Outdoors: Tenkara rods provide a simpler way to enjoy fly fishing
Tenkara rods feature a smaller amount of line based on centuries-old design from Japan.
Published: May 12, 2014 09:48AM
Updated: April 9, 2014 09:04PM
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Malinda Chouinard | Courtesy Patagonia Books Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of Patagonia, uses a tenkara fly rod to land an Atlantic salmon in Iceland.

One of the most annoying, and frankly disheartening, aspects of fishing is dealing with tangled lines.

At the reel. Around the eyes. On the ground. And, hopefully, eventually on fish.

There is an obvious answer: reduce the amount of line.

“How much fishing time have I lost through the years untangling fishing line?” asked Craig Mathews, owner and founder of the renowned Blue Ribbon Flies fishing shop in West Yellowstone. “Less is sometimes more.”

Mathews has joined forces with other iconic fly fishers Yvon Chouinard and Mauro Mazzo, as well as famed artist James Prosek, to release the “Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara and Rod and Reel”

The book, available individually or as part of the “Simple Fishing Package” through Patagonia ($24.95), provides the basic information vital to all fly fishing newbies and is loaded with graphics, pictures and intriguing thoughts from the authors.

The central item in the book, and the package, is a tenkara rod. The telescoping rod with no reel seat is based on a centuries old design from Japan. There has been rising popularity in the United States about tenkara in the past few decades and it is common to run into somebody using the technique on Utah streams.

Rather than running down the rod and onto a reel, fly line is attached on the end of the rod.

“This is for the young person who has wanted to learn, but is intimidated by the complexity, elitism and expense of fly fishing,” Chouinard said about tenkara. “This is for the woman and her daughter who are put off by the image of the testosterone-fueled, good-old-boy bass and trout fisherman who turned the ‘contemplative pastime’ into a competitive combat sport. And for the long-time angler who has everything and wants to replace all that stuff with skill, knowledge and simplicity.”

Mathews has been teaching tenkara to kids and always enjoys seeing their reaction.

“I put a rod in their hand, tie on a fly and they walk away,” he said. “It is very intuitive. They are giggling, laughing and catching fish. It is a connection with something other than those god-awful electronic devices. The same thing happens with veteran fishers.”

The Patagonia Simple Fishing Package is designed for people to walk into a shop and walk out with everything they need to start fly fishing. The package includes the book, a fly rod (in 8-foot-6, 10-6 or 11-6 lengths), fly line and leader, flies, and get started quick guide. The package runs from $255 to $280 depending on the rod length.

Mathews said the simplicity of tenkara also appeals to another segment of the population not heavily involved in fly fishing.

“It happens all the time. A family comes in and the wife or mom shops around in the background,” he said. “I take out a tenkara rod and start explaining it and I see her eyes kind of light up.”

In many cases, the women wander over to learn about tenkara.

“They say something like, ‘This is something I could do’ and they leave the shop with a rod,” Mathews said.

Hardcore anglers scoff at the idea of a limited supply of line. They view tenkara as a small-water, small-fish technique.

Chouinard has used tenkara rods on big rivers for salmon and steelhead. Plenty of tropy-sized fish of many species have been landed on smaller waters. In those cases when the muscle of the fish is just too much, Mathews utilizes a technique traditional fly rodders would never dream of doing.

“When I run out of line, I throw the rod,” he said. “It floats like a cork and usually comes right back to you because the fish often returns to the spot where you hooked it. Otherwise maybe you take a swim.”

Mathews said if nothing else, throwing the rod is entertaining when others are around.

“At $3 Bridge [on the Madison River] I’ve had people cheering and laughing watching me,” he said. “They come down to see what is going on, learn about tenkara and pretty soon they are fishing them as well.”

brettp@sltrib.com

Take a Simple Fly Fishing class

Western Rivers Flyfisher in Salt Lake City has teamed up with Patagonia for a free “Simple Fly Fishing” clinic April 29. The basics of tenkara and traditonal fly fishing will be discussed. No personal gear is required to take part. The clinic is limited to 20 people and registartion is required. Call the Patagonia Outlet — 801-466-2226 — or Western Rivers Flyfisher — 801-521-6424 — to register.

Tenkara rod in action

Watch Yvon Chouinard fish with a tenkara rod at http://youtu.be/30QCzYHdcWQ