Is Tenkara Legal???

illegaltenkaraThis is a question I had never even thought to ask until a post appeared on Facebook this morning from the TenkaraBum blog on Fly Fishing Only regulations in New Hampshire.  Evidently the regs there require a reel as they also do in Connecticut and Pennsylvania and probably other states.   I dug out the regulations book for Washington that I generally never bother to look at.

Most of the water I fish is either designated Fly Fishing Only or Selective Gear – what do those terms mean?

Fly Fishing Only In “Fly Fishing Only” waters, an angler may use only the following tackle: up to 2 flies, each with a barbless single-point hook, not to exceed 1⁄2″ from point to shank, and a conventional fly line (other line may be used for backing or leader if attached to at least 25 feet of fly line). Anglers may not use fixed spool reels, bait, or weight attached to the leader or line. Only knotless nets may be used to land fish.

An angler with a disability, who has been issued a special use disability permit and has it in
their possession, may fish in “Fly Fishing Only” waters with spin casting gear, with a casting bubble, and may use an electric motor while fishing on “Fly Fishing Only” lakes where fishing from a boat is allowed. All other restrictions listed above still apply.

Well, by this definition Tenkara would be illegal in Fly Fishing Only waters in Washington state since we do note us at least 25 feet of conventional fly line.    What about Oregon?  They define fly fishing as:

Angling with a fly rod, reel, (no spinning or fixed spool reel(s)), floating or sinking fly line, leader, any type of backing line, and an artificial fly.  In waters restricted to “Fly Angling Only” no additional weights or attractors shall be attached to the hook, leader, or line, and no metal core lines may be used.

Oregon has the same reel specified as New Hampshire, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.  This sucks because most of my favorite waters in Central Oregon like the Metolius and Fall Rivers are designated as Fly Fishing Only.   Tenkara would be illegal to fish with and there you could easily get busted, especially on the Fall River hatchery stretch.    I’m sure California is similar, Hat Creek would be out for tenkara.

Hopefully Selective Gear isn’t excluded too:

Selective Gear Rules Only unscented artificial flies or lures with one single-point, barbless hook are allowed. Up to a total of three artificial flies or lures, each containing one single-point, barbless hook may be used. Bait is prohibited; fish may be released until the daily limit is retained. Only knotless nets may be used to land fish except where specifically allowed under Special Rules for individual waters. If any fish has swallowed the hook or is hooked in the gill, eye, or tongue, it should be kept if legal to do so.

Here tenkara is safe as long as you aren’t crazy enough to try and fish 4 flies at once.   This is good since most of the water I fish is under Selective Gear regs and not Fly Fishing Only regs.   What would be excluded waters for tenkara?

  • North Fork Stilly – no searun cutt fishing there with my Amago.
  • White River in Pierce County – no big deal, never fished it anyway
  • Kalama River – I’d be carrying a switch or spey rod anyway
  • Pass Lake – this kind of sucks since I do occasionally fish this lake.
  • Rocky Ford – well this one definitely sucks since it seems tenkara and a scud would be great there.
  • Chopaka Lake – another one that kind of sucks.
  • About a dozen other assorted lakes I’ve never fished before

Would I still fish tenkara at Rocky Ford?  Sure.  First off there is nearly no enforcement in this state, how many big fish have I seen poached from Rocky or Lenice over the years?  Lots.   How many times have I been stopped by a game warden in this state?  Zero.   Like I said, in Oregon that would be a different story and one could pretty easily get nailed for tenkara if the warden knew the rules well enough.

Still it makes me think that an effort should be made to change these regulations to allow tenkara fishing.   This could be hard since tenkara does not have a big following.  It is hard enough for fly fishers in general, and there are a lot of us, in Washington to get regulations in their favor over bait and gear slingers, the maybe hundred or so tenkara fanatics would not get much voice in Olympia.