Sunday, February 12, 2017

Unfinished Business - Tenkara USA Summit 2015

Well I'm excited to hear that Tenkara USA will be hosting another Summit this year in Estes Park, CO in September. I was at the last one, and it was the kind of experience that helps connect the dots, if you know what I mean?

I was looking at old photos and it dawned on me that I had never really finished the third and final installment of that series as I had intended to, which covers the last day of the trip on some beautiful water. Better late than never...

The morning started when a number of us gathered to fish a meandering meadow section of river. I'm not sure if I remember the whole crew but I believe it was Daniel, his wife, TJ, Yoshikazu Fujioka, Go Ishii, Adam Trahan, Mike Willis, Mark and maybe someone else? Its been almost two years, so cut me some slack ;)

The meadow stream was pretty, but it was full sun and the fish would surely be spooky. At this stage I was still nymphing with a Keiryu rod quite often and I must have looked silly casting with the rest of the crew, who were mostly fishing Tenkara... its funny to look back and laugh at myself now.

Daniel was taking some photos, and I was kind of just enjoying the surroundings and trying to reach the overhang on the far bank, hoping that I could annoy a trout into darting out from its cover to grab my fly. I got a few nice strikes but somehow failed to connect. 

Walking back down stream, I found Ishii-San casting to the only set of riffles in the whole area, created by a very minimal change in elevation on the stream. Unlike everyone else, he was fishing downstream disco... and pulling them in one after another. It was quite funny to watch. He knew something most other people didn't, and he was one of the only anglers catching fish on this stretch.

After a while we all gathered back near the cars and waited for a few lingering anglers. While we waited, a large bull-elk walked out of the forest and slowly meandered towards the road. Undeterred by cars and people, the elk clearly wanted to cross the road and get to the meadow we had just fished.

As is the case with wildlife, this bull-elk didn't really care much for cars or people and decided to pay no mind to any of that... the driver of the car, which was moving quite slowly already, clearly didn't understand this basic reality of life and almost got trampled by the elk. It was quite entertaining to watch.


We got the message and backed away as it walked along the fence, looking for a place to access the meadow and be on its way. Everyone laughed nervously and looked on as the elk harmlessly walked by, snapping photos in awe.

After that we said some goodbyes, and I was off to explore some more! I started by driving the road that went towards the Continental Divide, gaining some serious altitude and watching the mercury dive. It was breathtaking to say the least.

What you can't see in the photo below is the way those mountains USED to look, with glaciers and snow remaining ALL YEAR. I wish my camera hadn't cut that off. It was a shocking reminder that Climate Change is undeniably real. There's a feeling I can't quite communicate here that I felt, and it was deep.

Glaciers or not, the scenery was spellbinding.

I continued up to the area where the Divide is and it was basically like alpine tundra in all directions.

I started to feel a little light-headed from being that high up so suddenly, and so I decided it was probably a good time to head back down to a reasonable altitude below 9K. I headed for a section of stream I had wanted to fish the previous day.

And it was heaven.

I was catching some rainbows in the lower section of the stream and enjoying the afternoon sun.

The fall colors were just setting in, and I was lucky enough to be able to experience some of this magic in person.

On this stream I ended up landing rainbows, browns, brookies AND cutthroats. It was a particularly fun day due to this "grand slam."

I cannot remember if each of these photos of fish were my catches, or if some were caught by another angler I had met at the event, as we fished together for some of that afternoon. I believe at least a couple are his...

I believe his name was David? But again, its been a long time.... if you're reading, please comment below so we can re-connect if you plan to return to the Summit again this year?

After a while I was starting to feel the altitude. I stopped to eat some lunch and take a break to enjoy some of Colorado's finest "special green dubbing" material ;) I am glad I have good balance, because at 24% THC, this was was a heavy hitter. I instantly felt better and my appetite returned... it was a much needed break.

After lunch, my blood sugar was back to normal and I felt great. I continued to fish up the stream - the increase in the gradient was yielding more plunge pools, and more brookies & cutts than down below. These fish do much better in the headwaters than the browns and rainbows.

Things got tight higher up and I switched from Tenkara casting, to lobbing a bead with a shorter line.

This is a pretty typical example of a bead head fly that I tie. This one was tied in about 30 seconds the night before, with borrowed materials. I wasn't even planning to use it, but it was the only bead left in my box at this point. It must have grabbed 20-30 fish... and still going strong.

These shaded pools are perfect habitat for headwaters trout.

Up top it was mostly cutties, as even the brookies began to fade. I began to hear branches breaking around me and I hoped it was an Elk rather than something else. I couldn't see whatever animal it was, and (maybe) luckily I never found out.

I was too distracted by fishing and climbing between some nice plunges to be concerned about the wildlife, and I figured I would have seen whatever it was if it was something approaching me and posing any danger...

On the way down I snapped one last photo of the early fall colors. My adventure may have been at an end for this trip, but the memories and people have stuck with me since that day.

Looking forward to the 2017 Tenkara USA Summit, hope to see you there!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Monumental Mid-Winter's Day in a Deep, Dark Ravine

Its been a while since I've had something worth writing about here, and that means its been a while since I have been out fishing or adventuring in the woods. The weather and conditions have been all over the place, and the low water had left a lasting impact that somehow tainted fishing for me over the last few months.

