With the mandatory social distancing and rules varying from country to country, state to state, county to county and city to city we are all doing our best to maintain a level of normal in our lives in spite of it all. I have been hesitant to write about anything since the virus took a role in all our lives. We have hunkered down in my house and there have been some unexpected rewards in doing so. More wood shop time to make spools and bobbins, more time at the vice, some quiet walks with family, some great meals and some bread making too.
As I eek myself back into writing posts for this blog I decided that I would try just a simple list of things you can do to keep busy and still participate in the “Renshū” of Tenkara. (Path of Practice). These are things you can do that will help you connect with tenkara in some way. Some of these you probably know and just need to be reminded of. Other things are going to depend on how well you can get out and do while still practicing social distancing.
1. Clean and streamline your gear.
This can be a big project or a small project depending on the amount of gear you have accumulated. If you need help with this give my blog post "To Have Nothing to Add." a read and learn a little more about downsizing your gear. You can apply these same techniques to reducing your fly-tying materials too. How many spools of red thread do you need? Why have you been keeping those size 4 hooks again? And while you are laying out all your stuff… It is always a good idea to give your gear a little maintenance every now and again.
2. Read a tenkara book and make notes.
If you are like me you have several books that you have read or partially read sitting on your shelves. Now is a good time to really crack open a book and put your mind into a place of learning or “dentō no michi”. (Path of Traditions) Make it your independent study. Don’t just read a book take notes and write down your thoughts, dreams and ideas you want to experiment with when you do get to go out. Who knows, maybe you have a poet hiding inside you, or an artist? Sketch flies, landscapes, write poetry. Tenkara is about doing and living through life with depth.
3. Practice casting in a park.
I hadn’t done this in a while, but I think it is a great activity when you can’t get out to the water. Get a dinner plate or even a paper plate and start casting to it. Watch out for overhead lines. I suggest going to a neighborhood park. You can count the lookie-loos who think you are insane. Go all out if you want to and even wear your waders. When people ask how the fish are biting tell them you have caught almost a whole box of fish sticks so far. Seriously though, today I went out and had some fun. I just took my rod and a spool. I used the spool as a target. It was really nice to practice casting this way. With the little breeze that picked up I was able to practice adjusting my cast to different wind conditions too. Seriously, this is good practice time.
4. Tie flies alone or have a fly tying party with friends on line.
You can always tie flies of course. But now when you sit down you can do it with a very specific pattern or patterns in mind. Look at the tying as creating art. Play with colors, material and techniques . I set up a Zoom conference call with a bunch of people who I don't usually get to sit down with and we all had a ball. We tied flies, talked about the upcoming season, how we were coping, etc. It was good to feel like I had my community near me. At the end of it all I also designed a new fly that I absolutely love. It was relaxing and fulfilling.
5. Find a small pond or stream. (if you can)
OR Start scouting out new places to visit (if you can't)
To borrow from the song…”If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” revamped into “if you can’t fish on the stream you love, fish the one you can.” From golf course ponds to a suburban neighborhood ponds found in parks. While tenkara is designed for streams it can be used in still water situations too. Of course, you should always make sure that you are not trespassing or breaking any laws by doing this. We have a stocked pond in a small town near me that is exclusively for children to fish in. If you can't get out then break out your maps, guidebooks, and google earth and start exploring. Eventually you will be able to leave your home and get out. (Knock on wood again). I can scour maps and books looking for new places to visit for hours on end. It gets me excited to explore.
I know these times are tough and they only seem like they are going to get tougher down the road. Maintaining our mental soundness, happiness and connection to the things and especially the people love and care about is so important. I know people who are separated from family and friends during this time. It is important to stay connected some way or another. Reach out to your friends and family members who may be alone during these times. Share a joke or tell a story.
I feel fortunate that I can be at home with my family during this time. I know that not everyone is as fortunate. Wherever you are in your life it just takes a few minutes to break the monotony and do something for yourself. Until my next post, I wish you and your family safety, health and happiness.
This winter I decided to embrace the “dentō” or tradition of tenkara kebari. I wanted to try and make some of my own traditional kebari with hooks made from sewing pins.
Our early tenkara predecessors in Japan used what was available to them for their fishing gear. This usually meant silk thread, feathers from local foul and hooks made from sewing needles and pins. The silk eyed hooks have always held an allure for me. As I am getting older and my eyesight is losing its sharpness for threading the eye of a hook, the silk eye has other benefits too.
I discovered a quality to the finished flies I made that dips into that world of being functionally artistic. Tying the silk eye onto the hook in gives a little more thickness to the body of the fly that I think also adds weight.
