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Tenkara: the Chouinard Effect and the Future of the Fly Shop

As Colorado’s only Certified TenkaraUSA Guide Service and the first tenkara retailer in the state, we are always excited to see new developments in tenkara and what that will mean for the sport.  Tenkara has had an interesting beginning in the USA with excitement, dismissal and infighting. Throughout the praises of purity/simplicity, the RIGS philosophy on how to approach tenkara as a traditional western fly shop and guide service has always been one of function. The use of the tenkara method is a perfect tool on our small rivers and mountain streams. It’s use is based on preference and location; a style of fly fishing that does not negate all other forms.

Tenkara High Country with RIGS

Tenkara High Country with RIGS

The tenkara movement, as a retailer, has always been somewhat difficult. Access and communication has contained a level of fear or disinterest from manufactures of tenkara equipment. Leaving many to wonder why leave out the boots on the ground supporters.  With 14 years under our belt, we have seen the introduction of new product hundreds of times but have never seen such blindsiding by manufacturers in the industry. We continually wonder why cut out the fly shop? Historically we were all on the same team with a collective effort to introduce and promote new product.  However, with tenkara in particular, each release of new product in the US comes with us finding out via Facebook, new catalog, rumor or customer contact; a difficult position to be in when we represent said manufacturer in house. So why the secrecy and dismissal of the relationship formed?

Patagonia’s new catalog article and product description about their tenkara rods/book is now another pill difficult to swallow. In one short breath, “Modern-day fly fishing, like much in life, has become exceedingly complex, with high-tech gear, a confusing array of flies and terminal tackle, accompanied by high-priced fishing guides”, Chouniard dismisses much of the fly fishing industry. Why cut off the legs of western fly fishing with Patagonia’s entry into “rod manufacturing/retailing”?  Why did Patagonia and Craig Mathews determine to brand its new tenkara retail endeavor with Temple Fork Outfitters, a relatively new and marginally respected player in the tenkara arena? Marketing? Margins?  In fact, wasn’t it Lefty himself (the face of Temple Fork Outfitters) that once told Tenkara USA owner Daniel Galhardo that “tenkara is just a fad and won’t last”?  Alas, why did  Patagonia launch its tenkara products without allowing any Patagonia dealer to have access to the product? Why would you choose not to include the retailers that have promoted your fly fishing apparel for years?  As far as we are aware, Patagonia has never launched a new product line and not let their dealers in on it. Why now?

Upon further review of Patagonia’s approach to tenkara, even more statements make us wonder what is Patagonia really saying. With descriptions like “This book reveals that the best way to catch trout is simply, with a rod and a fly and not much else”, is Chouinard saying that you also do not need his $600 waders? or his $450 SST Jacket? Should we all skip high end fly fishing gear in its entirety and just go to Walmart to get set up with simple gear and advice on regional conditions?  You would spend a lot less money, pick out your own gear without the hindrance of any advise and have a more simple experience – right?  Why would you spend money on a guide or at a local shop where you could talk to someone who uses the equipment, knows the area and could improve your skills? Because fly fishing is much more than just the tool in hand. It can be self taught and you do not need expensive equipment or a guide to get out there, but how many of you did not rely on a family member, friend or maybe even your local fly shop to help you gain a better understanding of how and where to fish?

The way this product was released by Patagonia is a slap in the face to the fly fishing industry that has historically supported his products. While we have no doubt Simple Fly Fishing will be loaded with great information about how to get fly fishing on your own, just as a multitude of other books have done over the years but will this book  tell you how to understand regionally specific trout waters and the unique aspects of fishing it? Our finicky regional tail water will rarely allow an angler with Chouinard’s all purpose flies to be very successful at consistently catching fish during a selective hatch. And yes, tenkara is an amazing tool to catch fish with but tenkara will never be on your steelhead or salt water trip, nor will the same flies. So should you just stop fishing those places and opt for “simplicity”? Should you never venture to discover a new area to fly fish and go to the experts in that area? What Patagonia and Yvon Chouinard have done by taking out the most knowledgeable part, the fly shop, is leave consumers interested in Patagonia’s version of tenkara with a clothing retail employee, some videos and a book.

What will the future of tenkara in the USA look like? Will Patagonia’s promotion of tenkara launch a new interest that spurs more companies to enter the realm of tenkara? Will innovations be looked at without fear and cynicism by both new and current stake holders?  Will the sport be looked at differently and those that said it is a fad eat their words? How do we, as a small company, stay a part of the game when manufactures, more and more, are trying to cut dealers out of the process? For us, innovation and practicality will always be at the forefront of our business model. Selecting the right tools for the job – is our job.  (And yes, not all tools will do the same job in the same way).  As a small independent shop, our relentless pursuit is to seek innovative products and refine those selections each season, based on effectiveness, both simple and technical. Personable and knowledgeable interaction is what keeps our customers coming back. Will the consumer give up that interaction to get less expensive gear and closer to Patagonia’s version of “simple”? Only the future will tell.

To learn more about tenkara from people who fish with it and the tenkara products we carry and create, visit the following links:   Guided Tenkara Trips, RIGS Hand Tied Tenkara Lines, Tenkara Rods, Tenkara USA