In the months after tenkara was introduced to the US in 2009, a lot of comments were along the lines of "What do you do with your other hand?" It took me until this past week to realize that you don't actually need another hand! (Yes, I'm a bit slow. Others understood that long ago.)
The casting is obvious - with no reel you don't need to use your other hand for line control or for reeling. I had just assumed that all the other things involved with fly fishing, like tying knots and landing fish, required two hands - or at least the help of a companion. Well, they don't!
One handed fly tying was the catalyst, but the reaction it set off will be ongoing. I suspect "The One Armed Angler" will be a section within TenkaraBum.com like Keiryu or Carp, but who knows, at some point it might warrant a new website unto itself.
There already are websites devoted to one handed fishing or adaptive fishing, but I don't think any of them even mention tenkara other than the Tenkara Guides TROutreach program. Most feature motorized reels or wearable rod holders. They may serve spin fishermen well, but for fishing in streams, tenkara is far simpler.
Building on the work that Skip Shorb and I started at the Sowbug Roundup, in the past week I figured out how to tie all the knots required for tenkara fishing with just one hand. I'm still pretty slow at it, and so far I still have to do some of them sitting down, but I now know it can be done. Similarly, extending and collapsing the rod one handed is not only possible, it is far easier than you would imagine.
Landing a fish (without beaching it) was not quite as successful as I had anticipated, but I think that is just a question of getting the line length right and also using a more appropriate net.
I had gotten the basic idea from a couple of Daniele Beaulieu's YouTube Videos, in which she floats a tethered net downstream of where she is wading and maneuvers the fish into it. She then grabs the net with her other hand. I figured that if a one armed angler maneuvered the fish into the floating net hoop and then released the tension on the line the fish would dive, which would put it down into the net. That would give the angler time to slide the butt end of the tenkara rod down the top of his or her hippers (which will hold the rod securely) leaving the hand free to grab the net.
The procedure didn't work
at all with the next fish I hooked, which I would guess was about 14-15
inches. I was using a Suntech Kurenai Long 71 (which is unquestionably a
two-handed rod, but I was practicing landing techniques at that point,
not casting). My line was a bit too long relative to the length and
flexibility of the rod, giving me little control over the fish.
When I got the fish up to the net, the tension on the line was low
enough that at first the fish could just dive under the net. After it
got a little tired, I could slide it along the surface right up to the
net, but the net I was using was a Brodin Firehole, which is only 7"
wide and has a rounded end. The fish would slide to one side of the net
or the other but never did go over the frame and into the hoop. Eventually my hook
broke and the fish was free. (The hook was a Gamakatsu Zero Yamame, a very light wire hook intended for zero tension keiryu
fishing, which uses extremely light line. The hooks have to penetrate
very easily but don't have to be extremely strong.) Lesson learned.
For a one armed angler wanting to slide good sized fish into the net, I think the Fishpond Nomad Hand Net would be a much better choice. The net opening is a full 13" wide and the end of the net is much more flat than rounded. It's a big net, but if a one armed angler hooks a big fish, a big net will be needed to land it single handedly. The Nomad net also floats well. The round tamos that most tenkara anglers carry are just too small to reliably net a fish much over 9-10" using this technique.
Also, this is definitely not a technique for long line tenkara. You can't handline the fish if you can't grab the line. Using a long rod - short line approach, though, you can with trial and error find the line length that allows you to slide the fish into a floating net.
The day was so windy that I just could not get good drifts. It doesn't matter
how realistic your offering if your presentation kills all realism. I would have liked to practice more landings, but I didn't get any more hookings.
I left the Willowemoc to go back to the little brook where I experienced the first day I called a "many" day. Saturday wasn't a many day, but I did catch a few and the wind was reduced at least a bit by the trees.
I did not fish one handed there. While re-rigging the rod, adjusting the line length, and collapsing the rod each time I had to leave the stream to go through the woods for a ways all could have been done one handed, I am very slow at it and the shadows were already lengthening. By then, I just wanted to catch a few brookies to cap off the day.
The fish weren't large, but there were just enough of them to make the drive and the hike worth it.