Sunday, January 6, 2019

Chasing Greenbacks in the headwaters, early season 2018

Many times I have hiked past this stretch of water with no intention of fishing it... and so it dawned on me in early 2018 that I should make a day of fishing this long stretch below a popular trail in RMNP, even if just to stop wondering what it was like as I hiked by, time and time again.

This particular stretch begins above a popular tourist lookout. Yet just a few minutes beyond that crowded place, where children and adults alike complain about all 10-15 hard minutes of walking they've just suffered through, one can step off the trail, walk up along the stream and instantly feel a million miles from civilization. Not many people fish this water, and I'm not entirely sure why. It is productive.

Maybe its because of the bushes and the need for more precise casting? Maybe its the fact that there is no easy way in here without pushing through thick scrub brush and risking surprising the occasional moose or elk? Or maybe its just that most people don't realize what that little bit of extra effort can bring...

Working my way up I grabbed a few brookies and a rainbow in these picturesque spots... a nice way to start the day, but not what I came for. I realized I'd need to get up above the next waterfall to get into the cutthroat water... but I didn't rush it because this place was special.

Walking past pools teeming with brookies and rainbows I took my time to breathe the clean air and feel that feeling you get when you first set foot back in the high mountains after a winter away from the streams. These meadows in the upper headwaters region are just beyond words. There is almost no way to put into words the feeling, the smells, the sounds... I decided to lay in the grass for a while and look at the sky. 

This particular spot is probably one of the most beautiful high alpine meadows I've ever stumbled upon while fishing, and I made sure to take it all in while I had it all to myself.

At the top of the meadow the gradient increased immediately...

 ...and above the first set of little falls I found what I was looking for right away.

This is the kind of thing dreams are made of... and in turn, those dreams are the kind of thing that can make one walk away from one life in order to embrace another.

Navigating this particular section of river is not easy... there are many tight-walled mini canyons... the underbrush is thick... there is wildlife all around. In all actuality, much of this is not that far from the trail. But it is not easy to reach from the trail.. and the sound of the water and the thick trees drown out any indication of these realities.

The best way up is usually walking right up through the waterfalls.

At the top of one set of falls is always a nice pool... and another set of waterfalls!

And in every one of those pockets a fish awaits your properly presented fly... as well as your sloppily presented fly.

The fishing in these places is not particularly hard... what matters most is positioning, angle of the light so one doesn't cast a shadow, and a light footed style of travel that attempts not to warn the fish by way of heavy vibrations from one's feet.

Sometimes I wonder if I sound like a broken recored extolling the virtues of getting to these places to see these fish, these flowers, these views...

But if the record is broken, and it keeps playing back your favorite line of the song, is that such a bad thing? 

Large boulders create small pockets of soft water at the edge of the raging current... and one can always find a fish there... it is like the promise of a healthy stream such as this.

Coming up to the upper section of the Canyon I stopped to take it all in again. At that moment, a helicopter began to circle above. I was concerned about how they began to drop low and linger, and I turned and gave the two thumbs up sign to make sure they'd see I was in this place on purpose, by choice, and to avoid wasting a ranger's time. They left right away. Good call. I later learned that a hiker had gone missing in this drainage a few days prior, so they must have hoped to have found this person... but alas it was just me, losing myself in this place on purpose for just one short day.

That moment did serve as a reminder that being in these places does not come without risk. I like to tell people where I'm going just in case I don't make it back... but thinking about those things and living in fear rather than living in the moment would be a huge mistake... of that I am sure.

In the tiny eddy on the left under the long grass, I hooked a solid 19-plus inch wild greenback. It was one of the nicest headwaters fish I've hooked in a stream this small in ages, if not ever. I was a little sad when it wiggled off the hook at my feet, because I really would have liked a photo of that one. Luckily another smaller fish was waiting for a fly right next to that one, so I got a photo of that fish instead.

By this point I had caught well over 40 fish on this one fly. I felt like it was in surprisingly good shape, and so I continued to fish it. Sometimes the more damaged it gets, the more fish seem to like it.

Which would you rather eat?

The view at the top of the canyon opens into a beautiful rocky bowl that holds a cold glacial lake. The swampy outflow is usually full of trout. Is it still Tenkara once you cross the line above the first fall into the flat/still water of the lake? Nope! It is not. Once one is in the lake... one is then just fishing with a fixed line rod. 

Yet the result is the same... now was that so hard to distinguish? 