I wanted to put all that solidly behind me, and so I set out to a tried and true stream that I have not had much time to explore in the past. I've fished it a couple of times previously, but both times I had arrived late, and had not made it past a particular pool and slot canyon. I picked up a fishing companion on the way, and we arrived at the stream before 11AM.

The first hour flew by, and we moved a little too slowly and didn't really get into our respective grooves right away. It was just nice to be in the forest, away from civilization, and beyond the reaches of political concerns or crowds of people.

This particular stream is a textbook Tenkara small-stream. It seems to hold its water better than many of the surrounding thin blue lines, and what incredible water it is! Speaking of which, I was EXTREMELY excited that water levels were higher than usual... it was a very welcome sight to say the least. It gave me confidence, and returned the pure bliss that I seek recreationally via fishing, but which I had temporarily lost during the recent drought.

We picked pockets, but ended up focusing on the deeper waterfall pools because the fish were mostly podded up there. I fished a kebari for a while, but after only getting one strike, I decided to change to a bead.

We ended up lobbing beads for most of the day instead of fishing Tenkara-style, because the water was high, freezing cold, and the pools with the fish seemed crazy deep.

We climbed around a few waterfalls, fishing our way up through postcard-worthy scenery, hooking many small wild trout and hoping for some bigger fish to emerge from the depths.

While the scenery was absolutely top notch, it was all about this wild, local strain of Brookies that has survived  here. 

We fished many pools before coming to the start of a set of mini slot-canyons, where the ravine walls turned to vertical cliffs and waterfalls without even a skinny ledge on which to walk precariously... 

We decided we'd hike up and around, knowing that it wouldn't be a quick jaunt. We began to scramble our way up one of the few navigable routes to the top of the cliffs. 

It was hard work, rather vertical, and it wasn't made any easier by my felt soled boots. I hadn't planned on a steep climb up a leafy & half-frozen landscape, and I had to be really careful with each step to avoid disaster going up, and later, coming down.

But I wasn't worried about this today, I was just soaking it all in... 

Below are some of what appeared to be wood-ear mushrooms growing on a fallen, lichen-covered stick.

We took a break for lunch at one of the few nice viewpoints we found near the edge of the cliffs. I remarked how it was a good call that we had chosen the side of the river we were on... we could see across the way to a much higher mountain or hill than the one we were about to peak, with much steeper climbs in both directions. 

Bushwhacking up further, we followed a mix of game-trails and clearings in the underbrush until we reached the peak, and the junction with another existing trail. At this point we were pretty beat, but committed to finding access to the stream once again. A quick look at the map showed we were almost there and that the existing trail would cross the stream again in about a half a mile or less.

After a short jaunt on the trail, we dropped back down and intersected the stream above the seemingly endless set of impassable waterfalls. The fishing seemed much better in terms of numbers up there, as most likely very few anglers would put the necessary effort into getting to some of the nicer pools higher up.

Up here the ravine was truly devoid of sun all day at this time of year. There was a decent amount of seep-ice, but it was actually beginning to melt in the warmth of the day, sunlight or not. I knew the ice melt was contributing to lower water temps, which would likely contribute to less active feeding, but with good deep drifts, fish were taking the fly.

This is the first time I've busted out bead heads for any significant stretch of water in months, if not the entire year. At first I was reluctant because I've had so much success all year fishing Japanese style Tenkara the way it was intended. However, there are times when you know you must give up on your own set limitations or alter your style if you want to have a successful day of fishing.

That move proved rather fruitful as I began to get more and more strikes. In a way, I felt like I was admitting defeat. In another way, I knew I was doing what was necessary to catch fish. I guess this is a good moment to make a pun about a "catch 22?"

While I had been less than stellar at fishing the lower section, I was truly on point in the upper section of the stream. For some reason I was more focused and had a better rhythm. By that time I had also figured out exactly where the fish were hanging out - mostly in calmer water under overhangs.

Many more fish began to come to hand, and the colors were phenomenal. All of the fish were rather small, but there seemed to be plenty of them. Most of these fish were darker, and it made sense given how little sun made it to the stream-bed this time of year. I presume in the summer some sections get decent sun, but the walls are ridiculously steep, so its all about the orientation of the ravine walls to the sun's path. 

Unfortunately all the bushwhacking and hiking took a while, and so we began to run out of light just as we had once again both settled into a successful rhythm. I actually really regretted not having backpacking gear, and I know I'll need to return to this upper section of stream in the future with an overnight stay planned into the trip.

We were pretty far into the forest, with significant difficult and slightly treacherous bushwhacking required to get back, so we watched the time carefully.

Reluctantly, as the pre-set turn-around time came and went, we finally agreed to head back down the icy trail and to the junction with our game trail. From there we were able to retrace our steps by tracking our own disturbances/footprints and broken branches to a safe enough place to scramble back down and hike out.

 Overall I was extremely happy to have been able to explore the upper section of this epic stream, and it was great to have a "many day" as well. All I could think about while walking out was returning here with climbing ropes and ascenders in order to access some of those amazing waterfall pools in the middle of the ravine. I would like to see if I can channel the methods and practices of Yuzo Sebata that I marveled at in Japan, albeit with a little bit more modern gear. Surely nobody has ever fished some of those pools, and the idea of 16-18 inch wild brookies in untouched waters excites me more than any fish I see in front of me ever can...