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).
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.
“I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.”
― Abraham Lincoln
Our Memorial Day Weekend camping trip had mostly been a disappointment for my 12 year old son, Thomas.Every year we camp with some of our best friends and their families at Birch Creek to fish and ride four wheelers or motorcycles.Our friends with the four wheelers would not let Tommy drive by himself and would hardly let he and his friend, Adam, hitch a ride.And Tom, who oftentimes lacks a filter, repeatedly let everyone know of his disappointment.So this trip was mostly a bummer for him.
One of the main reasons why our family goes to Birch Creek every Memorial Day is to give the kids the opportunity to catch some fish on the fly.There is no better place to teach youngsters how to fly fish and tenkara makes its easy.Although he has often fished with me in the past, Thomas did not once ask to fish on Friday or Saturday. We did not fish on Sunday, but just spent time together as a family.
“This is the worst camping trip of my life.There is nothing to do.I am so bored!” Tom had complained more than once over the weekend.
While I did not voice my opinion, I felt that Tom’s negativity stemmed from his lack of trying to enjoy nature, and more particularly, fishing.I truly hope that my kids will learn to love fishing, but I do not want to force this on them.
On Monday morning—a warmer, sunnier day that the previous three days—four of my six kids all wanted to catch fish using tenkara.Of course, it didn’t hurt that I promised a prize if they could catch a fish all by themselves. Nessy, Eden, Lily, and Ben all took turns with the Tenkara USA Rhodo and caught fish. It was a fun, successful morning.Of course, all of the kids bragged to everyone, including Tommy, about winning a Jamba Juice by catching a fish.
Not wanting to miss out, Tommy finally asked after lunch, “Dad, I want to try to catch a fish.”Before that, he and Adam had been whining about not being able to ride four wheelers, which made their owners even more unwilling to give them a ride.
I sent Tom down to the creek, with the tenkara rod and a nymph and indicator rig, to fish from the bank where Eden and her friend Becca had caught numerous fish earlier that morning.Try as he may, Tom could not catch anything and I didn’t help him.To be honest, I was a little miffed that Tom only asked to fish just before we were getting ready to pack up to go home and only because he wanted a Jamba Juice.
Tommy soon stomped back to camp kicking the ground and yelling, “I CAN’T DO ANYTHING RIGHT! I SUCK AT EVERYTHING! I’M THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN’T CATCH A FISH!”
Everyone in camp was staring at Tommy’s temper tantrum and shaking their heads. To gain control of the situation, I made Tom sit in my car until he calmed down.
After about five minutes, I went to the car, opened the door and said, “Try again Tom.Go put on your shorts and Grandpa’s wading boots and I will go down to the creek with you and help you to catch a fish.”
Tommy obeyed and we both went down to the creek with the Rhodo in hand. For the first time ever, Tommy waded with me in the creek.I showed him how and where to cast and how to present the fly.
In about twenty minutes, Tommy caught two fish but both got away before we could photo them.Both times, I hooted and hollered, “Alright Tommy!” while jumping up and down. The whole camp above us overheard our jubilation.I can honestly say that I was more excited about these two fish than any others brought to hand over the weekend.
Tommy and I fished up the creek together and I pointed out where the fish typically held and showed Tom where to cast.We had a good bonding moment like my late father and I had experienced so many times before on this special creek.This is exactly what I was had hoped for.
We didn’t get any more fish, but Tom said, with a smile, as we stood shin deep in the creek, “This is my favorite part of the camping trip.Thank you so much Dad!”
Truth be told, it was mine too. I was so glad I spent the one on one time with him.
This summer is flying by on wings of lightning. I have had an absolute blast fishing the past few months, mostly with Tenkara. I seriously have a year’s worth of blogging to catch up on.
I should first mention that I had an article entitled, “Zenkara” published in the Summer issue of Tenkara Angler. For any of you interested in reading, here is the LINK. I’m way impressed with the quality of this online magazine and will definitely support it in the future.
Also, last month I flew out to Colorado for three days of fishing with my brother and best friend Shawn. To sum it up, we had more fun than two adults ever should. We were like two kids eating good food, fishing to our heart’s content, and drinking every gourmet root beer we could find. You can read Shawn’s lies about our adventure on Upland Ways. If any are interested, here is the link to Shawn’s article, Renegades, Root Beers & the Avett Brothers.
Over the next few months, I will definitely add my two cents worth about this epic trip, but today, I wanted to share a quick anecdote about still water fishing in Colorado with tenkara.
On Thursday, after an epic morning of dry fly fishing on a small creek I’ll call Pine Creek and getting pounded by a hail storm, I said to Shawn, “That sure is a pretty waterfall over there.”
“That’s not a waterfall. It’s a spillway for an old reservoir.” Shawn replied.
“Seriously? I never would have guessed that.”
“You want to go check it out? The fishing is pretty good.” Shawn asked.