In making the hooks that I did, I tried to make bout a size 12 but sometimes hit on either side of that with a size 10 or a 14. When it came to the shape, I found that the shape of the hook could be easily manipulated, and a variety of shapes could be made with a little practice. Finally, for the weight of the hooks I made I learned a bit about the different kinds of metal used to make pins. The pins come in different thicknesses and the metals used to make them are all over the place. For any kind of consistency, you will have to play around with some different sources.
Choosing the right pins…
I am not sure what sewing pins or needles the villager fishermen of Japan had to choose from but in our modern world we have quite a few. Pins vary in quality, density and weight. You must be a little selective as you play with them. Some will weaken as you heat them and will be brittle. I tried the following:
Straight pins/needles. Straight pins you buy from sewing stores can be hit or miss on quality. You must look at the thickness of the pin and assess the density of the pin. The only way to know if any pin is going to make a good hook is just to bend it. I tried and had a little success with one batch of pins that came with a new shirt. Then again, the next shirt of a different brand had pins that were too weak and came unbent too easily.
Safety pins These offered a good variety of weight as a base material. The final flies I tied with these had a very authentic appeal, reminiscent of what I imagine a village fisherman’s kebari would look like. I found that the 1” and larger pins worked well. The larger the pin, the larger the gauge of the hook weight and thickness.
Just keep your eye out for any kind of pin that would be suitable. I have found “T” shaped pins at an office supply store that were a very sturdy gauge weight. Depending on which pins you find will dictate what the weight and gauge of the fly you are going to tie will be. I like having a variety to help me have some flies that sink faster than others.
Tools you will need:
1 or 2 sets of pliers: Needle nose pliers work fine but I also found jewelers pliers that have rounded conical tips to be excellent for shaping the hooks. One of each or two of either will be fine. I quickly found that I could also just use my fly-tying vise to hold the pin while I shaped the hook bend.
Wire cutters: My needle nose pliers have a cutter on them, and I used those to cut the hook shaft at the appropriate length. I believe a small set of actual jeweler’s cutters could be better still.
Small metal file. If you don’t use the jeweler’s cutters and instead use the bulkier cutter on the pliers, then you may have a sharp barb left over after cutting the hook to length. The small file will allow you to file off any rough barbs on the tip of the cut.
Steps to bending a hook
Place extended pin in vise: Your vise is the most obvious utility device to use for bending hooks in. You know immediately from experience how a hook should look and what size of bend you need. Because you will be bending the sharp end first you will clam the head end of the hook into the vise with the point extending from the tip. If you are using a safety pin open the pin out but don’t cut it yet just open it out and clamp it at an angle in the vise.
Flip hook around in vise: Remove the hook from the vise and turn it around. Put the hook into the vise with the bend in the clamp. From here you will now decide how long your hook shank is going to be. Use the cutters to cut your hook shank to the desired length. If there is a rough edge on the cut, this is where you file the point a bit and can continue to shape the hook if you would like.
(Optional) Step four: You may want to strengthen the hook bend by tempering it. When I first started bending hooks, I would heat them up first and then bend them. This worked a little, but I found it really wasn’t a needed step and it tended to weaken the hook if I overheated the metal. I had several hooks become brittle and break in the vise. If you do choose to temper the bend of the hook just use a lighter and heat just until red. Once heated dip the hook into cold water to quickly cool the metal and temper the bend.
There you go! That is all there is to making your own hooks. I really enjoy making these and have a feeling that I will be doing a lot of fishing with them in the spring. I enjoy the rustic shapes and the lack of continuity each hook has. The more you work making your own hooks the better you will become at getting them to the size and shape you want.
Tying in a silk loop eye
So now that you have your hooks you will probably be wondering how to tie in a silk loop eye. It is simple enough...
And that is all there is to it!
I hope that you have fun exploring this tradition and stepping back into time a little. Our appreciation for the first tenkara fishermen is honored in little things like this. When we practice these techniques, we begin to appreciate more about the early ways fishermen had to think and spend their spare time. We get a better appreciation of those traditions and build on our own skill sets and confidence. I will continue to wait for the spring and in the meantime keep making these kebari. Still can't wait to get out and surprise the fish.
"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
Our personal paths take us each forward on the journey of life… Along the way there are steppingstones, potholes, sunny meadows, gurgling steams, bridges and yes, paths that meander though dark forests.
I like to think that I am on a path that will teach me, help me grow and live my life fully. Those dark places that we must travel through can be daunting at times, but we can and must push through. We will undoubtedly find ourselves straying from our path for any number of reasons. Sometimes out of pure distraction and sometimes out of the life’s unseen circumstances. In order to get to where we want to be going, we really do need to make a map and to occasionally check our compass to be sure that we are on course.
