There’s this big creek (more of a river) east of where I live that is pretty remote in most places. It sits in a lava-rimmed sagebrush canyon, which by all accounts, is loaded with rattle snakes. But the river is reputed to hold some Yellowstone Cutthroat and a few big browns. I always wanted to access the creek at somewhere other than where the few roads cross its path.
It just so happened that my brother in law, Kelly, had permission to access a remote stretch of this creek, so we decided to take our five year old sons, Ben and Hank, for an adventure the last day in June of 2018. To get there, we had to drive a two track through a wheat field and then over the canyon rim down a sketchy road. In the river valley we found an old homestead long-time abandoned.
After parking we hoofed across an overgrown cattle pasture to the willow-lined creek. We had to maneuver through some swampy areas before we could reach the creek. I ended up putting Ben on my back before leaping a swampy channel. That was interesting! At least we didn’t see any rattlesnakes along the way.
Upon reaching the creek, we found the flow was mostly just a slow meander. Kelly and I fished our way up the creek, while Hank, an adventurous, fearless lad, swam all over the place. On the other hand, my son, Ben, would wade, but when it got to deep, I had to give him a piggy back across the creek more than once.
At first the fishing was slow, but we caught a few small cutties using my Tenkara USA Rhodo and a Renegade in the deeper shaded pools. The youngsters were the official fish releasors and enjoyed each little cutthroat.
We worked our way along the creek’s course as it passed near an idyllic rim rock ridge. We didn’t hit really good water until we came to an area where the stream gradient dropped quickly to create a riffle leading to a deeper run. The run just had that fishy look. As I guessed, the cutties were stacked up in this run. I hooked many fish and then would hand the rod to Hank and Ben and let them try to get them in. They giggled as they grabbed the line to bring the small fish in.
No, we did not catch any fish over 12 inches, but we had fun exploring. While fishing was the goal that brought us there, for this trip, it was really more about the adventure. I enjoyed spending time with my son, nephew and brother in law in wild country. The cutties were just the bonus.
I have been a practitioner of tenkara fishing for over five years now. Like many of you, I have caught a lot of flack from friends, family, and others on social media about my enjoyment of the method, but I’m an attorney, so I am pretty thick-skinned. The truth is, in many situations, tenkara is as effective (or more so) than a western rod. For small creeks and rivers, I use nothing but tenkara, but still use a rod and reel for big rivers and streamer fishing. Last year, for me, one area where the verdict was still out on the effectiveness of tenkara was alpine lake fishing. I had done it before, but was not convinced it was an effective method.
Last July, I had the good fortune to hike with my daughter and a few others from church up to a high mountain lake on the Wyoming border. While the hike was not super strenuous, it was long. However, my pack was not too heavy with my lunch, water, and fishing gear. The hike to the lower lake was about four miles and it is–at least–an extra five miles to reach the upper lake, but the hike was so worth it!
Upon reaching the lake, it was way bigger than I expected and its turquoise hue was absolutely stunning, but with the tight trees all around its banks, how would the fishing be?
Once at the lake, all the kids and youth leaders rested and ate their lunch, but I grabbed the Badger UNC tenkara rod, telescoped it out to length, and scanned the water for any cruising fish. Sure enough, there was a nice cutthroat less than ten feet out. I quickly cast the Renegade in its course and, without any caution at all, the fish rose up and sucked it in. I hooked the fish, but it quickly got off before I could land it.
Within a half hour’s time, I hooked and landed plenty of other good sized cutthroat, enough to bring one of my tenkara nay-saying friends, Scott Johnson, over to try his hand at a few. I can honestly say that for this lake, tenkara was no handicap whatsoever for either of us.
My daughter Eden spent much of the lunch break hanging with her friends, but after watching Scott and I land numerous fish, she came over and said, “I want to catch some fish!”
“Okay, come climb up on this rock and look for cruising fish to cast to.” I replied.
As if she had been fly fishing her whole life, Eden began spotting fish and casting toward them. We both watched eagerly as a fish rose to fly. Eden struck, but was a bit slow the first try.