After being literally pummeled by hail on the creek, we decided that a change of scenery might be nice. And we also hoped to keep a few trout for Shawn’s smoker. Shawn and I usually practice catch and release, but I asked him to teach me how to smoke some trout while we were together in Colorado. We figured that reservoir trout were more worthy of death than their wily brethren in the creek below.
Shawn then drove us down a two track that led to the trailhead to the reservoir.
As we hiked toward the waterfall along a path strewn with wild raspberry canes, I soon saw the old manmade dam and the spillway causing the beautiful waterfall.
Once on top of the dam, Shawn commenced fishing with his traditional rod. All I had was my Tenkara USA Rhodo rod. I realized that tenkara was probably not the most effective rod for this type of fishing because of the shorter casting range and that I needed something that would attract the fishes’ attention. While this may be total sacrilege to the purists, I am a big fan of the Pistol Pete, a wet fly with a little metal propeller near the eye of the hook. Many claim that this is not a fly at all, but rather a lure. Regardless, Pistol Petes catch fish! I cannot tell you how many times this fly has saved my day and worked when nothing else would. So naturally, I opted for a little silver flash Pistol Pete.
I flung the fly out as far as I could with the tenkara rod and then towed the fly back to me using my arm and the long rod. On the first or second cast, I hooked into a nice rainbow, but it quickly got off. It wasn’t long before another one slammed the Pistol Pete and I brought this one to hand, dispatched it, and created a little pool with boulders to put him in.
When the thundering clouds overhead threatened lightning, I headed over to the far left side of the dam to–if it became necessary–quickly take shelter against the cliff from lightning or more hail. As I stood in this spot, I caught numerous other rainbows and brookies, many of which suffered the same fate as the first unlucky trout. Shawn also caught a few fish, but not as many as Me Ol’ Friend Pete.
Seeing fish rise just outside of my casting range, I got creative and skirted the cliff’s rocky shelf to get into better casting range. This technique worked pretty well and I soon brought a few more fish to their doom.
Since I started tenkara fishing, I have received a lot of guff from naysayers. I have been amazed at the hostility this style of fishing ignites. Many say it’s nothing more than cane pole fishing. At one point while fishing this reservoir, I smiled as the thought struck me that my actions at that moment probably ticked off everyone in the sport of flying fishing. Here I was fishing tenkara, with a Pistol Pete, and bonking a limit of fish on the head. Undoubtedly, many would consider this triple combination as rude, crude and uncouth.
The truth is, I don’t really care! The technique worked. I had fun and I later learned that smoked trout are a tasty treat, especially the pink-meated brookies.
In hindsight, I can honestly say that tenkara was no handicap for me whatsoever on this trip. In fact, tenkara can sometimes be more effective than traditional fly fishing. Now when somebody criticizes me about tenkara (or Pistol Pete for that matter), I simply respond, “I let the fish be the judge.”
“Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us.”
-Ezra Taft Benson
It had been three years since I fished this creek. The last time I fished it was in July of 2013 with my Dad, Keith Wayment. Dad asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I responded: “To go fishing with you!” Dad agreed and showed up early Saturday morning with a box of his hand tied flies and a twenty dollar bill for my birthday. While the gifts were appreciated, I was just glad to spend the day fishing with him.
Our first stop for the day was a large creek on the Idaho-Wyoming border. Anywhere else, this creek would have been considered a river. However, like all the creeks in the area, it was overshadowed by the goliath Snake River downstream. This creek has a proper name, but I like to give small creeks nicknames just like my grouse coverts to protect them and to endear them more to me. At one time, I kicked around the name of “June Creek” because in the month of June bigger fish run up this creek and you can catch them just as the runoff drops and the creek clears.
In mid-June of 2013, a friend and I caught numerous nice trout on this creek. However, Dad and I went there mid-July and, by then, the bigger fish had moved back downstream. I caught a few skippies, but Dad got skunked. Before he could figure things out, we had to abandon the area because of a black storm cloud and rain. We stopped at a few other creeks on the way home and Dad finally caught a cutty on a creek I call “Siren Creek.” This was one of the last fishing trips I had with Dad before he passed away the following spring.
Life got hectic over the next three years and I never could seem to find my way back to this special creek, until yesterday. My law partner, Aaron, asked me to take him and his son David fishing and this seemed like the perfect place. Since it was June, I hoped that we would still find some of bigger fish. Also, with it being Father’s Day weekend, I thought this would be a good place to go and remember Dad.
Upon arrival, we found that the creek was a little off-color which—I thought—was perfect conditions. However, the big fish were not as abundant as in 2013. I’m not sure what made the difference, but we had a harsher winter this past year. Unlike the last time, however, there was not a cloud in the sky.
I strung up the 2 Weight St. Croix Ultra Legend fly rod that my Dad built and tied on one of his Red-butted Double Renegades. This seemed like a good combo to begin with. When I fish, I like to keep moving upstream. I call this “running and gunning.” I’ll stop and fish the better holes for a while, but if I don’t get a strike after numerous casts, then I keep moving and searching for the primer spots.
