July 4

It’s the 4th of July, and we’re worried; worried that we won’t be able to find a campsite, especially this late in the day.  My wife and I are taking highway 50, that Ur-motherroad spanning the continent east to west, paved prior to interstates, a thousand miles from our home to Crested Butte, Colorado.  We’re already more than a little road weary from a several hours’ drive, and we find ourselves in a bit of a remote area. Consulting our guide, Colorado Campgrounds, the Hundred Best and All the Rest, we discover Coaldale, a small campground with only ten sites. Only ten sites; what are the chances on a holiday weekend that one will be available?  Excellent, as it turns out.

A short drive on a rough dirt road brings us to a primitive campground:  vault toilets, no water, but blessed with secluded campsites secreted in the dark evergreen, almost primeval, forest, all abutting a creek, Hayden creek.

Here one senses the possibility of bear and the promise of trout. Surprisingly, only one other campsite is occupied.   The air is so cool, and the sun has already begun to retreat behind the western canyon wall.  Camp is set up, and we eat our dinner as the first few stars become visible through an opening in the forest canopy, a gibbous moon beginning its ascent.  Later clouds begin to build, and I hope they do not presage a rainy tomorrow.IMG_3884-01 Soon we burrow into our sleeping bags as Hayden creek calls us to sleep, its soporific so potent that we do not awake until the sun has already summited the canyon.  Thankfully, a clear morning.

I try to relax and enjoy breakfast, but that creek!  That creek, its water impateint, insistent, rushing to rendevouz with the Arkansas, momentarily impeded here and there by boulders, polished by countless spates.  Hayden creek, rushing, roiling, pockets of smooth water scattered in its flow.  There, of course, I am going to put my fly, if the dense bankside vegetation doesn’t snatch it first.  I know that here the cost of trout brought to hand will be lost flies.  I’ve shortened my line and leader to compensate.

Hayden creek is perhaps fifteen feet wide.IMG_3849 - Copy (2)-01  I’m familiar with this kind of stream.  Trout here will be eager and small. Takes will be immediate, violent, when the fly meets the water.  My first choice in flies is an Elk Hair Caddis #16, always effective on water like this.  The first cast is a difficult one; no name exists for the path my line travels in the air, sort of a sidearm roll cast to coax the fly under a branch overhanging the small pool I wish to fish.  But I’m rewarded with a strike, and soon I’ve brought a ten-inch brown to hand.  My joy is complete.  I continue to fish for another hour or so, then reluctantly it’s time to move on.  A few more small browns, three or four flies lost to tree limbs, but as good a day as a small stream angler could hope for.IMG_3857-01

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Rediscovering the Wooly Bugger

#14 olive

#14 olive

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know my approach to tenkara is syncretic, blending Western flies with Eastern (tenkara) tackle.  Usually that means attaching some kind of dry fly to my 12′ Iwana with 12′ of level line and five feet of tippet.  For me this strategy has been productive, and I just can’t get enough of that take by a trout to a floating fly.  But…

A couple of weeks ago, I was fishing my homewater and having reasonably good success fishing a cream parachute fly and a black deerhair beetle. Here at its headwaters the stream is already about thirty feet across with many deep holes, riffles, and runs.  Downstream, bolstered by the contributions of numerous creeks and springs, the river becomes much larger, with a sprightly current, beloved by the region’s paddling community.

As is often the case, the angling began to slow, and the trout seemed to be taking a siesta.  Continuing to wade upstream,  I met a gentleman fishing one of TenkaraUSA’s larger rods, and we almost exclaimed in unison “Hey, you’re fishing tenkara!”  You see, on this trout stream, tenkara anglers are as scarce as Obama bumperstickers at a gun show.  The difference was he was catching fish, a lot of fish.  My pride vanished, and I asked that age-old angling question:  “What fly are you using?”, trying to sound nonchalant. Unexpectedly,  “A wooly bugger,” he replied.  Mostly he was casting across stream, allowing the bugger to dead drift with an occasional twitch.  Now, I have fished a wooly bugger with my tenkara rod a time or two in a bass pond but never on a trout stream.  Why, I don’t know.  The wooly bugger is one of those venerable trout flies that have proven their mettle over decades of use.  This gentleman angler  advised fishing a size 14 wooly bugger without a beadhead.