“Man, that was close!” I lamented. “Try it again!” Fortunately, there is no shortage of targets in the lake and Eden quickly placed the fly in the path of another.
On the second strike, she drove the point home and was able to quickly land the trout.
“Alright, Eden!” I praised in excitement.
The leaders of the hike soon called for everyone to pack up and get back on the trail, but before time ran out, Eden landed three or four trout. We hated to leave such a beautiful place.
After this experience, I would without hesitation add tenkara as an effective method for high-mountain lake fishing. I think my daughter Eden would agree.
I’ve been fly fishing now for twenty-three years and have caught some monster fish over the years. From about 2004 through 2013, I hunted primarily big browns and rainbows–which are not native to Eastern Idaho–with streamers like the Circus Peanut and Peanut Envy. There is nothing quite like fooling an aggressive big fish with a fly.
About five years ago, I gravitated back to my roots and started fishing small creeks again. I first fished tenkara in the Fall of 2014 and found it to be perfect for small stream fishing, especially on my favorite cutthroat stream, which I call “Trickle Creek.” Admittedly, there are no monsters in this creek. The average fish is probably eight inches. However, there are some surprisingly big fish for such a little creek.
And that’s where Jonah comes in. This fish lives in a stretch of the creek degraded by cattle grazing, which denudes the banks of vegetation and often causes them to cave in. Notwithstanding, the creek and the fishes’ saving grace is the numerous icy springs and its rocky bottom. Jonah lives in a beautiful bend in the creek under a rocky ledge, which just looks fishy.
When he first came out of hole and attacked my Renegade, my eyes about popped out of my head. He was a beast for this tiny size of creek. After a good fight on the Tenkara USA Rhodo, I brought him to hand and had to take some pictures.
I quickly released the cutty back to his lair to play another day. After numerous years of fishing this creek, I believe this is one of its biggest (if not the biggest) fish. Of course, every time I fished the creek, I had to check to see if he was home. Sometimes I caught him and sometimes I didn’t, but always had fun trying. All said, I recollect catching Jonah a total of three times last summer.
Jonah has made me rethink my definition of a trophy fish. These native fish have been in Trickle Creek since the dawn of time. To know a creek so well that you figure out exactly where the biggest fish resides and how to catch him is a worthwhile pursuit in and of itself.
Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy loving-kindnesses; for they have been ever of old.
I’ve known my friend, Matt Tower, for over ten years. We go to the same church and have fished and hunted together quite a few times over the years and I always enjoy his company afield and on the stream. Matt was the first person to introduce me to tenkara fishing over three years ago. Since then, I have really developed a passion for it and even started this blog.
Last winter, while trying to push his son, Skyler’s stuck car out of the snow, Matt felt an excruciatingly painful pop in his heel. He later found out that he had torn his Achilles tendon in two and had to go through surgery to repair it. For six weeks, he could not put any weight on his ankle and had to get around with a scooter. Matt told me that it was one of the darkest times of his life. While I have not experienced that particular injury, I could relate somewhat because in 2007 I had surgery for a ruptured a disc in my back. For the six months before the surgery, I experienced debilitating pain, darkness and depression similar to what Matt described. In such situations, you wonder if you will ever be able to do the things that you love again and I’m sure that Matt spent much of his recovery time, like I did, praying to make it through this difficult trial.
Recently, Matt has been healing quite well and even went on a strenuous hike with the youth from our church. I figured if he can hike, he can fish. So, yesterday I invited him to come and fish my favorite stream, Trickle Creek. This was his first time fishing after the surgery. I picked Matt up and we drove to our destination.
At the creek, I tied on a Renegade and Matt used an unweighted rubber legged stonefly nymph. In my mind, I questioned his choice of fly and based upon past experience, believed that the Renegade would easily out-fish the nymph. I offered him a Renegade, but Matt declined. Oh well, to each his own.
