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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BROWN TROUT HEAVEN

(Day One: Part Two)

The fishing was so good Thursday morning on Pine Creek and I Dunno Reservoir that Shawn and I decided not to make the trip into Gunnison to eat dinner at Garlic Mike’s—a world class Italian restaurant—as  originally planned, because we both wanted to keep fishing (now, if it was tacos, we probably would have chosen otherwise). 

Instead, we opted to travel a short distance to a small river, which flows through lush, green pastures.   The creek is actually named after the Indian word for the low point in the mountains where buffalo would cross over, but I’ll call it “Brown Trout Heaven.”  The buffalo are now long gone, but it is not uncommon to meet a bovine beauty queen along its bends and runs. 

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Shawn caught a cutthroat at Brown Trout Heaven.

 

Robert Traver aptly wrote “trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience.”  Nowhere is this statement more true than with brown trout.  For years I hunted big browns near home on Idaho’s Snake River with traditional fly fishing gear and streamers and learned to love and respect them.  In my opinion, they are the wariest of the trout family.  It takes both stealth and skill to consistently catch big brown trout.  They spook easily and will generally only hit a fly once before the gig is up.  And, once they get past twelve inches, browns don’t take dry flies as readily as other trout species.  It sure is fun when they do. 

For my trip to Colorado, I only packed my Tenkara USA Rhodo rod and planned to use it exclusively, come what may.  When Shawn and I made it to Brown Trout Heaven mid-afternoon, I fished upstream and Shawn fished down.  The tea-colored creek was still high from the runoff, but the edges were clear.  The wading was a little tough due to potholes, sharp willows, and thick gumbo mud caused by cattle.  A few times, my sandals were sucked from my feet and I had to fish them out of the reeking mess. 

Despite the difficulty, the fishing was excellent as nice browns (i.e. 10 to 12 inches) slurped in my Renegade at each likely looking spot along the edges.  The key was to quietly sneak into casting position, cast precisely to the likely looking spot, keep as much line off the water as possible, and get an absolute dead drift.  Oftentimes, only my fly was on the water when the fish rose. 

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Andy with a decent brown at Brown Trout Heaven.

As the sun started to set, I was fishing a run near the road when Shawn drove up in his truck and watched as I worked a boulder strewn run.  The trout of the day rose to the Renegade in a fishy pocket beneath a willow.  I set the hook and giggled as I fought and landed this 15 inch beauty.  With Shawn patiently waiting, I realized it was time to call it day—a glorious one for sure. 

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The fish of the day.

On the way home, Shawn, who regularly teases me about tenkara, admitted that it is a very effective method of fishing for this size river and that he had mimicked the tenkara techniques with his glass rod that afternoon to great success.  No doubt about it, tenkara worked wonderfully to achieve the stealth and quietude necessary to fool the fish at Brown Trout Heaven.      

 

BENKARA

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.

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Rule # 1: When you take kids fishing, you have to get treats!

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.

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Trickle Creek is a special place.

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.

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Ben’s smile reminds me why I love fishing so much. 

 

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.

 

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.

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Little Ben brings in the last fish of the night. 

 

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!

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Dad and Benkara fishing for fun on Trickle Creek.