Hiking back to my car, I hoped somewhere in my big box of flies I keep in the trunk would yield a bugger or two.  These would be some of my oldest ties, probably dating to the Eisenhower era, ones tied when I was just learning.

Eureka, there, buried under streamers, hoppers, and other assorted large flies were a couple of olive and a black wooly bugger, probably size 12, the only weight being lead-free wire tied under the chenille body.

Back at the stream, I snipped off the 5x tippet and beefed up the rig with 3x, so that I could turn over the heavier fly.  As you can imagine, throwing the wooly bugger was not elegant; I needed to slow the casting stroke considerably, but it was doable.

The first bit of water I selected was a fast narrow run where generally trout will materialize spectre-like to snatch a racing fat dry fly.  With the bugger, I fished sort of Czech nymphing style, casting far upstream, keeping the rod tip up until the fly was directly across from me, then lowering the rod as the fly continued downstream.  The entire time I tried to just keep slack out of the line.  Second cast, I was attached to a trout.  Some takes were agressive, some just a quick tug, many coming at the end of the drift.  Hey, this was fun!

On slower water, I would tend to cast across or a bit downstream, as close to the opposite bank as possible.  I’m not sure I caught more trout that I would have with my dry, but I have the impression that the ones I caught were larger than my average catch.  I do think that often the larger trout tend to stay deeper in the stream, perhaps more aggressively pursuing small fish that insects on the surface.

All said, this new-to-me wrinkle in tenkara angling is going to be a lot of fun.  No, I’m not abandoning my dry flies, but my flybox does now contain several brand spanking new olive and black wooly buggers.

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Winter Dreams

Winter now, and I dream

of mountains’ silent streams,

of high meadows, too,

pristine and white,

trammeled by a hare’s nervous flight.

A cerulean sky above it all,

knows that the coming tug-of-war

must be lost by Winter

won by Spring.

Snow recedes now,

secreted by the shade

’til that too fades,

and the birdsong, celebratory, returns.

Spruce shake their branches clean,

aspen explode with yellow-green.

The creek now a whisper

soon will roar,

and ravenous trout begin to stir.

Spring now,

and my dreams begin anew.

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Calf Creek

Serendipity:  making a pleasant discovery by accident.  That defines Calf Creek for me.

Along Utah State Highway 12

Along Utah State Highway 12

While taking the very scenic Utah state highway 12 from Torrey to Bryce Canyon, in the midst of so much wonderful high desert scenery appeared a sign, “Calf Creek  Recreation Area.”  Now, as you know, any sign with the word “creek” in it immediately gets my attention.  Braking hard, I pulled into the parking lot and was immediately struck by the area’s beauty, especially clad, as it were, in autumn colors.  Calf Creek begins several miles upcanyon, the product of large seeps and springs.  Almost impenetrable, its banks are a riot of cattail, reed, river birch, cottonwood, and willow, creating an open-sky tunnel along the stream.

Calf Creek

Calf Creek

My wife and I rigged our rods in record time and surveyed the stream.  Shy trout darted from rootwads and undercut banks at our approach, and it became immediately apparent that stealth was necessary on this water.  A few pools provided access from the stream’s edge, but wading directly in the creekbed proved the most feasible approach for fishing Calf Creek, casting either up or downstream.  The creek has a moderate gradient, and, wet wading, the water against my legs had a pleasant insistence and coolness, given the 80-degree air temperature and full sun. Slowly, I shuffled upstream casting to the bank and boulder pockets. Parachute Blue Winged Olives and Elk Hair Caddis, both in sizes 16 and 18 did the trick, and that afternoon we caught many brown trout in the 8″-12″ range with some larger hooked and lost.

