Tenkara Comes to Colorado
On precisely September 18 of this year, 2009, just before noon, Betty and I took off on our annual, ritual drive into the mountains, into the aspen gold-- before leaving for London in a few days. I hoped and believed that Betty had packed a good lunch, which for us has the power to redeem most every sorrow.
The aspen, however, were not our sole reason for leaving town: we had with us a brand new Tenkara fly fishing outfit, fresh from Japan by way of Mr. Daniel Galhardo’s new company in San Francisco. This minimalist outfit consists of an eleven foot, supremely light telescopic carbon rod, with neither guides nor reel seat-- because no reel is used-- and an eleven foot furled line to be attached, readily attached and detached, to the rod’s tip. To this one adds three or more feet of 5x tippet.
With a few flies, both mine and the authentic Tenkara kind from Japan, we were set for a trial run in Boulder Creek. Well up the canyon on the way to the aspen, we pulled off to check the creek and give Tenkara a try. We would, we felt sure, on this day, be introducing Tenkara into the history of Colorado’s fly fishing.
The first cast or two left me disoriented and frustrated. Why? Because with this ancient Japanese tackle and method, I was able to cast not one inch farther than twenty-five feet-- plus the length of my arm. The length of the cast is absolutely fixed at the length of rod, plus an equal length of line and tippet. The furled monofilament line (U S made) is more like a long tapered leader-- all airy and delicate. It’s all but impossible to make a sloppy cast with it.
The rod is no more than maybe three ounces, all the sections nestling into the twenty-inch butt section with its fine cork grip. It’s amazingly neat and attractive. With the line and tippet coiled on its tippet spool in my pocket, we thrashed our way through the willows down to a riffle, now in extremely low water. A few small fish were rising sporadically. On this momentous occasion, I fastened the line to the rod tip’s bit of red Dacron with a girth hitch, tied on a Caribou Captain, and got after them. One word seems right to describe this setting up: “charming”, a just plain charming thing to do, to remind me that there are still grand old things left to do in life.
And then came the big shock, that first short cast, a cast that could not be extended. It seemed so short, too short, even on so small a creek in such low water.
I had to get used to it, to the idea that there was to be no reaching out, no shooting, no double-hauling, just flicking, dancing, dabbing the fly here and there. I began to feel like a conductor with his baton conducting the water’s musical intimacies. I worked close, and rapidly, changing, adjusting angle and distance of cast as fast as I could think about it. And with the threat of hanging up in trees and snags all but gone! And almost impossible to put fish down with that harsh, splashing cast that we all dread making with conventional tackle.
It's really different, this fishing; for instance, this poor old left hand of mine, which for seventy years, has been managing my casts, acting as their mastermind. Now it had nothing to do but ride along a bit restlessly in and out of my pocket-- in its bewildered retirement.
I found myself intensely concentrated on the fly, watching it so clearly and so close. It really is a different, ancient old way of fishing, That gossamer line whisping through the air in response to the rod’s foot long delicate tip section.
Well, anyway, I missed three or four fish, and they missed me. Fishing small streams like this is the as advertised purpose of Tenkara: and for fish not much bigger than twelve inches. I had now done it!
So, I gathered the short line easily to my hand and “took down” with the same sense of pleasure with which I had set up. Rolling up the line on that little spool and stuffing it in my pants pocket felt like some kind of return to first things.
That simple, easy, almost casual experiment finished, we drove on to the lake for lunch, a fine, aspen-lovely, perfect day-- without a fish showing. So, we spent an indolent hour eating, resting, and feeding two prideful Stellers jays with bits of Betty’s sandwich. I love those birds for their crests, their powerful dark blue, and their restless wit.
I was then ready to go home, which Betty would not allow. We were there, and nothing would do but for me to get down to the lake and exercise Tenkara. It’s an age-old marriage trope of ours: I get tired or discouraged and want to go home: Betty refuses, and I pout, but she insists that I fish some more: and she’s always right. I almost always get exceptional fish for my abject obedience.
And so today it had to be Tenkara on still water over some worrisomely big trout. What if one of them should hit…. A close-in, band of water weed circles most of the lake. Big trout are always cruising along it. With Tenkara, quickly rigged again, with a big Stimulator sort of dry, I wet my toes in order to reach out to whisk the fly over the far side of the weed bed, when of a sudden, out of nowhere, came this, I think, hybrid cutthroat, two-and-a-half or three pounds, and took a pass at my fly-- and we both missed. Shaken, I flicked the fly back to that same spot, maybe a dozen feet away. And he came back again, rushed the fly, and took.
The crazy fish turned and immediately took off for deep water with my line, leader, and fly tied dead-off to the rod’s slender tip. Going straight away. What could I do with him? Nothing! All was predestined, foretold in the Gestalt of the equipment. All I could hope to do was protect that equipment by pointing the rod at the racing fish allowing him to break off the fly. Snap!
I want to tell you, it was a great and joyous, experience! I want to do it again-- and again. It’s not our awkward, messy old “catch and release”. It was having to do with a fine fish that over-powered and thrilled me with his attentions and then went free in style.
I wondered if this fish could have had any idea of his contribution to the developing history of American fly fishing in these, the early years of The New Period of American fly fishing.
tarrifs: rod $166
flies 3 for $7.50