Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rumble on the River- Tenkara, and the Art of Bothering Fish

Okay.  I've had it.  This post may seem reactionary, what with the latest firestorm kicked of by Lefty Kreh with his comments about tenkara, but I've been planning this post since I started this blog.    Personally, I am sick of all the sanctimony and acrimony in the outdoor world.  I had to hear about the latest public fly fishing spat via Troutrageous.  As always, Mike Agneta was the hilariously intelligent voice of reason.  So I am going to go waaaaaaaaay out on a limb here.

NO MATTER HOW WE CHOOSE TO FISH, WITHIN THE BOUNDARIES OF THE LAW, WE ARE ALL JUST BOTHERING FISH.


 There, that wasn't so hard.

I know.  I just don't get it.  I don't "get" tenkara, or bamboo, or glass, or swinging to steelhead, or the dry-flies-only aesthetic.

I fly fish by choice.  I started out like 100% of you- with a worm on a hook.  Whatever minor percentage of you never did that, I feel sorry for you.  It is a fisherman's right of passage, like starting off as an apprentice in the union shop, or whatever your path to stardom was.  If you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth and started off fly fishing, you have my pity.  Making the full progression from bait fishing to fishing spinners and hardware to fly fishing has made me who I am.  I've sold all of my conventional gear, and except for a couple of spinning rods for perch fishing, I only have fly gear.  This is my choice.

I spent years here spinner fishing.  I caught thousands of fish.  I averaged 20-50+ fish per outing.  I regret this to some degree now, as I feel that spinners are particularly damaging to fish.  But it was fun, exciting, and I learned everything I know of stream-craft from doing it.  It is only because of my years spent spinner fishing that I am comfortable fly fishing at night alone- I learned how the sand and gravel flow in a river bottom and always know where I can safely wade just by reading the surface currents and the bend and flow of the river.  I transitioned into fly fishing full time over the last five years, but I have fly fished since I was 14, and it has always had a special place in my heart, it has always been the goal.

I've reached that goal now, and I'm happy with it.  I'm still striving.  I have further goals.  But many times I am just happy that I fly fish.  I want to better my tying.  I want to improve my cast.  I someday wish to buy a spey rig and learn spey casting.  It has such gorgeous rhythm and flow.  I even have half an interest in tenkara and glass.  Honestly, I love it all- fly fishing is this endlessly fascinating spiral of techniques, gear, species, flies and waters, and I'm circling the bowl.  Fly fishing is my aesthetic, it is what I love.  I've recognized that I'm still just bothering fish, but in the style that I love.  I recognize that bait fishermen and hardware casters and fly anglers have equal rights to their pursuits- we are all just bothering fish, in the way that appeals to us.

What damages the outdoors and angling is the entry of sanctimony- the idea that some form of bothering fish is superior, pure, sacrosanct.  Tenkara is an easy target, as some have actively promoted it as a "pure" form of bothering fish, so let me address another angle- last year I listened to a podcast of April Vokey in which she referred to egg flies as "bait".  To paraphrase, she suggested that if you want to use egg patterns you may just as well use bait.  Really?  Now, I love April (yes, she is aware of that) but I find this viewpoint a little difficult.  Having made my progression from bait  to hardware to flies, I understand the aesthetics.  Swinging flies to steelhead on a big western river via spey gear is on my life list, but aren't all flies doing the same basic thing- either eliciting a feeding response or reaction/aggression strike?  Some of the eggs I tie and fish don't even remotely match a natural.  How exactly do we attach a value to one over the other?  Difficulty is always a measure of skill and value, but should we develop a method so esoteric that we never catch fish?  After all, at some point, regardless of what we say, catching fish is the point.  If you want to spend a day with nothing to show for your efforts, take up golf.

What I'm trying to encourage my fellow anglers to do is embrace each other.  That includes bait fishermen.  Welcome and embrace anyone with a rod and licence legally and ethically engaged in enjoying the outdoors.  I don't like running into a bait fisherman while I'm on the river, but now that I think about it, I don't really like running into anyone while I'm fishing.  I'm just that way.  If you run into someone who is obviously breaking the law or behaving unethically, say something or report them to the proper authorities.  But don't discriminate because you enjoy a different style, or you release all your fish (eating fish is still an appropriate activity), or you feel that bamboo is the bomb.  Pursue your own aesthetic, truly be yourself- and don't begrudge that right of others.  Recognize that all the money spent for all the gear, bait, licences etc. all contributes to outdoor conservation and restoration via the Pittman-Robertson act.  I don't care to ever handle worms again, but I bet the money from their purchase has done more to conserve and preserve rivers and fish than all the dollars spent on fly fishing ever.  You've got to respect that.

