There was a bit of a buzz floating around the Jamboree, word was on the street that the fly fishing area had something new and exciting to share. We got a visit from BSA National Commissioner Charles W. Dahlquist, who wanted to give our tenkara rods a try. He had a bluegill on the line after his second cast, and a big smile on his face the whole time. Then he passed the rod to Scout leader Nancy, who had never caught a fish on a fly before. After just a few minutes of coaching, we got her onto a nice largemouth bass!
We soon opened up and got the Scouts fishing, eight at a time, for 20-30 minutes each. Each group would receive a short orientation talk explaining the basics of tenkara and demonstrating the cast, then we would get them on the water. Instructors would move from student to student, giving feedback and answering questions to help the Scouts get dialed in and catch fish.
The rods were rigged with a wide variety of flies - drys, nymphs, streamers, and wet patterns. All of them produced at various times, and it gave the Scouts a chance to explore different techniques. The lake was well stocked with panfish, bass, and catfish. Many of the Scouts got onto fish quickly, especially earlier in the day. Even when midday heat and sun made conditions challenging, catching continued at a steady pace. Some Scouts caught their first fish on a fly, some caught their first fish ever, and some even got to catch fish on flies they had just tied in the fly tying tent!
1) We staffed the tenkara area with two instructors, myself and one of the trained Scout leaders who would rotate in. With 8 young anglers, a 1:4 instructor to student ratio worked well. When any Scout needed help landing a fish or required direct instruction, another Scout would invariably get a fish on the hook too - so the second instructor was necessary. Even with barbless hooks, many Scouts still need help getting the freeing the fish and getting it back in the water, especially if they have never done it before.
2) While we taught the Scouts how to properly extend and collapse the tenkara rods and demonstrated the capability, we kept the rods fully extended for the duration of the day. The only time we collapsed them was when a snag or tangle demanded it for maintenance. At the end of the day, we would then collapse and store the rods. Minimizing the amount of collapse and extend cycles will help guard against potential breaks.
3) Young anglers followed instructions pretty well, but they did have a habit of dipping the rod tips into the water. This started to create a build-up of muck on the top sections, which can be a pre-cursor to damage if and when it gets in between the sections. In a camp setting, regular cleaning will be required to keep the tenkara rods operable.
4) The other big habit that I saw, was a lot of "climbing the rod" to land fish. Instead of holding onto the cork grip when bringing the fish in, they would begin to move their hands further and further up the rod. This has the potential to inhibit rod flex or create stress angles that can seriously damage the rod. To counter this habit, we pointed out the potential risk, and then added that it is a lot more fun to fight the fish with the rod by holding on to the cork grip. This really helped the Scouts focus and improved their fishing experience too!
5) The BSA National Fishing Task Force is very pleased with what they saw at the Jamboree. They believe that the event proved the suitability and durability of tenkara rods for high volume use in Scout camp settings. In fact, the tenkara rods out-caught "western/conventional" fly rods by a significant margin!
It was a privilege introducing so many young anglers to tenkara at the National Scout Jamboree. Our sincere thanks to all of the BSA National Fishing Task Force, Certified Angling Instructors, and Scout leadership who made Badger feel welcome, and worked hard in the West Virginia heat to deliver an outstanding fishing program - FISH ON!
Matt @ Badger
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