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.