Pugnose Brown

Pugnose Brown


As the sunlight began to flee the canyon, we had to make a choice:  pack up and drive on or stay and camp for the night in one of the dozen-or-so primitive campsites.  For my wife and me, that was an easy choice.  We pitched the tent on one of the nicely secluded campsites, surrounded by cottonwoods and gambel oak. Although all of the other campites were also occupied, the campground was very quiet and we almost felt alone.Western Trip October 2014 1654 Dinner on the two-burner Coleman, then a campfire to ward off the high desert nighttime chill.  As the conversation and fire burned to embers, my attention turned to the night sky, the stars exhilarating in this remote location in their number and brilliance.

Starry, Starry Night

Starry, Starry Night

Comfortably ensconced in the tent, I burrowed into my sleeping bag, gloves and knit cap on in anticipation of a cold night. Leaving the tent in the early morning hours, I was rewarded with the sighting of a shooting star, certainly an omen of some portent. We awoke the next morning to a clear 30-degree day. I put on my hiking boots, first shaking them out, just to be sure no scorpions had taken refuge in them overnight. The sun was just beginning to paint the upper reaches of the canyon.  The warmth of another fire thawed our chilled limbs.  We had agreed to hike the Calf Creek Falls trail, beginning before breakfast, knowing that as soon as the sun penetrated the canyon, the day would warm quickly.  This is a six-mile round-trip path to a 126-foot waterfall.  We agreed in advance to hike about halfway to the falls, a six-mile strenuous hike probably pushing the limits of our abilities, and we wanted to get back on Calf Creek for another day of angling. The trail was steep and rocky, gradually climbing above the creek but the rush of water never out of earshot.  In a couple of places, beavers had dammed the flow to create large stillwater ponds.  Eventually we came to  ancient pictographs drawn centuries ago in red ochre, like dried blood, by the Fremont people who once inhabited this canyon.



Near the pictographs was a small cavern in the cliff face, an old granary, where the Fremont people stored the corn, beans, and squash that they cultivated.  I imagined I heard their ancient voices borne across a millenium by the wind:

“This canyon, this desert,

gave us all we required.

The perennial spring hoarded the scant rain,

and, in most years, slaked our thirst.

The poor soil grew our meager maize

and fed us, along with the turkey and deer.

The rock shielded us from the summer sun

and in winter warmed us.

Pinyon and Oak made possible our fire.

The endless night sky humbled us

and the coyote, too,

for we could hear his nightsong.

And in years there was no rain,

when the storm and hail destroyed the corn,

when the turkey and deer deserted us,

some of us the Raven bore to the Spirit Mesa,

there to lie forever by the Pool of Cool Water.”

Retracing our steps, we backtracked to the trailhead, the day now very warm, our fleece tied around our waists.  Stopping to regain my wind, I crushed a bit of sage between my fingers and inhaled the intoxicating scent.  Sage, I think, is one of those elementally appealing odors like woodsmoke or pine.

After a couple hours’ fishing, more browns brought to hand, we reluctantly broke camp and continued our drive to our next destination.

There are events, people, and places in one’s life that, for reasons not always completely understood, resonate in a special way, becoming a touchstone, a well of good feeling, that can be accessed again and again.  Calf Creek will remain that for us.

