Izaak Walton would have immediately recognized tenkara fishing as fly-fishing, but it seems a number of state governments do not, including New York’s.
In waters designated as fly-fishing only, tenkara tackle would not be allowed, said Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Lori Severino. After all, the regulations say “tackle is restricted to a traditional flyrod, flyreel and flyline,” and in tenkara fishing, no reel is used — just a relatively short line, attached to the rod tip.
Fortunately, the DEC has designated only two fly-fishing-only areas in New York, and they’re both on the upper Salmon River. Tenkara rods can handle nice trout and bass with no problem, but they’re not meant to be used for large salmon or steelheads, so the restriction has no practical impact.
Of course, there are other streams designated fly-fishing-only, not by the DEC, but by their owners, such as the New York State Parks Department (the Connetquot and Nissequogue rivers on Long Island), the Suffolk County Parks Department (the Carmans River, also on Long Island), the Frost Valley YMCA (east and west branches of the Neversink River) or the private owner of the Woodland Valley Stream in the Catskills, which is open to public fishing as long as it’s fly-fishing.
I’ve fished some of these with a tenkara rig and had no problem, but I don’t know whether I was technically in compliance with the rules.
New Hampshire has set aside 30 of its 350 lakes and portions of 12 streams as fly-fishing-only, and tenkara isn’t allowed there, according to Lt. Robert Bryant of that state’s Fish and Game Department. He referred me to regs that, much like in New York, define fly-fishing as “fishing by trolling or casting with only fly rod, fly reel, and fly line combination.”
“Given that it’s only been quite recently that there has been a renewed interest in this technique, I suspect that when the definition of fly-fishing was written . . . nobody was thinking of tenkara,” Bryant said by email. “I dare say . . . many fly fishermen would probably not know of it, either.”
As for changing the definition of fly-fishing to include fixed-line fishing, he said: “I know. . . even within the fly-fishing community, there are varying opinions regarding considering it as fly fishing, so I would suspect there could be some opposition to a change in the definition here from the public.”
On the forum at TenkaraUSA.-com, the website of the biggest seller of tenkara gear outside Japan, anglers post notices of their own states’ responses to the tenkara phenomenon. It’s not official or comprehensive, but the sampling seems to show most states are OK with tenkara.
Montana and Wyoming make no mention of reels in their definitions of fly-fishing, forum visitors report. Maine has the best definition I’ve seen yet: “a manner in which the weight of the fly line propels the fly.” That’s always been my bottom-line definition of fly-fishing — the line is cast, and the fly goes along for the ride.
One visitor did report getting chased off fly-fishing-only water — and told his fishing “bordered on poaching” — by a game warden in Virginia, even though Virginia regulations don’t mention reels and a state official had responded to an inquiry that tenkara would be just fine.
Another problem: Some states limit the allowable length of a leader. What western fly-fishers call a leader, tenkara fishers call a line. There may be a good reason for limiting the amount of monofilament, but the western fly-fishers are free to use as much of their 90-foot lines as they wish. The discrepancy strikes me as unfair.
I don’t know whether it will ever become necessary to explicitly include tenkara in state definitions of fly-fishing. But it does seem ironic to exclude from fly-fishing-only waters a method that is arguably the purest form of fly-fishing, the way it was practiced for most of its history.
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at [email protected]