Minimalist Fishing – The Answer to Fishing in a Complicated World?

example of minimalist fishing - lone angler on beautiful river

On your last fishing trip did you find yourself dragging what seemed like a few hundred pounds of equipment? How about noticing yourself spending longer planning than actually fishing? If you’re anything like me, the desire to head out fishing spur-of-the-moment can quickly be curtailed by the amount of work that excursion would entail. If any of that sounds like you, then this article introducing you to a minimalist approach to fishing could be the answer you’re looking for.

In a State of Tackle Overload

In today’s world of everything becoming bigger, better, and faster, fishing has hardly escaped the age of upgrades. I walked down the aisles of my local sporting goods store the other day looking for mosquito nets and was nearly blinded in the fishing aisle. Whoever said that women are the ones who like shiny things have obviously never seen a glitter finish bass boat.

Bright signs for various pieces of tackle boasting their superlative attributes were everywhere. I have to admit, I was seriously considering some of the newer fishing poles as most of mine date back to Methuselah and the dinosaurs. Some of the new tackle and innovative designs are really quite handy in certain situations, but as I shopped through the lures, I remembered that I have too much stuff as it is. (My pocket knife collection is getting out of hand.)

Is Minimalist Fishing the Answer (Tenkara Anglers Think So)?

I am not alone in noticing the increase in consumerism that has hit the recreational fishing industry and an increasing number of anglers have responded with a form of minimalism.

Minimalism itself has been around a while. Largely springing from some Eastern Mythology and Buddhism, the modern, Westernized version of minimalism is reducing your levels of stress and clutter by maintaining only a few essential items. This is a pretty modern concept that our grandparents would likely scoff at because consumerism was significantly less of an issue prior to the 1950s.

I think everyone agrees that fishing should never include stress. A minimalist approach to fishing is asking yourself if anything about your fishing methods and gear causes you more anxiety than it’s actually worth and trying to adapt based on that.

This might mean paring down gear or not using expensive tackle that has you afraid of losing it throughout your day. It could be fishing somewhere closer by to avoid the hassle of travel. Basically, minimalist fishing is taking a critical look at your fishing habits and seeing if they enhance or detract from your enjoyment of the sport.

One particular iteration of the minimalist fishing movement is known as Tenkara Fly Fishing. Originating in Japan, this is fly fishing made simple consisting of only a telescopic rod, a line, and a fly. The whole thing can fit into your pocket or backpack and be taken just about anywhere. Having only made its way to the U.S. in recent years, this fly-fishing method is gaining popularity for its versatility and ease of use.

I should add that I am not much for fly fishing, and I once read the sentiment in a book by that great outdoor humorist Patrick McManus where he stated that his casting ability in fly fishing resembled, “an old lady trying to hit a bee with a broom handle.” I very much identify with that sentiment, but I would be willing to take up the Tenkara method or at least give it a try. It removes much of the technicality and prohibitive price of gear that is often associated with fly fishing, making it a good idea for beginners or anyone looking for a simple yet fun option.

The Tenkara methodology (here’s an excellent book on the subject) is a great example of minimalist fishing because it’s the best-established form currently available. There are any number of instructional videos available on the web as well as a plethora of written resources. If you are the sort of person who likes easily accessible material and a clear, concise set of guidelines, this would be a lovely introduction to minimalist fishing as a whole.

Minimalist fishing is hardly restricted to fly fishing. It can be applied to almost any fishing discipline, be it specific to a type of fish or a type of body of water. All it takes is some brain power and the willingness to try doing one of your favorite pass times with less. Hopefully, that means less stress and hassle, not just less gear. Though I have to say, I would not do minimalist ice fishing, as I prefer not to get frostbite.

The Minimalist’s Path to Fishing

The whole less stress/more fishing thing might sound great, but what do you actually have to do? Well, it can be broken down into two parts, prep and testing/implementation – because I am not guaranteeing this is for everyone, just that it might be a good option for many of us.

Preparation to Pare Down

The first step is to take a long hard look at your fishing rig, and I mean all of it. For me, as someone who is already halfway to minimalism due to being fatally adhered to the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and if it is broke use duct tape” mentality, that’s easy. If you have a garage full, it could be harder. Before deciding if the minimalistic fishing lifestyle is for you, build a simple kit containing what you think you absolutely need to enjoy your next fishing trip.

My own list looks something like this:

  1. Rod (telescopic)
  2. Reel
  3. Hooks (3)
  4. Lures/flies (2)
  5. Jar of whatever bait looked good at the time
  6. Multitool including a knife and pliers

Everything but the pole itself fits into a tackle box the size of my hand which slides easily into a lunchbox next to my sandwich. I love this set-up because I backpack and hike to lakes with reasonable frequency and my gear won’t bog me down. It also fits into my saddlebags when I make summer scouting trips for next season’s elk hunt.

The next step of preparation is a bit harder because it’s less concrete. It’s one thing to use less gear and another thing to simplify the fishing process itself. For this, it helps to make a list of all the things you do to get ready and go fishing. Do you always lay out everything the night before? Check out what new gear your buddies have? Wonder if you packed everything? Travel to a particular place?

Have the list? Ok, go through each item and cross off anything that you think you can do without and still enjoy the experience. This does not mean that you get rid of all the little rituals and packing techniques you have developed or that you shouldn’t go fish in the same spot. It simply asks you to see where you can simplify and streamline.