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Scotch Creek Was Not Stingy to Us

Telluride Valley

Telluride Valley

Telluride, Colorado, is one of those gritty, western mining towns cum tony ski mecca, like Crested Butte, Vail, Park City, and others.  Situated in a box canyon in the San Juan mountains, the town was founded in 1878. When the mines played out, many of these communities devolved to virtual ghost towns, a small resident population of independent souls hanging on until resurrected by the ski boom of the ’70s.  Now they generally consist of the old main street, lined with historic buildings, the saloons and brothels now transformed into restaurants, brewpubs, art galleries, and shops hawking western paraphenalia , many of the stores with a new-age flavor. If, like me, you were a kid in the ’50s and ’60s, you might expect to see the Lone Ranger or Wild Bill Hickock reining in his handsome steeds n front of the sheriff’s office.  It’s the kind of town where a Victoria”painted lady” will set you back a million or more.  In Telluride Butch Cassidy made his first recorded bank heist in 1889.

Butch Cassidy

Butch Cassidy

It seems in western Colorado you can’t drive a mile without crossing a trout stream, many the small cascading mountain creeks so appealing to tenkara anglers.  Similar fishing opportunities abound in the Telluride vicinity.  Highway 145 approaching from the west parallels the San Miguel river.  The Dolores river begins at Lizard Head Pass south of Telluride and continues southward, paralleling highway 145 South, gradually enlarging with the contributions of many feeder streams until it reaches the eponymous town of Dolores where it is contained in the McPhee reservoir.  After exiting the impoundment, the Dolores becomes a tailwater.

While staying at a friend’s home in Telluride, my wife and I decided to fish the upper Dolores.  After cresting Lizard Head Pass we could see the nascent river on our left, just a small meadow stream at this point.  Stopping briefly to fish,  all I fooled was a five-inch cutthroat.  Downstream, the Dolores gradually  widened, becoming essentially one long, shallow riffle with a bit of pocket water.  Much of the access to the river was private, but eventually we found public access at the Bear Creek conservation area.  A few casts into this featureless, shallow riffle, and I knew this would not be the kind of fishing I really enjoy.  Slipping on the muddy bank and landing on my ass on a very hard rock just confirmed my opinion of the river. Disappointed, driving back to Telluride, we noticed a sign for the Scotch Creek trail.Western Trip October 2014 3 241  Bingo!  A twenty-foot wide creek flowing under the highway into the Dolores.  Pocket water.  Nervous water.  Cascades and boulders and tree roots creating sanctuary for the resident trout.Western Trip October 2014 3 085

The banks of the stream were densely vegetated, requiring planning each cast in advance, visualizing it before execution.  The reward was a fly drifting seductively with the current or clinging stubbornly to a tree branch.  The appeal of fishing a stream like Scotch Creek is that the trout tend not to be too selective.  While not pushovers, a stealthy streamside approach and a delicate presentation will usually elicit a strike, whether fishing dry, wet, or nymphing. A number of cutthroats and one rainbow were taken from the creek.  So much fun and not another angler in sight.  It’s no wonder that Colorado has become the epicenter of tenkara angling.

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Maroon Creek

Maroon Bells

The Maroon Bells, near Aspen are purported to be Colorado’s most photographed vista, a state blessed with an embarrassment of scenic riches.  Maroon Lake, at an elevation of 9,850′, is a liquid emerald, a worthy foil to the two fourteeners that serve as its backdrop, Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak  The Maroon Bells derive their name from their shape and color, being composed of mudstone, rather than the granite and limestone of other Rocky Mountains.

My wife and I arrived at the Maroon Bells parking lot late morning, a sunny 60-degree mid-October day. The Bells wore a white mantle from autumn’s first significant snow. The threat of snow never completely retreats from the Rockies; it’s always waiting for the right combination of low pressure, a western freshet, and a cool northern cold front.  After consulting the map, we agreed to hike the Maroon Lake trail without fishing, until we had reconnoitered the lake and creek first.  Maroon Creek begins high in the peaks, divides into an east and west branch, the latter flowing into Maroon Lake, the east branch bypassing the lake.

Skirting the lake’s shore, eventually we reached the point where West Maroon Creek enters Maroon lake.  At this point, the stream is relatively wide , shallow and riffly, the banks  lined with willow, alder, and river birch now resplendent in orange, yellow, and red, mimicking the colors of the streambed stones.  Trout could be seen holding.

