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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MY DESERT FISHING OASIS

Every year, my family heads south to Utah’s famed red rock country for Spring Break.  This trip is always such a welcome relief to the doldrums of Idaho’s long, cold winters.  As much as I love hiking and petroglyph viewing, I always hope to sneak in some fishing, but—in years past—we never could fit it in.

This year, we headed to Vernal to spend some time in and around Dinosaur National Monument.  This was actually our third time vacationing in the area for spring break and we honestly feel we are just beginning to understand all of the fun things this area offers:  Dinosaur fossils, sightseeing, hiking, and petroglyph viewing.   I mentioned to my wife that, if at all possible, I hoped to get some fishing in on this trip.

Everyone knows of the world-class Green River and its fishing.  While that was a possibility, I needed a place where I could keep my family occupied while I wet a line for a few minutes.  The Green just didn’t seem to fit the bill.  About six years ago during a sharptail hunt, my friend Ryan Dearing told me about his favorite place to fish in Utah, a remote canyon creek that you had to hike into loaded with big rainbows and browns somewhere in eastern Utah.  The place always sounded tantalizing, but seemed out of reach for me, especially on a family vacation.  But I still hoped that there would be somewhere that fit the bill. 

 After spending our first day in Dinosaur National Monument, I read the brochures and asked around for fishing suggestions for the next day and one particular creek came up numerous times.  I won’t mention the creek’s name, but will let you discover it for yourself (as I did).  My wife suggested that we go to this creek as a family on Friday.  When I asked our RV camp host where to fish, he mentioned a few creeks, but when I told him that my wife wanted us to go to this particular creek, he acted as if I had just discovered his secret and he reluctantly told me that this creek had big browns and rainbows and that this is where he would go if he had the choice.  His response certainly piqued my interest. 

Friday morning, my family and in-laws headed out of Vernal towards our destination.  We drove up from the desert floor, through the cedars, up on top of a sage-covered mountain, and then dropped into this red rock gorge that looks like Zion’s National Park.  Even with the thick gray clouds overhead, the colors radiated.  I liked this place instantly for the scenery alone. 

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The view from up top was unexpected and spectacular.  I thought it looks like Zion’s National Park.

 

Upon arrival, I spent a minute with the family seeing the main attraction (which, if I told you, would give away the location) and then begged leave to try fishing the creek.  My wife graciously agreed.  I quickly strung up my Tenkara USA Rhodo rod with a flashy green nymph with red wire and a black bead head.  I hiked down the trail until I came to the creek.  At the creek’s edge, I promptly saw two fifteen inch rainbows right off the bank and I’m sure they could see me too.  I cast the nymph and drifted it in front of their faces numerous times with no takes.   I immediately fell in love with the creek:  Perfect sized, clear, spring fed but looks like a freestone river, sporting big, picky fish.  What’s not to love? 

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A fly fisherman’s dream.  

 

I had earlier observed about five or six anglers gear up and head down the trail before me so I was a little worried that the creek would be crowded, but the other anglers had passed on by leaving beautiful, trout-filled water seemingly all to me.  With the limited amount of time, I decided then to focus on the quarter mile stretch just below the trailhead.   

I hiked down about fifty yards and saw this beautiful run below an exposed boulder mid-creek which just screamed of fish.  The rocks aligning the creek were covered up with adult blue wing olives.  I stepped out into the current in my Simms wading sandals and Patagonia fishing pants.  The water was cold, but bearable.  I cast the green nymph into the calm below the boulder and the little foam indicator quickly jerked underwater.   An angry 17 inch rainbow ripped up out of the water and ran to the far side of the creek.  I tried to turn its head, but the supercharged fish was quickly off.  I honestly felt undergunned with the Tenkara rod, but that is all that I had so it would have to do.  By dumb luck, the little green nymph was perfect for this particular hatch.  I soon hooked and landed a fourteen-inch rainbow, but it was a small consolation to the big one that got away. 

I headed down the creek and spied a deep pool beside a big boulder.  At the head of the run the creek narrows through a shoot, but opens up into a dark pool loaded with fish.  I stood on the boulder and hooked numerous fish just as my wife, mother-in-law, and two oldest daughters came hiking down the trail.  I caught and released a few beautiful rainbows and one nice brown as they watched, all the while raving about the creek.  Of course, I asked my wife to snap a few photos of the action.

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The glory hole.

 

After another forty-five minutes of fishing and exploring, I had to leave.  I felt like I had only scratched the surface of this amazing creek.  I truly felt as if I had just hit the jackpot and I made plans to someday spend more time exploring this amazing place. 

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A unique, wild brown trout. 

 

That night, I posted a few photos of my fishing excursion on Facebook.  Interestingly, my friend Ryan recognized the place and commented: “What???  That’s one of my favorite spots.”  I then realized that I had discovered and fished the very creek that Ryan told me about all those years ago and it was everything he had described and more.  I guess some days you can have your proverbial cake and eat it too.  I will definitely go back some day.      

 

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I will definitely be back to explore this amazing, red rock canyon creek.