DESERT 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.

 

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The trail down to the Creek.
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.

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Watch out for Cholla. It bites!
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.

 

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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.

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A face only a mother could love.
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.

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LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE

(Day One: Part One).

There’s an old idiom lightning never strikes twice, which means that most people believe that the same rare thing never happens to a person twice.  From my first day of fishing in Colorado with Brother Shawn, I can testify that lightning sometimes does strike twice in the same place–and in more ways than one.

To our chagrin, the Arkansas River was once again blown out for my fourth annual Colorado fishing trip in June of 2016.  Like last year, Shawn and I would have to find other rivers to fish.  As we discussed where to go, we talked about the epic fishing we experienced the previous year on a big creek named after the Indian word for a mountain pass where buffalo would cross over to the other valley (that’s the only hint I’m giving you) and a smaller tributary I’ll call, “Pine Creek.”  Last year the fishing on Pine Creek was epic due to hatching Green Drakes, smaller stone flies, Yellow Sallies, and PMD’s.

“Do you think we’ll see any Green Drakes on Pine Creek?”  Shawn asked hopefully.

“I think it’s possible,” I replied, “but my experience with Green Drakes is that they are hard to time correctly.  It’s usually the classic: You should have been here yesterday! I say we give it a try anyway and hope for the best.”  We both concurred that this was the game plan for our first morning.

When we pulled up to our parking spot early that morning, we both nervously walked up to the creek hoping to see some of the big green mayflies.  The tea-colored creek appeared about the same exact flow as last year.  It was as if we had never left.  It didn’t take long before we saw a spinner drake dancing above a riffle.

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It was like deja vu. The little creek looked perfect!

 

 

“Brother, that’s a Green Drake!  Can you believe that we timed this right?”  Shawn exclaimed.

We both hustled back to the truck and rigged up our rods; Shawn, a Southern Appalachian Glass fly rod, and me a Tenkara USA Rhodo.  I tied on a Green Drake Cripple and was on the creek fishing well before Shawn even had his rod rigged up.  In fact, I had a nice brown hooked, landed and photoed before Shawn even stepped foot in the creek.

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First fish of the trip: A nice brown on a green drake cripple. 

 

Shawn and I decided to fish upstream together and take turns at each likely looking pool, run, or bend.  We were stoked to observe copious amounts of stoneflies, Yellow Sallies, Caddis, PMD’s and a few Green Drakes all along the creek.  Despite the abundant tablefare, Shawn struggled at first to get the finicky browns to take his fly.

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Little Stonefly.

 

“Brother, it’s all about the drag free drift and keeping as much line off the water as possible.  These fish won’t take your fly if they see your line. Tenkara is perfect for this little creek, because the fish are only seeing my fly,” I explained to Shawn.  Shawn followed my advice and soon started catching fish in every likely looking spot with his glass rod.

After catching numerous nice brownies, I lost the Green Drake Cripple that had served me so well.  Shawn struggled to catch fish on the various Stimulator patterns he had tied.  We both naturally gravitated toward the classic Renegade in a size 12, which we tie with a red, purple or blue butt.  In my opinion, the Renegade is one of the most versatile and effective attractor patterns ever created.  We quickly found that Renegade worked just fine as we both caught numerous nice browns and brook trout.

The fishing on Pine Creek was technical in that we had to sneak into casting range to not spook the wary fish and then cast the fly precisely with a drag free drift.  On one bend of the creek, Shawn watched a nice brown rise to the surface and eat a natural fly.  He then cast the Renegade above the brown’s lie at the bend of the creek and we both watched as it drifted perfectly into position.  Of course, the brown rose up, slurped it in and Shawn soon landed him.  Multiple times that day Shawn said out loud: “My favorite fish of the day was that brown that I watched take a natural and then I got him to take my fly.”

“Yes, that was pretty darn cool, brother.”  I had to agree.

