by Christophe Laurent
Tenkara Times is one of the main actor in the European tenkara community, it is not only a blog but also a tenkara rod brand that is more and more spreading worldwide but also a tackle shop. I thought it was time to interview Oleg Stryapunin, the man behind Tenkara Times, and learn more about him...
Hi Oleg! Your website is quite famous for tenkara anglers but very few people probably know you personally so can you please introduce yourself to the readers. How did the Tenkara Times aventure begin? Were you involved in the fishing business before Tenkara Times?
I’m Russian by nationality and moved to the Czech Republic two years ago for family reasons. I’m a technical man and have worked all my life in the high-tech industry, including international companies. I had also invested in a fishing tackle retail business in Russia, both as partner and adviser.
The Czech Republic is an EU country with business-friendly regulations and bureaucracy. The general cost level is lower than in neighboring Germany and provides me with the opportunity to be a low cost retailer. Prague is located in the center of Europe, which is ideal for international web-based retail businesses.Tenkara gear retail is an emerging market in western countries, where the newbie has the chance to survive. Even though I had never bought the rods from Tenkara USA, I consider Daniel’s business to be perfect. TUSA project was copied by dozen of retailers, both newbies and experienced ones, so this also indicated the growing market to me. Having been a tenkara angler for the years, I started The Tenkara Times relying on my both industrial, business and fishing practice backgrounds.
I did read that you have fished with a fixed line system your whole life, can you tell us more about this? Is there a tradition in your country of reel-less fly fishing that is comparable to Tenkara?
I have heard about traditional fixed-line techniques in Siberia, but I’ve never experienced them. In the Ural region where I lived before moving to the Czech Republic, fly fishing is not popular. There is a great variety of landscapes and the waters with different fishing opportunities. 99,9% of the anglers prefer lure or bait fishing in large areas of water. Only a minority consider fly fishing in the grayling rivers in the Ural Mountains. The winter is long and cold there; there is no trout - only grayling and tajmen (lat. hucho hucho) are available.
The “Catch and release” technique is not practiced in Russia. In places where there is good accessibility all the grayling-filled rivers are under a lot of pressure by anglers. In order to find good fish you must get off the highway, drive a few kilometers down an off-road, and then hike on foot through the wild forest to reach the headwaters. There in the wild nature surroundings you will find perfect graylings and enjoyable fishing: I’ve chose this sport many years ago. It is the perfect weekend outing and recreation for a city-dweller like me stuck in front of a computer all week long.
Fishing with western fly gear is impossible there. Wading is almost impossible because of the tree branches and silted bottom. The rivers banks are overgrown by trees and there is no room to cast. The local people fish grayling with bait and floats. Being a fly angler I worked out my own technique with a light pole rod, fixed heavy fluorocarbon line, tippet and the fly. I fished with this technique for many years, until by accident found the description of Japanese tenkara fishing at the web-forum for Russian Far East anglers. Fishing conditions and the species in the Russian Far East region are similar to those in Japan, so that’s why local anglers borrowed the tenkara technique from Japan. I took advantage of this and bought my first Japanese tenkara rod: it was a Shimano 36LL NB. All fishing activities after this event, I call “my tenkara age”.
The Tenkara Times rods receive very positive feedback everywhere, whether it be Europe, North America and now even in South America, how do you explain this success? What makes the Tenkara Times rods so unique in your opinion?
Let’s take away the mystery of tenkara rods. A Tenkara rod is not a wand; it’s manufactured with carbon fibers, resin and hand-crafted cork. The manufacturers normally sell OEM services, including the retailer’s brand labeling to the rods supplied. To enter the tenkara market, the retailer can order high quality expensive tenkara rods from Japanese-branded manufacturers or less expensive lower-quality rods from no-name Chinese factories, easily available via alibaba.com traders. There are about 15 retailers in the western market now that are selling tenkara rods under their own brand: the majority (most) do this in one these two ways. Both ways actually share the same weak point but: the retailer will always get a copy of yesterday’s model, even good rods at a competitive price.
To produce advanced modern rods you need to develop a unique rod concept and find a manufacturer who is able to make the rod in line with your concept.
