tenkara fly fishing
“Did you order more fishing crap?” called out the very supportive Mrs. UA when recently an anonymous gift arrived by one of my favorite brown delivery vans.
Honestly I had not, and I admitted as much. I had no idea what it might be: the box wasn’t long enough to be a fly rod, nor was it small enough to be a reel. I was perplexed. Upon opening said box I was still perplexed, for inside was a short plastic tube containing what appeared to be a two-piece fly rod from Redington. A very short, two-piece fly rod (insert short rod jokes here; get it out of your system now).
Called the “Form”, this diminutive stick is just 50 inches long. Unlike many who exaggerate the length of their rods, Redington actually tells it like it is, although truth be told the Form may even be a just a tad longer than 50 inches. Kudos to Redington for their conservative honesty and self-confidence.
As one might expect from a rod this size, it has a proportionately small cork grip (a mere 6.5″ long) and just 4 snake eye guides (there is no stripping guide). Like other Redington sticks, the Form has alignment dots to help ensure the sections are placed together properly (I wish all rods had alignment dots). It looks just like a small fly rod, except for the lack of a reel seat.
It even comes with a 30-foot length of specialty Rio fly line with a very thin tapered tip. Tied to the tip of the line is a chunk of orange yarn, which may or may not be a strike indicator.
I will say that despite what it lacks in size the Form makes up for with good looks and castability: the one I received sports a handsome, crimson-colored blank (Redington also offers it in blue); the reliable old wiggle test suggests that it’s a slow to medium action rod; you can feel it load down to the cork but it recovers nicely. As for line weight, I’m not sure what it’s rated for because the blank isn’t stamped with a numerical designation. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest it’s probably not a steelhead rod.
I was curious to learn more so I jumped online to Redington’s website to see what the Form was all about. Turns out it’s not really a working fly rod, but rather a “game play” tool designed for having a little fun off the water. However, just a toy the Redington Form is not: it can be used to practice your casting and improve your form. It could also be a great tool to help beginners and youngsters develop their casting stroke, so keep all that in mind when you’re shopping for your favorite angler this Christmas.
This informational video does a better job of explaining things than I could ever hope to do. What it doesn’t tell you is that the Form costs only 79 cents per inch (that’s just a tidbit of data I calculated—no charge for that).
I suppose the lack of a reel seat should have been an early indication that this was not an actual rod to be used for fishing, because anyone who’s anyone knows that you do not go angling without a reel. That would just be ridiculous.
Then again, perhaps this is Redington’s entry into the Tenkara market.
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.
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.
Ever since last week’s Drivel, I’m sure that y’all have been sitting on the edges of your seats…chompin’ at the bit…waiting with baited breath…to find out if I will have a fishing partner in my future years. Well, I’m happy to say that chances are good that I will, and his name is Schpanky The Crusher of Steelhead. And while the mission was accomplished, it was not without certain unaccomplishments- the stuff that keeps you, all 8 readers, coming back.
After a road trip that included 3 hours of driving and a 90 minute wait for the Edmonds-Kingston ferry, we rolled into Forks just after the sun had set. I had expected that all the hooplah over the Twilight movies would be all but non-existent. I envisioned Forks as a hard working, blue collar town with a proud heritage of logging and fishing: a town that was perhaps a bit embarrassed by the recent Twilight movies. But as we drove through town it was readily apparent that Twilight is a big deal in Forks. Well, that, and fishing. We checked in to the Pacific Inn Motel and the lobby was equally divided into Twilight paraphernalia and fishing information: strange bedfellows for sure, but who can fault the local folks trying to capitalize on the Twilight cult by making a few bucks off a movie that wasn’t even filmed in Forks? The accommodations were clean and simple, and since we’d be there for less than 12 hours, it suited us just fine. After checking in we walked the town in search of some dinner. After filling our bellies I set about the task of organizing gear for the morning. I selected the sink tips to be used on the Spey rods, inspected knots, placed new leader on the single handed 8 weight reel, and made sure I had the right clothes set out for the morning. It’s much easier to think the night before rather than at 0 dark thirty in the morning, and I wanted to make sure no details were overlooked and that nothing was left behind.