As we had the previous year, we fished all the way up to where beaver dams blocked our progress.  In the pond above the beaver dam, we watched trout sipping naturals on the glassy surface.  I then cast the Renegade lightly to where we saw the last rise and the eager fish quickly gulped it in.  When I set the hook, the acrobatic fish blasted out of the water unlike the browns and brook trout before.  I quickly brought the rainbow to hand and we snapped a picture.

With our progress stymied, Shawn and I hiked out of the creek bottom though marshlands interspersed with wild irises–a favorite wildflower of mine–back to the road.  We stopped at the truck for a break and cracked open two Boylan Root Beers.

“Here’s to hitting this creek perfectly two years in a row,” Shawn said as we clinked our bottles together.

“Amen to that brother.”  The gourmet root beer was the perfect compliment to our morning.

Not wanting to call it quits on Pine Creek, we decided to hike downstream a ways and fish back up to the truck.  As we hiked, three cow elk blasted out of the creek bottom and up a pine-covered hillside.  We took it as a good omen.  The creek downstream looked excellent and we were excited to give it a try.

We didn’t fish long, however, before a dark storm cloud rolled over the little valley.  As we approached another little beaver pond, the heavens let loose with thunder and lightning.  I don’t mind fishing in the rain, but standing in a creek with a lightning rod during an electric storm is just plain dumb.

“We better get the heck out of here!” said Shawn as we witnessed lightning flash overhead.

“Yeah, buddy.  Let’s get out of Dodge!”

As we were both trying to get out of the creek, I stepped into thick mud and pea-sized gravel suddenly filled my Simms wading sandals making the going extremely tough and painful.  Moreover, my fly snagged on a willow near the beaver dam and I struggled to get it loose.  All the while, thunder boomed and lightning cracked all around me.

Not long after I pulled the fly free, marble sized hail starting to pummel us.  Shawn decided that it was each for his own and he bolted down the trail to the truck as fast as he could.  I, on the other hand, hobbled along as the gravel in my sandals tortured my poor feet.  Yet, I didn’t dare stop to take off my shoes because of the overhead onslaught of hail that stung my neck, ears and arms.  My only recourse was to pull my fishing vest up over my head and keep moving.  To my relief, I soon saw the truck and jogged over to it despite the rocks in my sandals.

By the time I reached the truck, there was an inch of hail on the ground.  As I took shelter in the truck, Shawn laughingly reported that he had filmed my misfortune with his phone.

“Dude, that really sucked!” I hollered, “But it was kind of awesome too! I’m just glad we didn’t get struck by lightning. I couldn’t go any faster because I had rocks in my sandals!”

“That was dang scary!  I had rocks in mine too, but I ran anyway.”   Shawn replied.

Despite the crazy weather, we both agreed that the morning was a stellar success.  Lightning had struck twice both figuratively and literally.  Any way you slice it, this was an adventure to remember.

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A bend in my rod at the bend of the creek.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

RUDE, CRUDE AND UNCOUTH

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.

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Root Beers, Renegades, and Tenkara

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.

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Andy catching fishing fish on I Dunno Reservoir.

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.

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Scaling the cliff’s ledge to get to rising trout.

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.

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Fish murderer.

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.

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Our haul on the Little Chief Smoker.

 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.”

TENKARA THERAPY

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary can speak.”

-Hans Hoffman

Every June for the last three years, I have flown to Colorado to spend a few days fishing with my brother Shawn.  In March of 2015, I purchased my plane ticket before knowing  big changes were heading my way.  You see, I’m an attorney by profession and I had been with the same law firm for twelve years. I had been considering making a change during the last few years and going out on my own, but the timing had never felt right.  However, everything came to a head during June of 201 5 when I realized that it was now time to cut ties with my old firm and be the captain of my own ship.

Even though I knew the job change was the right thing for me, I experienced terrible fear of failure and stress, so much that it made me sick to my stomach.  I even thought about canceling my trip to Colorado and said to my wife, Kristin, “Maybe I should stay home.  How can I even enjoy myself with all this turmoil in my life?”

“You already have your plane ticket.  You should still go.   Fishing with Shawn will be good for you and will help you deal with the stress.  I know you and Shawn will have a good time .Everything here will be fine.”  My good wife reasoned with me.

