[HOOKED ON TENKARA] INTRODUCTION TO TENKARA
Welcome a new series, where we provide some background on Tenkara, and the specialized gear South2 West8 manufactures for this unique sport.
Literally translated from Japanese as “from the heavens”, Tenkara is a specialized form of fly-fishing. Outside of the world of dedicated fishermen, the world of ‘tenkara’ may seem unusual and opaque. But to the devotees of Japan's fishing techniques, this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.
This unique style of fishing originated hundreds of years ago among the foothills and valleys of Japan. The technique was developed in these isolated villages in order to catch the nutritious rainbow trout, yamame, iwana, and amago which populate the country’s mountain streams. To avoid startling these skittish fish, lines were first crafted from horsehair light enough to float on top of the water’s surface. Due to the narrow spaces, a reel was not considered necessary, and so poles were simply fashioned from flexible pieces of bamboo.
Each of these communities - developing in relative isolation - were reluctant to share their closely guarded secrets with one another. The first extant Western record of fly fishing can be found in Sir Ernest Satow’s 1878 “Diary of Climbing Mt. Tateyama”, in which the British diplomat remarks upon the anglers on the mountain who were using bamboo rods with flies created from feathers and bits of horns to catch fish. Misako Ishimura, the captain of Fly Fishing Team Japan, notes that this fishing method held many names: some called it tengara (ocean-fishing) or chon-chon (imitating the sound of a fly breaking through the surface of the water).
While the origin of the name may never be known, by the 1950’s the sport had begun to pick up popularity, and the name “tenkara” stuck. Unlike American fly-fishing, modern tenkara eschews long lines and intricate lures, favoring shorter, extremely light-weight lines, and - true to their ancient counterparts - have no reel.
Today, the sport enjoys sustained popularity both in Japan and America, arriving in the United States in the late 2000’s and forming a cadre of devotees. Beloved for its simple and elegant construction and intuitive casting method, lively tenkara communities can be found amongst the trout-rich streams of upstate New York’s Catskill mountains as well as the waters of Eastern Idaho and Montana.
But perhaps the true heartland of tenkara fishing is Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan which South2 West8 calls home. Spearheaded by Kaname Nagaoka, the brand places a special emphasis on this fishing method - manufacturing specialized gear, and also producing videos of fishing trips on their YouTube channel “TENKARA SESSION -〈SOUTH2 WEST8〉”.
Stay tuned as we continue the series and take a look at what makes South2 West8’s tenkara items so special.