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.

 

 

 

 

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BAD WEATHER, A BRITTANY AND BLUE WING OLIVES

“The best thing one can do when it is raining is to let it rain.”

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As the Honda CRV turned up the mouth of the valley leading to our camping destination, I experienced a little disappointment as I noticed a dark rain cloud further up the valley.  I had hoped for sunny skies and warm temperatures, but it looked like we were in for the opposite.

That morning, I left early with my Brittany, Misty, in hopes of getting our coveted camping spot for our annual Memorial Day camping trip and to fish while I waited for the rest of my family and friends to show up.  When I arrived at the campground, however, I found the camping spot already occupied and it was raining and cold.  My mood soured even more under the circumstances.

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Gray skies over the creek.

Trying to stay positive, I quickly picked a decent camp site on a bluff overlooking the little river and—despite the inclement weather—decided to don my waders and a raincoat and try fishing anyway.  I chose the Tenkara USA Rhodo rod and tied on a nymph and a foam indicator.  Fortunately, the fishing was good despite the cruddy weather, but I got scared off the river a few times due to the booming thunder overhead.  I never saw lightning, but understood that the two usually go hand in hand and—with a graphite lightning rod in hand and standing in water—I did not want to wait to find out if the lightning was coming.  Misty didn’t seem to care one iota about the rain or the thunder, but enjoyed being outside chasing whatever critters she could find.  At around noon, we were forced to take shelter in the car while an inch of pea-sized hail covered the car and ground around us.

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Misty, my soaking wet fishing companion for the day.  

“Sheesh, this stinks!” I stated out loud to Misty as we sat in the car.

After the hail let up and the skies shifted from black to gray, Misty and I again braved the elements.  We hiked clear up the creek and I caught numerous rainbows and brooks on nymphs.  The storm again turned for the worse and rain began pour.  As I walked back downstream to try and get out of the slop, the river began to boil with trout as they feasted upon the abundant hatching blue wing olives.  My attitude perked up immediately.  With my numb fingers, I tied on an Adams, which worked okay, but I knew I had some patterns in the car that would be killer.  So I hoofed it back to the car as quickly as I could and soon found a Harrop’s CDC BWO pattern, tied it on to the leader, and doped it up with floatant.

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A chunky little rainbow in the rain.
 When I made it back down to the creek, the hatch was still in full force and it seemed that every fish in the creek was feeding.  I have never before seen such a prolific blue wing olive hatch anywhere.  Harrop’s fly pattern worked like a charm, the tenkara rod was effective for casting and getting a drag free drift and I caught tons of fish.  To try and make things a little more challenging, I actually started fishing the skinniest, clearest water I could find and still caught fish.  The tenkara rod was no handicap whatsoever this day.

 

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Beautiful brookie.

All said, in spite of the bad weather, time flew by as I fished from 10:30 am to 5:20 pm.  Misty had been a good fishing companion all day.  While I did not keep count, I believe I caught more fish on this day than any other day before.  What I thought would be a bust turned out to be a special day astream.  Though the weather improved and the fishing was good the rest of the weekend, it was not epic as on Friday.

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We had better weather the rest of the weekend but the fishing was not as good.
Later on that weekend a friend from a neighboring campsite asked me if I was the crazy man his family watched fishing in the rain and hail all day Friday.  I laughingly replied, “Yep, that was me and the fishing was amazing!”

SIREN CREEK

There’s a special creek not far from home that beckons to me. An unwary angler could get lost forever as each curve and bend of the creek looks better than the last and tempts you onward. I call it “Siren Creek,” though that is not its real name.

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Siren Creek

The second time I fished it, I was with my father—my hero and outdoor mentor—on one of our last fishing outings. Earlier that week, Dad called me and asked what I wanted for my upcoming birthday and I quickly responded, “For you to go fishing with me!” Dad agreed and we planned to fish the next Saturday.

Unfortunately, it rained hard that day. Dad and I fished numerous creeks and the fish did not cooperate. By the time we finally made it to Siren Creek (our last stop of the day), Dad wasn’t feeling well and stayed near the truck. Right off the bat, he caught one cutthroat. I was glad to see that he didn’t get skunked.

Under the circumstances, I fished only a small section of the creek. The further upstream I hiked, however, the better it looked. I caught a nice brown in a run not far from where we parked and later a beautiful, dark cutthroat that rose to a Stimulator in a deep hole overshadowed by exposed roots at a nice bend in the creek.

 

The creek was so enticing that I repeatedly longed to see what was around the next bend.  Despite its almost irresistible call, I decided to go back and check up on Dad.  I found him sitting in the car ashen, feverish, and cranking the heat in July.  We decided to call it a day.

As we drove home, I had the strong premonition that Dad would not live much longer and the thought brought tears to my eyes. To my dismay, Dad passed away the following March.  There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him.

Some may think that this sad experience might steer me away from Siren Creek.  To the contrary, I have been back numerous times and have become enraptured with this little creek, its seductive twists and turns, and its small Yellowstone Cutthroats.  The creek has become one of those sacred places where I go to remember Dad and the good times we spent together.

I’m starting to understand what Norman Maclean meant when he wrote about reaching out to those he loved who had passed on to the other side and hearing some of their words in a river’s whisperings.  It’s like a siren that keeps calling me back.

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. 

 

             

 

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.