Veering away from the lake, the path began climbing through an aspen forest, golden leaves made incendiary by the sun, trembling before the breeze, sounding like a distant wind chime.Western Trip October 2014 3 032 The creek, generally about fifteen feet wide, was steadily increasing in gradient now, its impatient water a pleasant cacophany, a celebration of the beginning of a long journey to the sea.Western Trip October 2014 3 031 Remnants of  snow lay along the trail, protected by the shade of the aspens and spruce.  Not far into the hike, I noticed a relatively large fish ensconced in a small boulder-pocket, no larger than a child’s snow saucer. Duly noted.

I'll See You Later

I’ll See You Later

After reaching the trail’s end, we hurriedly rigged our rods.  My wife chose a King’s River Caddis for her five-weight and I an Elk Hair Caddis for my Iwana.  Retracing our steps, casting to all the promising pockets, we were having little sucess at first.  After a while, I reached the boulder-pocket described above. Approaching the stream carefully, I could see the trout still finning, facing upstream. Uncharacteristically, on the first cast, my Elk Hair Caddis was drawn to the small pocket as to a magnet. The trout took the fly, rising nonchalantly with open mouth.  A spirited, several-minute skirmish ensued, the trout using the considerable current to his advantage, but the 5X held, the fish tired, and a beautiful 14″ cutthroat was brought to hand, its gill slashes a bright, hunter’s orange.

I Promised I'd Be  Back

I Promised I’d Be

Continuing to fish downstream to the lake, a number of other cutthroats in the eight-to-twelve inch range were fooledWestern Trip October 2014 3 054. Abruptly, my angling reverie was interrupted by shouts of “I’ve hooked a big one!”  A sixteen-inch cutthroat was attached to my wife’s five-weight, larger than any fish I caught that day.  What a beautiful fish for this small stream, caught on the #16 King’s River Caddis, in view of an appreciative audience of other hikers.

Wife Caught This One

Wife Caught This One

If you like the combination of awe-inspiring scenery, great fishing, and solitude astream, I would advise you to visit the Maroon Bells.  Next trip there, I plan to try the east branch of Maroon Creek, an equally appealing high-gradent freestone stream.  Perhaps I’ll leave the wife at home.

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Symmetry, Or Angling With Ghosts

(Disregard the previous post).

The Catskills of New York state. If you are a fly fisherman with a sense of history, the name resonates as the birthplace of American dry fly angling.  It was here, on the Neversink river, that circa 1890 Theodore Gordon

Theodore Gordon

Theodore Gordon

adapted dry fly techniques described by the Englishman Frederic Halford to the particular insect hatches of the Catskills, developing the Quill Gordon, the basis for a brand new class of dries, the Catskill dries.  In my humble opinion, this group of flies remains THE iconic dry fly.Qu 001

Although I am now a dedicated tenkara angler, being an incorrigible dry fly fisher I feel a strong connection to the tradition of early dry fly anglers.  Recreational angling in that era, as opposed to sustenance fishing,  was rooted in the same impulses we feel today on the stream:  serenity, appreciation of nature, challenge of fooling fish, river song.

When my daughter invited my wife and me to spend a week with her and her family at the Frost Valley Camp in the Catskills, I was immediately on board.  This would be a great opportunity to spend time with two of my grandchildren who live a thousand miles from me, doing a host of outdoor activities.  When I viewed the online brochure for the camp an added bonus was the three miles of private access to the Neversink river which runs through the property.  The Neversink!  Theodore Gordon’s river. The brochure depicted a fly angler waist-deep in the river; I couldn’t wait.

The Neversink, a moderate gradient freestone stream, begins as two parallel creeks, the East Branch and the West, flowing from the heights of Slide mountain, the Catskills’ highest “peak” at four thousand and some change feet elevation.  At the little hamlet of Claryville, the two branches merge to form the mainstem Neversink, and eventualy the river is impounded in the Neversink reservoir where it becomes a tailwater, finally flowing into the Delaware.

