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Simple Fly Fishing? Anything But

Simple Fly Fishing

Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara and Rod and Reel is a beautiful coffee table book full of gorgeous trout photos, exotic fly fishing locations and anecdotal stories about fly fishing with the world’s greatest fishing guides.

The authors, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia Inc, Craig Mathews, Mauro Mazzo, and illustrator James Prosek go to great lengths to explain how simple, economical, and egalitarian Tenkara fly fishing is compared to the elitist vocation of fly fishing as they describe their fishing expeditions jetting around the world. no doubt on the Patagonia corporate jet. (Patagonia asked me to strike this remark, since Patagonia does not own a corporate jet) But if the goal is to inspire by example, this book is a complete failure.

Tenkara fly fishing isn’t nearly as difficult or technical as the authors make it out to be, nor is regular fly fishing with a rod and reel. Get a friend to lend you a rod and some flies and show you the ropes. You’ll be fishing in an afternoon. Or if you want to get serious, take a three hour lesson from a local river guide, buy a basic rod and tackle, and you’ll have all the knowledge and skills you need to start catching fish.

What’s Simple Fly Fishing about? I’m honestly still trying to figure that out. It’s definitely NOT a book for beginner fly fisherman or anyone interested in learning the Tenkara or rod and reel fly fishing basics.

The thing that makes this book so curious is the authors’ side by side comparison of Tenkara and Rod and Reel fishing techniques. They advertise their disdain for those elitist rod and reel fly fisherman who emphasize long casts over close-in fishing. The reality is that most fish are caught within 25 feet of where you’re standing no matter what kind of equipment you use. But you get the impression that they’re trying to convince their country club buddies (again Patagonia asked me to strike this because Yvon does not belong to a country club.) that Tenkara is a worthy pursuit because you can use the same representational flies, match the hatch, and wiggle the line the same way as with a rod and reel. That’s all true, but the tone makes you wonder who the intended audience for this book really is.

Simple Fly Fishing is not a complete waste of paper. There is some good information about the lifecycle of different bugs, trout behavior, and practical information (towards the end) about how to fish different stream habitats. But there are many places to obtain the same information more concisely on the Internet for free.

If you’re looking for a simple introduction to a simpler way to fly fish, I’d recommend looking elsewhere.

Disclosure: The author paid for this book with his own funds.

Written 2017.

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  1. Get Daniel Galhardo’s book.

    • I recommended Daniel’s new book in my newsletter over the weekend. Awesome book!
      I’m buying copies for all of my friends who are getting started with Tenkara. Has EVERYTHING a beginner needs and is even a good read for more experienced folk. Took me about 3 years to year to teach myself all this stuff. Wish I’d had his book earlier, myself!

  2. I recently came to fish tenkara (2 years ago). I found the desire to catch fish and eat fish more of a worthy pursuit than returning them. I have found myself for 25 years hiking/backpacking in these remote beautiful locations all around North America. I kept seeing native fish everywhere and kept thinking , I should try fishing. Fly fishing has had the same annoying air swirling around for decades in my mind……. just one more elites activity that divides classes. Then I found tenkara…… which at first represented a slightly less classes air. I broke down and bought a rod and 5 flies some tippet and a leader. I was off and never had done it a day in my life. With in an hour I had caught a fish, built a fire and roasted and consumed it. The next hour I took a nap then got up and hiked 10 more miles .Then put my bag down slept and kept fishing and walking the next day. It’s really been that simple. Everytime I go towards the fly shop , they see me coming and turn there backs. Can’t sell him something except his 5 damn flies . Tenkara …… a rod , a line , some bellybutton lint and hook, a desire is all you need. It really is a simple system, that book is consumer fascist publication!

  3. Random and disorganized thoughts: When you’ve been fly fishing across five decades, you learn to simplify. You carry flies that can be fished to mimic multiple insects and, thus, you carry fewer flies. You learn that the fun is in fishing your way and you just ignore the fads and “latest magical synthetic fly tying materials” and the the consumer-driven angling market (e.g., do you really need a large arbor $500 high-tech reel on a stream that’s 15 feet wide?). You rely far less on gear and more on observation, common sense, and practical experience. You also come to appreciate the challenge of putting a fly over wild fish and why, as Lee Wulff once said, “a wild trout is too valuable a resource to use just once.”