In order to find a manufacturer for my rods, I contacted about 30 suppliers. I bought 12 rod samples from them and rejected 9 of them. Let me just remark that I’ve later found these ‘rejected’ rod models being sold by competitors in the western market. Then I went on to buy ‘pilot’ bulks from the best 3 factories in order to scrupulously check the quality, technology and business processes. At last I’ve chosen the only one manufacturer with the sufficient technology, manufacturing quality and design skills good to make the rods that I want to produce. This manufacturer is located in China. Please note, that Shimano has also chosen a Chinese factory to make the newest ZL38 tenkara rod.
Last, but not least: The Tenkara Times relies on the rods’ development on three pillars:
1. My concept is very subjective.
2. Expert opinion, very useful but also very subjective: all the experts introduced into rod testing have absolutely different preferred rod & line combinations. They also have different physical skills and hand sizes. I’m grateful to these experts, especially Rob Worthing, for his critic.
3. Customer feedback, both positive and negative, which I consider very useful.
Continuing on now: Tenkara Times rods are unique, because they have originally been developed by anglers, for anglers. My modest role is to process it all with the best technology possible.
The Tenkara Times e-shop is also unique. Here you will find the largest variety of original Japanese tenkara lines and accessories outside Japan itself. Most other retailers don‘t take the trouble to supply lines and accessories in their offer, but merely focus on the sale of the more profitable rods.
The Tenkara Times web-site is a unique combination of web-gear store/online magazine. The social networks and forums give anglers the opportunity to share their experiences and knowledge: unfortunately relevant and useful information is often lost in the general content flow. We use both blogs and libraries to achieve the best tenkara experience out there. I’m grateful to Rob Worthing, Jeremy Lucas, David Walker and all the other writers for their participation.
I would like to ask something about the Tenkara Times’ logo which is a mystery! Can you explain to the readers what this logo means, if it means anything?
You’ve called it “a mystery” and here is the answer to your question: this logo interests you. The meaning is much less important than the result.
You have a point with this answer Oleg! You currently live in the Czech Republic, so how has Tenkara developed there? The tenkara community has developed very quickly on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and I‘ve noticed that there are no virtual communities in Eastern Europe except Russia. How do you explain that?
In my opinion the number of tenkara anglers in east European countries has not yet reached enough people to establish their community on social networks. Compare the UK: you can find about 57,000 members at flyfishing.co.uk and less than 100 at uk-tenkara.proboards.com.
You seem to be interested in the technological issues involved in the development of the best possible tenkara rods. So how do you see the tenkara rods of the future? It seems to me that interest for inner line rods is growing in western countries...
My old hand-made rods in my “before tenkara age” were inner line. I consider the inner line feature to be useful for the rods targeted for headwaters and strongly overgrown streams, where quick line length adjustment is useful. I do some prototyping work and tests to overcome technical problems and to work out the inner line rod concept. Also I know that the traditional fly rod companies already started the design work to produce lighter and longer #0/1 class conventional rods. Without doubt, we’ll see these rods on the market soon, even if it is not pure tenkara.
What is your best memory as a tenkara angler?
Small stream fishing implies privacy. Fishing alone or with a best friend I was not interested in sharing my tenkara experiences for a long time. Until I took my tenkara rod to the regional autumn fly-fishing festival, which includes fishing practice. I was strongly impressed to see how the anglers, taking my tenkara rod in their hands for the first time, started casting perfectly in only one or two minutes. I’ve introduced a dozen anglers to the tenkara technique in two hours and thoroughly enjoyed it. That day I understood that tenkara fishing is contagious and my experience can be useful. The following year, when I was in Prague, the tenkara anglers in the region gathered together on a separate “tenkara only” autumn festival and their number exceeded fifty.
Thanks Oleg for taking the time to answer these questions. I let you conclude this interview.
I consider tenkara fishing to be amazing. I want everybody to fish tenkara with pleasure. I do my best to make The Tenkara Times suitable for reading about tenkara and be able to buy the gear needed to tenkara fish. Everybody is welcome to send us a message sharing their best tenkara experiences. Do not hesitate to do it, even if you only studied English at school. We have an editor to improve the grammar and spelling.Please do not hesitate to contact me with your feedback and questions. This is what makes the Tenkara Times gear and services even better.