The conditions were perfect as the creek was mostly clear from the runoff and the cutthroat could be easily seen in the holes, runs and lies. With bluebird skies and bright sun overhead, however, the fish were skittish and tougher to catch than usual. I seemed to spend more time than usual caught up in the trees and when I could get the fly on the water, the fish ignored it. In contrast, Matt started off having a good day as the eager cuts chased his stonefly nymph. I fished one particular promising hole and had a fish chase but reject my fly. I then invited Matt to give it a try and on one particular drift, a nice trout darted out from a rocky ledge and took the stonefly nymph. I videoed Matt catching the nice trout—the fish of the day.
“How’s your ankle feeling?” I asked after Matt.
“Feels pretty good. The cold water actually helps.” He responded.
As we fished together, we saw some bigger, colored-up cutthroat that were trying to spawn, but they ignored our flies. In one particular shady hole, we could see two beautiful cutties and Matt cast the nymph up into the lie and it hung up on some snags at the bottom of the hole.
“You try for it with the dry fly,” Matt suggested.
I cast up to the head of the hole and we both watched the smaller of the two fish chase my fly down stream and engulf it. With the ruckus the smaller fish made, the bigger fish bolted and we had no more chance at him.
Matt and I explored some other water up the canyon and both caught a few more fish, but we had to soon pack it up as I had a church meeting to go to at 4:00 p.m.
When it was all said and done, I believe that Matt out-fished me with that crazy nymph. Some may call that skill or luck and such days a coincidence, but I call them tender mercies. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught something that sums up my sentiments on this experience:
For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Or if he ask a fish, will give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
Matthew 7: 8-11
In my experience, sometimes when you make it through a difficult trial, Heavenly Father gives you a special day to help you know that He cares. Those, my friends, are tender mercies from heaven (which in Japanese translates to tenkara).
My parents had eight kids and now all of my siblings are married with kids of their own. So, to sum it up, the Wayment family is simply huge (pronounced like the POTUS). We all love each other, get along, and treasure the rare times when we can be together. Last July, we rented a cabin in Garden City, Utah for a much-needed family reunion. I believe the last time all of us were together was when our beloved dad passed away in 2014.
When the Wayment Family gets together, you can pretty much bet on three things: (1) Some of us are going hunting or fishing; (2) Mexican Food will be eaten (or some other good food like Cajun or BBQ); and (3) gourmet root beers will be consumed (we’re Mormons so we don’t drink alcohol). Last year’s reunion was no exception to this rule.
Most of the family arrived at the cabin on Thursday, July 7th and we just sat around and enjoyed each other’s company. Brother Shawn had brought a whole cooler of gourmet root beers and, of course, we sampled a few.
The following day we had to spend the obligatory time on the sandy beaches of the Idaho side of Bear Lake, the “Caribbean of the Rockies.” Honestly, I can take or leave that, but my kids enjoy it. I talked my wife into sneaking away to go get one of those famous raspberry milkshakes Bear Lake is known for, so the day wasn’t a total loss.
After dinner, things improved tremendously as my daughter, Nessy, and brother Scott agreed to go fishing with me on St. Charles Creek in Idaho. My nephews, Jared, Easton, and Steele also tagged along for the adventure. Nessy and I shared a Tenkara USA Rhodo rod and Scott and Jared used their western fly rods and reels. The creek was overgrown in most places making it difficult to cast and to wade, but we caught a few small trout. In a seam where two currents conjoined below an island, a beautiful brook trout rolled on my Renegade and I quickly brought him to hand. Nessy got a little frustrated with the thickness of the foliage and the technicality of the creek, but gave it a good effort. Our problem was that we had a hard time finding water open enough for her to cast.
As darkness descended upon us, we came upon a high beaver dam. In the failing light, we could see the wink of rising trout in the calm water above the dam. My tenkara rod did not have the length to reach these fish, so I borrowed my nephew, Jared’s rod and reel. I caught a few fish on Renegades, including a nice Bonneville Cutthroat. Though the fishing was a little tough, everyone had fun. We capped off the night with a raspberry milkshake in Garden City. That made two in one day for me. Can life get any better? I submit that it cannot!
