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Overlanding & Tenkara

April 05, 2016

Overlanding: "Self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, it is accomplished with mechanized off-road capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping, often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries"


a nice spot to look for fish

Early one summer, many years ago, my wife and I strapped our canoe to the roof of our Honda FIT, folded down the back seats, and filled up the car with camping gear, climbing gear, and food. We set out with no particular destinations in mind and with only a required return date some 6+ weeks later. Tenkara had just been introduced in the US but I had not yet discovered it. A fact that has me kicking myself to this day when I think about all those beautiful lakes and rivers we paddled and camped next to in California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota but did not fish.


While our rig was much less robust than what you would typically envision when one thinks of an overlanding vehicle it got the job done. I had just returned from spending the better part of seven months on an epic overseas overland adventure, and so I guess in a way this overland trip confirmed for me that I prefer living without roots, on the move, and free from too many obligations.

After that trip, many years ago, life took me down the path that had more roots and obligations - but only for a little while. Three years ago when my wife graduated from graduate school, we settled back into the more desirable lifestyle of the nomad. First we lived in Maryland for a little over a year and then we moved to Japan.

a nice photo

Taking a hop, skip, and a jump into the future - last week our friends Charles and Rebekah came and stayed with us for about 10 days. Charles is very much into over-landing and rightly so. His parents embarked on the quintessential over-landing adventure some 40 years ago, and he has started a budding side business promoting their story and adventure through Explmore. When I showed him my recent Kei van camper build out, he reminded me that his birthday was coming up. Then he dropped a not so subtle hint that for his birthday he would really to go off-roading, in my micro van, to some remote mountain stream to learn how to Tenkara fly fish. After pouring over some maps and consulting Google Earth I came upon the perfect location.

While our adventure was to be decidedly less lengthy than the requirements for a true over-landing trip - I viewed it as more of a chance to see how my rig handled off of the pavement.

my kei van

The drive into the mountains went smoothly and soon we were bumping along a rugged logging road towards an unnamed river. My Kei van performed remarkably well, clearing some rather large rocks in the road and soaking up the bumps as best as 11" wheels can. Parking in a small turn out we were soon ascending, on foot, a tight valley following the path of a small keiryu. After a few minutes of hiking we came across the first pool and deployed my trusty Tenkara rod. I demonstrated the proper techniques to Charles and then we leapfrogged up the river, trading off turns in each pool as we made our way upstream.

The stream was very small and after having no luck for a while, we collapsed the rod and cut through the forest to the next river. It was a fairly quick cross country jaunt and soon enough we were standing in the next creek that I had actually caught numerous fish in last season. We continued with the leap frogging method, working our way upstream.

fishing for leaves

As we neared the hunting camp it became quickly apparent that it was still inhabited by several loud hunting dogs. Not wanting to get mauled we turned around and headed back downstream. This turn of events was rather unfortunate as I had just spotted a beautiful Yamame feeding in a picturesque plunge pool. Not wanting my friend to get skunked on his first Tenkara outing (and his birthday too no less) we headed to a local co-op, paid our ¥3,300 and set off to find some fish.


After working with my friend Charles on some of the basics of Tenkara I set him loose on the river. His technique was good, there was an epic hatch taking place, and the fish were going nuts. In short order he hooked his first fish - a very large and spunky Rainbow (and she put quite the nice bend in my Badger Tenkara WISCO rod).

I had forgotten my jacket at home and the temperatures had plunged dramatically. Despite the cold and wind we continued upstream having a great time and catching more fish. When I got so cold I could not cast properly and kept almost dropping my rod I decided to call it and we collapsed our rods and headed back home to celebrate a wonderful day in the mountains and a birthday at our favorite izakaya.

parking lot

Isaac Tait

Fallfish Tenkara is the brainchild of Isaac Tait who now lives in New England but dreams of returning, one day, to Japan. You should follow him on Twitter.