East meets West: Fly fishing

Misako Ishimura, the captain of Japan's national fly fishing team, has spent the year introducing the United States to a pared-down, "haiku-like" form of fly fishing known as Tenkara. Ishimura, who lives in Arkansas, first discovered fly fishing in the Catskills and still makes regular pilgrimages to the Beaverkill to practice her art.

Two years ago, she discovered the joys of Tenkara, which ties the line directly to the rod, rather than using a reel, and last year, she curated an exhibit about Japanese fly fishing at the Catskills Fly Fishing Center and Museum.  This May, she orchestrated a master-class on Tenkara at the Catskills Fly Fishing Center and Museum with an expert in the fishing form, Dr. Hisao Ishigaki. 

Tenkara USA, which sells Tenkara gear, has a great account of the museum's class:

Dr. Ishigaki gave a thorough lecture on tenkara’s history and technique and a fly-tying demonstration that taught something unique to even the most experienced fly-tiers. He also gave an on-stream demonstration that awed close to 50 participants, including one of the most recognized names of fly-casting, Joan Wulff ... Saturday’s event was a day when “East met West”, as participants witnessed the meeting of two giants in the world of fly-fishing, Dr. Ishigaki and Ms. Joan Wulff. Joan Wulff, one of the most recognized names in Western fly-fishing, tried her hand at casting with a tenkara rod, showing at once that tenkara fishing is no “cane-pole fishing”. She quickly adjusted to casting with a tenkara rod and formed a nice and tight loop, turning the line and fly over.

YouTube user Uticano took a video of Wulff trying out Tenkara:

A blogger named EclecticGuy was also at the Ishigaki class, and swapped some flies with him:

After the demonstrations, Nick and I spent some time with Dr. Ishigaki and Misako to thank him and to give him a replica of a an 18th century fly I tied for him. The hook was eyeless and the finished fly had a 20″ horse hair braided snell (3 hairs). Dr. Ishigaki appreciated the gift and returned the favor with 2 Japanese flies tied by his friend. Finally, I asked if he would like a horse tail line made especially for him. He said he would like one, so I will be making a special tenkara horse hair line for him!

Now the New York Times has caught onto this new development in fly fishing. Yesterday, it ran an article about Ishimura:

A shiver vibrated up the line, and Ishimura leaned back with her rod and brought in a scrappy longear sunfish. From a distance it appeared she was fly fishing in the usual style, but the long, supple rod that she cast had no reel, and the line did not run through ferrules. The line was knotted at the very tip of the rod and formed a direct connection between her and the fish. That is the minimalist essence of tenkara, a form of traditional Japanese fly fishing that has begun to attract anglers in the United States.

Photo of Tenkara flies by Flickr user mcarpentier. Some rights reserved.