A Breif History of Japanese Fly Fishing

A Breif History of Japanese Fly Fishing

The traditional Japanese method of fly-fishing is called “Tenkara” (literally: “from heaven”). The 1st reference to tenkara fly-fishing was in 1878 in a book called “Diary of climbing Mt. Tateyama”

Tenkara is really the only fly-fishing method in Japan that could be defined by using a fly and casting technique where the line is what is actually being cast. Tenkara originated from the mountains of Japan as a way for professional fishermen and inn-keepers to reap the local fish, Ayu, trout, char for selling and providing a meal to their guests. Primarily a tiny-stream fishing method which was preferred for being highly efficient, where the long rod allowed the fisherman to put the fly where the fish would be.

Another form of fishing in Japan is Ayu fishing. As written by historian Andrew Herd, within the book “The Fly”, “Fly fishing became popular with Japanese peasants in the twelfth century onward…fishing was promoted to a pastime worthy of Bushi (warriors), as a part of an official policy to train the Bushi’s mind during peacetime.” This refers primarily to Ayu fishing, which commonly uses a fly as lure, uses longer rods, but there is no casting technique required, it’s more similar to dapping. Ayu was practiced within the lowlands (foothills), where the Bushi resided, tenkara practiced on the mountains. Fishing flies are thought to have first originated in Japan for Ayu fishing over 430 years ago. These flies were created using needles that were bent into shape and used as fishing hooks, then dressed as a fly. The rods along with fishing flies, are considered to be a traditional local craft from Kaga region.

In the West, fly-fishing rods were primarily made from wood, that’s heavy, so having long rods to reach spots where fish might be was tricky. Anglers started devising running line systems, where they could use shorter rods and longer lines. Eventually this led to the development of reels and the widespread use of shorter rods and reels. In Japan, bamboo, an incredibly light material, was available, so anglers could make very long rods without much concern for weight. Fly-fishing remained more pure, as it was in its origins, anglers in Japan could continue using the long rods and did not feel the necessity to invent running line systems and reels.

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