The alarm went off at 5:30, and at 5:40 I finally saw signs of life in the boy. Teenagers are fond of sleeping in whenever possible. Sleeping in was not an option on this day, as we were slated to meet Joe Willauer at the Forks Coffee Shop between 6 and 6:15. I wanted to be there at 6:00 to mainline as much coffee as possible. We waited and waited, and Joe finally arrived at about 6:17. I made a notation on my Guide Tip Criteria Checklist and docked a few bucks for his late arrival. After we horked down a hearty breakfast, we grabbed our lunches to go and loaded most of our essential gear into Joe’s new truck. I complimented him on the new rig and asked if the back window leaked like his old truck (I’d been fortunate to be wearing my rain jacket the last time I was in the back seat of Joe’s old truck). “No,” replied Joe. “And this one doesn’t smell like wet dog and ass. It’s kind of a bummer.” It was going to be a good day.
As we drove the half hour to our launch point on the Hoh River, we marveled at the lack of rain falling from the sky. Joe had been out with clients the day before when the temperature had hovered around 39 degrees with a mix of rain and snow. We passed a herd of Roosevelt elk along the way that also seemed to be enjoying a respite from the previous day’s miserable weather.
With the raft unloaded we wadered-up and began to transfer our gear into the boat. Joe had an extra 8 wt single handed rod and
asked me nicely instructed me to string up my 8 wt rod. Not one to argue, I instructed Schpanky to grab the 8 wt rod while I went for the reel. In my heightened state of supreme nocturnal organization the night before, I’d managed to make sure that everything we needed was with us. Except for the 8 wt reel. Unless I was going to do a little Tenkara fishing for steelhead, I was going to need a reel for my rod.
But wait, it gets better: I’d also forgotten the two reels for our Spey rods. I’m fairly certain they were in my truck, parked back at the coffee shop. Fortunately Joe had two complete Spey outfits on board, and after a bit of finesse and sweet-talking he managed to locate a nearby 8 wt reel that only involved a 15 minute delay while he drove to meet his buddy Aaron O’Leary who had the extra reel (I never got to thank you, Aaron–so, thank you). My stupidity had just re-earned Joe the percentage of the tip he had lost for being late for breakfast. The good in all of this is that our delay allowed us to watch an angler land a big fish just a few feet from us. The matter of the forgotten reels was just a minor glitch and by 8 AM we were on the water and things were looking up, including the weather: the skies were gray, but rain was giving us a wide berth. While we anticipated plenty of precipitation, it wasn’t breaking our hearts to be dry for the time being.
As be began our descent we soaked in the beauty of the Hoh River valley and surrounding rain forest. I’ve been on a lot of rivers and they all have their own unique beauty, but there was something special about this place. Maybe it was the knowledge that in these waters ran some of the most amazing fish: wild, bright OP steelhead that were only perhaps a day or two out of the ocean. We were in the midst of the best, last remaining good steelhead fishing for wild fish in the Lower 48. It was hard to not be excited about the prospects of the day, but catching is never a guarantee.