My path this summer has had a couple of bumps and potholes that I have had to endure. Continuing the metaphor, I think I am guilty of running too fast. In the last two months I have injured myself twice in ways that have prevented me from doing the practice that makes me most happy. Fishing.
At the end of June, I sliced my thumb wide open taking the lid off a cracked jar. The jar imploded and I nicked a tendon in the process. This required a surgery and put me out of function for work and of course fishing too for several weeks. I was devastated by the injury and angry that I had made such a silly mistake of not paying attention to what I was doing. The physics of the situation were right there in front of me and I ignored it. The injury cost me more than a little income to say the least and put me in a pretty foul mood for weeks on end. To a bittersweet salvation, my wife pulled me up into the quiet of the mountains where I could console myself that the rivers were all mostly blown out anyhow. I eventually settled into the situation and was able to spend some quality time with my wife and son.
"It is what we do after we fall that counts."
I used the down time to do a little journal writing and, in what seems like a short time now, healed up fast through the month of July. Soon I was back on the water in enough time to catch the post run-off season. I explored some new areas and visited some old holes that welcomed me back with great fish and great moments. I also had a great time at the Tenkara Summit in Boulder. Spent time with community and friends. It was nice. My thumb still hurts a tiny bit to the touch and I am working on physical therapy exercises. I might have lost only a minor amount of flexibility in that thumb joint. I was feeling pretty good about being back in the swing of things again.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago…
Well, I hit another physical setback. It is difficult to explain what happened so I will just say it as simply as possible. I stood up too quickly, got a head rush and my legs buckled out from under me. I fell hard in a twisted ankle sort of way and slapped my left foot onto the hardwood floor of my office. The force was enough to give me a bad ankle sprain but worse, a broken left foot. I now am in a “boot” and needing to be very careful with the injury.
Yes, this is depressing. Today though I had a little moment of clarity as I sat drinking a cup of coffee on the back-porch sky chair. I looked out and saw a sunflower and found the quiet cool morning to be soothing. I caught myself slowing down and just being in the moment. I also saw recognized that I was running down the path too fast again and as a result was tripping and falling.
We can become distracted in our lives by the supposedly “important stuff” that seems to pile itself upon us. If you run with too much stuff, you will in time take a spill. What is important is to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and think a bit about the path again, decide what we are doing and where we want to be going. I am hoping that I don’t have to do injuries in threes this summer and that I will be back to fishing before the prime fall season is over.
Standing outside of our issues is sometimes the best way to get direction. We can also learn by looking at others on their respective paths. People close to us sometimes find themselves walking that dark forest corridor. We know that sometimes they must go this path alone so that they can come out on the other side. What I think is important is that we should shed light for them and give them tools when we can so they can also make it though those times of darkness.
For each of us it is important to have our feet planted firmly on our path. It can be laid out much like a map. This can be figurative or as a tangible written plan. Writing your life plan and perspective is a good way to understand not just where you or where you want to be but may also show you the best route to get there. Using the practice of following a compass and checking in on ourselves will keep you heading in the right direction and may help you from straying from the path. My final bit of advice that I have learned is that it is important not to run or go too fast. Often we will fall and sometimes we will run right off the path altogether. Getting up and getting back on the path takes time, effort and makes us lose even more time that we thought we were saving by trying to rush.
Last week I took a trip up to Summit County for a family gathering along the Blue River. We spread some ashes of my dear mother in law at the family cabin next to the river. It was ceremoniously nice and simple. Once all reverence was made we were on our own.
I always look at how high "the Blue" is flowing using some references to unscientifically estimate the flows. It was certainly higher, faster and wider than it was the last time I was up. Not what I would quite call “blown out” but, getting there? I have waded this river in this condition in the past and it's not my cup of tea when it gets like this. Something about slipping and being carried downstream for yards at a time doesn’t sound like fun. To each his own. I leave those waters to the western fly fishermen and the guide rafters.
Instead, I took a ride up the road (actually, the interstate) and dropped into a favorite exit. The stream there was what I would define as “SERIOUSLY BLOWN OUT!” (photo above for reference) I know many anglers who would not even consider stopping here "until things calmed the hell down." But I knew something they didn’t or hadn’t considered.
ATTENTION EXPERIENCED RUNOFF ANGLERS:
Please note that you probably already know some of these options already. I write for the novice and beginner as well so please be patient. I do not wish to belabor information you already know. So.. Skim ahead if you need to or refresh your memory as needed. I promise there are some potential insights you may not have considered near the end of this post.
Here are the most common places suggested for fishing during runoff season.
