As the idea of an Offer of the Month with Tenkara USA was taking shape, I approached Daniel Galhardo about doing an interview to give T.F.M. readers a better idea of where the idea of Tenkara USA came from and how this method of fly fishing is turning heads from coast to coast.
Daniel, you are the founder of Tenkara USA, can you give us a little background about your fishing background?
I have been fishing my entire life, and fly-fishing for the last 12 years. Progressively, I went through phases of trying different methods of fishing: from cane pole fishing using telescopic rods and bait as a young kid in Brazil, to lure fishing, to fly-fishing, and then, finally tenkara. In the last few years I have considered myself a small-stream aficionado. Fishing the small streams in the Sierras, and, whenever possible, other parts of the US. I like to seek solitude while fishing, so people probably won’t find me and my 13 foot rod that easily. I’m also one of the directors of the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club here in San Francisco, which happens to be only 5 blocks from where I live and work.
What is the history of Tenkara, how did you get exposed to it, and what inspired you to bring it to a new audience?
A couple of years ago I came across a book called “Angling in Japan” in a library. It was published in English some 70 years ago by the Japanese Board of Tourism and described the various fishing methods practiced in Japan. Ironically, tenkara, the only traditional fly-fishing method in Japan as I would later learn, was the smallest chapter in the book. This, and the fact that my wife is Japanese American and I lived in Asia for a few months, prompted me to do more in-depth research on this unique combination of Asian culture and fly-fishing. While visiting Japan last year I stopped at every tackle shop I saw, and was amazed when I learned how popular it is becoming in Japan. I was quickly sold on its simplicity and effectiveness, and, being a small-stream aficionado, found it was what I had always been looking for.
Where does the Tenkara style of fishing excel? Small water? Rivers? Stillwater?
Tenkara was developed in the "land of mountain streams", Japan, where professional anglers used and perfected it in fast mountain streams; as a result, the sweet-spot for tenkara is small streams with currents, eddies, pocket water, and small pools. In his book, The Fly, fly-fishing historian Andrew Herd illustrates why that is when he writes about tenkara and other fixed-line fly-fishing methods, "The long rod brings several advantages which are sacrificed by those using shorter ones: much better line control and the lack of any need to false cast being but two. An angler with a long rod can laugh at cross currents, since he can lift the fly across them and with practice it is possible to drop the fly right on the head of the fish in a way which can’t be managed with a shorter rod."
If someone was looking at purchasing their first Tenkara rod what should they consider? Explain the ratio? Type of fishing they will be doing? Other considerations?
What I like to say, and think, is that if you’re fishing small streams, you really can’t go wrong with your rod choice in tenkara, they are made for small streams. Plus I have designed and selected each of the rods to feel good for fishing. However, there are of course some distinct differences among tenkara rods.
The first thing to consider is the action of the rod, what we call Tenkara Action Index; this is a system commonly used in Japan to classify how fast tenkara rods are, it’s very objective and a great method of doing so (I’m surprised hasn’t been imported before either). The Tenkara Action Index splits a rod into 10 equal parts and then tells you “how many bottom parts are stiffer: how many tip parts are softer”, rods can be classified as (slowest) 5:5, 6:4, 7:3 or 8:2 (fastest), this is more of a personal preference and casting styles, someone who likes more delicate casting will enjoy a 5:5 for example, while someone who prefers a faster rod may prefer the feel of an 8:2.
The second thing to consider is the size of fish one most consistently catches. We’re working on developing a more objective system for this, but rods that are described as being lighter, delicate or “for smaller fish”, excel and feel best when fighting your typical small stream trout (<12”), they can handle large fish too, but are not designed for them. Rods that are described as being “heavier” or “with more backbone” will be the best rods for consistently landing larger fish (15” – 20”). Then there are the medium-weight rods.
I want to thank you for being involved with Fishy Kid as a Gear Sponsor. Do you think that Tenkara offers any advantage to children learning to fly fish?
Absolutely! This is something that didn’t come to me right away when I got into tenkara, I was too amused with how efficient and fun it was for a grown person. But, soon it become very clear that having no reel to worry about, not having to coordinate the movement of two hands – one casting, the other holding the line – and being able to focus on the important things in fly-fishing: casting, reading water, catching fish, and simply having fun would make this a natural toy for kids too. Even as an adult with years of experience I can get frustrated on times when things just don’t seem to work, the line is getting tangled everywhere, wrapping around rocks, sliding down the guides, snagging on trees, you name it. I think getting rid of any frustrating experiences is the main step to get a kid into a sport. I can’t tell you how many of our clients have reported back that they now really have the attention of their kids and their kids are finally getting into fly-fishing.
I've noticed Tenkara USA has been making connections with disabled anglers. What organizations are you working with and what is the anglers response that are using them?
We’re not involved with any organizations in particular. But, I do feel a strong sense of responsibility and like the idea of supporting projects whenever we can and they make sense. We have been approached by a couple of people that saw the potential in tenkara for helping disabled anglers. Ken Morrow of the Adaptive Fly Fishing Institute (http://adaptiveflyfishing.com/) recently contacted us to try a rod and see how it would work for their groups needs. I thought this was a fantastic project and we hope they will find tenkara well suited for their needs. We have also offered to work with projects supporting disabled veterans. Impairment of one of the arms is a huge issue for many of them, and others who may have had strokes and such, and I believe tenkara can give anglers a chance to fly-fish, focus on the fishing experience, and forget of any problems they may have.
What is Dr. Ishigaki's involvement and significance to the development of Tenkara USA?
I had heard of Dr. Ishigaki before, when researching tenkara, but only finally met with him in May of this year when he came to the Catskills to talk to the Catskills Fly Fishing Center and Museum. This was an incredible coincidence; as we prepared to launch the company in April I learned about the “Made in Japan” exhibit being organized by Ms. Misako Ishimura at the Museum. As far as we know this is the first event of its type in the US, and we couldn’t be luckier that it coincided perfectly with our launch. Of course we had to go there, and meet the leading authority on the subject. Dr. Ishigaki and I hit it off pretty well, and soon he was calling me his “tenkara son”, and I took the liberty to call him my “tenkara dad”. I learned A LOT from Dr. Ishigaki, much more than any research I have conducted. He was impressed with the products I had developed and also gave some great feedback on our rods. He is a very passionate advocate of tenkara in Japan, and does not do any of it for money. He’s not directly involved with us, but I am very thankful to him for keeping his doors open with questions I have and that is helping Tenkara USA. We have kept in close touch, and hopefully will be fishing together again soon.
I've got to ask since this is The Fiberglass Manifesto...any plans for a FIBERGLASS Tenkara?
Hehe, of course you should ask. Well, since you now have first-hand experience you can probably tell the feel of a tenkara rod, its slow and resilient action, are not all that different from a glass rod. We are working on something that you guys may like, but I’ll have to keep this a secret for now…top secret.
Do you have a personal Tenkara "Zen Experience" that you'd like to share?
Not one in particular, but I can’t think of a time when I have been fly-fishing in a small stream when I didn’t feel a “Zen Experience” of one type or another. To be honest, it wouldn’t quite matter if it was using a western fly-rod or a tenkara rod. But I have been tenkara fishing exclusively for just about a year now, so my last year has been filled with tenkara zen experiences.