Arriving at the camp, I spied the West Branch Neversink for the first time.  I’ll admit to a bit of disappointment.  Instead of that wide river of languid flow depicted in the brochure, here was a shallow creek, perhaps fifteen feet wide, one to four feet deep.  Unless you are a garden gnome, there is no waist-deep angling in this water.  Could have left the waders at home.  Perhaps the stream was at a seasonal low, but it did not look like the kind of water that would inspire the development of a new flyfishing paradigm.

West Branch Neversink

West Branch Neversink

The following day, after having discharged some very enjoyable grandfather duties, my wife and I got on the stream for the first time.  As we all do, I realigned my expectations for the fish I could expect on a stream of this size.  Crouching, I put my hand in the water; pleasantly cold and as clear as new glass.  Parsing the water from an angler’s perspective, I realized that all the requisite elements of a trout stream were present, albeit in miniature:  riffle water, slow water, plunge pools, and quiet pools.  Smooth round cobble, from hen’s egg to boulder size comprised the streambed and bankside, requiring a bit of careful walking.  The bank opposite from where I entered the stream was a natural stone wall, water dripping from faults in the rock, sustaining the most attractive hanging gardens of fern and monkeyflower.

bankside hanging garden

bankside hanging garden

Closing my eyes, I allowed the surroundings to work their magic, the sound of flowing water on stone calming as Mother’s lullaby.  Although late August and yet summer according to Pope Gregory, Mother Nature was beginning to whisper of the coming autumn:  a cool freshening breeze and sparse flecks of crimson and yellow in the hillsides of birch, maple, oak, and evergreen. My wife’s graceful casting of her five weight completed the angling mise en scene.  Now I was ready to fish.

I extended my rod, attached a #16 Elk Hair Caddis, and began casting to all the promising spots.  Moments later, I was attached to my first fish, a four-inch brookie, wild and native to these waters, colorful spots like gemstones scattered on dark, wet velvet.  And so it went over the next few days.  Eager brookies ambushing almost any fly presented.  Parachute Adams, black deer-hair beetle, parachute ant, EHC, it didn’t matter.  Finally, in what would prove to be my last hour of angling, I approached the water from behind the horse barn and corral, a dark and attractive wooded stretch,  a handsome chestnut whinnying her advice as I fished, the earthy, somehow pleasant odor of manure in my nostrils.  Soon I came upon a plunge pool, large for this water.  If I were going to catch a large trout on this trip, it would be here.  Before long, the Parachute Adams I had earlier tied on became waterlogged and would no longer float.  Then I remembered the single Quill Gordon I had tied for the trip, attached it to the tippet, cast to the head of the pool, and was almost immediately connected to what would be my largest fish of the trip, a seven-inch brook trout.

bully of the pool

bully of the pool

Caught on Theodore Gordon’s river, on Theodore Gordon’s fly.  Symmetry.

Gordon's ghost?

Gordon’s ghost?

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Microfishing? MICROFISHING?

Apparently there is a group of anglers dedicated to catching small fish, minnows, chubs, darters and the like.  Chris Stewart, the Tenkarabum, even sells a four-foot rod designed for this purpose.  microfishing rod (collapsed)

Now, I think I’m a pretty open-minded guy, but there’s something a little creepy about microfishing; kind of like piscatorial pedophilia.

As for me…

Nine inches is good if you’re a (anatomical reference deleted), but not a trout.  Sure, I enjoy catching small wild trout on beautiful mountain streams, blah, blah, blah, but once in a while give me a trout with some heft, some shoulders.  A trout that will go toe-to-toe with me and maybe bite off a piece of my ear.  An old kype-jawed Dick the Bruiser who will break my Iwana in two and shove the pieces up my (anatomical reference deleted).Dick the Bruiser

Microfishing?  Does one extend the pinkie finger while casting?