With her encouragement, I decided to keep my plans.  I brought my Badger Tenkara Rod along for the trip.  On our first day, Shawn and I fished a high mountain lake in the Sangre De Christo Mountains and a beautiful, nearby mountain stream.  I enjoyed myself that day, but worries of the future were never far from the forefront of my mind.

On the second day, Shawn and I traveled over into new country for me.  First thing that morning we fished a small river I’ve dubbed “Buffalo Creek” (though that it is not it’s real name).  I wrote about this awesome river in my last post, “Tenkara Humble Pie.”  I really enjoyed fishing with my tenkara rod on this technical brown trout river and caught four trout that morning.  On the other hand, Shawn got skunked so we decided to explore.

Shawn drove us to a tributary to Buffalo Creek that I will call “Pine Creek.” Shawn turned off the main road onto a two-track that led us to a creek bottom.  Pine Creek is a meandering, willow-lined meadow stream.  By this time, the sun was bright overhead and the surrounding young foliage was verdant green.  With the runoff, the flows were over the banks, but the water had just cleared enough to be fishable.  At first, Shawn and I thought the creek might be too high to fish well, but we decided to look closer.

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Pine Creek was perfect for tenkara.  

 

As we walked upstream, we observed numerous big mayflies dancing over the water’s surface and less graceful stoneflies helicoptering around us.  With the tenkara rod, I cast to a likely looking run with a Stimulator and a nice trout readily rose to it, but I missed.

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Green Drake Spinner.

“Andy, those are Green Drakes, Pale Morning Duns and Yellow Sallies!  We should stay awhile!”  Shawn exclaimed.  With the multitudes of bugs flying around us, it didn’t take Shawn and I long to figure out we were experiencing something truly special.  All of my worries of the present and the future seemed to fade away.

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Fish on!

 

Shawn and I fished together taking turns at each likely spot.  The rule was that you got to fish until you caught one and then it was the other guy’s turn.  Together, we caught twenty or so browns and brook trout in every likely run, all on dry flies.  These fish were much bigger than the ones I had caught earlier on Buffalo Creek.  With the tenkara rod, I had to give chase to some of the bigger runners, which was a rush (no pun intended).

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Chasing after a nice one!

 

We fished as far up the creek as we could before our progress was blocked by beaver dams and flooded, boggy meadows.  We walked back to the truck all the while talking about how epic the experience was.  This is the type of moment every fisherman hopes to experience every time they go out.

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Beautiful Brook Trout.

 

 

This glorious moment made me so glad that I had come, even though everything in my life seemed tumultuous at the time.  Suddenly, the difficult changes that lay before me did not seem so daunting and I felt like things would be alright.

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A brown trout and a smile: It’s amazing what a little Tenkara Therapy can do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TENKARA HUMBLE PIE

Every June since 2013, I have taken a trip to Colorado to fish a few days with my brother Shawn.  We fish Shawn’s home waters, which he knows and fishes well.  There have been a few times when he has wiped my eye with his fishing skills.  Regardless, we always have fun together.

Last year was the first time that I brought only a tenkara rod for the trip because its smaller case makes it perfect as a carry on for the flight. Also, my experience with tenkara was limited to a few days on a tiny mountain stream near my grouse coverts in the fall and one spring afternoon on the Henry’s Fork.  So I was excited to see what I could do with the tenkara.

In 2015, Colorado received so much precipitation during the winter and spring months that many of the rivers we typically fish were blown out.  So we had to try and locate fishable waters.  Shawn had told me many times about a small brown trout stream he loved which can be technical.   The creek is named after the Native American word for a low point in the mountains where the buffalo pass over between the valleys (that’s the only hint I’m giving you!). We’ll call it “Buffalo Creek.”

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Cattle have replaced the once abundant buffalo of the area.

Early Friday morning, our second day, we traveled over the Sangre De Cristo Mountains to Buffalo Creek.  The mountains surrounding Buffalo Creek are not as high and majestic as the Sangre De Christos, but are rounded and pine crested.  The lowlands are covered in sage brush.  The area reminded me of my home turf in Southeastern Idaho, so I liked it from the outset.

