Women of Tenkara
by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)
Robin Evans on a Tenkara Trip to the Texas Hill Country
Tenkara fishing is new in America, which means that the appeal of tenkara to U.S. women anglers is also new. My wife, Robin, and I have been trying it together for about three years now, and I’d like to offer a few thoughts.
First, our experience tells us that tenkara fishing can be of special interest to women for the same reasons that it appeals to many men: its purity, simplicity, and effectiveness. Also, Robin tells me that, on average, women tend to be less “gadget-happy” than men, which fits right in with tenkara. My wife tried western fly fishing a few years ago and didn’t go for it. In her words, “There’s too much stuff to mess with. I fish to relax, and it’s hard for me to relax when I’m putting together all these sections of rod, different types of line, trying to master double-hauling, and messing with the reel.”
I realize not everyone feels the same way as Robin, but she loves the fact that she can carry all that she needs for a full day of fishing in a small sling pack. She can carry her rod, a tin of flies, a bottle of water, a sandwich, and a rain jacket, plus a couple of odds-and-ends, and be set to go. Her entire set up weighs about 2 pounds. She also usually wears a lanyard with some tippet, a pair of nippers, and some hemostats. She can be fishing within a couple of minutes of stepping into the water.
“I just catch more fish this way,” she says. Robin and I fish the San Antonio and Texas Hill Country area, and have had many memorable trips to Cibolo Nature Site, Blanco State Park, Guadalupe River State Park, Lost Maples Natural Area, and South Llano River State Park. Our usual catch includes pan fish, bass, catfish, and rainbow trout during the winter.
Plus, Robin says she enjoys the way a good tenkara rod comes alive when she hooks even a small fish. “It’s easy and fun” she says.
Robin is small in stature and prefers medium-length tenkara rods of medium action. She almost always fishes weighted Killer Bugs with a furled line and may be one of the first tenkara anglers to catch freshwater drum (“Gasper goo”) on a tenkara rod. Her favorite fish to catch is catfish, and she’s good at it because she knows how to work a nymph around bottom structure.
One of our best trips was last winter to Blanco State Park near the ranger station. I had fished away from Robin but was able to observe her pulling in one trout after another, plus a really nice bass. Tenkara angling is uncommon in our area, and I saw several men trying to figure out what she was doing and why she was catching fish when they weren’t. Finally, one fellow sidled up to her and asked, “Is that a cane pole? Why are you casting it that way? You’re catching fish right there?” Robin patiently explained about tenkara, but I could tell it was all new to him. He just couldn’t understand how a little lady, with a little pole, a little fly, and not much line, could be doing so well while he was beating the water to death.
The point I’d like us to think about is that women who don’t enjoy other types of angling may truly enjoy tenkara fishing. Yes, Robin also has conventional spinning gear, but she’s about given it up. She can take a two-ounce rod, two pounds of gear, and fish simply and neatly all day long.
Robin also wanted me to mention that age shouldn’t matter much to new tenkara anglers. She had never picked up a tenkara pole until she was past 50 but was catching fish 15 minutes after learning to cast. The main requirement is a willingness to try and the patience to stay after it.
One warning I might sound to men is that we have a tendency to help our wives too much with their fishing. (Or, at least that’s my tendency.) When we first started with tenkara, I was always trying to get Robin to cast in a certain way. I did all of this while she was catching fish after fish. Finally I realized that it was ridiculous to tell Robin she was casting all wrong while she was taking nice fish off her line. Men, back off a little and allow your wife to fish her way. If you give advice, don’t give much! Robin uses homemade strike indicators out of craft foam, while I don’t. She prefers shorter rods than I do. She likes to have one or two favorite rods, while I like to try all kinds of tenkara rods. And . . . she out-fishes me about half the time. In fact, it’s a little embarrassing. Her ego is not tied up in her fishing, so she relaxes and often does a better job than the men around her.
Tenkara fishing is a natural fit for many women. Just don’t try to force it on anyone because no one likes to be pulled through a knothole.