Had to Respond. Why the Need?

As the interest in tenkara continues to grow, so has the number of anglers who have decided to give it a try and even switch to a fixed-line fly fishing method. More experimentation is happening and fly fishermen and women all over the world are discovering the fun of using a tenkara rod.
At Zen we applaud and encourage this. We’re not hung up on how anglers use our rods – we’re simply grateful that they chose Zen, and thrilled that they’re fishing. We believe the more people getting outside and falling in love with nature, the better for everyone and everything. It’s a simple recipe for a better world.
So, when I came across a recent article  whose purpose was to explain and define in specific terms, what tenkara is and what tenkara is not, I had to respond. I suppose I just don’t understand why we feel the need to go there. Here is just that:
“I am left with mixed feelings after reading this article. I think at times, simply the “need to clarify” and “fix” the definition of tenkara is the very reason why so many other anglers and fly fishermen and women, have issues with the method. It’s that need, in my opinion, that makes tenkara so secular. Full disclosure, I am the owner of Zen Tenkara. We, it would seem, are one of those brands that “use the term tenkara to sell and market other types of fixed line rods to consumers… Consumers trust brands to sell them authenticity. Unfortunately, some are not.”
We design an entire series of rods that can be used for small, high mountain streams and for landing large powerful fish. All of our rods, with the exception of our Kyojin Tenkara Rod, can cast 3.0 tenkara level line, furled or braided traditional Uni thread tapered line, and several can also cast PVC fly line as well. Versatility should not deplete or negate authenticity. How a consumer fishes their tenkara rod is up to them. I’m not in the business of policing anglers on how they fish or accusing them of not doing tenkara because one day they fish a Sakasa kebari on a furled line and on the next day, they tie on a dry dropper or a nymph pattern. To feel the need for people to clarify, “yesterday I fished tenkara, but today I did fixed line fly fishing’” is rhetoric that again, in my opinion, does no one any good. This is exactly why tenkara anglers are often teased, ridiculed and made fun of.
The products Zen creates are “authentic”. We are often complimented and praised at various fly fishing industry shows such as ICAST and AFTD, by other manufacturers and fly tackle companies on the quality and design of our rods. This includes compliments from  Japanese, Chinese and American rod manufacturers alike.  As a company, we routinely distinguish between traditional tenkara practices and American tenkara practices- in an effort to respect the culture in which it came. Methods, material and technologies evolve. The first hammer was probably a rock. A handle was added. Is it no longer a hammer? It may have first been developed as a weapon, for killing animals or defending ones self. Later it was made of metal and used for sinking posts and splitting wood. The claw feature was added. While there are many different types of hammers: club hammer, sledge hammer, joiners hammer, soft-faced hammer, we can all look at the standard tool, sitting in our garage, that’s used to bang on things and generally be satisfied with calling it a hammer. Very few feel the need to specify “claw hammer”. This doesn’t make the hammer any less authentic. The first tenkara rods were certainly not made of carbon fiber. Are any of our tenkara rods today, literally “authentic?”
I agree that when I cast a 30ft 8wt PVC floating saltwater line on the Kyojin Tenkara Rod, I’m not practicing traditional tenkara. That’s obvious and it would seem that by having to clarify that, would be underestimating the intellect of the average consumer. Why go there? The 13.5ft Zen Sagi Tenkara Rod is highly versatile. It can cast traditional furled lines and ultralight tenkara level lines (fluorocarbon). Some days I fish it traditionally, some days I don’t. Do I mentally need to keep track of that? Am I not being authentic on the days I tie something else on? Innovation, creativity, productivity and effectiveness is what commercial and subsistence fishing is and was all about. The Suzume, Zako, Suimenka and Sagi rods are all tenkara rods. The fact that they can do other things, doesn’t make them any less authentic, and the fact that some anglers use them in a non-traditional way, also doesn’t make them less authentic. It just makes those anglers more versatile in their skills.
As the fly fishing industry progresses over the years, many changes have occurred. It has always been a sport steeped in tradition. Thoughts and ideals from England and European fly fisherman have melted and morphed over the years. Heck, women are finally being welcomed into the historically all-male pastime. Even now, the fight to allow “tenkara” rods on certain waters that are exclusive to ‘fly fishing’ continues. I am perplexed at the continuance and need for this very conversation. If the aim is to carve out a very specific niche that describes and categorizes tenkara’s most minute features, beware that in the end, you don’t exclude it from fly fishing all together.
As the world turns and moves forward, we at Zen, will continue to design rods, explore possibilities, push the tools we create in the effort to make them even better. We’ll throw traditional lines and long lines for fun, and throw stigmas and judgement, and rules and specifications that separate and secularize anglers on the water, down the river. We’ll encourage and welcome all uses of our rods, support anglers in their enjoyment on the water, and simply have fun fishing.”
The author of the original article and I cordially agreed to disagree. However, I still felt the need to address it. In today’s world where so many people are split and fractured on politics, religion and pandemic issues, I ask, can’t we agree on something so irrelevant as tenkara fishing? Why again, do some people feel the need to outline and establish rules around the method – to define it to an extreme and divide us along and within the rivers?
Please, fish the way you like. Fish what makes you happy. Don’t get hung up on whether or not you’re “doing it correctly.” If you’re catching fish, you’re doing it right. Tenkara anglers were commercial fishermen. They didn’t set out to make a bunch of rules, they set out to catch fish and did what worked on their water for their fish using long telescoping rods with a fixed line – in order to make a living – not to define a fishing method. So do what works for YOU!Karin Miller, Owner
Zen Tenkara/Zen Fly Fishing Gear


  1. Hi Karen, totally agree! People get so hung up on the details, they forget to have fun. It’s fly fishing, no matter how you do it. Shorten the line, put on a longer one, who cares?!? Do what you think works for you! Have fun in Alaska!!

