So another week has gone by and I am looking again at what I can do to add to my Tenkara practice. It has also been another week that has gone by without fishing. The weather has been very nice and I would almost say “perfect.” Almost but won’t because it stings when I bring it up again and again.
This last weekend was Mother’s day. While my own mother lives over a thousand miles away, my mother in law lives only about 20 miles away and for Mother’s day this year she asked that we come over and help her with some very simple yard work on the Saturday before Mother’s day. So we did. Now some might think “whoot! …That means you have the Sunday (actual Mother’s day) to go fishing.”
Not really. My wife is also a mother, so that meant we would be spending that day doing stuff for her.
Never one to let these little things get me too down and certainly, I am smart enough not to say anything out loud, we went over to my in-laws to do the yard work. Remarkably there wasn’t much to really do and the day became more about spending time together and to my delight cutting a branch down out of a large maple tree in the back yard. I won’t bore you with the tedium of this process which is usually made difficult with my father in law there to supervise. His processes are often too cautious compared to my “oh, just do it” approach that admittedly can bite me with regret sometimes.
In the end the branch lay on the lawn below the tree and I started to cut away at the smaller branches next to the larger one that was about 4 inches thick. One branch stood out to me. A very nice “Y” shaped branch. The wood in this branch was fairly green still and the bend of the branch was supple. I twisted the two ends around to where they crossed. From there I wrapped the two tag ends around each other making a nice loop. “Perfect” I knew then and there that I had found a very good branch that I could make my very first tamo.
One of the many differences I have seen in Tenkara fishing is that many of the fishermen had these oddly shaped fishing nets. As best as I could tell they were made of wood and had a more rounded basket and rustic feel to them. The obvious point was that they were traditional to Tenkara. I had researched them a little on line and even looked at a few websites that showed how to make your own.
I may correct myself later for saying this, but…in essence it’s really just fishing net. I already have a net that I barely use from my Western fly fishing gear. Nothing special… just one of those Bass Pro shop $20 specials. But I am attracted to a degree sometimes by aesthetics, form and ritual. The tamo has all of that and as I found out more. I know I never read it anywhere but I somehow get a feeling that making your own tamo is almost a given with Tenkara fishing. While most of the Tenkara rods are certainly very “modernized” by technology much of the rest of the parts seem to maintain the spirit and look of the traditions.
Having never made a tamo before and again, having very limited understanding of how to make one, I set out very organically just contemplating the process. “I can figure this out.”…The final product may not be a perfect tamo but it would be mine and it would be one that I would have the pride or embarrassment of saying that “I made this one myself”
I kept the bent and twisted to form maple branch in my garage and picked it up from time to time over the next few days. Looking at it and trying to see it as a functioning tool for my fishing. I went through several ideas before deciding that I would taper the two ends and reconnect them at bonding the two tapers together to a matching thickness of the rest of the hoop.
The next question was what to bind it with? I think there is a practicality and an basic quality to tamo that is rustic and man-made. A tamo shows the ingenuity of mankind to build tools from his resources at hand. But modern resources could include quite a lot of cold technology and manufactured materials…No…I wanted a unique tamo. I wanted authentic…well, authentic-ish? I decided that I would make my tamo of all natural materials.
I remember reading once that the Native American’s recognized a connectedness to their environment and the earth. Some built houses that were designed to serve the purpose of shelter but there was an awareness of impermanence that also created a design that could and would eventually go back to where it came as simple parts over time. Made of the earth they return to the earth.
Carrying this enlightened approach to the design I was creating I started to appreciate the natural qualities of the maple branch that I chose. I then searched around my house for a practical yet suitably natural material to wrap and connect the ends of my tamo. Lots of string to choose but I found in our garden supplies some 100% natural jute twine. This will do nicely.
I whittled the ends to a half round taper and then bent the ends together to form the hoop. From here I started wrapping the jute twine around from one point to the next. I finished the binding wraps with a few half hitches and an improvised knot that I could never reproduce to save my life but that was secure.
Wow this was starting to look like a net frame. I took a moment more to bend the hoop a little more rounder when I heard a faint but unmistakable cracking sound. The “Y” had split. I looked at the situation with some sadness and slight frustration. The “handle” of the “Y” had split right down the shaft. With a breath I realized this wasn’t a problem at all. It was a lesson of process that I should have thought of but fixable all the same. The split could go back together and be bound as well with the jute. I could make a nice no slip jute wrapped handle. In addition to this I could add a loop on the end too. I carefully added the loop and wrapped the handle all the way up to the joining point of the “Y” and did some additional simple binding there for good measure.