Try It, You Might Like It

tenkara fly fishing - minimalist fly fishing

Tenkara Fly Fishing

Well, you’ve got the bare minimum and you’ve shaved down your planning time, now go fish! Test the simpler rig, see if there’s anything you really wish you had brought, and most importantly see if it’s easier this way. If it is, great, if you would change a few things, also great, tweak the methods until they suit you.

If you tried this and it just isn’t for you, that’s ok as well, I have great friends who love having all the gear and knowing all about how to use every piece. For them, it’s all part of their fun. I can’t knock that, after all, fishing should be fun, not a chore.

Most of all, understand what minimalism is not supposed to be. To illustrate here’s an experience I had recently. I purchased a book on simplified bushcraft to see if I could pick up some ideas for my hiking trips, and maybe learn how to identify and sauté some mushrooms. The book advocated such practices as building your own pack frame from natural materials which seemed to consist of thread made from albino chipmunk hide and aged hardwood you chopped down with a flint ax you made yourself.

That’s an exaggeration, but I think you see my point that minimalism isn’t regressing to the stone ages… unless that sounds like a fun challenge. Minimalism is a mindset directed toward enjoyment and not all the trappings and plans. Basically, if it isn’t enhancing your experience, don’t continue doing it.

The Benefits of This Bare-Bones Approach to Fishing?

For those of you that decide to head down the minimalist route for your next angling adventure, here are some of the things to expect.

  • Less stress – Without having to worry if you have all the gear or if your plans are exactly right, it can mean fishing goes back to being an easy afternoon getaway.
  • Eases the strain on your checkbook – One nice thing about departing from consumerism is that you can save a bit of money and maybe even make some if you choose to sell your gear.
  • Less prep time – With so much less planning and packing required, this can mean a spontaneous afternoon drive to the local lake or river is easy and can result in more fishing time.
  • Portability – A huge advantage of minimalism in my book is the ease of transport. I can throw in a minimalist kit and take it backpacking, kayaking, pretty much anywhere without worrying about weight and space considerations.
  • Skills Improvement – Many anglers who decide to simplify also learn to be better at what they do without all the modern accouterments of convenience. Also, many minimalist fishermen report that minimalism has led them to learn new skills like tying their own flies or fishing without a rod and reel.

The Biggest Benefit in My Book

This is my take on it, so maybe you disagree, but I am a proponent of minimalist fishing because I believe it promotes the heritage of fishing and conservation. Perhaps I am reaching but hear me out and let me tell you a story.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

I remember, albeit somewhat clouded by time, the day my dad taught me to fish. It was at a small lake near our house stocked with the likes of bluegill and trout. You know what I don’t remember? If I actually caught a fish for one thing, but the other thing I certainly don’t remember is the fishing rig my dad used.

I’m pretty sure my fishing pole was a lovely purple number from Wal-Mart depicting Scooby Doo characters. I think it’s still taking up space in my parent’s shed, gathering dust, and you know what? That has to be my favorite fishing pole. Not because of its great performance, but because back then, I just enjoyed fishing and wasn’t concerned with the newest and best. I was also four and thought my ladybug rain boots were the height of fashion, so let’s not take this analogy too far, but I think you get the idea.

Back to the Point

So, in light of that, let’s look at my claim that minimalism is tied to fishing as something to pass on or to share with someone else, be it a friend, or our children, or whoever is going to be the next generation of anglers making decisions about fishing in the future. Having the best gear or the newest thing, or the most tackle is not likely to be what someone we introduce to fishing remembers.

Likely, complications are not going to give them a burning desire to take up fishing, but the enjoyment, the camaraderie, and the benefit of catching dinner, those are all some of the things fishing offers apart from the things and the plans we add. Ultimately, whatever it is that attracts you to fishing is likely not the newest pole or the most innovative lure, it’s probably something that isn’t quite so tangible.

Is This Minimalism Thing for Me?

Alright, now that we’ve survived my detour to the existential nature of fishing, the question remains: Should you become a minimalist fisherman? The bottom-line answer: Maybe. So decisive, I know. Minimalism is at its heart a mindset and that mindset carries a boatload of benefits, but maybe not for you.

I believe you should take up a minimalist approach because it promotes the idea of fishing for fishing’s sake, but that’s my opinion. Others are of the opinion that minimalism presents a new and exciting challenge to see how much they can do with very little. Still, others are perched comfortably in their bass boats staring at a state-of-the-art fish finder having the time of their lives.

Honestly, do what makes you happiest about your fishing. Minimalism just might be the best way for you to do that – but ultimately, that’s for you to decide.

What is your take on this uncomplicated approach to fishing? Drop us a line and let us know what you think.

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4 thoughts on “Minimalist Fishing – The Answer to Fishing in a Complicated World?

  1. Greg D.

    Loved this article. My son and a few of his buddies went to a local park that has beautiful active rivers with fish and we are permitted to catch and release fish there. They actually went there with the mindset of fishing with as little as possible and I thought they were nuts and wouldn’t catch anything. He proved me wrong.

    Reply
  2. Leonard

    I feel that there is always such a hassle when I go out fishing due to the fact that I feel pressured to have the best gear etc in order to catch something. Although, I’ve found that just using a hook and some bait will do the trick. Great post by the way.

    Reply

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