I finished the day with some rather large and spectacularly colored Greenbacks from the lake before heading back down to the car. 

These fish are truly magnificent...

What a life it is... I hope more of you come join me for adventures in the Colorado front range headwaters in 2019! 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

#Tenkara: a representation of the West's contribution to Tenkara so far?

Its been a while since I've felt like writing... a lot of things that are annoying, boring and generally not worth discussing on a blog have been going on in life, and so I've been less inspired to write... instead spending all my spare time out fishing, hiking, riding a bike and generally trying to feel free again when possible. It was a productive summer for me in terms of Tenkara... but I've hit a wall. Maybe Tenkara has hit a wall. I don't know that I can progress further without more one on one instruction, was bummed about not being able to get to Oni School - and that got me thinking... some might say Tenkara is also kind of in a rut right now. Not for everyone, but for many.

The arguments, the noobs, the will to disagree before learning, the same old story of minimalism and always having a compact rod with you; marketed to the same old group of massdrop-loving, kickstarter-backing, enthusiastic outdoor-lovers, has created a predictable and totally boring stream of new anglers that will never even know what an advanced Tenkara angler looks like. 

Sadly, chances are most Tenkara anglers in the West don't yet understand the fundamentals of casting a rod that needs to be loaded with correct casting stroke rather than weight of fly line, and who will never reach their full potential as fishermen following #Tenkara. That is not their fault, though. And by no means is this article meant to attack them in any way. It is about the state of Tenkara in the west, the lack of good instruction and factually correct information disseminated, which voices get heard in "public" and the effect of all of that on the sport as a whole. Not all agree that the effect has been good.

This is not a popular opinion. Most of my opinions aren't. That makes me an unpopular guy in the Tenkara community in the West - and as you've likely seen or guessed by now, I really couldn't care less about that because I know that it is worth whatever complications come along with calling out those who co-opted the sport we love in order to attempt to preserve it from being altered completely.

Is this really a good way to get more eyes on your regurgitated products with new colors and brand names?

I also don't feel the need to "pad" the facts for people just so they won't get defensive in reacting to something that they were wrong about. Nobody has ever padded the rough realities of life for other people except maybe their families... and not every kid even had that luxury. Its not how people all think, especially not where I am from. Thankfully, not everyone takes offense to being corrected, or to people who don't pad their wording. A saying comes to mind: "Do not correct a fool for he will hate you, but correct a wise man and he will thank you." Best attitude towards learning is right there in that quote.

Wrong species... that plus Rapala really spells Tenkara, doesn't it? 

But who am I and what is my authority?

I am nobody. Just a guy who has been to Japan, been privileged enough to fish with and hang with some of the most legendary Tenkara anglers of this generation, and calculated enough to listen to them rather than argue. And I want them to be able to tell their story, rather than us telling it for them. It doesn't matter if I'm right or wrong... what matters is really who tells the story.

In my pursuit to help educate a small niche on what Tenkara actually is, (and what it is not,) and to attempt to spread a different message than the American "Tenkara rod" companies, I have, as a result of my consistent and unpopular opinions, isolated a lot of people I didn't know by mistake; ranted, shared important facts and knowledge, pushed certain techniques, been wrong, been right, made friends, lost friends, made enemies, and made friends again with countless people.

I am constantly being told to go away, be quiet, constantly being blocked from groups and always being told to change my message or the way I communicate it "for my own good." That won't happen, and this isn't about me. Tenkara rod companies here showed Tenkara to the west, made some fantastic content and good products, then soon after changed the message in order to have a broader audience to market to. "Growing Tenkara" is really about selling more Tenkara rods and helping more people catch fish without really knowing what Tenkara is. Am I the only one who weighs the benefits of the cozy image of those beginners smiling, catching fish and having a great day while helping companies stay alive and profit, against the risks of turning Tenkara into fishing for people who want to buy a compact or light-weight rod but don't know there's more to it than that? Does one become informed or an expert after a few hours of watching videos online and looking at hash-tagged photos? Or through seeking existing knowledge and thirsting for more? Does buying gear from one company or another mean you are fishing Tenkara? Or is it something else? Do people stop to ask themselves these questions? Some do, some don't. I did not, for a long time. I am glad I now do.