Fishing the banks
Everyone will tell you to fish the banks. This may or may not be possible or easy to do for some. To fish the banks well enough I feel you need to shift your mind to thinking about the river as turning into three channels. One big fast raging channel in the middle and two smaller streams running on either side. Fish those imaginary side streams. When you see the banks as being the skinny streams next to the raging water, you will quickly see the spots and pockets along the banks where fish will settle in and wait out the surge.
Of course, tail-waters are always recommended for fishing during the dark days of blow-out season. Tail-waters do not follow the rules of run off even though they are affected by them. I reference again the Blue River. This photo is what it looks like normally when I go up and wade out to fish.
As we look at this second picture for comparison we see that the river is slightly higher than before. Notice the concrete block, mid-river in the first photo is all but covered in the second photo. The water is quite deep and deceptively fast in the foreground. I have fallen several times in this area. Quite fish-able, but deep and swift through there.
With tail-waters we have to see the bigger picture of the river. The reality is that the dam was letting out a lot of water even though the reservoir was actually very low. The authorities that handle water management were emptying out the reservoir to prepare for and make room for the coming runoff that hadn’t hit yet. So, in the process of flood prevention also created a man-made blow out. This is good sometimes and bad others. You have to know and watch your tail-water locations to know what is up and if they are really the best bet.
The small lake outlets
A small lake will usually have a small stream that pours from it. I have several of these places in my mind map of places to go and fish. These streams very often if not most often have fish in them who enjoy the aeration of the water. The same is true of the other end of a lake where the water is flowing into it.
EXPERIENCED RUN-OFF ANGLERS YOU CAN PICK UP FROM HERE.
Now I will disclose some of the places I have not seen written about in the subject in my own limited reading on the topic. I present to you my own observations from that single stop along a very raging and blown out stream.
The "REST AREA" for Fish
On this stream there were a few very large areas where the water came to a rest just at a bend. Out of a combination of geologic and hydraulic design, a pooled area was formed and became what I imagine fish to see as a welcomed "rest stop". These spots also create places that food will accumulate and fish will thrive. fish the seam here and any foam that might have formed.
The overflow stream that creates an Island
I could not find a decent photo in my collection to use as an example here but I think you know the situation. You will see several places along a stream that have a “overflow” route they take once it rises. These stream overflow channels often create islands in the river and a slower stream will flow on one side. Fish will stop and live in these areas. Every river has them and you pay attention, you will know where they are going to be when the big waters come. (When I find a good photo I will update this.)
These alternatives are viable places to fish. They are there if you look for them This one highway exit that most people leave alone this time of year had more than a dozen places I could get a line wet and get enjoyable results.
It only takes a little forethought and noticing of features during the best of fishing to speculate where some good places will potentially be during run off. I really recommend you keep a notebook. I have a pretty good memory for some places like this one, but for sure my memory will change just as the waters do.
Somewhere in the depths of hell, near the same corner where all the unmatched odd socks collect there is a second pile of lost items known exclusively to tenkara anglers around the world. In that pile are small plastic end caps to tenkara rods. We have all lost at least one if not 30 of those handy, but tiny caps that keep our rods from telescoping out of our sling packs on the trail or extending themselves out in the back of our cars. The rod cap is a special item that we all can agree should be easy enough to keep track of yet somehow finds the portal to the netherworld at the bottom of our pockets.
I have explored a few different ways to create a suitable replacement cap and think that I have stumbled on a fairly practical as well as aesthetically pleasing solution. Ladies and gentlemen please be amazed at this wonderful, practical, customizable and charming rod cap made from the humble wine cork.
You don't need a semi-fancy wood-shop to make one of these stylish and useful rod caps. While I make these pretty quick with some power tools in my shop I decided that I would teach here how to make one using just some basic tools that you probably already have in your garage or that can be purchased inexpensively at a hardware store or borrowed from you neighbor next door. The instructions that follow are given with the express warning that any craft project has it's hazards. Please be careful when making your end cap and use common sense so that you still have fingers to tie your flies on with.
Supplies you will need
Sand paper 150 grit and maybe a 220 grit
Drill bits (forstner bits preferably) Should match the size of your rod end
A power drill or drill press (optional)
some cording such as rawhide or paracord
Once the hole is drilled out you can then test fit it onto the rod. If it is too tight to put on the end of the rod DO NOT FORCE IT. You could damage the rod segment. The cork should slide on just snugly enough to stay on. If it is just a slight bit too small to fit, you can run the drill into the hole and move it around just slightly to make the hole just a little bit wider still....OR move on to the next step and make the hole larger during the sanding and finishing. If it is too big and slides off you need to probably start over and try a smaller bit and work up to the size you need for a tighter fit.
Making stuff yourself is so much fun.
