28 March, 2011

A Postmodern Age of Fly Fishing?

Are we entering a postmodern age fly fishing? Has modern-day fly fishing become too complicated and caused some disillusioned anglers to embrace a "...pure, effective and simpler method of fly-fishing." Now, I have to admit that I have been under a veritable rock when it comes to keeping my finger on the pulse, progress, and trends that have emerged in fly fishing over the last few years. However, this postmodern approach to fly fishing, this simpler approach called Tenkara,  has caught my attention (even if I am several years late in recognizing it).

So how does Tenkara attempt to make angling with small, artificial lures comprised of metal, feathers, and string more simple? First and foremost, Tenkara fly fishing rods do not have reels or ferrules. You got that? To purify, simplify, and rid yourself of modern fly fishing baggage you must forsake and give up reels and ferrules! And to think that I was half way to fly fishing enlightenment; my reel is just a fancy line holder. For me, and the diminutive fish that I pursue, the reel just does not serve any useful purpose (note to self, don't buy anymore fancy disc-drag models). And ferrules, oh those damn ferrules! They are many and have confused me for so long! Good thing I don't use one of those packable rods!

Now that's a lot of ferrules!

And really, what makes Tenkara more pure? Well, one of the literal translations of Tenakara is "from heaven" and it is hard to argue with heavenly things being impure. (however, I prefer this translation). The suggestion that Tenkara is "Like meditation or martial arts..." certainly conjures images in my mind of a fly fishing sensei, in his mountaintop Dojo, teaching his followers to look within and clear the mind, body, and soul of Western fly fishing practices. As a bonus, by practicing Tenkara, we might be able to give up meditative exercises like yoga (yay! more time to fish) and hopefully obtain the equivalent of a black belt in fly fishing (who needs that FFF fly casting certification now). Awesome, I always wanted to be a ninja!

Now any good movement in America must have appropriate marketing, right? What better way to support the air of simplicity attributed to Tenkara and attract would be followers than to offer a wonderfully simple website? In my opinion, and kudos to the designers, the whole place exudes simplicity, from the slimmed down, two-toned-ish color scheme to the one and two word phrases that describe gear and technical resources (of which there are very few; simple). Honestly, there is almost nothing confusing about that site; it might just be the essence of simple.

In the same vein, the promotional videos are well done and go a long way in adding to the simplicity vibe of Tenkara (kudos, again, to developers/producers). I personally favor the one where the Tenkara USA developer is siting on a rock having a conversation with the audience while casting gently over a riffle and professing the simplicity of it all. The whole thing struck me as sublime and almost perfectly simple.

Ok, Ok sometimes the the fly fishing industry can overly complicate things and can go too far. But have we really come to the point where fly fishing, as a hobby, sport, or past time, really deserves a reactionary, "pull back and find our roots movement"? Has it become necessary to shed the mortal coil of Western fly fishing and elevate our angling experience? Is Tenkara a postmodern reaction? Maybe it is...

All poking, prodding, and sarcasm aside, I freely admit that Tenkara is probably a very effective mountain stream technique. In fact, I am sure that it is deadly effective in those environments. After all, the approach was developed by Japanese commercial fisherman and if there is one thing that I know, anything that was developed by someone trying to make money or feed themselves will perform with maximum efficiency.

I just don't think that fly fishing, Eastern or Western, should be promoted as some kind of existential experience. Fly fishing is just another approach to angling. It is an attempt to trick, control,  and capture, even for the briefest of moments, another living creature. I am convinced that angling fills some basic human instinct for hunting and gathering. As fisherman, I guess we are lucky that we can practice catch and release to fulfill this basic human urge (hunters can too!) without having to clean and cook all the fish we catch.

Maybe I am just a little jealous and a bit too jaded. Truly, I wish I would have though of it first. Cashing in on the disillusioned is good capitalism, am I right? Anyway, I know I will be looked down upon by the enlightened few because I cling to my rod with a reel and ferules. I think I'll just stick to my complicated, Western approach and keep on fishing in low-top converse sneakers, carrying my fly box in my back pocket, and using my plastic fly line that is brand new except for the last 10 or so feet.

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