At this point the frame of the tamo complete and needs only to have a net attached. I am quite pleased with how it turned out. While it does not have the same look as some of the tamo I have seen it is unique to me. It has retained many of the natural qualities along the way too. I didn’t strip the bark from the branches but left it on. To be honest my feelings are that this tamo is really very much a piece of art.
The only remaining element that I have not yet embraced and that I struggle with currently is the netting material. Do I go with a commercial material, use the net off of another extra net I have, or do I take some time and learn to make my own? You will have to check back and see what I decide. I don’t even know yet.
In this process that took days to work through and only about an hour to exercise I think I did discover a part of myself that I used to exercise more. Looking at other tamo pics on line I think the handle on this one is short but suitable for me. I had fun making this one and maybe I will make another next year or when this one fails.
Most importantly, today I found again that inventor, creator, artist in me that finds peace and expression in projects just like this. In making my tamo I learned to look at the whole process with some deep reflection. I see now that like the circular nature of a tamo net…
Life serves art.
Art serves function.
Function serves life
As for actually fishing, I think I have found some time tomorrow to slip away and think about my tamo netting material a little. Is it possible that I could actually “weave” or create my own netting material too?
UPDATED! Adding the Net.
I went through a very tedious learning process in trying to learn to weave my own netting. I took some hints from some on line videos and also did some experimenting along the way myself. In the process I started over a few times as well. There is nothing better than working for hours on something only to scrap it and start over again. But this is the way of learning a skill.
A binding concern
I decided to continue to create an all natural material tamo and have this also include the net. In the middle of my learning process I decided that I was not liking my original binding material. My fiber smart wife pointed out that my choice of the jute cording may not be the best for longevity and repeated use in our dry Colorado air. The fibers break down quickly. I decided to make my netting out of hemp and had a surplus of this so decided to do a re-wrap with the hemp cording instead. This was a much better material choice as it wrapped tighter and had none of the fuzzy straggling fibers that the jute had. Was a simple enough process to just slowly unwrap the jute while also wrapping on the hemp cording.
The rustic net
As I said before the net was a lesson. That took a few tries to get to a place that I felt good about the results. It is not yet my perfect choice. I love the process of learning new things, developing new skills and working out problems on my own. I have some future ideas that I want to explore. For now the net has a very rustic appeal and looks like a piece of practical use folk art.
I started by cutting some long strands of hemp and just hitching them along the top from their centers so that two strands hung down.
From there I connected adjoining strands to each other just eying the size of the netting. Round one I use a thinner gauge of hemp cord and found that I was taking a long time to make the finer mesh netting.
This smaller gauge cording hit a snag when I ran out of hemp cording and brought home a spool of larger gauge. Never trust your memory.
I thought I might try to go ahead and weave the larger cording in anyway and that was when I ran into trouble with the weave pattern and splicing the two different sizes together.
The photo angle here is distorted with regards to the depth of the net and the size of the net opening. I am sure I can scoop a 12-13 inch trout into the net.
So what have I learned and what would I do differently?
Materials: I think you have to really consider your materials carefully and try to find the best materials you can. I liked the smaller cording and may use it again. I’ll just make sure I have enough of it when I do. Replacing the jute with the hemp was a good move. The larger cording had issues with consistency of thickness too. The larger cording kind of forced me to make a larger mesh because the knots in the weave were not as tight. This sped up the production of the net but I think I liked the smaller mesh better still.
Technique: The top down weaving process using the frame of the net as a loom top worked well but I am now wondering if I could not work instead from the center (or bottom) of the net and spiral up. I am going to look at hand crocheting a net next I think. working from a loop and crocheting a spiral outward that I can make a slightly deeper net and not make so many splices as I did with the way I made it here.
Overall: As I said the the net has a real rustic feel. It feels “old world” practical. I was less concerned with perfecting the mesh size or that every mesh hole was square. Some ended up triangular and I had to throw in some mends here and there where splices didn’t hold up.
I feel good about the project and what I learned. I know my next attempt will have even more improvements to technique and final product.
This is how life is supposed to work. We try to improve as we go. We make mistakes and fix those that we can. The metaphor here is not lost on me at all. This is a great project that will allow you to spend some quiet time exercising your brain and deepening your appreciation for the process of building something virtually from scratch.
Dennis Vander Houwen lives in Colorado with his patient and supportive wife, talented artist son, a cuddly dog, and a very lucky cat. Dennis is an avid minimalist, wood craftsman, curious tinkerer and learner and most notably a deeply focused tenkara angler.