Saturday, the bulk of the Wayment clan hiked up to a popular high mountain lake. I’d tell you the name, but the lake is already so overcrowded as it is. Have you ever seen that video meme on Facebook in which a dude swings on a rope swing out into this pristine lake and gets munched by a monstrous fish? I believe that video was taken at this particular lake. Too bad there aren’t any monster fish in the lake like the one in the meme.
Once at the lake, I used my 2-weight St. Croix Ultra Legend rod and reel , Tommy, the Rhodo, and Nessy, the Badger Tenkara Medium Flex Classic. I caught a bunch of fish on Pistol Petes. Both Tom and Ness caught fish on nymphs. The water was so clear that we sight-casted to cruising fish both in the lake proper and its outlet.
After catching one particular rainbow, Nessy shed a few tears as she worried that it would not make it.
There’s no crying in fishing!
Pretty little rainbow.
With a smile on my face, I said to her, “There’s no crying in fishing!” as I helped her unhook and release the fish back into the lake. And, if you are wondering, it swam off and we did not see it go belly up. So that was a relief.
I really enjoy fishing high mountain lakes. This may be sacrilege for a tenkara blog, but tenkara is not the best tactic for lake fishing because you can’t cast as far or strip the flies in like you can in western streamer fishing. However, it is a great method for kids because the rods are easy to cast and kids learn quickly that you simply have to move the rod tip to move the fly. I was glad to see my kids catch a few on tenkara by themselves.
To sum up, the Wayment Bear Lake Family Reunion was a good time. It was fun to be together with my favorite people on earth in such a beautiful place. I drank a total of four raspberry milkshakes (the family record, I think) and who knows how many root beers? Shawn and I got to shoot our bows a few evenings. And, to top it off, we caught a few trout. I’d call that a successful trip if ever there was one.
“If I fished only to capture fish, my fishing trips would have ended long ago.”
Since I started fly fishing over twenty years ago, I always wanted to catch a bull trout.I remember hearing stories of big bullies on rivers like the North Fork of the Clearwater, Kelly Creek, or the St. Joe, but never had any strike my dry flies or nymphs when I fished those rivers during law school.I wasn’t much of a streamer fisherman back then so I didn’t use the most effective techniques.
Right after law school, my dad and I drew deer tags in a unit near the Middle Fork of the Boise River.The early season hunt occurred in August and it was sweltering hot.In the afternoon, Dad and I took a break from the heat to fish the beautiful Middle Fork.I caught some nice rainbows on nymphs and saw some huge trout sulking in the depths of the clear river, which I assume were bull trout, but couldn’t get them to chase my flies.
During the summer of 2003, I moved to Idaho Falls.There aren’t any bull trout in the rivers and streams around home, so my goal would have to wait.
My friend, Chris Hunt, has written three books on fly fishing, which I really enjoyed.In two of his books, he tells about a small, remote river in central Idaho that holds bull trout that you can catch on dry flies (if you want to know the name of that river, you’ll have to buy Chris’ books).In one of his books, Chris mentions that his son, Cameron, caught a 17 inch bully on a grasshopper pattern.I don’t always remember everything that I read, but Chris’ descriptions of this river stuck with me over the years and I always wanted to experience this intriguing place.I have followed Chris’s hints and suggestions many times and have never been disappointed.
In the past, I fished the lower reaches of this particular river in Idaho a few times, but never touched a bull trout in the desert valley.A friend and I tried to make it up to the headwaters over Memorial Day Weekend in 2015, but were turned back by black clouds and a pounding rainstorm.On this failed trip, we realized that it’s a dang long drive to get to the stream’s remote headwaters.
On Saturday, July 16th, 2016, the day before my birthday, I told my wife, “All I want for my birthday is to catch a bull trout on tenkara.”Fortunately, my wife conceded and I set out early Saturday morning with my Brittany, Misty.As I remembered, it was a long drive up the remote desert valley before I made it to the mouth of the canyon from whence the river flowed.
