Guest post by An Dinh
I’ve only been a fisherman for three years. It all started after my wife signed me up for a free introduction to fly fishing class at the local fly shop - Western Rivers Fly Fisher. I went with my friend Mike. Mike never really took to fishing. But, I started down the proverbial slippery slope – fishing on weekends turned to fishing on my lunch breaks. I eventually broke my first rod, a Redington Crosswater outfit, so I upgraded to a 10 foot Orvis Helios 2 outfit, and a 6’9″ bamboo number I picked up on sale for Christmas, and now I have a cart full of Tenkara rods ( a few I brought back from a fishing trip to Japan). Things really started to spiral when my wife gave me a rotary vise and a month of fly tying classes at Western Rivers. Now my office has more fur and feathers and fly tying books and magazines than medical texts.
Even for a casual observer, it’s easy to peg me as a nutty fly fisherman. And yes, I have a longstanding record of pouring myself into a thing with a kind of singular focus that comes from a secret desire to master it. Though I generally will settle for becoming pretty good at whatever my current obsession is.
One of the best ways to coax improvement from me has been to hang out with the “Best”. I like tackling the streams with real pros and folks I consider way above my skill set in the hopes that their magic will rub off on me.
Erik Ostrander of Tenkara Guides started to pop up everywhere. On blogs that I was reading and not just Tenkara blogs, but he showed up on mainstream blogs like Orvis News, fly tying videos, and on television. That was the last straw, I had to meet this guy. It was this episode of KSL Outdoors that made me bite the bullet and hire my first guide trip. And yes, it was a Tenkara trip. I’d pretty much settled on the idea that I needed to break down fly fishing into digestible chunks, and so, dispensing with the heavy reels and lines let me focus more on reading water and handling a fish on the line.
Erik literally walked me through a run full of fish and broke down how to focus on productive water and keep things moving. Up to that point my image of fishing was a lone angler working a honey hole for hours silhouetted by a golden sunset. But, Erik kept moving briskly upstream to cover as much water as possible. We fished many different styles of flies, lines and rods including classic kebaris in the custom of the original Japanese fisherman/fishmongers (they made a living off of the fish they caught). They have an abstract beauty in their form and function that a match the hatch purist would shake his head at, in the same way a museum goer might react to a dadaist work of art, asking himself “What were they thinking?” But, the kebari perfectly matches the light flourocarbon line and telescopic carbon fiber rod as if they were made for each other – and they are.
Then again our Western rivers are different from the streams in Japan and Americans, being as they are, like to tinker with things and brand things in with the red, white and blue. That’s why our favorite foods are Italian pizza and German hamburgers with a side of French fries. We like to gorge ourselves on misnomers that the originators don’t find recognizable as Japanese, Italian, German or French (because they really aren’t anymore). Erik and I fished a bunch of these tenkara “Western Hybrids” using Czech nymphs and bead heads and dry droppers with sighters built into the lines.
Managing fish instead of managing line, was liberating and a pure joy.
It was great for me as a beginner. And, the very next day I used the techniques I learned to catch fish from that original water that was opaque to me prior to discovering tenkara. Come to think of it, my first fly fishing instructor was high-sticking during his presentation to me and the other newbies…hmmm eerily similar to tenkara.
When the Tenkara Guides teamed up with Tenkara USA to organize the Tenkara Summit in Salt Lake City, I signed up immediately.
That’s where I first met Eiji “Eddie” Yamakawa.
He guided my wife, Tamiyah, on her first hardcore fishing stint ever, tenkara or otherwise.
They wrote an article about the trip in the local Sanda City newspaper in Japan.
He had her climbing on boulders and shimmying across deadfall to hit raging pockets on the far side of the Lower Provo River. That should have tipped me off that I would be in over my head when I fished with Eiji on his home waters in Japan a year later.
As you can see the setting is mind blowing and the trail is – fairly non existent. Notice the part where Eiji is essentially tightroping the edge of a cliff and uses the trees to keep from falling into the pool below.
Eiji caught the Japanese grand slam: an Iwana, yamame and amago. The second Iwana was mine.
Iwana look like grey brook trout with no colors – they are both char species. Amago are similar to young rainbows or cutthroat in appearance with prominent par marks and red dots. Yamame look just like amago but have no red dots.
We fished a second stream that evening, the headwaters of which are crowned by twin waterfalls. Eiji pulled about ten fish out of there and I hooked into an amago. Eiji is over 60 years old but he ran up and down both streams without any sign of fatigue. I’m just 39 and I was exhausted, just barely making it back to camp.
Eiji promised a more sedate fishing session the next day.
But first, Eiji worked on casting light lines with me. He took me step by step through laying out the line on my backcast as well as the forward cast. He taught me a neat trick of casting in a giant oval in front of me in order to cast very short distances in front of myself. That way I was able to hit water near and far with graceful casts rather than collapsing line on the water or overcompensating by extending my arm too far forward.
It was amazing when Eiji rigged up a 35 foot line and putting his whole body in to the cast laid out line perfectly. Eiji uses these long lines for placid pools and lakes with spooky fish. Even more amazing is that after a few pointers from Eiji I was able to cast that line. I really did not think it was possible to cast such a long line with a 12 foot Tenkara rod. I’m constantly surprised at what is possible with Tenkara.
We fished a stream running through rice fields bound for bottles of Sake. I daydreamed about guzzling sake while I trudged the 100 meters or so from the road to the river.
The cold water soothed my aching feet. I had time to contemplate many things, some about fishing. I thanked my wife who got me into fishing in the first place. And I thanked the fishing gods for meeting Erik and Eiji and the time and knowledge they imparted to me.
This was a nice relaxing finale to my fishing adventure in Japan.
An Dinh is a film maker, family physician and fly fisherman based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
His family immigrated from Saigon, Vietnam in 1975. Growing up in Utah inspired a lifelong passion for film, family and fishing which he blogs about at PocketWaterFishing.com