Just a few years ago, when Tenkara was still a relatively new concept in the States (belying its ancient roots in Japan), it was the simplicity that attracted me to it. It seemed so slimmed down... so clean and unfettered by all the trappings that can tend to mire the craft of fly fishing. It was the perfect method (and likely still is) with which to approach the backcountry trout stream--it broke down into an easily manageable little tube and actually encouraged the minimalist in me.
|Simple, clean ... and affordable? Not so|
much any longer.
With my Tenkara rod--a Tenkara USA 11-foot Iwana--a lanyard with the basic tools and a pair of wading sandals, I could disappear for hours into the wild and not be burdened with too many moving parts. What's more, the rod--the simplest of creations ... tubes of graphite in descending sizes sliding neatly into one another--was an affordable tool that actually let me drag the entire family into the craft without having to consider a second mortgage.
This morning, out of sheer curiosity, I did a little Google homework on Tenkara.
My motives were simple--I've been pulled away from my backcountry trout water by the siren song of the saltwater flats and marshes over the last couple of years. I've learned (although that's debatable, really) to double haul and strip-set. I've developed a much sharper "fish eye," and I honestly love the "big" feel you get when you're standing on the flats and the there's nothing but water in every direction.
But recently, the trout are starting to pull me back. I yearn for summer days spent standing in cold water that's in a hurry to get somewhere. And that, of course, has translated into a desire to pull out the Tenkara rod and go fishing.
Unfortunately, two of the family's three Tenkara rods are in various states of disrepair. My trusty Iwana has a broken midsection, a casualty of a Lost River willow. My wife's Fountainhead has broken tip section. Our Amago is in good shape, but I think it has too much backbone for backcountry trout water, and is more suited to bigger water and bigger fish.
So I hopped online to see what I'd need to do to repair the Iwana and the Fountainhead. One thing led to another, and I started scanning all the new offerings out there for Tenkara. And there are plenty. I think it's safe to say that Tenkara has arrived in the U.S., and the fly fishing industry has taken note. Not only are there new rod choices available to American anglers (Temple Fork now has a line of Tenkara rods, and I noticed offerings from Daiwa and Shimano over at Tenkara Bum, in addition to the Fountainhead choices), but the reviews of the rods, the list of their specs and the accompanying accoutrements are starting to get a bit complex. There are diagrams that show different flex points, and talk of ratios and the explanations behind the engineering... the use of math is now starting to bore me to tears (much like my ninth-grade algebra teacher did all those years ago).
And then there's the price... Sweet Cindy Lauper... the price. I got into Tenkara because it wasn't so prohibitive. It was simple. It was clean. And for a little over a hundred bucks, I could be catching brookies and cutthroats without having to worry about skipping last month's gas bill to do it.
Not so... not any longer. Some of these "simple" implements are now coming with $350 price tags.
But like I said many paragraphs ago, I shouldn't be surprised. It's one of many oddities of the fly fishing world, and I guess when a "conventional" fly rod can approach $1,300, it makes sense that a Tenkara offering could come with a conventional price tag.
Trust me... I understand the logic. I understand the costs associated with research and development. I understand that engineering doesn't come cheap. I understand that excise taxes associated with importing sporting goods (that are funneled to important conservation efforts) take a piece of the action right off the top. But I also suspect the rising costs have to do with the consumer demographic, and the belief that fly fishers have swollen bank accounts (and, apparently, egos to match).
|The boy with the Tenkara...|
And I don't think I'm the exception, frankly. I'm a fly fishing junky. A full-on devotee... an addict. But I also have a family to care for, a mortgage to make and bills to pay. Most of the folks I fish with are in the same boat, and short of blowing a tax refund a new toy, they're not about fork over the kind of money today's manufacturers and retailers--Tenkara or otherwise--are asking.
There's a lot of talk in the industry about "growing the sport," about making fly fishing more accessible to the plebeians.
With the price tags I'm seeing these days, it's just that... talk.