How to be a Tenkara Outlaw

Jason Klass - Tenkara Outlaw

I recently read an article in which a spokeswoman from the NY Department of Environmental Conservation stated that tenkara fishing on fly fishing only waters is technically illegal in her state since the law dictates the use of a “traditional” fly rod, fly reel, and fly line. “Traditional”? That’s odd, isn’t it? People have been fly fishing without a reel more than ten times longer than they have been with a reel. Apparently, in New York State though, “traditional” means something that has been used for less than two hundred years or so. Anything that predates that just isn’t “traditional”. At any rate, it seems that other state regulations may pose the same problem for tenkara anglers. So I thought it might be helpful for those of you fishing in states where tenkara doesn’t fall under the legal definition of “fly fishing” to learn how to avoid those hefty fines or jail time–essentially, how to become a Tenkara outlaw…

What you will need

  • A fly reel (any reel will do but it should be spooled with “traditional” PVC fly line to be convincing)
  • Self-adhesive Velcro
  • Scissors
How to be a tenkara outlaw

First, cut a length of Velcro about the same length as the reel seat on your reel.

How to be a tenkara outlaw 2

Next, attach one side to the reel seat and the other to the handle of your tenkara rod near the butt (where “traditional” reels are mounted).

How to be a tenkara outlaw 3

Place the reel in your pocket.  Now when you’re tenkara fishing in fly fishing only waters and a game warden approaches, nonchalantly turn your body so that your tenkara rod handle is out of their line of sight. Then, stealthily remove the reel from your pocket and attach it to your rod handle with the Velcro. You might want to practice this move at home in front of a mirror in order to master it.

How to be a tenkara outlaw 4

This should be enough to deter most wardens or rangers; however, if they start giving you the third degree about things like why your rod doesn’t have any guides, remain calm and respond, “it’s the damnedest thing. They all just fell off right before you got here”. Then, feign anger, look at your rod and make a comment about its shoddy workmanship–something like, “damn Chinese rods!” followed by a disappointed grunt.

How to be a tenkara outlaw 5

Tip:  Make sure you use a western grip with your thumb (not index finger) on top of the rod otherwise you might arouse suspicion.

Once the officer leaves, the reel can be easily detached and you can continue fishing as normal–in the 2,000 year old, “non-traditional” way. Problem solved.

Author: Jason Klass

Jason is an avid fly angler and backpacker. As a former fly fishing guide originally from Western New York, he moved to Colorado and became an early adopter of tenkara which perfectly suited the small, high altitude streams and lakes there. He has not fished a Western-style fly rod for trout since.

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  1. Laughing my ass off!!!

  2. Jason…Could you point me towards that article? Being from NY and spending 99.99999% of my time fishing here and spending about 95% of that time tenkara fishing here I’m pretty well aware of what NY fishing regulations are for the whole state and specific areas in which I fish. At no time have I ever read anything that would prohibit tenkara on fly fishing only waters. My guess is that she (the DEC official)is a prime example of the “right hand does not know what the left hand is doing” within a large organization. I always carry a copy of the NYS fishing regulations with me for the uneducated warden who may on the off chance harass me about regulations and rules that they have apparently never taken the time to look at in their own publications. (this has happened in the past to me and others I know) Now that my rant is done….sorry…your post is some funny sh@t!

  3. That Velcro on the handle will come in handy for an itch between the shoulder blades.

  4. Holy crap! That was funny! I may actually try that if I ever end up fishing somewhere where they really enforce the rules, like England.

  5. Kiwi,

    Luckily, NY only has two very small sections of only the Salmon River that are “fly fishing only.” The Salmon (at least in those sections) is a steelhead, lake run brown river, and it would not be wise to fish it with a tenkara rod anyway. A few state parks in your neck of the woods are also fly fishing only, but that is based on park regs, not state regs, and they may vary. You could go in person, tenkara rod in hand, look ’em straight in the eye, and ask if they really truly would deny Dame Juliana or Izaak Walton the right to fish there.

  6. Super! Thank you, Jason!
    I’ll go to show your this article for my Tenkara and fly-fishing friends.

  7. How about cane pole fishing? Is a worm ok and an artificial fly not ok?

  8. LOLercopter! I love how on the homepage only the first section of text shows. I was ready for some truly insightful advice on becoming a Tenkara outlaw. Not to say that this isn’t insightful. I just didn’t expect instructions on the velcro reel seat mod! I literally laughed out loud. In all seriousness though, I can’t believe this little discrepancy would actually result in a fine or arrest especially if you explained Tenkara to whatever authority figure tried to ruin your fun by calling you on such a trivial “crime”.

  9. Thanks for the ‘heads up’. Ya jus’ never know what idiocy could be around the bend, eh?

    “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the the universe.” – Albert Einstein

  10. wow,great idea!!

  11. Your sarcastic wit is much appreciated. Keep up the great work. One of the most active blogs I follow.

  12. Jason

    I’m just learning about Tenkara.
    Thank goodness I got appropriate instructions for Tenkara fishing and avoiding the long (and stupid) arm of Justice at the same time.

    …still laughing my ass off!

  13. No need for alterations to Tenkara fish in Virginia. I emailed the Department of Game an Inland fisheries (DGIF) for a definition of flyfishing to see where Tenkara fell. Below is there response:

    In Virginia we define the fishing by the tackle not the rod. If the regulation states, Fly Fishing Only, then you can deliver a Fly by any means. It can be behind a bobber on a spinning rod, it can be traditional used with a fly rod and reel, or it could be used by the Tenkara method.

    So, it looks as though Tenkara is legal in Virginia. No velcro needed!!

  14. When referring to tackle, Pennsylvania defines fly fishing in it’s “Catch and Release, Fly Fishing Only” regulations this way, “Fishing must be done with tackle limited to fly rods, fly reels and fly line with a maximum of 18 feet in leader material or monofilament line attached.” The phrase “must be done with” stands out because it never states that a reel must necessarily be in use during fishing. Perhaps then, it would be best if we carry a small one with us and produce it if questioned… just to be on the safe side.

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