I can really see the tenkara community loving this one... 😂

For many adopters of Tenkara as currently defined, disappointment over feeling abandoned and shunned by the reps of the companies or the owners themselves turned into to shame, shame turned to resentment, resentment turned to anger and anger turned into arguments and childish behavior. The reaction from most Tenkara influencers was the same - shut out the dissent and quiet the voices that shared inconvenient facts from Japan because it created friction. Guess what? There is no life without friction, especially in a pre-Trump and Trump-ruled fact-less America. The grey area has gotten so big that there's pretty much no more black or white left... 

Most who cared about details and learning more than how to hook a fish with a Tenkara rig left the popular spots in the online community to create new groups... and those same issues just moved from group to group, so they left those groups too. There is no escaping the angry mob who wants nothing more than to remove all disagreement from the internet, or for it to "all just be fishing," which is impossible, and leads to stagnation... where we are right now. Many of the people who first discovered Tenkara or who embrace the current definition exist in dark corners of the internet, sharing memes, photos of fishing, cold beer, and fine cannabis. Those who want to learn seek us out and we teach them individually, in real life, passing on what we hope is the most "authentic" version of modern Tenkara, using the tools we have today.

Remind you of a certain character from a Hayao Miyazaki film?

Throughout all of it, the goal has remained the same - help prevent falsehoods and assumptions from being spread about Tenkara, and try to shift the focus away from beginners and to more intermediate and advanced anglers who can embrace the complicated nuances and specific sets of techniques that make Tenkara special. I have not realized until recently how to do that - or why it hasn't happened naturally yet... but it is so clear now I don't know why it didn't occur to me...

The fact is that the "story of Tenkara" has been told or co-opted by white or Western and non-Asian business owners, globally. The story of Tenkara has never been told by the Japanese. The language barrier is real and English spread wider and faster... but now that I have this in mind I know what I think we need to do next.... help give the Japanese more of a direct voice here.

Oh yeah...this one is DEFINITELY Tenkara, right?

Most of the rod companies would love it if people who think and talk like me would shut up. It would be more convenient. Less "controversy." As I write this I am sure I am being blocked by another group who is offended by this very message. The fact that they choose to approach it this way and try to block it out speaks volumes to the truth and the realities of what is going on... self serving interests or simple human emotions, possibly also reacting in fear to inconvenient truths. It is hard for any of us to recognize when we have lost our way or to accept we are wrong, and it is easy to place blame but reality always brings things full circle eventually...

Fact is, if we as a western Tenkara community or industry can give a voice to the Japanese and not for profit or marketing visibility of our Western companies, we'd be doing the world a favor... at least the world of Tenkara.

Nothing says Tenkara like a pile of dead fish in the mud and some slow/warm water...

Going so far as to ban or block certain perspectives to protect selfish interests, business interests, egos, or the old boys clubs that formed early on just isn't going to help, even though it might feel like it will. One cannot remove dissent or disagreement from the internet. Nor can one expect never to see a rant. But westerners will continue to argue without the facts - psychology dictates so -  unless we help shift more of the story back to being told by the Japanese, the original source of Tenkara-related facts.

Hell, who knows, maybe in the end I'll be wrong and the Japanese will reveal through their stories and facts that Tenkara has a new definition. But I want that to come from them, not our businesses, start-ups and selective story-tellers with money to make or lose.

Epically representative of Tenkara, right?

But for now we should be asking... where is the content from Japan? Where is the Japanese voice? Who is funding or giving a platform to Japanese anglers that doesn't involve making a profit? Who is willing to put money up without their logo being prominently displayed? Who is willing to pay to translate a slew or books and DVD's without having to sell it as theirs? I see pretty much none of that... I can only hope at least some of it happens behind the scenes. I am sure it does. But we need more.

Is it so wrong to ask why the story of Tenkara, a Japanese sport, is always told by us "Western" or white people? Instead of writing magazines full of "fair weather tenakra anglers" why not fund 100% Japanese content and keep our western logos small - offering help and money rather than trying to gain it "ourselves?"

Man I wonder why this one isn't on Fujioka-San's website yet!? 

#Tenkara now reflects the choices we in the west have made. #Tenkara is a mirror image of what we have done to confuse the public, the industry, and beyond... and I think it makes sense for that to stop, don't you?

Just go online and pull up #Tenkara and see what comes up. As you've likely figured out by now, all the photos in this post were pulled from that very search. Bluegill. Ocean fishing. Spinning rods. Fly reels... the list goes on. It isn't the entire picture... but it shouldn't be ANY of the picture really either.

Because Tenkara means spin fishing too, right?

