Internal Wars, Tenkara Wars

My day job as a social worker is rooted in paradox. The perception of an empathic provider is a prolegomena to effective mental health treatment, which is not something suited to fakery. At the same time, we as professionals must maintain a distance, to be able to make effective, “objective” decisions on matters of treatment and for our own well-being. Like all fair and true balancing acts this is impossible, the very idea on many levels absurd. Achieving it is not a static state of enlightenment but an unending and drunken walk down a tilted sidewalk. Which is why, yesterday, I called in sick with a case of oncorhynchustitis.

My fishing rods: TenkaraUSA Amago (first gen) above, Daiwa Soyokaze 27 below.

I should first mention that, as evidenced here, my camera did not die from last weekends swim. The camera in a ziplock of rice trick works; I’ve had to use it twice in the last month.

Perfect.  Too bad you can’t legally packraft it when the water is high enough. (Hint.)

I had a sense it would be a good day. Every evening the last week over has progressed in crispness, and on a particularly early morning riding to work last week I even wore a long-sleeved shirt. Autumnal morning giving over to summer warmth around noon or one is perfect fishing weather; unlike earlier in August, the chill stays in the water such that they will bite all day.

And yesterday was perfect, perfect for thinking as a whole day spent working up a single stream can be. Perfect because I did something right for myself. Perfect because a mild and short bushwack got me a freestone creek within (distant) sight of the road that probably gets fished five times in two years. Perfect because (once again, I might be getting good at this) I caught way more fish than I can count (50-70 in six hours), and, cliche though it might be, perfect because I caught the biggest fish of the year thus far, out of the most unlikely of small but deep pools, cut under the snarled roots of an old cottonwood.  It was the fourth cast of the day, I had caught ~10 inchers on casts two and three, which seemed big enough given the circumstances, and was awful glad I had picked the Amago first (for the extra reach).  I barely kept that fish out of several different snags, and landed and released him still full of awe and the camera still in my pack.  I know that, skinny though it was, that cutthroat was nothing less than 20 inches.  Almost as long as the first segment of the Amago, and huge for the creeks I like to fish.

Only fish photo of the day.  Usually I feel too bad delaying their release.  It is fundamentally a barbarous sport.

No other fish came close to rivaling that giant, but in the next 1.5 miles, as I worked my way upstream, the cutts seemed to be several standard deviations bigger than their cousins further downstream in the same creek.  ~10 inchers were the mean, and without exception they fought like bull trout.  Often two raced each other, out of the rocks below a riffle, the victor airing it out before it realized it was hooked.  As the sun rose above the ridges my mind sunk into the rhythm of fishing, absorbed in nuances of water and cobbles as daily detritus (work, shit to clean at home, country music lyrics) floated in one ear and, never without much delay, out the other.  It was pretty warm by late afternoon, when I reached my destination, stowed my gear, and walked a few miles of trail back to the truck.  I was out of water, out of food, out of will, had scratched all my daily itches, and just needed a soda.  Five years ago I thought that, come forty or fifty, I’d have the patience, no doubt born from a lack of cartilage, to focus on fly fishing.  That I’ve aged faster than anticipated is, hopefully, as good a sign for my spiritual development as it is for the long-term health of my knees (which feel great).

Tenkara has become, besides “…the most extraordinary advance in backcountry gear in the past decade,” and beyond “…the 2,000 year old fad,” a matter of some contention.  Any fad whose criticism which reaches a certain threshold of vociferation has substance behind it.  In this respect tenkara is no different than fixed gears, fat bikes, cuben fiber, or putting bacon on everything.  Tenkara has not only been bashed and dismissed roundly in 2012, but has become the object of a curious turf war over how it will be defined (e.g. market share).  TenkaraUSA introduced tenkara to the world outside Japan (see “fad” link, above), and as of this writing is the number one Google result.  Number three, behind wikipedia, is TenkaraBum, which began as a blog with the most comprehensive range of rod reviews and has quickly morphed into a retailer.  My Soyokaze was imported and sold to me by TenkaraBum (with exemplary customer service, and including a free level line).

The debate can be best understood by seeing this, and then reading this (no permalinks, you want the August 29 and 30 entries).

For my own part, the Amago and the Soko27 (which are very far apart in function, as far as trout rods go) are both very nice.  I’ve been using the former for two years, and am continuously impressed with how such a big and in many ways powerful fancy stick can be so easy to wave around all day, and make catching a wide range of fish fun and satisfying.  (The praise of tenkara, by Ryan and others, is not at all hype.)  The Soko27 is great off the bat for tight places and small fish, but is growing on me as a more multifaceted tool.  It has a lively, zingy cast and while it does demand attention, can land larger trout and is very fun in the process.  I switched from the Amago to the Soyo halfway through yesterday, more to have a change than because the stream or fish got that much smaller, and appreciate the different experience.  Equally good and capable in its own niche, and a welcome bit of diversity.  I will address the cork grip controversy, thus: I don’t find there to be any substantive difference in grip between the cork Amago and the merely textured Soko, but do find the small overall diameter of the later to be less than ideal in certain situations.

So beware the hype.  You might get caught in the misinformation, or even worse, left out of something profound entirely.

14 responses to “Internal Wars, Tenkara Wars”

  1. After having been soundly castigated by fellow bloggers for not providing permalinks, I now have permalinks for those two posts. The August 29 post is here: and the August 30 post is here:

    Sorry for the inconvenience.

    Best regards,

  2. I found the Soyokaze 27 handle a bit small myself, especially as I find my grip somewhat compromised recently. But there is help – – though I must admit it does nothing for the asthetics of the rod – even in the medium purple (wish they had black).

    1. I’ve been thinking about putting some bike handlebar tape on it, but then the two rods wouldn’t fit in my ebira. Decisions…

  3. Fighting over fishing rods is like fighting over socks. Everyone still ends up using what fits them, so what’s the point?

  4. Yesterday morning I brought this sentence back to the breakfast table and asked the crew, “Guess who wrote this?”.

    “The perception of an empathic provider is a prolegomena to effective mental health treatment, which is not something suited to fakery.”

    Your name was spoken in unison.

    As we sipped our coffee, Dave, Lynda, JJ and I had fun trying to pronounce and decipher the meaning of ‘prolegomena’. Dave finally used Siri. And already prolegomena’s meaning has become a vague notion.

    Missing you!


    1. Cheers Ed!

      It’s a bit unwieldy, but no other word means quite the same thing.

  5. Bar tape has worked decently on my busted-up (not the rod’s fault) Stonefly 360. A bit softer handle now, but guess that’s to be expected.

  6. Ya, might as well have.

    But no, was in the Bitterroots having the first day where I lost count. There was this one moment where I remember thinking “Man, i got this. I can totally fish!” About 20 seconds later I lost my footing. My rod-hand reacted instinctively to brace, and the handle/lowest section took the blow. Problem was, it ended up bridging 2 creek-bed rocks. My hand went straight through still searching for ground.

    Super humbling. Next time the rod’s not going down with the ship. Least on a small creek.

  7. […] too, crossing a creek at the height of June melt-off.  When I crossed this same creek after a full day of fishing, towards the end of August, this spot was almost […]

  8. […] rods this year.  The wheat is still being separated from the chaff, but more options are good and as I’ve written having shorter rods for truly small stream fishing is […]

  9. […] in the exploding Tenkara market has gotten ferocious. And confusing. Three years ago you picked a Tenkara USA rod and were done. Today illuminating and […]

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