Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tenkara in America ca. 1899

Tenkara in America ca. 1899

A new wave of interest in Tenkara, the old Japanese art of fly fishing, has recently begun here in America. Check out Michael Hackney's awesome blog for some neat pics and an overview of this fascinating method of catching fish.

I thought it might interest some of the readers to know this style of fly fishing was written about in the nineteenth century, and caused a bit of a stir. The following article, from an 1899 American Angler and written by that venerable magazine's editor William C. Harris, shows well the reaction of a traditional fly angler to the Japanese method of using a fly.

The "Skittering" of Flies to Catch Trout

I saw in one of your contemporaries a two-column description (which I enclose) of a Japanese method of catching trout, and would like to have your opinion of it. It certainly is not fly-fishing as I understand it.

New York, March 20th. Tyro

The method described in the article you inclose is "certainly not fly fishing" as the anglers of America understand it. The Japanese method consists in handling a very light, long rod of eighteen or twenty feet, with a line about two-thirds the length of the rod and making the flies skip, grasshopper-like, over the water. Without the use of a long rod and short line, the skipping of the flies is practiced by every trout or black-bass fly-fisherman who has become efficient in his art. With a rod of ten feet and a line of twenty, the flies can be made to "skip" to the content of even a pot-fisherman, particularly if fishing down-stream.

The late D.W. Cross, of Cleveland, O., was an adept in this method of fishing. He used a 11 1/2 foot rod and about twenty-five feet of line, and fished the rapids of the streams with great success. But there is a cast of fifty or more feet which was aptly called by Mr. Cross the "grasshopper cast," although he never used it, preferring the shorter and more killing (on swift water) cast. It consisted in throwing the line by a direct overhead cast, so that the knot joining the reel-line and the leader would fall first and alone on the water, thus causing the latter, being the lighter, to spring upward and forward, arch like, with the end-fly dropping singly and gently on the water. Try it, Brother Tyro; you will find it difficult to do, but it is an elegant and successful method, much more sportsmanlike than the one in use by the Japanese.

What exactly was "unsportsmanlike" about the Japanese method, Mr. Harris did not elaborate on. For our purposes, it is intriguing to note that the method was known in America well over a century ago.

-- Dr. Todd


Dan said...
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Dan said...

Dr. Todd,this is an excellent find. Many thanks for sharing.

One thing to keep in mind is the large multitude of very narrowly defined fishing methods found in Japan.

While it's easy to assume the letter refers to tenkara fly-fishing, it could just as well be "Ayu fishing", which is what is normally done using such long rods as mentioned, and also uses flies, but not in the same style as tenkara fly-fishing.

I also see similarities between his comment of "[tenkara] certainly is not fly-fishing as I understand it", and comments made by other anglers of today who have not yet seen it or tried it.

Do you mind me asking how you came across such a wonderful find? It sounds like part of a broader discussion, it would be wonderful to find other pieces of it.

- Daniel
founder, Tenkara USA