I hope that you enjoyed this D.I.Y. project and that you decide to give it a try yourself. The trick with any project is to be ready to start over or to adapt if an element of a project doesn't quite work the way you want it to.
These rod caps are so practical and are a great reuse of wine corks. Much of D.I.Y. is just trying out ideas to see what happens. You learn a lot about improvising and if you are like me you get a lot of "what if" ideas along the way too. With the cork caps I realized you can also use the caps as a place to carry extra flies or to let your flies dry out a bit. The cork caps fit into your pocket nicely and are certainly not going to get lost as easily as the small stock caps that come with rods.
Let your imagination run a little wild. I would love to hear from those of you who give this a try.
#DIY #rodcap #tenkara #tenkarapath
We just finished Thanksgiving dinner here at my house last night and as I think back about the experience it was fun to share the meal with family and friends. It was of course also a meal of gorging ourselves on all the traditional foods. When we gather this way for a feast we often give ourselves permission to indulge in plates flowing over. But as if that wasn’t enough we follow that up with a piece of both apple and pumpkin pie. At the end of the night I pride myself in sending my guests home with leftovers and there are leftovers still in my refrigerator too. This morning it struck a memory for me though, a memory of being mindful about eating and about my early years practicing meditation and going to retreats.
The Korean school of Zen that I used to practice with had some really wonderful retreats. One of my favorite parts of the retreats for me was the meals. The food was always wonderful and I have picked up some great food preferences along the way from those retreats. For instance, I can’t even eat oatmeal any more without a glob of peanut butter on top and I found out how much I love kimchee.
Eating during a retreat was an experience in mindfulness of food for nutrition for the body but also was feast for the mind as you appreciated the actual flavors. More than all of this though was the process of every group meal.
Eating as a group was a ritual experience that required you to bring your bundle of bowls wrapped in a cloth napkin and tied off with the spoon and chopsticks in the top knot and place it in front of your cushion. There was a specific way you were supposed to lay out your four bowls and it was dictated which of the three bowls held different kinds of food. Food was brought to you and you were to take only what you felt you could eat. You also noticed how many other people were ahead of you and so you tried to portion how much you took so there was enough for everyone. But you only put food in three of your bowls. The fourth bowl was for a hot tea that you could sip but that you needed to have enough left over for later as I will soon explain.
We ate in silence and took in the flavors. We took breaths between bites and we ate with mindfulness. The food was really there to nurture us in our practice. It was a small moment of satisfaction and enjoyment during what at times was a very intense expenditure of the mind in sitting for hours each day in meditation.
At the end of the meal we brought our attention to the bowl holding the tea. Remember the tea that wasn’t drank? It was then dumped into one of the food bowls. You then used the tea to rinse the food from that bowl. That bowl was then poured into the next and the same cleaning was done, and then to the final bowl after that. The final bowl was then used as a basin for cleaning your spoon and chopsticks in. At the end that bowl held the dregs of all of the bowls. You then took this bowl and drank it. Nothing was wasted. Some might be gagging about this idea but if you stop and think about it, you have missed the point. All of the food that was served was used, and not wasted.
The ritual wasn’t complete though. The final step in this process was that water was then poured into everyone’s tea bowl and the process of rinsing the bowls was repeated with warm water. At this time someone would come around with a large bowl and collect the water from everyone’s last bowl. If there were any bits of food remaining in your bowl you were to be careful not to pour them into the main collection bowl but leave them and drink them with the remaining water. The mythology behind this practice was that there were “hungry ghosts” who lived in the drains. They had large mouths but only small throats and the smallest of particles would choke them. It was kind of a reinforcement of the whole thing. We then dried off our bowls and utensils, stacked the bowls and tied them into bundles again with the spoon and chopsticks on top.
I want to be sure that I retain this practice in my everyday life. There are still times that I practice something similar to the four bowls from the retreats. Though not as formal a ritual, I use a pared down version of this mindful eating exercise by using a single bowl and a cup for my tea. I try not to take more food than I can eat and instead I keep the idea of focusing on the flavor and enjoyment I get from the food. It is a meditation of eating slowly and breathing with delight in every bite. I still use the tea to clean my bowl and spoon and I still drink the dregs of the meal with the tea. I like this practice and find it a good reminder about being grateful for food and at the same time to be mindful not to be wasteful.
I use this one bowl technique when I go backpacking or when I take solo retreats still. It is not just efficient but becomes a moment of peace and ritual in your life experience. Slowing down to the moment and not just forcing food into your hole. You can also do this every day at home. I highly recommend trying to have at least one meal a day this way. It is a great practice. When we eat slower we actually eat less but are just as satisfied. Our relationship to our meals becomes about fulfilling more than just our physical hunger but also our emotional hunger.
Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time where we give thanks for the things we have. I think sometimes the “giving” part of “thanksgiving” gets lost in the gluttony. The holiday should be as much about giving as it is the gratitude for what we have. What good is it to have more than we need? It is important to share our prosperity. Too much of our western society is caught up in consumerism and “getting”. I write this on “Black Friday”. The American celebration of being thankful the day before for all we have, only to spend the next day buying all the things we don’t have.
Look at your life with the simplicity of the one bowl. Do you take more than you need? Are you wasting anything unnecessarily just because you can? Are you thinking about others in need? Do you think of others and have a desire to share and make sure that everyone has enough? Are you striving for things and forgetting what you already have?
I am lucky to have this life I do, I am happy to share my surplus, I am grateful for family and friends and I wish you a very happy rest of the year.
When I first started tenkara fishing I did it to have time to myself. It was therapy and still very much is most days that I go out. I have made a point to make sure that I always make time for just myself to be on the water alone more than I am with a fishing companion.
As the years have passed though, I have found some wonderful friends within this community. While I may only get to go fishing occasionally with each of them, I find that those adventures and memories have a special place in my life. When people come together in a common interest there are often unspoken as well as spoken truths they share.
Tenkara continues to give back to me. Not just as therapy but for a sense of community and connection.
Over the years I have made friendships with people who I normally might disagree with in different circumstances. I have connected with people of different religious backgrounds, different world views and different politics. The common thread being our love of tenkara. Maybe there are other commonalities? Perhaps another trait I can identify in these friends is that they are “givers” in life more than they are “takers”. This is an observation I have made outside of tenkara in other people in my life.
Friendships are not always easy and they can be painful and imperfect. At times my different friendships have faced challenges. There have been times where I have found myself wrapped up in the sorrow of watching a friend work through personal demons. I wanted to be supportive but also needed to find a way to set healthy boundaries. Every friend has their unique challenges that they are facing. I try to be the best friend I can be within my limited abilities. These friends remain in my life and I consider them “true friends”. What always seem to happen despite differences and challenges is that I feel compelled to be there for them as much as they would and have shown they would be there for me.
This last year has been a wonderful celebration of friendships for me on the stream. I got to spend time with friends who I had not seen in a long time, I got to watch another friend take some huge steps in recovery return to fishing again, I got to share in the growth of another friend’s guide business and I made new friends though social media. I have also friends that I only got to meet and see at events but will be excited about seeing again.
We create these circles of friends in other parts of our lives I know. The friendships I have within the tenkara community are ones that I truly value. They nurture me and give me a place to be nurturing to others. I learn from these relationships in ways that these friends may never realize.
At the time that I started writing this blogpost it was all about celebrating the friends that I have made along the way. But alas… I have one less “friend” today than when I started writing this. The ending of that connection changed when I saw that tenkara as a commonality was not enough. It was a difference not so much over political point of view but over the issue of integrity to the truth. Through that person’s cognitive dissonance, they revealed that they were not the person who valued some basic human rights or the value of justice. Perhaps this relationship was not as strong as I had hoped it would have become. Maybe it wasn’t there to begin with. I am okay without this person in my life. It’s not my job to correct them or make them see their ethical errors.
With the above stated I want to doubly take a moment here to thank my friends. They are fine people who have made my life better through my kinship with them in Tenkara. For fear of leaving anyone out I will just say that if you are reading this and we have spoken that you are very likely on that list. You probably already know through our interactions either in person or on line. If I follow you on social media, have had a conversation with you or had the privilege of fishing with you then you know. If we have never met I always have room in my life for one more friend. One more kindred spirit.
Thanks you friends!
I took the liberty of pulling some photos from different places including your social media walls. What a great group of people.
The month of June rushed by so fast that I was not able to even find time to write a blog entry for the month. This is not to say that I didn’t have things on mind though. “Water under the bridge” is the term I believe. For here we are in July and I have still been keeping myself very busy. Busy in the best of ways I think. That kind of busy where you feel good about the things that you are creating and accomplishing. Being busy though can create a sense of urgency and can make us rush things better approached with patience.
One of the challenges most every blog author has is to have content that people can learn from. More importantly though is having content that people want to read. I don’t like to wax philosophical for the sake of it and each of the drafts I started for June were frankly a bit too contrived and forced. I like finding inspiration for my writing in my real-life experiences of becoming aware of something or finding something that truly moves me to write. Ideas and thoughts seem to take some time to ferment into clarity.