Woo Hoo! A trophy!

Woo Hoo! A trophy!


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Sorry, Yvon, But It’s Not Tenkara

Well, on my recent trip to Denver I did not get to the Patagonia store as I had hoped to check out the new Patagonia “tenkara” kits.  Was having too much fun with the grandkids.  I have, however, given a bit of thought to the Patagonia system as described on their website, and I have to conclude that it’s not really tenkara.

If you distill tenkara to its essence, THE central principle or tenet of tenkara has to be the tenkara line.  More than the collapsible rod (a wonderful thing, but I’m sure tenkara anglers of a hundred years ago did not have them), more than the one fly concept (just look at the great variety of flies, both dry and wet, used by Japanese tenkara anglers), it’s the thin, monofilament line that makes tenkara so perfectly adapted to the small mountain streams whence tenkara sprang.  The ability to keep the line off the water, defeating the multiple, conflicting currents of a boulder-strewn high gradient stream and the way this line allows a variety of manipulations of the fly’s drift are what make tenkara so much more than just fishing without a reel.

When I contemplate the Patagonia system, with its floating line, need for a leader between line and tippet, what I see is a western fly fishing system without a reel.  Sure, for a novice there’s no need to learn the intricacies of hauling, playing the fish on the reel, etc., but a day on Chicago creek with this system I think would prove very frustrating.  It seems that this system offers the worst of both western and tenkara angling.  Now, I haven’t cast the rods, and they may be very fine rods when paired with a traditional monofilament tenkara line.

This, I believe, is a classic case where, due to his enormous (and well-deserved) respect in outdoor pursuits and being owner of the company, no one felt comfortable challenging Yvon Chouinard’s concept of tenkara.  Hopefully Patagonia will start offering a level line.

P.S.  Forget the snap-C cast and DON’T throw your rod in the water.

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Chicago Creek

I am a frugal person, some might say cheap, but I don’t take offense at that.  I drive a ten-year-old vehicle with 200,000+ miles on the odometer and am hoping for 200,000 more,  no doubt a result of a childhood sharing a two bedroom, one bath post WW2 bungalow with my parents and brother and sister, traumatized by enduring countless stories of the Great Depression from my parents:  “Eat your bean soup; we’d have been happy to have that during the Depression!”  Mom had to quit school after eight grade, Dad after tenth, to work and help their families survive those very difficult years.  According to Dad, Mom could sqeeze a nickel until the buffalo shatBuffalo-Five-Cents-Reverse (younger readers may not understand this cultural reference).

What I’m getting to in a roundabout way is that I don’t spend a lot on gear.  In my prior incarnation as a western flyfisher, I had exactly two flyrods and reels, both entry-level but serviceable outfits.  I tied (and still do) my own flies and crafted my own leaders.  My eight-and-a-half -foot six-weight is an inexpensive LL Bean.  I fished this rod and reel exclusively for many years, then became convinced I needed a “small-stream” rod and purchased on sale a seven-foot Redington rod, which I paired with the least expensive Orvis large arbor reel.

For reasons not well understood, I found myself rarely fishing the shorter rod, even on smallish streams with a lot of bankside vegetation.  Perhaps it was the lack of “reach” with that rod.

Four or so years ago, when I discovered Tenkara, I purchased a 12′ Iwana from TenkaraUSA, then the only kid on the tenkara block.  The Iwana remains my only tenkara rod.  Fitted with 12′ of level line and 4-5′ of tippet, the Iwana performs admirably in a variety of conditions, but recently that old bugaboo returned, whispering in my ear, “What about little creeks, banks choked with vegetation?  Wouldn’t a six-foot tenkara rod be better?  They are available now.”