    I’m glad to read that Philip and others are demystifying fly fishing by embracing Tenkara. Over the past few years I’ve been guiding a friend of mine through the minefields of fly tying, casting, trout behavior,aquatic entomology, and stream craft. She just bought a Tenkara rod and today she’s on her way to a Tenkara clinic in the Catskills. I think the allure of Tenkara is just great: it’s a small slice of the broader sport of fly fishing; it’s manageable and confidence building in its simplicity; and it provides a straightforward access to experience. Not to mention the fun it offers–uncomplicated fun.

    I cast my friend’s rod and it was a breeze and I’d like to try Tenkara on a stream at some point, but I’m thoroughly habituated to using my line hand.

  4. It’s a shame that the author and contributors to the book would call traditional fly fishing an elitist sport. The idea of saying one technique is better than another is the core of elitism. Some could argue that hiking/bacpacking has become an elitist activity, walk into any REI. The internet is full of blogs telling us we need to buy this or that to gain the full experience. I’m an avid fly fisherman and I love everything about it. Tying flies, rod building, the sound of the line shooting through the guides after a perfect double haul. Hand lining, spin fishing, Tenkara, ice fishing, and fly fishing are all means to the same end, Enjoyment!!!

    • I don’t think they do. They argue that fly fishing shouldn’t be elitist, but then go and recommend very expensive rods and reels that no one can actually afford. I think they’ve lost sight of how rich they are…or that people don’t have the means to fly fish in Italy, Japan, and Alaska at the drop of a hat like they do.

  5. Having worked for Patagonia and being an avid tenkara fisherman was a challenge to say the least. I knew full well that the book and the rods were less (much) less than perfect introductions to the sport. We had morning clinics where I would teach other employees about tenkara and how it is different than traditional fly fishing. I also shared my ‘true’ tenkara rods most of which I purchased from Chris Stewart at Tenkarabum and almost immediately they all noticed a difference. Patagonia tenkara rods are made by TFO for Patagonia. The book? Don’t get me started. I would sell it but not push it. I don’t like putting a know in my lillian which the book advocates. I separate all sections at the end of the day to clean and dry. A lillian knot is not needed to keep the line on when casting. I love patagonia gear and think their waders and boots are the equivalent to Simms. They need to up the ante when it comes to tenkara. I think it does tenkara a disservice and patagonia as well when there are so many truly great rods available.

  6. I haven’t read it and have no interest to do so, but I suspect this book, as are many, is a case of writing a book not so much because the author has something he’s dying to say but more because people recognize the subject, the authors, like the cover art and will buy the book, so some publishing company pushed what ever buttons for them to do it. Matthews had a great shop, made his career off fly fishing and always seemed a decent guy in my contacts and Chouinard?? certainly doesn’t need the money and wouldn’t want to piss off potential customers (if he really wrote it at all) so I’d shrug it off up as bad editing. I do not fish Tenkara and probably never will, although I see the appeal of it, as well as big limitations, this is not to say that the fly rod and reel companies haven’t pushed their products to ridicules levels, but saying one method or the other denotes any sort of superiority vs the other? I’m sure that’s not what was intended to convey.

  7. I was at Orvis today and asked the sales clerk why was there so little difference between the hundreds of flys on display and he said ” the flys aren’t meant to catch fish they are meant to catch humans” i.e. Just marketing.

  8. I love the idea of true simplicity.

    It is ironic that Chouinard’s advice always seems to require the purchase of another thing that he just happens to be selling: a jacket, fishing rod, a book. It is subtle marketing avarice at work — an veiled psychological manipulation no different than a much more noticeable scam. He makes us believe we need the “thing” and then we become his marketing team by stoking our egos and encouraging others to buy more stuff we don’t need so that we, too, can live simply.

    Has he ever promoted an idea that didn’t require his believers to purchase something Patagucci (or similar venture) was selling?

    • You have no idea of the amount of grief I’ve gotten from Patagonia marketing and PR for expressing that opinion. The second edition if this book seems a littkle less offensive in that regard. However, I might just have internalized the marketing from repetition.

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