But I'll take this to a deeper level.  The bait angler who fishes to feed his family has a nobler claim than you to his fishing.  He's feeding his family, you are bothering fish.  His angling feeds his kids; your angling entertains you, and worse, kills fish that you never intended to keep.  Trust me, I know the counter arguments, so spare me.  If you really love fish, then don't go fishing.  Be strong enough to admit that you love fishing more than the fish; if you loved the fish for their own sake you wouldn't fish.  We all like holding fish, we love their beauty, but if it was the fish that we loved, we would take up river snorkeling.  ("I love cats, which is why I love kitten snaring.") And I don't care how gorgeous, intricate or traditional your flies are, I don't care how old or expensive your bamboo rod is, I don't give a crap how long the Japanese have been cane-pole fishing with flies, I don't care how cool glass is, I don't care how beautiful spey casting is- I don't care how you personally choose to bother fish.

I only care that you get out there and enjoy it.  Now go, bother some fish.

42 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Well, Sir Roderick, you have that look etched permanently on your face, don't you.

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  2. I, like you, began with worm on a hook right next to my Dad looking for bluegill, catfish, and anything that would take my bait. Through the years I have "bothered" quite a few fish from the shallow weedy ponds with panfish to clear cold running mountain streams looking for trout (with lots of saltwater stripers, bluefish, fluke and even blue sharks in between). The only constant in all of that fishing is that I enjoyed doing it. I have run the gamut of fishing gear and now practice tenkara most of the time searching for small stream brookies because that is what I ENJOY. I agree with you. As long as the pursuit is done in a responsbile manner who cares. I personally love to see a Mom or Dad teaching their kids to fish with a worm. I don't begrudge them. I love angling because it's a way to get away from the real world and all it's compilcations and fighting and get back to the REAL world. If people want to waste such energy to argue amongst themselves why don't they use that energy for conserving our dwindling natural resources instead? That is something worth arguing for. Otherwise, to each his own.

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    1. Hear, here. I miss fishing the salt, that's for sure.

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  3. This post really struck a cord with me as I have been harboring some very similiar feelings. It seems everywhere I turn nowadays there is some idiot talking about how whatever technique they use is the "proper" way and anything else is garbage. Even some people I use to consider friends have gone the way of preaching about swinging vs indicator fishing vs chuck n duck and our friendship has dissolved because of this. You make a great point.....we are all out there for the same reason, which is to catch fish and enjoy ourselves. Seems alot of people today are more concerned about "looking cool" or fishing the trendy technique and it makes me want to vomit.
    I love to swing flies for steelhead, but only because I enjoy it, not because im trying to prove something. I also happily still fish indicator rigs and on rare occasion CND rigs. I also love to fish bamboo fly rods for trout, but again, its because its a passion of mine, not because I think it makes me better than anyone else. I still fish alot of graphite as well, even a handful of old beater rods that I started out on over 15 years ago.
    Thanks for this post and for having the courage to voice your opinion....I think there are many of us out here that feel the same way! Lastly, if you ever get a chance, take a look at my blog sometime as I too live in the mitten...
    www.troutonthefly.blogspot.com

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    1. I fish a variety of methods as well. I'm just out to enjoy the outdoors. I'll be sure and check your blog out.

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  4. I agree with you 100%. You know I fish what ever fits the situation, but I won't bust up my TFO Lefty Kreh rod in protest. Damn thing cost too much to destroy.

    Mark

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    1. Yeah, don't break your rod. I'm not sure what there is to protest. Personally, I don't care if tenkara is a fad or not. If guys want to fish that way let 'em.

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  5. PREACH ON FR! I agree 110% I recently wrote an article for an online publication re. the whole dry fly only mentality. Bottom line is, it's fishing. No matter if you use a fly, spin gear, baitcaster, bamboo, tenkara, etc. What ever you choose. Do it! As long as it's within the rules and guidelines and it's ethical. WWWAAAYYYYY to many people in this sport that care about what others are doing or how they are doing it. Their way is the "best". Seriousely? Get out there and fish and most of all, HAVE FUN!

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    1. My thoughts exactly man. It should be about fun and appreciating the natural world.

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  6. 1. Epic rant
    2. This needs to be published in a big time magazine ASAP
    3. Yeah, epic rant.

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    1. Ha. I hope it didn't sound too ranty. I didn't want to sound angry. I find it funny that everyone goes fishing for the peace and tranquility, then uses it as the backdrop for more needless controversy.

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    2. Epically lame rant. "Look at me, I have a blog and I reserve the right to use it. I'm gonna tell someone if you keep picking on me." Get off the internet and go fishing ya big baby.

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    3. Gaston- congratulations, you're my first hater. You nailed it, I do have a blog and can say whatever I want here. I'd wager that unless you're a working guide I fish more than you by a long shot. Now if I can just think of a prize for you....

