In Washington, Tenkara != Fly Fishing

protestLast week after reading a blog post on TenkaraBum I asked a question I’d never even considered before – Is Tenkara Legal?   At the time I wrote the post I wrote to WDFW to see what their take was.  I was sort of hopeful after reading some responses from Oregon and Idaho officials that were posted on Facebook.  After a week of waiting I got a response back from WDFW and it is pretty clear that in Washington tenkara is illegal in Fly Fishing Only waters.   Here is the full response. 


Mr. Harris;

Thanks for your question.  What constitutes allowable types of fishing gear, as well as where and when that gear can be used is recorded in one or more state laws.  To fish in “Fly fishing only waters” your gear to meet the definition of “fly fishing” as outlined by the appropriate state law  (WAC 220-56-210).  After reading the law, it appears that your assumption is correct, Tenkara does not meet the definition of fly fishing within the State of Washington.  In my view, that is mainly a violation of:

(b) Fishing line other than conventional fly line, except that other line may be used for backing and leader if it is attached to not less than 25 feet of conventional fly line

As you said in your e-mail, as well as my brief look at the Tenkara website, conventional fly line is not used and line length is only 10-13’ without the tippet.  That is in direct conflict with the law.  Another possible interpretation could be that complete lack of a reel would, in effect, make the gear a “fixed spool” by not allowing a fish to run for cover once hooked, stripping line in the process.  This would depend on the definition/interpretation of “fixed spool”.

For the second part of your question, our rule setting process is a public process.  If you are interested in submitting a proposal for changing rules or creating new ones, there are several formal and informal ways to get involved.  I’m going to direct you to our website that outlines the process, lists dates (click here), and provides a contact for questions on how to get involved.

If you have further questions, feel free to send me an e-mail.

Steve Caromile
Fisheries Biologist
WDFW / Region 6 Fish Program
600 Capitol Way North
Olympia, WA 98501

Now the question is, what to do about it?   Following the link to the WDFW site on How to Participate shows that there are no public hearings in the near future in which to comment.  There is, however, a link to a petition that can be sent to try and add a new rule, amend an existing rule or repeal a rule.   I plan on asking for an amendment to allow tenkara to be classified as fly fishing and encourage others to do so.

Granted, like I said in the last post, this rule doesn’t have a huge impact today as most of the waters that I fish are listed under Selective Gear regulations in which tenkara is perfectly legal.   Still, it seems arbitrary that tenkara would not be allowed on the waters classified as fly fishing only given that it too uses a single, barbless fly and no weight on the line or tippet.   I’d argue it is probably even easier on the fish than standard fly gear since the fish can’t run.  Jason Klass does a good job of explaining the reasons that tenkara should be allowed in his post, Why Tenkara Should be Legal on “Flyfishing Only” Waters which I’ll send WDFW off to read.

The story will continue…