A week ago I was visiting my son and his family in Colorado.  My wife and I, along with my son, his wife, and two children, went camping in the mountains at Golden Gate Canyon state park, a very scenic park with great facilities near Denver.  Four or five ponds in the park are stocked with trout, and I recognized an opportunity to introduce fishing to my six-year-old grandson and three-year-old granddaughter, casting nightcrawler bits suspended under bobbers from their Snoopy rods to uneducated stockers. The week prior to traveling to Colorado, I had broken the tip of my Iwana while kayak fishing a local lake, not taking the appropriate care clearing a snagged fly.  A new tip ordered, I arranged for it to be shipped to my son’s address, and it was waiting for me when I arrived.

After a half-mile hike to one of the park’s stocked lake, we hurriedly rigged up, a steadily freshening wind foretelling a storm brewing in the west.  An attractive little lake, evergreens hugging the shore, the mountains visible in the distance. I tied on a new length of level line and a short tippet onto the new Iwana tip.  With the first cast, I realized I had cut only about nine feet of level line and about 2 1/2 feet of 5x tippet; in other words, a total of approximately 5-6 feet less line/tippet that I usually use.  Needless to say, this setup was really inadequate for lake angling, but with a strong wind building IMG_0808and rain beginning to fall, I could not take the time to re-rig.  I did manage to catch one small cutthroat on a #14 black deer hair beetle.  More importantly, my six-year-old grandson caught one (his first fish) on a nightcrawler morsel.  Soon we found ourselves sprinting back to the car.

From there we drove to Idaho Springs, a gritty but picturesque mining town to enjoy some Colorado-style pizza at Beau Jo’s.  I really can’t say enough about the pizza served here, certainly among the best I have tasted. If you find yourself in the vicinity, try it.IS_Thumb

After lunch we split up, my son and his family driving back to Denver, and my wife and I making a long-awaited drive up the Mount Evans highway, taking highway 103 from Interstate 70.  What a great drive up the highest paved road in America to the 14,130′ summit of Mount Evans.  Spectacular views.  (More on that drive in a future post).

View from Mt Evans highway

View from Mt Evans highway

One thing that really intrigued me about this drive was the small creek I noticed running parallel to the highway with a number of pullouts to park the car.  After completing the drive to Mt Evans we reversed course, and I parked at one of the pullouts I had spied on the drive up.  My wife, recovering from foot infection, chose to stay in the car while I fished.  The creek is called Chicago creek, one of those smallish, high-gradient, freestone streams so common to the mountain west.  I would estimate the creek’s width as generally twelve to fifteen feet, the water coursing clear and fast, perhaps a bit high still from snowmelt.   At the edges and around the boulders were arrayed all those small pockets of still water that offer so much promise.

Chicago creek

Chicago creek

I was still rigged up from the lake fishing earlier in the day, and I quickly uncoiled my line from the EZ Keepers, the deer hair beetle still attached to the tippet.  The canopy along the bank is dense, but I quickly discovered that the shorter line and tippet, a detriment earlier in the day at the lake, was in fact an advantage on this small stream.  Casting to the opposite bank was still very easy with the 12′ rod, and line control was much better than it would have been with my customary longer setup.  Second cast I was attached to a eight-inch brown.  Thereafter followed a number of browns and brookies in the 6-8″ range.  Having lost the beetle to a snag, I tied on a #16 Deer Hair Caddis, cast it to a promising seam and was rewarded with a take by a 12″ brown, a great fish for a stream this size.  Hooked, thrashing, washed by the swift current over a little waterfall, I had little hope that I would be able to land it.  But the hookset held, and soon the brown was at hand.

Made My Day

Made My Day

In summary, then, my epiphany that day is as follows:  When fishing tight streams, casting is going to be more difficult regardless of the type of rod used, spinning, western flyrod, or tenkara.  Rather than purchasing that shorter rod and sacrificing reach, try a shorter line/tippet.  I believe the longer rod/shorter line combo allows one to keep the flyline off the water more easily than with a shorter rod.  Just think of the money you’ll save.





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