As I headed upstream I caught numerous small cutthroat, but no big ones. I worked up to the head of a long, aqua-green run and skittered a Renegade across the seam between two currents. A beautiful yellow cutthroat rose, but missed the fly. That is a bigger fish! I thought to myself.
I tried dead drifting the fly, but the fish ignored it every time. After skittering the fly cross-current four or five more times, the aggressive fish finally got ahold of it and he was on. This cutty gave me a good fight on the two weight and I ended up landing him about 20 yards down river. I was excited about the nicer fish and thought how cool it was to catch him on a rod built by Dad and a fly that he tied.
I then went back downstream to check on Aaron and David, who stayed near the vehicle. In my absence, Aaron had caught a big cutthroat on a rubber leg. Since the fish were biting dry flies, I decided to switch over to Tenkara and a Renegade, which was the perfect combo.
As I worked my way upstream from where I had earlier left off, I thought a lot about Dad. I wished he could have experienced this creek in its glory. He would have loved its boulder strewn runs and pockets, though he may have had some trouble wading the slick, boulder-laid bottom in some areas. Although he never heard of it during his lifetime, Dad would have liked the simplicity of tenkara. A man of faith, he would have appreciated that tenkara means, “from heaven” in Japanese. Of all people, Dad understood the strong spirituality that is connected with fly fishing and the outdoors.
“June Creek” is a little generic of a name, I thought to myself. Maybe I should name this creek after Dad.
As I was thinking about these things, I came upon a dark green hole that just screamed of fish on the left bank. I cast the Renegade into the run and the biggest cutthroat of the day rose and engulfed the fly. Upon setting the hook, the fish gave me a wonderful scrap and just as I was almost ready to land him, my tippet snapped. I knew there was a knot in my line that I should have fixed when I tied on my fly and that was my undoing. I had just lost the fish of the day and all I could do was smile. Dad, who had a great sense of humor, would have appreciated that.
Having been away from Aaron and David for a while, I decided to go check up on them and made my way across the stream to an area shaded by big pine trees. I then saw a small swing with a wood plank seat and looked up and noticed a metal plaque secured to the tree, which read, “IN MEMORY OF DAD, 1-20-24 to 3-10-02.”
As I reflected on my own father, I was amazed that I stumbled upon a memorial that another family had posted for their dad. Somehow, I don’t think this was a coincidence. I resolved right then that the name of this creek should be “Keith’s Creek” in honor of my Dad. I thought this was the perfect tribute to my hero and father.
My wife and I named our son, Benjamin, after the great founding father, Benjamin Franklin. We later came to find out that the name means “son of the right hand” or “son of the old age” in Hebrew. Since he is the last of our six kids, I figure that both meanings are appropriate, especially since Ben inherited his old man’s love of the great outdoors and fishing.
Last Friday, I took off from work early and Ben, who is almost five, said, “Dad, let’s go fishing!” I asked him a few times to make sure that he really wanted to go and he was resolute every time. So I donned my shorts and wading sandals and Ben put on his wading shoes. Of course, we stopped by the store to buy a few treats, Gatorade and Nut Rolls, before we headed to our destination.
Not far from home there is a tiny spring-fed creek loaded with Yellowstone Cutthroats that I dearly love. While it has a proper name, I call it “Trickle Creek.” I have found that when the runoff just starts to drop and the creek begins to clear, this creek really shines and you can catch a cutty in every likely spot. I often fish it with little fly rods, but it’s perfect for tenkara as there really is no need for a reel. The biggest fish is no bigger than 13 inches, but most are 8 to 10 inches. I figured this would be a great place for us to catch a few.
When we reached our destination, I extended the Tenkara USA, Rhodo rod that is adjustable to three different lengths, 8’10”, 9’9”, and 10’6”, which is perfect for the tight conditions of Trickle Creek. Our fly for the night was a Renegade. Ben and I started catching fish almost as soon as we reached the water. Little Ben giggled with every fish and loved wading in the creek. He even didn’t mind brush bustin’ to get to some of the holes, although a few times I had to put him on my shoulders to avoid the stinging nettle and other scratchy weeds.
Our deal was that I would hook them and Ben would let them go. Of course, he had to name every fish before he let them go. Let’s see, there was Skippy, Flippy, Ringo, Chubby, and Roly, and so on and so forth. After landing numerous fish, I decided to let Ben bring them in and it was fun to see him fighting a fish on a rod that is easily four times his height. And he did just fine. I even let him try to cast a few times, but we need to work on that.
Beautiful Cutty on a Renegage.
Ben’s enthusiasm and sheer joy was contagious. I have fished this creek dozens of times over the years and I can honestly say this was the funnest, most memorable night I’ve spent on Trickle Creek.
As we drove home sharing the last of my grape Gatorade, I told Ben, “I had so much fun fishing with you buddy! I’ve got a new nickname for you. You want to hear it?”
“Yes, Dad!” replied Ben.
“You are now Benkara. You are welcome to fish with me anytime, buddy.”
I’m looking forward to fishing with my little buddy into my golden years!