I headed over to my local fly shop today to pick up some hooks and there happened to be a fly fishing class going on. While I was scouring the hook wall trying to find some #16s, I was eavesdropping, listening to what the instructor was saying. And it was painful.
The “class” listened in a zombie-like stupor as the instructor spouted off all kinds of statistics, formulas, complex vocabulary, measurements, numbers, facts about gear, and philosophies.
When I turned around to check out, I could finally see their faces. They looked somewhere between bored and intimidated. It looked like a college lecture where half the students were daydreaming while the others were so afraid of failing, they were frantically writing down every word the professor said.
Then, I remembered how I gave my wife a Tenkara rod and she immediately caught three fish on her first try with absolutely zero fishing experience.
I immediately thought, “this is no way to learn”. Here these people are, in a class room setting being bombarded with technical information when they could be out on the stream catching fish right now! And given the fact that they probably spent a lot of money to take the course, I actually felt bad for them.
Part of me wanted to sneak over there like a shady drug dealer, whip out a Tenkara rod and say, “Psst. You want to catch fish? I’ve got something right here that’ll catch fish”.
To me, everything about the situation was wrong. Why would someone who wants to fly fish start with the most complicated and confusing method? And, why would they start in a classroom? The stream is the best classroom.
Most of us who fish Tenkara today did it backwards. We started the complicated way and then gradually discovered the beautiful simplicity of Tenkara. We probably didn’t have much choice in the matter since Tenkara wasn’t really around when we started.
But for today’s aspiring fly anglers, wouldn’t it make more sense to start with Tenkara, then learn the more complicated Western fly fishing style?
Instead of spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars on technical classes and complicated gear and not catch anything, why not spend $150 on a Tenkara rod and start catching fish right away (and, actually have fun)?
I would gladly bet $100 that at least 50% of the people in the class I saw today will eventually give up on fly fishing. They will be discouraged by the difficulty, cost, complexity, and lack of fish. I have personally witnessed this phenomena countless times when I was an instructor. People tend to believe that if they spend enough money on instruction and gear, they will become successful anglers. Then, reality hits them and they give up.
If I were still an instructor today, I would never put a Western rod in my students’ hands. And I would never start them out in a classroom. I’d hand them a Tenkara rod, head out to the stream, and make them fish. I’d build their confidence and motivation early on by getting them to catch fish right away. They can learn the technical stuff as they go. But to develop a passion for the sport, it has to be fun and rewarding form the start. If they wanted to progress (if that’s the right word) to Western fly fishing, fine. But don’t extinguish the spark before it ignites!
Here’s a video of a group of beginners using both traditional and Tenkara fly fishing gear. Which one looks easier?
Advice for Beginning Fly Fishers
If you’re thinking of taking up fly fishing, try Tenkara first. Courses and complicated Western gear are expensive and frustrating. Fly fishing should be enjoyable–not torture.
Most Astronauts are airplane pilots first. They don’t just jump into the Space Shuttle cockpit. They start by flying simpler aircraft and then learn the more complicated controls of a spacecraft. While the stakes for running before you crawl are obviously a lot lower when it comes to fly fishing, the same logic applies.
Fly fishing is a wonderful and unique sport. It can change your life and become a lifelong passion. I wish I had known about Tenkara when I was learning to fly fish. It would have had a dramatic impact on my learning curve (not to mention my stress level). If you’re reading this, you obviously already do know about it.
Just ask yourself this question: would you rather spend hours in a classroom learning technical jargon and the physics behind a cast or on the stream catching fish and having fun?
Do yourself a favor. Try Tenkara first. Catch fish. Have fun. Enjoy the sport. You have no excuse. 🙂