This weekend I really wanted to go fishing again… Last weekend I started down my path of Tenkara. However being self-employed and living a life that is predictably unpredictable it just couldn’t happen. My dear wife was working and that meant I was in charge of watching our son. Now I suppose I could have taken him along for the ride. However, you don’t know my kid, how much attention he needs and how much he loves to throw rocks into the water. That aside, I am not sure I am ready to take my 4 year old out to a riverside with any degree of sincerity and believe I can actually fish too.
This did bring up a point for me. How can I best muddle through these times between fishing and not fishing? Almost half my lifetime ago, I used to own a small conga drum that I used to play down on a beach when I lived in West Seattle. One of the things about drumming that I realized one night was that while hitting the drum I created a moment of sound… but the rhythm itself relied not just on the sound but also on the time between the beats of the drum. I started focusing a little on those silent moments too.
I think with Tenkara it is very much like this too. There will be moments on the water and moment off of the water. I think it is easy to make the mistake of focusing and considering only that time when I am on the water fishing as being part of this path. I need to pay attention and be aware of of the time I am not fishing. I should be able to find that same peace that I feel on the water when I am off the water. I should be able to find value in that time as well in which there are things I can do that will support the bigger picture of what I am doing with Tenkara and that will enhance when I am fortunate enough to be fishing.
The things I do in that time between trips to a stream can be just as much a part of my Tenkara experience. Here are a few things that I know I can also do that are Tenkara related and that will support my practice in Tenkara.
It takes very little time to set up my tying vice and fall fast into a focused mode of tying up Kebari. While I would rather still be fishing the flies, I do enjoy tying flies and find it to be my secondary place that I can escape to and find some mental relief, regain my focus and sometimes find some deeper philosophical space. The basic idea behind any meditation is to find a singularity of moment that is “only that moment.” It is about finding yourself in a place where all else drops away but that moment.
I think there is an equally valuable and yet different form of meditation that comes with fly tying. I know that each fly I tie is unique. Now that I have the basics down for tying I can begin to hone my appreciation for the process. As I tie each fly I can fall into focusing on each wrap of a thread or hackle. I can strive for good proportioning. I can also creatively explore ideas within the designing of new combinations using different materials too.
There is always the option of organizing my Tenkara gear and downsizing everything…
Of course a big part of my own process in Tenkara fishing has been in minimizing all of my fishing gear. This said… minimizing has also meant thinking about minimizing. I laugh to myself about this ironic activity… By thinking about minimizing, I catch myself often put more energy into my efforts to simplifying something rather than just doing things simply in the first place. It’s twisted I know but I also feel that within the process of simplifying I have to understand what my complication are. I think there is a process of letting go of things that we all kind of go through. Releasing from those things we are attached to. I suppose the reward in this case for simplicity comes after the thing we are simplifying is made simpler? There is still a lot of gear and associated materials in my fishing gear. Because this downsizing is kind of a complex step for me I thought I could maybe break it down a little here too.
1. Boxes and Bags
My issue is that I am hopelessly a “bag and box guy.” I like boxes and bags. I have used a few different bags for carrying my gear in and I have several boxes I’ve collected as well. Wooden cigar boxes, plastic fly boxes, tins, and even cylinders. I have been looking for that perfect box for carrying my Kebari in, canisters to carry spools, the perfect small bag with a shoulder strap and the right size carry space, etc. When it comes to organizing my gear it becomes a focus on “most efficient.” I tend to find more than one option to the problem and then can’t make up my mind as to which is best. While these boxes and bags make me happy on one strange level, I think my propensity for organization is over-thought. I get an additional laugh out of the fact that I write this while sitting at a desk that could use some organization itself. I am over-thinking. I can thankfully laugh at myself for this quirk of mine. I know that I should probably just strip everything down and make a decision on a Bag and few boxes.
2. Fly tying materials, tools and more.
Currently I still have a great wooden suitcase style box that I converted into a kind of portable super fly tying workstation. Looking at this box, I can contemplate moving on from it too. It is larger than I really need and is packed with bags and boxes still full of materials that now in my conversion to Tenkara I will likely not need. So now I can take a moment to look at what are the primary things that are “essential only.” Once I identify those things I can then look for the right smaller box that holds only what I need for tying.
3. Western fly fishing gear needs to go…
I’ve made a promise to myself in converting to Tenkara that I was going to also be getting rid of all but one Western fly fishing set up. I’m not sure as to why. Just in case I want to remind myself of why I converted to Tenkara? It may take only one time. I also have an assortment of books on fly tying and Western fly fishing techniques. The information in many of these is certainly still valuable so I feel I need to contemplate this a little before just sending books back to the used bookstore I purchased them from. In among my Western gear are two other pieces of gear I am contemplating getting rid of too. My boots an waders. Perhaps that will be another blog post for another time.
Just reading and thinking about Tenkara
Sometimes just reading and really thinking about an activity is enough to perhaps exercise our brains or at least help us program that part of our brains into understanding a concept. Perhaps it is something as simple as a knot we want to start using, how to read water, cast in a windy situation, or just reminding ourselves that we will not rush in our process or in getting a fish in too quickly.
Meditation OR plain and simple time to think or not think.
For over two decades I have found great benefit from just sitting and meditating. I was a member of a Korean School of Zen for most of that time. I sat in week long retreats for hours on end. Even after leaving the school, I continued to find a great appreciation for meditation practice. There were times in my life where meditation carried me through the rough patches. Last summer, my wife and I refit a small shed in our back yard into a meditation/yoga hut. It’s nice to have a special place set aside to meditate but it is hardly necessary. All you need is a quiet, uncluttered place where you won’t be interrupted. I know that for some this activity or practice may seem a bit out there in left field. However, set aside what you think meditation is and understand that it doesn’t have to be about contemplating your navel. It is simply finding stillness within yourself and within your thoughts. My Zen master once taught me that “meditation can be like hitting the clear button on a calculator.” When we learn to hit that clear button and come back to that point of zero then we have a valuable tool for any situation. That “zero point” is a great place. It is where I find myself when I am fishing. “Only this moment…” whatever that moment is. No judgments of good or bad, only the sensations. I’ve dropped many of the forms and ritual practices of the school and I have found just sitting comfortably and unmoving watching my thoughts and breathing gently in an out has been wonderful.
As I close here tonight, the point occurs to me that just as I try to be intentional about the other things in my life… Things like getting my work done, making phone calls, doing yard work, making dinner, seeing relations, or going grocery shopping. I should also be sure to intentionally make the time to fish. Look for those opportunities and those hints that I will have time to actually get away and find a stream to cast into. But in the meantime, while I wait for those moments I hope that I will also find that value in the other things that I can do or that I find myself doing. That I will listen to the silence between those beats and this will make the striking of the drum or casting of the line onto a rippled seam and experience that is even more connected.
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.