Speaking of fermentation... a good part of the last several weeks I have been dabbling in the world of microbiology. More specifically yeasts and sourdough starters. My interest was piqued after reading that yeasts can be found in so many places in the wild and that these same yeasts can be used for making sourdough starters. So, I did some backyard microbiology experimenting and made a starter from the yeast I took off an aspen tree in my backyard. If you have ever looked closely enough at an aspen tree, then you might have noticed a fine dust that the tree bark holds on to. This is a wild yeast! I cultivated this with a flour and water “emulsion” and made a bread starter.
There is a lot to be learned when creating a good loaf of bread. It is not as easy as just throwing ingredients into a jar. It is a slow and attentive nurturing process. Like caring for a garden, keeping a yeast alive and thriving required a connection to the process. It is a very visceral effect for me. The key tenant of making sourdough is patience. Each step required patience and an attention to detail. At times there is a desire to rush the process, or to “do something” when you are best to just let things be. I have made this mistake a few times now in different ways. It is still the same mistake of rushing to fulfill my goal and have gratification. Do you do this when you are fishing? I know I do sometimes.
Much like developing a good starter for making good bread we need to develop our attention to and practice of patience. We need to have focus and we need to be connected to the process. We also need to remember not to rush things and not to try an add anything that isn’t needed and allow ourselves to just be a part of the experience. There is process we each need to find for how we approach a stream.
Learn to go slow and do not forget or skip steps in our process. When we allow ourselves the discipline to just watch and let things process we often have better outcomes. Don’t rush the water and start casting. Read the water and understand the flow. Position yourself so that you aren't scaring away fish and are presenting the best way possible for the steam. Don’t get your feet wet if you don't need to. Stay out of the water unless you need to and if you do want to get closer, cast to the area you are going to stand before going in. Sometimes that is exactly where a fish might be feeding.
By being patient and focused we condition our minds to be more present and we hone our technique for fishing tenkara. Our minds may still push and nag at us. We might hear our minds telling us to change out our fly, we may retrieve our line too quickly or we may forget our ceiling or back cast and find our flies catching trees. The more we are awake to these irritating inclinations to speed up or make changes too quickly the more we can be connected to our fishing moments.
We all have those days on the water where we just can’t seem to cast or maybe even set a hook. When this happens, we need to stop and do nothing for a minute. Give ourselves as much time as we need to get back to our center of focus. I have found though that by doing nothing sometimes my mind comes back to the present moment and I can carry on forward from there. Slowing down actually allows our brain to switch over and process less from a reactionary approach but rather from an active and mindfully assertive way.
So what have I been busy with?
A lot of time these last few weeks has been spent in my shop. I have had several sales on spools and have begun working on creating upgraded tenkara rod handles. The work has been satisfying creatively and I enjoy the challenge. I think it is important to keep on growing and to keep on learning. Sometimes problems are best approached as if they were puzzles. I had to figure out how to remove a cork handle from a rod without damaging the rod. Then I had to figure out the design process and how to make those designs ideas happen. Along the way I had a few false starts but eventually I found my way to a practical process. Each challenge I met though required me to slow down and let my brain nurture an idea.
So far, I am happy with the rod handles that I have made, and my imagination has become ignited. Only through nurturing our processes and allowing ideas to ferment can we start to see the answers we need to the questions that arise. I really love getting lost in my work and I can get over excited about ideas. Each step of creating anything has starts, stops and restarts.
While I have now applied this idea of nurturing to sourdough starter, tenkara fishing and woodworking, it is obvious that it applies to our lives overall as well. Too often we get lost in our day to day work and responsibilities. Stress takes over and our minds can slip into a mode of “fight or flight”. The answer again is to stop everything and center ourselves. Put things on pause and just allow time to pass. You may also find that your situation is calling out loudly for you to do something in the way of nurturing yourself.
Our lives are bombarded with to-do lists and expectations for what life is supposed to look like. If we become imprisoned by those things we may notice that life isn’t fun or happy. We all can find happiness. It does take patience, practice and attention to detail.
If you have a rod that is in need of a new handle let me know and we can talk about keeping that favorite rod in use with a whole new look that is personalized.
In this month's post I hope to talk again about putting what you "need" ahead of the things you "think you need or want." For this though it is important for me to preface and establish that I am in no way telling you not to buy those things that bring you happiness. It is okay to want things and it is okay to own things. I am however suggesting a mindfulness and caution not to get caught up in consumerism of things you don’t need or that don’t fulfill your personal happiness.
< I carry all I really need in a single Mountain Hardware bag that I picked up at a garage sale. The bag has room in it for water bottle, stove and more. I keep my waders, shoes and other essentials like snacks, lunch stove pots and coffee for tailgate brewing.
Make no mistake, this isn't just for tenkara gear.
