American Tenkara

by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)

Tenryu Furaibo TF39, a size 12 Killer Bug, and a channel catfish in the Guadalupe River

Tenryu Furaibo TF39, a size 12 Killer Bug, and a channel catfish in the Guadalupe River

As I understand it, tenkara angling developed in Japan over 300 years ago as anglers pursued smaller fish in high-gradient mountain streams. It was an efficient way for market fishermen to pursue their target species in specific circumstances.

When tenkara was introduced to the States about a decade ago, Americans began adopting and adapting this style of angling in ways that it was never used in Japan. We started using keiryu rods with American-style flies, or we used fixed-line rods with live bait, or we used tenkara rods with floating, western-style fly lines, or we pursued warm water species, such as largemouth bass and catfish, with tenkara rods. Or we fished in mountain streams for American trout, which is close to original tenkara.

This led to a vigorous debate. What is and isn’t tenkara? Is tenkara limited to fishing unweighted, sekasa-style flies, with a cork-handled tenkara rod, in high gradient streams? What do you call it if you tie a wooly bugger on to a keiryu rod and go after bass? And how about all those fishermen who pursue various panfish, such as cichlids and bluegills?

Well, friends, it’s just American Tenkara. Other names are too long to be handy, and “tenkara” is the name that sticks. American Tenkara is what we do here with telescoping, fixed-line fly rods; and it’s different than the way tenkara fishing is practiced in Japan. It’s broader and more adaptable to fit our wide-ranging angling opportunities. It’s fishing for beautiful cutthroats in a mountain stream, if that wonderful angling opportunity is available to you. It’s pursuing bull-nosed cichlids in a suburban creek, if that’s close by. It’s going after Guadalupe bass or catfish, in you live in the South. It’s adapting and using tenkara-style rods in your home waters so that you can enjoy recreational fishing in a unique, peaceful way.

American Tenkara is simply a broader definition of the original term as adapted and applied in this country. Surely we can live with this and enjoy the fishing.

As an illustration, several weeks ago, I visited the upper Guadalupe River just north of San Antonio. I don’t have any high-gradient mountain streams with trout that I can fish nearby. I do have a beautiful stretch of warm river water to enjoy, less than 45 minutes from home. That evening, I carried a small tin of Utah Killer Bugs and a Tenryu Furaibo TF39, which is about as pure a Japanese tenkara rod as you’ll find.

Right at dark I hooked a nice channel catfish on a size 12 brown Killer Bug and fought him for several minutes before finally bringing him to hand for a few photos. It was a tremendously exhilarating fight in a wonderful river in a beautiful setting. In fact, it was the most fun I’d had in a long time.

What do you call landing a channel catfish . . . in the upper Guadalupe . . . with a Tenryu Furaibo TF39 . . . on a size 12 Killer Bug? American Tenkara.

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