As soon as the car turned up the canyon, the scenery instantly changed for the better.In fact, the surrounding mountains took on a red tint like the Sangre De Cristos of Colorado, but not so high in elevation.One of my favorite cutthroat streams flows from the rugged peaks of the Sangre De Cristos, so the resemblance instantly endeared the area to me.
About fifteen miles up the river, we came to a campground situated at the confluence of two creeks, each with roads following their courses.I stayed to the right and followed the road up the main fork.I had no idea where to go, so I parked at the next turnoff, pulled out my Tenkara USA Rhodo, tied on a Renegade, and let out Misty of her kennel.Her company would be appreciated in this primitive landscape.I planned to wet wade in sandals, but the air temperature felt cold for July.
I hiked through the thick old growth pine forest to the river and tentatively stepped inside.The frigid water numbed my skin to the touch.I gritted my teeth and waded forward looking for a likely place to present my fly.I soon found a decent run spotlighted by the sunlight piercing though the forest canopy overhead and cast the fly.Sure enough a decent sized fish slurped in the Renegade.I set the hook and quickly brought the thirteen inch trout to hand.To my delight, a beautiful bull trout lay before me looking much like a brook trout, but more aqua green with pink spots.With little fanfare, I had finally achieved a lifetime goal.
I caught a few more bulls along this shady stretch choked with deadfall, but soon grew too cold. So I decided to try to find a stretch of river with more sunlight.Surprisingly, along the creek, grew a gorgeous wild flower that I have only personally seen along Can’t Tell Ya Creek in the Sangre De Cristos named the “Purple Monkey Flower (Mimulus Lewissi).”The allure of this creek for me grew by the second.
After Misty and I made it back to the car, I drove up the road to where it ended.While there were still pine trees around, they were not so thick to block the sunlight from the creek.In fact, the sun shined so brightly, it irradiated the golden-orange stream bottom surrounded by striking green riparian foliage.I thought to myself: This looks like the photos in Chris’ book.This has to be the right place!
Misty and I hiked upstream and fished every likely looking spot.I assumed that the higher I went, the better the fishing would be.However, the further upstream I ventured, the narrower and more choked the creek became and the tougher going.As I tried to maneuver through one tight spot, sharp deadfall shredded my bare shins, which bled profusely.After a few more similar impassible spots, Misty and I retreated downstream and I fished a few holes along the way.
As I fished, I sensed that something was watching me, and looked up to see a coyote about fifteen feet away.Worried that he was not alone, I commanded Misty, “Heel!”When the coyote heard my voice, he beat feet out of there.The coyote had either smelled Misty or the blood from my bleeding shins and curiosity got the best of him.I was so glad it was not a wolf or a mountain lion, but still felt a little unnerved that a wild animal was stalking me.
Ironically, I later found the best fishing near where I parked.In this area, the creek is wider and more open and I found plenty of trout in every likely place.The creeks flows are so clear that you can see most every fish before you cast to them.In his books, my friend Chris mentioned that the river holds rainbows too, but I only caught bull trout that day.I found that—like cutthroat—these bullies loved the skittered Renegade and chased whenever the fly moved contrary to the current’s flow.Tenkara was perfect for this technique.No, we didn’t catch any monsters, but that’s beside the point.This outing was all about the adventure.
When it came time to go, I hated to leave.I totally fell in love with this remote creek and its bull trout.In fact, I loved it so much, that I went back the following Saturday for another chance at those beautiful bullies and had a wonderful afternoon.Someday, I would like to explore rivers in Idaho where bulls grow large and primarily eat other fish, but for my first encounter with them on this little river, I’m already an admirer of bull trout.
I’m an Idaho boy at heart and will never move permanently away from my rivers, streams and coverts. But that’s not to say that I can’t appreciate what other states have to offer. Over the last four years I have found that Colorado is an angler’s paradise with so much diversity that it never gets boring. In three days, you can experience anything from high mountain lakes to rugged glacial fed brooks, to meandering meadow streams, to boulder strewn rivers in desert canyons. If variety is the spice of life, Colorado is spicy!
