October 18, 2011

Tenkara Tuesday - The Elephant In The Room

Welcome to Tenkara Tuesday.

For today's installment, I'm honored to present a guest post by Anthony Naples, an angler, poetfly tier, artist, and fly fishing literature aficionado.  In addition to this menagerie of diverse talents, Anthony has quickly become one of the most vocal advocates for the previously suppressed Japanese fishing robot movement.  Most importantly, he's a fellow Pennsylvanian, and we, the residents of the Keystone State need to stick together.

Tenkara Tuesdays were developed in an attempt to define the identity of the American tenkara angler.  Anthony takes this subject by the tail (and also trunk), using a thought provoking metaphor to get his point across.  Please Enjoy!


Tenkara in America – it is the elephant in the fly fishing room. I mean this in two ways. Firstly, tenkara is a big new thing, but it is being politely ignored by many in the fly fishing world (others are openly hostile for some reason). Meanwhile, tenkara is sitting there in the corner quietly growing from tiny elephant to medium sized elephant. Some in the fly fishing media, and many fly fishing retailers have ignored tenkara as best they can. That's okay. Tenkara doesn't need them – it is growing anyway. And I think it will continue to do so. Last year when I fished Rocky Mountain National Park, not a single person knew what the heck a tenkara rod was. This year, three people stopped me because they recognized the tenkara rod and were interested in learning more. That may not seem like much – but I think it shows that the word has gotten out.

Secondly and perhaps more interestingly, tenkara – especially tenkara in America – is like the elephant in the parable of the blind men and the elephant.


Believed to have originated in India, the story shows up in various traditions including Jain, Sufi, Buddhist and Hindu. Though differing slightly in the telling, the story is essentially this: A group of blind men are led to an elephant and after touching it are asked to describe it. Because each man encountered a different part of the elephant they all perceive it differently, and so their accounts of the elephant disagree significantly. In the Buddhist version the blind men describe the elephant as follows; like a pot (the blind man who felt the elephants' head), a winnowing basket (ear), a plowshare (tusk), a plow (trunk), a granary (body), a pillar (foot), a mortar (back), a pestle (tail) or a brush (tip of the tail).

Not being aware of the whole elephant the men describe only what they know. Given their limited perception they all experience the same thing very differently. Are they all wrong? Or all they all right? That depends on your point of view. In the Jain tradition, each of the blind men is correct. The Jain moral is one of harmony and tolerance. It illustrates the idea that one should be accepting of other viewpoints and belief systems. The moral to the Buddhist version of the story is more of an admonition to preachers and scholars (the experts). It warns that the so called wise men are like the blind leading the blind, and so all the men are wrong and none have the right of it.

American Tenkara is the elephant and we American practitioners are the blind men. We each see a part of the elephant, but none of us can see the whole beast. Some may see more of it than others but I think it is too early to pretend we know what the whole thing looks like. As time goes by the veil will be lifted from our eyes though. It is exciting to be here in the dark ages of American Tenkara. Hopefully we can be like the men in the Jain version of the story and realize that there are many versions of the truth. Rather than a bunch of bickering “experts” as in the Buddhist version.

I make no claims at being an expert at anything (except maybe procrastination). I always try to be careful when giving advice and couch it as something that has worked for me rather than the “correct” or “best” way. I've seen posts on blogs and forums that differ so greatly from my personal experience that I find myself saying, to paraphrase Bob Dylan ,“Is it me or them that's really insane?” But I will offer this advice – if you think you're interested at all then go get yourself a tenkara rod and join the party. Walk into the darkened room and encounter the elephant. You may be surprised at what you find. Well, if you've made it this far, thank you for holding on and putting up with my ramblings. I promise, if I'm allowed back to Tenkara Tuesdays I'll bring something for substantive and technical next time.


About the Author:

The many interests of Anthony Naples can be found regularly cataloged (typically with a wry sense of humor) on his blog, CastingAround.  While Anthony may claim to live in the "dark ages" of American tenkara, his relative experience and extensive writings on the subject do more than their fair share to provide "enlightenment" for his regular readers.  Active in social media, Anthony and CastingAround can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Zazzle, while his tenkara flies are available for sale in the TenkaraBum online store.


Are you a Western tenkara angler? Do you have a story, pictures, video, fly recipe, or simply a fishing report from one of your recent tenkara adventures? If so, Troutrageous! wants to hear from you for a future Tenkara Tuesday post! Feel free to send an email HERE, or check out this previous post for more information.


  1. Very nice. Well worth the read.

  2. Your post is just as true about the wider world of fly fishing- everyone comes to the sport to seek peace and beauty, and ends up bickering about the "proper" way to do it. Dries vs. wet, spey vs. everyone else, conventional vs. tenkara. It's all pretty tiresome. I still wonder what it is that causes so much rancor in the outdoor world, when virtually everyone claims to aspire to the same ideals- to enjoy the peace and beauty of nature.

  3. @Fontinalis Rising
    It is a mystery to me why this happens. I've seen online forums get pretty nasty regarding these types of things. Why can't we just get along? :)

  4. Very well done Anthony. I enjoyed your view of Tenkara in the US. I have also noticed that this year a few anglers came up to me already having some idea of what Tenkara was. Whereas last year I got nothing but funny looks.