Are the Japanese Tenkara anglers happy with where we have taken Tenkara? Do we even care? Hard to say, for so many reasons. But we should care, shouldn't we? Tenkara is, after all, Japanese.

My favorite Tenkara meme of recent...

Is #Tenkara - as it is right now - what we want the legacy of Tenkara in the west to be?

Did we really want to create #Tenkara so that every start up who wants to sell a product to hipsters or any angler and have the next viral kickstarter project use it to get "more attention?" Is it not hilarious we have reached this point?

Warm water fixed line angling for bass is still not Tenkara... yet.

Do we want Tenkara to be the thing everyone has to tag their fishing photos of so that people will think they are cool? Do we want the next generation of Japanese anglers to learn about Tenkara from the west, and learn it wrong? Or did we want to put all the effort we can into getting this right and supporting those who created success for the western companies?

Martin Luther

Am I the only one in the world that finds the current state of Tenkara in the west somewhat depressing and kind of a mess? Maybe. But I know if many of the influential people in the sport thought hard about this, they could not entirely disagree. After all, we are talking about money and business. But one can always dream...

Would you consider this to be a hamburger if that's what half of the hot dog stands had called it when you were a kid because they didn't know any better? 

So in the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, I created a fund and have been adding to it as I can. Its called the "Tenkara Education Fund" and I plan to use it to fund the idea of translating and giving a voice to more Japanese anglers in the West. If you want to know more get in touch. The aim will be to crowdfund our own content to some extent, and to try to provide some funds to support people in Japan who want to make said content and share it or sell it to the rest of the world, without an American or "Western" voice in between them and us. 

Now that is #Tenkara...

And in the meanwhile, stay tuned... I have tons of content from the last year or two that so badly needs to be shared, and I am gearing up to do that... embracing the season of writing, tying and waiting for that first headwaters trout from 2019! If I haven't pissed you off yet then thanks for sticking with the ideals I've tried to support... Happy early winter fishing to all.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

When In Melt-Out Doubt... Fish The High Alpine Lakes

After the "secret season" in March and early April, melt-out begins and the rivers rage and boil over until June or sometimes even July. During that time the best move is to focus on the hiking, early season mushroom hunting, photography... and fishing the lakes as they melt out!

Once soil temps hit the 50's I start to see mushrooms popping here and there. False morels are a common site in conifer forests along streams. The real thing is much harder to find in the high alpine environment.

Wildflowers are in bloom, birds sing their songs, and life returns to the mountains.

As much as one is tempted to search for that elusive hole or pocket, it is, assuredly, nothing but a waste of time...

Reaching a stage where one doesn't feel the need to rush into the season and force oneself into unrealistically difficult fishing conditions holds its own rewards. The things you see when you aren't anxious about where you'll catch the next fish are usually some of the best things to be seen...

Usually the warm sunny weather melts the snow near the trailheads and down below in the canyons... but not the snow up high. Many people presume that they can easily get to the lakes and forget the difference between early June and Late July...

Spikes for your shoes, maps, off-trail navigating skills, knowledge about post-holing and a non-minimalist gear set are necessary tools for survival here. Early season lake fishing means you get good exercise navigating the more difficult trail conditions... its always an adventure.

This is what you want to see when you arrive at a lake in the early season... some ice still clinging to the shores, ensuring hungry trout that feed with wild abandon.

An astute angler notices the little details as well as seeing the big picture at the same time. 

While you can use a Tenkara rod to catch trout in lakes without an issue, and while it is a super effective technique that often shocks the local western anglers and leaves them in varied states of disbelief; I have been spending some time with a UL Japanese spinning rod for the sake of fishing in the high wind, and because it allows me to leave Tenkara alone and not contribute to any confusion about what it is and what it is not. Because Tenkara is defined to exclude lakes and still water, and because I have been pushing myself to fish Tenkara as it is defined properly, the spinning rod feels a lot like the "right tool for the job." 

The fish definitely agree. I often use the current and the wind in specific ways... and I have found that trout here appear to really like a slow and jerky action on a spoon rather than a fast and cleanly pulled spinner.

There's so much beauty in the high mountains, and even though sometimes I can tell conditions will be rough in the streams, its not just about catching fish for me.

On the way down to the treailhead I saw some new, fresh mushrooms popping... gets me hopeful for the rest of the season. (It originally looked bad due to low snow pack levels.) 

And how could one forget these insects dancing in the late afternoon light? 

Only one more week until Genryu season begins... more to come then!