Begun, the Tenkara Wars have...

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I caught this fish on a tenkara rod, with a fly. Is this tenkara?
"NO, WHY DO YOU DEFILE OUR SACRED SPORT AND DISRESPECT THE JAPANESE SENSEIS IN SUCH A MANNER? THIS IS NOT A TROUT. THAT IS A POND, NOT A RIVER. AND THAT KILLER BUG? THAT'S NOT A TRADITIONAL KEBARI! YOU ARE NOT FISHING TENKARA!"

This is the position of what I've come to call Tenkara Fundamentalism. The tenets of Tenkara Fundamentalism can be summed up as:

  1. You must use a tenkara rod with a proper cork, wooden, or foam grip.
  2. You must use an unweighted kebari of traditional Japanese design, or inspired by such.
  3. ONLY SALMONIDS NEED APPLY.
  4. You must be fishing a creek, stream, or river.
  5. You must be fishing in a way that respects the Japanese masters. WWDID? (What Would Dr. Ishigaki Do?)

Spend any time in a tenkara Facebook group or forum and you will encounter this viewpoint. To these folks there is a war for the soul of tenkara in the West and they WILL let you know if you are not adhering to their definition  

The advocates of Tenkara Fundamentalism would say that if you do anything outside their definition of “tenkara” you’re doing something called “fixed-line fly fishing.” That’s a bit of a mouthful. I typically call fishing with a fly and a Japanese style fixed line rod “tenkara” if someone asks me what I’m doing. If I catch their interest, then I provide a more nuanced account of Japanese fixed line methods 

However, by nature I am a bit of a contrarian. So I came up with the term “Un-Kara” to describe all the things that violate Tenkara Fundamentalism. What is Un-Kara? Here are some examples:

  • Fishing for bluegills in a pond with a seiryu rod and a fly.  
  • Stream fishing for smallmouth bass with a tenkara rod, a floating line and a Sneaky Pete. 
  • Chucking Clousers for hybrid bass with a fixed line carp rod.  
  • Czech nymphing with a keiryu rod.  
  • Any fishing with a fly and a Japanese fixed line rod that isn’t for stream trout.  

The problem with Tenkara Fundamentalism is that for vast swaths of the US, trout fishing in streams is simply not an option. I would love to be able to drive 10 minutes to a trout stream, but my reality is that I have to drive at least 3 hours to get to one. We want to grow our sport, but putting it in such a tightly walled little garden isn’t going to help.  

Of course, this is old news to any serious fly fisher. More than any other group of anglers, fly fishers LOVE to tell other anglers that they’re fishing the wrong way.  

  • Dry fly or die!  
  • Egg flies? HERESY!
  • Indicator nymphing for steelhead? Might as well be throwing dynamite in the river! 
  • That’s not a fly, it’s a lure!
  • Tenkara? That’s a fad for hipsters fishing for dinkers. Me, I only toss 10” streamers for 20-lb browns! Also, look at my awesome beard and trucker hat. 
  • I have a fragile ego and a need to feel superior to the unwashed masses.  

So, you might ask, what is my definition of “fishing the right way?” It’s pretty simple: 

  1.  Do you have the appropriate permits/licenses? 
  2. Are you following the regulations? 
  3. Are you having fun? 
  4. If you answered YES to the above, you’re fishing the “right way.” 

I actually enjoy fishing the Tenkara Fundamentalist way. In the right setting, it’s incredibly fun and effective. And there is a lot to be learned from the Japanese masters. But more often than not you’ll find me fishing Un-kara, simply because that’s what is most accessible to me on a daily basis.  Don’t worry about the Facebook warriors. Just go catch fish and have fun!