I’ve never seen any discussion of tenkara where the word “simplicity” didn’t come up at least a few times. It’s true that simplicity is an easily identifiable attribute of tenkara but this seems to put gear addicts like me in an interesting dilema.
Is our love of gear antithetical to the intrinsic nature of tenkara? Does owning a dozen rods, piles of lines, and countless boxes of sakasa kebari mean that we just don’t get tenkara and we’re missing the message?
This post was inspired by a recent post on Twitter I saw by Anthony Naples of Casting Around. A Twitter post might seem an unlikely thing to spawn a blog entry but sometimes, 140 characters can paint a thousand words. Here is the original tweet:
What struck me about it was the line, “It’s more than gear, it’s a method”. I like this line and having said that, you might assume that I would think being a tenkara gear junkie is indeed hypocritical. On the contrary. I unapologetically maintain that there is absolutely nothing wrong with indulging in (and even hoarding) tenkara gear. Here’s why…
Maintaing the purity and simplicity of tenkara happens on the water–not in the gear closet. As long as you’re fishing simply on the stream, how many rods you own or how many different tenkara lines you’ve got stashed away in your gear bag at home doesn’t matter. To me, “keep it simple” refers to how you fish in the moment–with a single fly and no complicated terminal tackle like split shot, strike indicators, etc. It’s about having the simplest, most direct connection to the fish and the water. A line, rod, and a fly.
I think it’s true that tenkara is less about gear than method, but you also need gear to do the method. And this means trying different gear and experimenting to find your own preferences and style. For example, after more than two years of experimentation, I have recently come to favor softer action tenkara rods and level lines. I wouldn’t have been able to hone in on my own preferences without trying out different combinations of gear and so I’ve collected a lot during that time. But when I’m on the water, I’m fishing with the combination I’ve narrowed it down to–I don’t bring everything I own. And, to me, that honors not only the simplicity, but also the humble curiosity and commitment to self improvement of the tenkara angler. I highly doubt the tenkara masters in Japan didn’t do their fair share of experimentation before settling on their own systems. And neither should we.
Finding your own tenkara “voice” requires that you experiment with different tools. You might try a variety of gear and like some at first that fall out of favor later to be replaced by something that works better for you. And that’s OK. It’s an evolution. To me, it’s just another facet to the sport that I enjoy so much.
So, if you’re a gear addict like me and have ever felt guilty for owning “too much” tenkara gear, don’t. Buy up, play around, and have fun. All it demonstrates is your passion for the sport and a love of discovery. And that can hardly be antithetical to the spirit of tenkara.