  2. Hi Karin. Thank you so much for your insightful and much needed down to earth article. As a T-angler who enjoys Stillwater Tenkara fly fishing, using PVC coated Floating Tenkara Fly Lines, and hand tied nylon/fluorocarbon tapered leaders and tippets, because those tackle elements work the best for the kind of T-fishing I am doing. When I fish streams however, I prefer Level FC. Lines, with the line held up and off of the the water for Long drag-free drifts. And for both the running and still water fishing, my most productive patterns tend to be dry terrestrial fly patterns, i.e. ants, beetles, hoppers and a true terrestrial spider pattern. My favorite places to fish are the small Blue Lines on Topo Maps and hike into high mountain lakes.

    Although I am not a Match-the-hatch type angler, mostly because there are no hatches to match where I fish. But when the fish are feeding on Chironomid Pupa, I throw midge pupa patterns at them. And after the thermal winds come up later in the day, and terrestrial insects start dropping in, and the trout are taking what they can find, I believe it is kind of crazy to keep fishing a Sakasa Kebiri in the face of such strong evidence that the trout will probably prefer to take something else. That is not to say that a One Fly angler will not catch fish by stubbornly sticking to his chosen pattern, because she or he most likely will enjoy some success. But, you can catch a lot more fish by offering the fish something that looks something like (and more importantly, Behaves like) what they are looking for to eat.

    Over a period of more than a decade now, I have pretty consistently changed fly patterns After every 10 fish, and pretty consistently continued to catch fish on all those different fly patterns. For sure, some flies worked better than others did at times, but there were not many total failures in all of that time. And using many patterns to catch many fish more or less proves the same thing that using only a single fly pattern does – that presentation (which includes food form behavior) is much more important to catching success than realistic fly patterns are.

    I have posted my findings on a number of different Tenkara Fishing Boards, the reactions varied from no response at all to accusations of arrogance for not being willing to try the One-Fly Concept. I did not need to try it to know it would work to some extent. My 10 Change/ 10 Change testing had already demonstrated that one fly could nearly do as well as many different fly patterns will. And I would like to encourage you to give the 10/Change/10 a try the next time you find yourself in the midst of a many, many catching day.

    Fish are visual predators, to engulf your fly, they need to be able to see your fly. That fact is what makes contrast of primary importance to anglers. Water comes in an I infinite number of shades of 3 principle water colors: Blue for clear water, Green for snow melt and algae stained waters, and Red/Brown for turbid waters, waters that run from Tea and coffee tints without and with cream. If you have fly patterns that are tied with materials that contrast with the color of the water you are fishing (and or the color of the background the fish will view the fly against), it is possible to fish fly patterns the fish will choose to take over an above the naturals they are feeding on. Aquatic insects have evolved natural camouflaging to protect them from being eaten by predators. As anglers, we do not need to camouflage our flies from the fish that we are trying to catch….Karl.

    • Karl,thank you so much for sharing. I find your response so very interesting and am intrigued.I plan on rereading to wrap my brain around it better and then play with the concept and give it a try. So very interesting.

  3. Karin, these things are not my ideas and there is more to it than what I wrote above. Water temperature affects fish greatly, determining how big a fly is needed and how bright it ahold be. Hot Spots ( No more than 30% of the total surface area of the fly being tied) of the Fluorescent colors that really light up in the color of the water you are fishing are what I have found to be most effective.

    For simplicity, water temperatures are classified as cold, optimum and warm. Optimum varies for each species of fish. Cold waters require the biggest and brightest of flies. At optimum temperature levels, the flies need to be smaller and duller. In warm to hot water, the smallest and dullest patterns work best.

    Although this book has very little to do with fly fishing, The Master Angler, Using color technology to catch more fish, by Phil Rabideau – Hancock House Publishers LTD. explains it all much better than I can and would be well worth reading and studying if you want to learn more. Rabideau was an Professional Engineer who became a consultant and master lure designer for Sheldon’s Inc. after he retired. Sheldon owns Mepps USA, Mepps France and Mister Twister. Traditional Tenkara this is not but, using the principles of Color Technology I have caught fish (on average) at a 5 to 1 ratio over angling friends fishing the same way I used to fish. It is a fun ride, should you care to take it up….Karl

  4. Hello again Karin. Going a little farther with what we talked about above, I looked this up for you, so Please take a look at it. The article pretty well speaks for itself but, I believe the first 4 photos deserve some additional comments.

    The top photo is a stack of Wacky Lures as they would appear in a tackle shop and/or in normal day light.

    Photo #2 is the same stack of lures as they appear in Green (algie stained) Water.

    Photo #3 is the same stack of lures as they will appear in Clear, Blue Colored Waters.

    And Photo #4, again, is the same stack of lures as they will appear in Red/Brown Turbid Stained Waters.

    The whole purpose of this little exercise is to demonstrate how lure color changes in the different colors of waters we fish, and why the fish do not see the same things in the water that we anglers see in the air. The colors that really jump out at you in each respective water color, are the Fluorescent Colors that Light Up the Best in that particular water color.


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