devised for catching Bigfeet & unicorns.

To which I replied:

I am not opposed to Tenkara specifically, but I am opposed to fishing without a reel. Once I took an afternoon off work and drove a fair distance to fish in seclusion on a beautiful afternoon, only to gear up and realize I’d left my reel at home. Never again.

That was not some sort of conscience-cleansing statement intended to reduce a certain burden of guilt I’d been carrying around with me for a long time. On the contrary, I outed myself publicly after said incident of slack-minded stupidity here. Furthermore, on a steelhead trip last winter with my son, Schpanky, the Unaccomplished Angler left behind not one, but two reels. I came clean about that, here.

So you see, I don’t attempt to hide my imperfections (it would take a warehouse to store them all). As a matter of fact, the Unaccomplished Angler is more than willing to profess his many shortcomings (after all, if I run for public office it’s all going to be dredged up anyway). And there’s another benefit to admitting when one does something insanely stupid–it affords one the perfect excuse for not catching fish: “Hey, I didn’t have a reel!”

And that is why I am not likely to take up the way of Tenkara anytime soon. If I were to be stripped of all but a rod and line (and my clothes–I’m not giving up those, either), there would be little to blame for my angling unaccomplishments other than lack of skill. With Tenkara, it’s just you and a rod and some line waging battle against the fish.

I don’t like those kinds of odds.

Disclaimer: I have every reason to trust Aileen Nishimura of MK Flies that the Japanese characters used above actually mean Tenkara (“in the heavens”) and not something socially inappropriate. I recommend you check out Aileen’s fly tying artistry.