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  7. Well said buddy and it's a mantra we should all be repeating over and over. But, about the glass remark...

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    1. Howard- I love glass. My next rod will be glass. Oh, you know what I meant.

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  8. Simple and well put. We are all doing the same thing, stop taking yourself so seriously and get back to enjoying what you're doing.

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  9. I started out with bread; graduated to wrigglers after that.

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    1. Did you figure out a bread fly for that Koi yet?

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  10. Breaking out the speargun makes me feel so...Unrefined now haha.

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    1. Dude- spearfishing is a whole other animal. I love free diving but haven't spear fished yet. Let me know when you've tried tenkara spear fishing.

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  11. fish the way you want and enjoy it. it's a journey for each of us, don't superimpose your preference of the type of fishing on others. I started out bait fishing, then fly fishing, now tenkara and fished last year the fist time in the salt. and I still enjoy throwing a worm to a bunch of adolescent rockbass in the pond.

    fishing is what throws me back in time, being a boy again, not wanting to grow up.

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    1. Exactly, and what ruins it is the introduction of sanctimony. I'm glad you're enjoying the journey.

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  12. This is a well written, intelligent open minded non offensive post that reeks of life expirence and compassion.. BORING.. come on, tell me, what else did lefty say?

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    1. Sorry to have wasted your time. This post wasn't really about what Lefty said or meant. In an era in which industry insider Yvonne Chouinard has referred to this as "the dying sport of fly fishing" I feel that sanctimony and division will only serve to hasten its death. It's not that I don't have an opinion so much as that I don't believe my way of fly fishing is better or more "pure" than other methods. Elitism and snobbery will only serve to discourage newcomers to the sport. Thanks for commenting.

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    2. I should clarify as well that I don't think Lefty was the villain necessarily- I've seen the Tenkara guys videos- He's pushing "purity" and truth as a marketing gimmick. Just listening to him makes me not want to try it.

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  13. I was being a smart arse... I agree with you completely, seems folks just prefer the drama.. Your blog is never a waste of my time, but your statements probably did fall on alot of def ears.. becouse anyone who is intelligent and evolved in any form of fishing never listened to a thing anyone in the industry has to say about anything.. its all marketing. I bet Lefty is happy to recieve all the press, I think i,ll put my autographed copy of Lefty Kreh on flycasting on ebay while he's still relevent-

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    1. No worries, I can't always tell and it doesn't bother me if people disagree with me. If you ask me, I'd say that fly fishing would be better served promoting the notion that anyone can do it, and anyone can afford it. The true converts will automatically progress to the more esoteric and expensive stuff.

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  14. Unfortunately, elitism and snobbery have already brought an influx of newcomers to fly fishing. Which is why I have put fly fishing in the same category as sex, religion and politics when attending cocktail parties. Good post and a sober reminder that...it's just fishing!

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    1. I've never thought of it that way, yet I do try to be very guarded as to what I say in fly shops or around other anglers. Thanks for commenting.

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  15. It is an interesting to listen to others as they draw their line in the sand on which way of angling is better. Like you stated, it's just fishing. And if you want to fish with a spear, worms, eggs, baitcaster, spinning rod, tenkara, fly gear, whatever...it is all just fishing. It's fun...or at least my way is :-)

    Really nicely written.

    Cheers

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  16. I agree Sanders- your way of fishing is fun, and I hope to get out there and do it again sometime.

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  17. Thank you. This needed to be said. I'm in 100% agreement. Equal-opportunity angling should be everyone's mantra. Except of course Powerbait chuckers, they're evil...just kidding of course. :)

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    1. Did this post get shared somewhere? Anyway thanks for checking it out. Personally, I just want to get out there, relax, and not care what anyone thinks about how I fish as long as I'm doing it ethically.

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  18. I love bothering fish and have done so nearly every way imaginable since the age of about 4. Any way a person can find to spend time outdoors and away from this darned computer has to be admirable. Fish early and fish often. :)

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    1. I agree. Fishing is my salvation, especially from the modern world. I've been leaving my camera at home lately. Thanks for reading.

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  19. Is this a recurring theme? I'd swear I've read this post before, maybe not referencing tenkara as much, but before and on this blog. Maybe six month to a year ago.

    In any case, vive la difference.

    So many species, so many methods and techniques.

    Find one that fits your need and enjoy your precious free time.

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    1. John- this post was indeed written and posted 6 months ago. Someone must have shared it somewhere, I don't know where, because all of a sudden I have three fresh comments including yours. I definitely agree with that last statement. And I wasn't trying to pick on Tenkara specifically. I just tire of unnecessary sanctimony in fishing when we live in a world with real issues and problems.

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