Go Ishii Interview for Tenkara in Focus

8 CommentsMonday, 8 January 2018  |  Paul G

Go Ishii: Tenkara Fundamentals, the Importance of Tenkara Culture & a Dying Way of Life in Japan

This interview has been a long time coming...but in many ways it is being published at just the right time. It throws some very important light on the question of "Why should I give a f$%* about Japanese tenkara?". Scroll down for more insights after you've watched the interview...

Go Ishii's interview points in summary

As well as sharing his backstory and angling development as a highly adventurous and independent 8-year old kid, Go gives some insight into the determination and spirit that lead him to choose a school in America at just 12 years of age.

He talks about his mother being happy to drop him off (again at age 8) at the trail head of a wild stream in the Japanese mountains (!!) with just the classic Japanese pack-food of "Onigiri" for provisions. He also talks about being captivated by great angling photos in magazines - and I think this is something that every angling addict can relate to.

As with most great anglers, Go progressed through many forms of fishing before settling onto the challenge that he found most satisfying (tempting the most difficult fish to grab his fly from the surface with the most refined casting presentations using ultralight level lines). Bait angling in ponds as well as "keiryu" (medium sized mountain rivers) and lure fishing in the ocean all feature in Go's "Angling Resume".

Go Ishii: Tenkara Angler and Interpreter

Go Ishii: Top Tenkara Angler and Knowledge Gateway

He also talks about the threats to our only links to the tenkara knowledge, traditions and skills handed down from the past. Japan's mountain villages are slowly dying (many of the places we have filmed for Tenkara in Focus will no longer be inhabited in 15 or 20 years time). As well as the older traditions and cultures that he is keen to learn about and help to share (for instance through his input to Tenkara in Focus and Discover Tenkara media), Go is passionate about reflecting the life's work of hundreds of modern-day tenkara practitioners in Japan. 

By learning first hand about tenkara's origins with the roving "Matagi" bear hunters AS WELL as studying with cutting edge practitioners who fish the most technically-demanding rivers in Japan (such as Kazumi Saigo, AKA "Ajari"), Go takes in the full range of tenkara. This encompasses more "naive" fish that rarely come into contact with anglers - right through to the incredible technical demands of high-angler-traffic (and intimidatingly BIG and powerful) "Honryu" streams.

It is usually in those Honryu fisheries that Go's most prized fishing conditions (and fish specimens such as the especially deep-bodied and fighting fit examples of the perfect mid/late season amago can be found). Similarly, fishing efforts during the window of catching the big, sea-run yamame (known as Sakura masu or Cherry salmon) and sea-run amago (Satsuki masu) also mainly happen on honryu (rather than keiryu) rivers.

In more recent years, he has also been increasingly involving himself with culture and practitioners following the exploration of "Genryu" streams that Yuzo Sebata worked so hard to develop and then publicise throughout the 1980's and 1990's in Japan.

Because of that high-level fishing knowledge, interest in the culture, history, people and how everything fits together - Go has an enviable insight into his favourite pastime. That would be valuable enough in Japan...but the fact that he has great insight into the western world (and perfect English of course), means that the tenkara community outside of Japan owes him a lot.

Resource Links for this Episode

Of course, we have directly benefited from Go's knowledge, friendship network and prodigious translation efforts. Very obviously this applies to the Karasu rod project that we could not have got off the ground otherwise. Having put so much in to the relationship building and also critical evaluation/testing of rods, we were delighted when Go finally relented and agreed to sell Karasu rods in Japan. We are really honoured by him giving those rods his stamp of approval (which is not an easy thing to win just so you know!!) and we are also pleased that he might see at least a modest payback for his efforts to help us bring these rods to life.

You can check out some more of the Back-Story to the rods on this page.

And you can also get Ajari's Review & Shop for Karasu rods here.

Again, as mentioned in the programme, the most "sure-fire" way to get up to using the stripped-down/high quality gear of tenkara in the ways that the most accomplished anglers in Japan do is to build up step by step. This is exactly what Go means when he talks about developing and practising strong fundamentals in his interview.

I've worked really hard to streamline this process by basing each tenkara "building block" on a more familiar western fly fishing technique. In this way I've been able to isolate core skills and show you how to pick them up in a really simple way (and avoid you suffering from "overwhelm").

The lessons are free, though I happily tell you that the only reason we can deliver them without charge is that enough subscribers go on to become paying customers of Discover Tenkara! But, because you can unsubscribe at any time, you get to find out if our tuition works for you before you need to dip into your wallet for the premium courses and content. There is no obligation to pay for anything when you subscribe.

You can sign up (according to your geographic location) for free here: 


Now, you may already have got wind of the fact that a big chunk of our download and DVD media will soon have to be removed from the market against our wishes. I'll dedicate a separate blog post to this, but it is worth making it clear here that this does not impact the sale or availability of Karasu rods

That's it for this piece though - and if you have a sneaky feeling that anyone else might get a kick out of it, PLEASE USE THE SOCIAL SHARING BUTTONS ON THIS PAGE and let them know,




Tuesday, 9 January 2018  |  21:08

I am a tenkara nut! I now have 12 tenkara rods. I am 70 years and have been fly fishing since I was around 12. I got started with tenkara 7 yrs ago by Blue ribbon flies in West Yellowstone and have only used my regular? Fly gear about 5 or 6 times since. I have been spending my summers in West Yellowstone for about 30 years now and have never had so much fun fishing in my life as I do with Tenkara!!!

Paul Gaskell
Tuesday, 9 January 2018  |  21:30

Huge High 5 Ken - That's awesome and thank you so much for sharing your enjoyment with us.


Friday, 12 January 2018  |  11:30

Off-topic, but I have to ask: are you the same Ken mentioned on page 95 of "Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara and Rod & Reel"?


Wednesday, 10 January 2018  |  7:06

Thank you for the interesting interview. Go's time living in America when a child prepared him to later become an effective modern day Nakahama Manjirō, (中濱 万次郎 ), aka John Manjirō / John Mung. Both became an effective bridge to understanding & linking Japanese and Western culture because they understood both languages & cultures.

Paul Gaskell
Wednesday, 10 January 2018  |  21:43

Thanks as ever David, though good luck convincing Go to take a western name ha ha ha ha :)

Glyn Williams
Wednesday, 10 January 2018  |  18:28

I really enjoyed the footage featuring Go San. Great to hear how his fishing developed from when he was a young man to the present day. He has a lovely personality and easy disposition and gives his message in a relaxed style.
Very interesting interview thanks.

Paul Gaskell
Wednesday, 10 January 2018  |  21:44

Thank you so much for taking time to share your comments Glyn. I'll be sure to make sure Go reads them. Paul.

Richard Marshall
Friday, 9 February 2018  |  1:56

What are equivalent sizes for Japanese leader material in American leader material sizes?