This post while written for your tenkara gear also applies to the rest of your life and possessions too. Having a relationship with our things and seeing if those are rewarding relationships or burdens is what it all boils down to. Then there is also an element of vanity ownership and consumption that we also should check ourselves on. The more we practice this, the more money we will actually have to spend on experiences rather than stuff.
I'm guilty and you are guilty.
Every one of us is susceptible to adding things when we don’t need to. There is a feeling of requirement when we get something new that it is almost like permission to expand our possessions even further. When we get new waders we think about our old boots. “Do these boots look shoddy on the new waders?” This is just one small example. It also applies to rods and packs, cars, boats, camping gear, etc, etc. I am a sucker for garage sales, camping gear, bags and boxes.
We want things that we don't need.
There is a very real phenomenon that plagues us as a consumer society. It is called the “Diderot Effect”. The basic premise is that when we get something nice it seems to overwhelm or make the less nice things we own seem shoddy. This idea then enforces the idea that we need an upgrade across the board. Diderot is an interesting story that I found very familiar and could see in many parts of my own consumerism.
Avoiding Status Image Purchasing
We all have seen how Western fly fishing can be a “status” sport. I could only chuckle to myself at a recent Orvis fly fishing 101 event that I dropped in on the other day. The instructor was giving a solid presentation on keeping things simple. He then killed it for me by pointing out the vests and other accoutrements that they could later aspire to purchase and fill with things he openly stated they would never need. I restrained myself but wanted to shout out “....OR YOU COULD LOOK AT TENKARA AND SAVE YOURSELF A HELL OF A LOT OF MONEY!”
Tenkara runs a risk of slipping into this realm as well as commercialism hits it. My fingers are crossed this doesn’t happen. However, recently there have been some incredibly expensive tenkara rods released… I am of the mindset of spending my money more on experiences than on things, so these rods will likely never be in my possession for use.
Use Cautionary Consumerism
Consumerism is so normalized here in the U.S.A. and other developed countries. Consumption and purchasing of things we don’t need is now almost expected at times. If there is a buck to be made someone will make that thing and try and convince you that you can’t live without it.
There are people who make a living as creative marketers who are working hard to convince us that we need even more still. Certainly we have products that actually do help or that are innovations and improvements. I would suggest though that we should examine cautiously to avoid the fads and impulse purchases of “the next greatest thing”. There is nothing wrong with waiting out and purchasing something later once it has been developed and to see firsthand if that item is right for you.
Our money goes out of our bank accounts fast enough without us spontaneously and addictively spending it on things that will just be put in a closet, drawer, box or garage.
The Exercise of Enough
One of the best exercises you can do to keep yourself from falling into Diderot effect is to just take stock and value what we do have. Look at your current equipment and assess its condition. Go ahead and lay it all out. How leaky are those waders? Can they be patched or resealed? How many rods do you own but never use? Why are you keeping them? How many more years do you think you can get out of your pack or boots? How many packs and boots do you own? Can you justify owning two of the same kind of item that serves the same purpose?
Once we can look at our gear this way, we can start to appreciate what we already have and begin to realistically assess what we really have compared to what we NEED instead of WANT and we can identify what we really need to replace.
Why do I own this and what does it add to my comfort or experience?
Are you a fashionista? How important are name brands to you? Why? Much of this boil down to the investment of your hard-earned money on equipment that may not actually be any better than the less expensive products available. Certainly, there are product that do outperform others. Does their quality outweigh their cost of investment? What hidden costs do they have? I used to purchase wading boots that had interchangeable soles. Then as I matured (in my fishing and outlook?) I decided that I was happier with less expensive water shoes with good tread that could fit over my waders instead.
This comes down I suppose to your own wants for your experience. I love keeping things simple and utility in nature. We can find that balance when we slow down to look at the stuff we are buying and why we are buying it.
Get yourself to where you don’t need to add anything.
To simplify everything above, look at your stuff and decide if you own it or it owns you. Is your relationship with your things one that you don’t have to feel embarrassed about or that you can look at without regrets for spending money on? Keep what you really need, decide what if those things you are keeping as a luxury are the kinds of things that add to or improve your experience or if they are just weight and stuff you feel compelled to carry. I will admit that I am not 100% on this process myself but it is a big part of my mindset. I ask myself regularly if things that I have with me are needs or wants? I ask myself if items are practical to have to the point that they make my life easier than carrying them along in the first place? You can always test yourself by leaving the item behind once and seeing how much you really do “need” it or just “want” it. Just remind yourself once you are at a comfortable place and zone for yourself to not add anything.
Dennis Vander Houwen lives in Colorado with his patient and supportive wife, talented artist son, a smart older dog, a new river puppy, and a very lucky cat.