As we traveled, Shawn made it clear that he was not a fan of tenkara.  He told me a crude, but funny, “Dirty Johnny Joke” (which I hesitate to tell you because this is a family friendly blog).  The joke begins with Dirty Johnny cursing and stomping on ants calling them “worthless.” Mother Theresa happens to see Johnny doing this, chastises him and asserts that “Nothing is worthless.  Everything has its purpose.”  As punishment, Mother Theresa tells Johnny that he has to try and think of three things that are completely worthless.  When she comes back and asks for Johnny’s response, he replies: “Boobs on a nun, balls on a priest, and those freakin’ ants!” And, to make his sentiments on tenkara clear, Shawn added, “And tenkara rods!”

“We’ll just see about that!” I responded with a laugh.

Buffalo Creek is a meandering meadow creek about ten feet wide in most places.  With all the rain Colorado had been receiving, the creek was high and a bit off-color, but fishable.  I opted to fish downstream with my tenkara rod while Shawn fished upstream with his little blue fiberglass rod I have dubbed, “The Limp Blue Noodle,” because it is super flimsy and hard to cast.  Why Shawn loves it, I really cannot say.

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Andy fishes downstream with tenkara.
Little did I know that the tenkara rod would prove to be the perfect rod for Buffalo Creek.  I fished downstream using a Stimulator with crossing rubber legs and a chunky nice brown soon rose for it along the right bank right where I thought he’d be. The fish was much bigger than the ones Shawn described as we earlier discussed Buffalo Creek.

As I worked my way downstream, I caught a few other browns, but in areas outside of the heavier current.  All the while the sun was high and bright overhead, which is not the best condition for brown trout fishing.  One nice brown took a dropper nymph in a eddy alongside the creek’s left bank.  I fished all the way down to the bridge and started to walk back to truck, but Shawn drove up before I could even reach the main road.

“How’d you do?”  I asked Shawn.

“I got skunked!”  replied Shawn.  “I didn’t even see a fish rise.”  I then told him about my success with tenkara.  Shawn’s only response was, “Really?”

“Yep.”  I stated with a smile thinking back on Shawn’s earlier joke.

Shawn and I then drove over to a tributary to Buffalo Creek about half its size. Let’s call it “Pine Creek.” We found a full blown green drake hatch and we fished together taking turns catching numerous fish.  I’ll write more about this experience later on the blog.  However, I will say that on this small creek, Shawn and I were pretty evenly matched with our different rods.

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Andy works Pine Creek during a green drake hatch.

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Green Drake Spinner.
After lunch, we went and fished the Taylor River with limited success.  As we headed home, Shawn wanted to fish Buffalo Creek as our last hurrah for the day.  I think he hoped for a chance at redemption.  Of course, I opted for my tenkara rod, but this time fished upstream with Shawn.  I used one of my Dad’s Red-butted Double Renegades and, though it was hard to see on the water in the failing light, I got hits regularly.  The eleven foot tenkara rod made it nice because I could keep most of my line off the water.  All said, I caught six browns in the last light of the day.

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Buffalo Creek in the evening.
On the other hand, Shawn continued to use the Limp Blue Noodle and, though he had one strike, he ended up going home with the essence o’ Pepe Le Pew.  The problem?  I’m convinced that his rod was too short making it so he could not cast far enough for those spooky brown trout.  Also, with the Limp Blue Noodle, Shawn couldn’t keep his line off the water and he was spooking the fish.

On the way home, Shawn told me “I am humbled.  You kicked my butt tonight!”  While he didn’t admit it, I know that Shawn gained some respect for tenkara that day.  He still refuses to give it a try, but maybe a rematch at Buffalo Creek this June might change his mind. Loser buys the milkshakes and has to fish a whole day with tenkara or the Limp Blue Noodle!    What do you say, Shawn?  Ready for another slice of Tenkara Humble Pie?

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Browns on Tenkara and a smile.