Written by 2:58 pm 2019, Books, Fly Fishing, Spring

Simple Fly Fishing

Seasoned Anglers Strip Away Complexity with Ancient Japanese Tenkara Technique

Any book with a Foreword by Russell Chatham deserves attention. 

Cover photo by Tim Davis


The man celebrates the sporting life like no other in his paintings, etchings and writing. Fly fisherman and hunter, gourmet cook and wine aficionado—Chatham’s soul is in his passions and art. On fly fishing he writes, “The more complex technology is allowed to intrude upon the fundamental simplicity of fishing, the further one becomes removed from its core value.”

Chatham’s Foreword sets the tone for the revised second edition of Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara Rod & Reel (Patagonia, January 19, 2019, paperback), a beautiful book of 312 pages that Patagonia founder and lifelong fisherman Yvon Chouinard co-authored with fly-fishing gurus Mauro Mazzo and Craig Mathews. Equal parts “how-to” and manifesto, Simple Fly Fishing delivers a message: catch trout simply with a rod, line and fly. 

Tenkara, which means “from the heavens,” is a centuries-old, no-reel method used in Japan to fly fish for trout in small mountain streams. The tenkara rod is longer than traditional fly rods, typically ranging from 11 to 15 feet in length. “You will catch fish using simple methods and knowledge, in an elegant and artful way,” writes Chouinard in the book. 

“You will catch fish using simple methods and knowledge, in an elegant and artful way.” 

Yvon Chouinard

Similarly, the authors chose an elegant and artful way to speak to a new generation of young anglers and a growing number of women interested in the sport. The cover alone is a work of art. Designer Dwight Hwang used the traditional Japanese Gyotaku method in which Sumi ink is brushed onto a fish, then a sheet of Washi paper is pressed onto the inked surface. Inside, Simple Fly Fishing offers remarkable artwork: photography from featured anglers and their adventures, fly designs in full color and instructional illustrations by renowned fish artist James Prosek.

In addition to a quick setup guide for a tenkara rod and personal accounts from accomplished fly fishers, the chapters in this comprehensive work provide an education on trout and their food, fly fishing with different types of flies—wet flies and streamers, nymphs and dry flies—and typical fishing situations one might encounter on streams. The authors cover knot and fly tying, and employ overviews of both tenkara rod and traditional fly-fishing gear to cover all bases. 

Ultimately, Simple Fly Fishing contends that mastery is achieved through simplicity; knowledge is more valuable than high-tech fishing gear and pricey guides are not required to catch trout. This book strips away some of the complexity of the sport and openly critiques its elitist history and unnecessary expense. 

Manifesto aside, the book arms anglers with plenty of information. And as Chouinard says, “When you pick up (or go back to) a rod and reel, you will be a more complete angler.”

Available in stores and online. Visit patagonia.com for more information. 

Proceeds from the book are being donated to various conservation and environmental organizations, including 1% for the Planet, Native Fish Society, Atlantic Salmon Federation and World Trout® Initiative.

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