On day two of our annual Colorado fishing trip, we decided to stay closer to Shawn’s cabin and fish some of the local desert rivers and streams because the Arkansas was totally blown out for the second year in a row.
We met up with Shawn’s friend, Tyler Sessions, at Barry’s Den near Texas Creek and enjoyed a big breakfast before going fishing all day. The Spanish omelet with chile verde sauce is good for the soul, I tell you! Tyler is a student and a fishing guide from Boulder who guides clients in Rocky Mountain National Park. I had to smile when I heard that a fishing guide was taking a day off to go fishing. Tough life buddy!
When I told Tyler I only brought my tenkara rod for the trip, he didn’t give me too hard of a time. Although, with a big grin, brother Shawn asked me, “You know what the most difficult thing about tenkara is?”
I took the bait: “No what?”
“Telling your parents you’re gay!” Shawn exclaimed with a laugh!
Hardee har har, punk sucker!
With his love of bird dogs, double guns, and fly fishing, Tyler was easy to relate to. Shawn had forgotten to bring his fly tying kit and had asked Tyler the night before to tie us some Renegades. In response, Tyler brought us a box of phenomenally tied Renegades, which was greatly appreciated.
We decided to fish a small freestone river that originates in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, flows into the valley and then cuts through the Wet Mountains, which name kind of seems like a misnomer to me. This smaller range is really more desertous than wet most of the time. According to Shawn, however, when the rain pours in this area, the numerous dry creek beds can become raging, impassible torrents and the canyon roads often have dips or washouts where such insta-rivers can escape when they spring up. Shawn told me that such floods can be extremely dangerous to the unwary traveler. So maybe the name of the range is a warning. The smaller river eventually joins with the Arkansas River not far from Canon City.
Upon approaching our destination ,we dropped into a big cholla-filled desert canyon cut by the river. I instantly liked the looks of things. Except for the vandalism on the red-rock canyon walls, the area felt wild, a place where one might expect a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep to come down to water.
After parking and gearing up, Shawn, Tyler, and I all hiked about a mile downstream, while avoiding the cholla, and commenced fishing, me with my Tenkara USA Rhodo and Tyler and Shawn with their regular rods and reels. At first we stayed together.
However, curiosity got the best of me and I kept moving upstream. I would describe my style of fishing as “running and gunning.” I like to move quickly and cover as much water as I can hitting the prime lies and catching (or trying to catch) fish out of every likely spot. The river had many nice pockets, runs, and eddies where trout readily rose to a Renegade. The abundant buttery browns fit their adopted desertous environment perfectly. The fish were on average about 11 to 14 inches. I did not catch any bigger ones, but suspect they are in there.
Along the bank of the creek, I came upon a huge, warty toad. He too seemed to fit in this environment amongst the cholla cactus that will reach out and stab you and giant fishing spiders the size of your palm. It was a foreign landscape to this Idaho boy, for sure, but beautiful in its own way.
After meeting back at the truck, we headed back to the cabin and enjoyed a cold Boylan’s root beer while we cared for Shawn’s setter and considered our options. We decided to try another smaller desert stream not far from Shawn’s cabin rumored to hold big brown trout. In the canyon stretch where we parked, this creek was also high and a little off color, but definitely fishable. Upstream from where we parked, we found numerous manmade improvements to prevent erosion which created deeper holding water for fish.
Due to the thick foliage along the creek bottom, the going was tough everywhere except for in the creek, but the higher flows made it slow going. We all stayed together and everyone caught a few smallish browns, but not as many as on the bigger desert river.
While I wouldn’t say this was my favorite day of the trip, it certainly didn’t suck. I enjoyed fishing in this unique environment. Tenkara was no handicap whatsoever on either of these desert rivers and I had no trouble fooling numerous browns with Tyler’s Renegades.