May 28, 2012

Fly Fishing with a Cultist

Crappy cell phone photo of Paul with his tenkara rod on Grape Creek near Westcliffe, Colorado.
My friend Paul Vertrees is a cultist.

A bumper sticker on his pickup truck says so — he follows the tenkara cult.

Tenkara (from the skies) is a Japanese style of fly fishing in which the line is attached to the tip of the rod — no reel — and the angler depends on a combination of casting, wind, and current to put the fly (often a nymph or wet fly) in front of the fish.

Of course, that is the way that everyone fished until some European invented the reel, first for storing line and later for playing the fish.

I tell Paul that tenkara is just Izaak Walton in a kimono — or more accurately, Charles Cotton in a kimono — but he ignores my jibes.

Here's Cotton, fly fishing in the old style with a rod of "five or six yards":
In casting your line, do it always before you, and so that your fly may first fall upon the water, and as little of your line with it as is possible; though if the wind be stiff, you will then of necessity be compelled to drown a good part of your line to keep your fly in the water: and in casting your fly, you must aim at the further, or nearer, bank, as the wind serves your turn: which also will be with and against you on the same side, several times in an hour, as the river winds in its course; and you will be forced to angle up and down by turns accordingly; but are to endeavour, as much as you can, to stand as far off the bank as your length will give you leave when you throw to the contrary side: though, when the wind will not permit you so to do, and that you are constrained to angle on the same side whereon you stand,---you must then stand on the very brink of the river, and cast your fly at the utmost length of your rod and line, up or down the river as the gale serves.
That sounds pretty much like tenkara-style fly fishing to me.

We fished a small creek together a couple of weeks ago, followed by a couple of hours on the Arkansas RIver.

I borrowed his rod on the creek — and I had a couple of strikes — only the slight different rhythm of fishing the tenkara rod caused me to miss the trout. (That's my story.)

It is a clean, simple, and ultralight technique, and for small-stream fishing, it makes a lot of sense.

In fact, I envied him when we were on the river, and while I was dragging streamers through a big slow bend, I had a spool mishap (a screw came out), causing the spool to fall off the reel unless I held the reel gangsta-style, on its side.

Paul, meanwhile, was fishing upstream, following the old technique of breaking the river into smaller "streams," and he had no reel problems because he had no reel.

Of course, like any other recreational activity that Americans take up, tenkara has its disputes between the purists and the innovators.

Articles about tenkara technique are starting to show up in the fly-fishing magazines, although I doubt that it will be endorsed too whole-heartedly, because reel manufacturers are major advertisers.  What, you don't need a $500 Ross reel? Heresy.


Galen Geer said...

So, this means the good ole' cane pole that I used to fish for sun fish and catfish in a muddy creek and the muddy Chickaski is an art form? :) glg

Chas S. Clifton said...

Except your cane pole was not made from telescoping carbon fiber.

Sarah said...

When I was six, I fished with a simple willow pole-line attached to tip of "rod". Used worms instead of flies so maybe that doesn't qualify? ;-)

Chas S. Clifton said...

Sarah, that depends. Did you use the Japanese word for "worm"?

gonehuntn said...

Fantastic article Chas! Having fished with Paul and owning said rod I'd say you captured the true essence of both the fisherman and the technique. I've fished "western" fly rods since the early 80's and lost interest some time ago. Paul introduced to this "new" technique several months ago and I must say that Tenkara has reinvigorated me. I keep telling Paul being his friend is getting expensive.