Tenkara needed someone to play the handsome doctor role, so Rob Worthing stepped in. One third of the Utah-based Tenkara Guides, he’s an emergency-room physician, wilderness-medicine expert and passionate tenkara angler.
Not to mention a tireless investigator of yarn translucence. While searching for the most killer of Killer Bug yarns, Rob famously spent two days at the Blazing Needles knitting shop in Salt Lake City, asking the nice ladies there to show him yarn after yarn after yarn, which he would tie into a fly on the spot (yes, he brought his vise with him) and drop into a glass of water to judge its killerness. Forty soaked flies later he had the wool yarn he was after: Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift “Oyster,” the essential ingredient of the Utah Killer Bug, the signature fly of the Tenkara Guides.
Rob recently took some time out from saving lives and confusing knitting-shop employees to talk tenkara with me.
ASHLEY: How did you discover tenkara?
ROB: Through backpacking. I’m a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine, and teach med students and physicians how to apply medicine to the backcountry. Two of my prior students wanted to do a pack trip in Utah. One was a native Alaskan fly fisherman. Big flanneled dude nicknamed Moose. Looked like the Brawny paper towel guy. I went in to a local Western fly-fishing shop to look into a new rod for backpacking. Didn’t really feel like spending $1000 for a decent 5-piece setup. So I went on BackpackingLight.com, heard about Tenkara, and the rest is history.
ASHLEY: What do you like about tenkara versus other styles of fishing?
ROB: For me, it really is about the simplicity. Dissect a process until you’re left with only the most basic functional elements, the elements that really matter when it comes to success. Then concentrate on perfecting those elements. That’s something I was already doing in other aspects of my life. If I don’t absolutely need it to get a job done, then it goes away. When Tenkara came along, it just made sense to do the same thing with fly fishing.
ASHLEY: What is your style of tenkara? “One fly” purity? Hybrid?
ROB: I have fun fishing both traditional tenkara and hybrid styles. Either way, I try to keep the emphasis on the fish. A study of entomology can be very useful. But the best anglers begin and end with the study of fish. I try hard to concentrate on trout biology - making notes on the water, reviewing scientific literature on trout behavior, diet, migratory patterns, etc. I’m pretty intrigued to see how far pure presentation can take you. If a guy or girl fishes with one generic pattern for 20 years, on a diverse collection of waters, and placing all the emphasis on presentation, what kind of angler will you get? I dunno, but it’d be fun to find out.
ASHLEY: What are your favorite rods, flies, or other gear?
ROB: My favorite piece of gear is my fishing partner. The right partner doubles my vision, doubles my casts, doubles the amount of water I can cover, doubles the number of times I place a fly in front of a fish, doubles the amount I learn, and doubles the rate at which I improve. Fish with each other, not just near each other.
ASHLEY: Where do you like to fish?
ROB: In as many different places as possible.