We had roughly 12 river miles to cover, and with expectations high that we would be busy landing fish all day, each mile was met with new enthusiasm. Unfortunately each new mile resulted in no fish, and as mid day approached, I detected a certain lack of enthusiasm on the part of Schpanky. I think part of his plummeting mood came from the fact that he was shocked and offended by the colorful language pouring from Joe’s mouth. Early in the day I had requested that Joe keep his language clean because my son isn’t used to hearing cuss words. Joe was informed that his tip would be docked $5 for every F-bomb dropped, and by 10 AM he was nearing a zero balance. We had stopped and worked a run with
our Joe’s Spey rods but were unable to swing up any fish, so nymphing on-the-go was the order of the day. The 5 whitefish we landed were of little consolation to the boy who appeared dejected by one hookup with a steelhead that busted him off after a brief fight. A sizable fish also quickly dispatched of yours truly, but my advantage over the boy is that, as a seasoned angler who is accustomed to unaccomplishments, I was able to laugh it off. That, and my blood sugar doesn’t plummet as does the boy’s. I can eat once in the morning and then not need food all day. The boy requires constant filter feeding. As I saw it, his nutritional needs were not my concern – I had fish to catch, damnit darnit.
Joe is a great guide, and to his credit he worked hard, tirelessly replaced the countless flies that
I Schpanky lost and cheered us on—providing hope with each new bend in the river. I’d almost even go so far as to suggest that Joe is a beacon of positive reinforcement. But even that was not enough to keep the boy from plummeting into an emotional tailspin, and by lunchtime he was also getting cold. Fortunately the clouds parted and allowed the sun to warm us a bit, and Top Ramen served with a stick was a nice touch that did a lot to improve the outlook on life. I reminded Schpanky that no matter whether we caught any fish today, he’d already surpassed his old man in height. That seemed to boost his mood a bit more. To keep him from getting too cocky I also reminded that I can still kick his arse when it comes to fishing and otherwise. Then he brought up the matter of the reels I’d left in the truck and I grew sullen and withdrew from the duel. Well played, young lad. Well played.
We departed our lunch spot with hope and energy rekindled. As we dropped into “the Canyon” the rain that had been threatening all day finally descended upon us and gave us a taste of what the OP can dish out. Fortunately the rain, while heavy, lasted less than an hour. As we emerged from the Canyon the rain tapered off and the clouds of despair lifted, both literally and figuratively. Shortly thereafter the boy hooked up with and landed a beautiful chrome hen that weighed in the range of 11 to 13 lbs. It may have been 12 or possibly 14 lbs, but Joe’s policy for the day was to refer to fish in odd-numbered increments. The fish could have been 5 or 7 lbs for all that mattered—I just wanted the boy to land a steelhead on this trip, and that goal had been met. Now, the Schpanky is not one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, but even he couldn’t hide his excitement. There would be no hugs or celebratory dancing of the jig, but fist bumps were exchanged all around (very manly sort of stuff). Joe had been operating under an incredible amount of pressure all day, and I could see the tension leaving his body as breathed a sigh of relief. I thought I smelled something waft from within his waders too, but I could be wrong.
With his head held just a bit higher and perhaps a couple
more hairs on his chest, the boy angled on with a new found hope, while I continued to snag every possible hunk of structure in the river. With the old man out of commission every 10 minutes or so, the boy did took every possible advantage of the power play. Eventually it paid off as he hooked up with another fish around 6pm. When the hook was set, the response was instantly, “It’s just a small one.” As the boy nonchalantly stripped in slack line, he simultaneously muttered something about a “double rainbow”. I’m reasonably certain that the collective response from Joe and I was, “WTF?” and then suddenly the rod bent sharply and the “little fish” began taking line and heading west, toward the ocean, which was only about 10 miles away. Keeping his wits about him, Schpanky succeeded in landing his second fish of the day: a super bright buck of about 9 lbs.
As the boy fought the fish and Joe stood by with the net, it became readily apparent that the random comment wasn’t so random: just like the dude in the infamous YouTube video says, there was a full on double rainbow all across the sky. What does it mean?
It means that the boy met the Hoh and lost his innocence. He became an accomplished steelhead angler and kicked his old man’s arse. It means that Joe earned his full tip.
Hopefully it also means that I won’t ever forget the reels again. Thanks Joe, for holding up your end of the bargain (don’t spend that $15 all in one place). Save us a couple days in your schedule for a year from now. Who knows, maybe I can catch a fish next time…