Have you ever had that feeling when you put something off for a long time and then feel overwhelmed with the task of getting it done? That's how I feel about my multi-post series about the John Muir Trail, and since its been slowing the other posts recently, I put that aside and decided to write this one up in the meanwhile... hope you enjoy/
We're back in September of 2017 again here, and this was another dreamy day surrounding the Tenkara Summit, which continues to "haunt" me for various reasons. There are a few people that I no longer associate with that I saw last at the summit, and it continues to linger on my mind how some people can be so different online than in person... but I digress...
Join us in Rocky Mountain National Park, one of many places in this country where we have cold, clean tumbling water that seems "designed" for Tenkara fishing. We arrived to a gusty, cold and mostly overcast morning. I had faith in a beautiful day, but I knew we'd need to let the weather do its thing for a while while and warm the water up just a bit.
Partially overcast days make for the best fishing, IMHO... its the best mix of enjoyable weather for me, and creates some cover for the fish as well. The first hour was pretty slow and I took some time to practice casting and fall into a rhythm.
Soon, however, as the water warmed up and the wind slowed, I got my drifts right and began to catch some fish. Below is JP's (possibly first) Colorado cutty that I photographed for him... I was proud to see him land that first one, and I knew we were in for more all day...
This particular stream is my official favorite place to fish so far in the Front Range. In order to reach this practically magical fantasy stretch of river, one must hike for a few miles, skipping what is clearly fishy water and fighting one's will to stop and cast. If you can hold out, you reach a place where you must scramble into a steep canyon and cross the river, and that's where cutty heaven begins.
Soon after, though, one reaches a difficult to navigate rockfall, where I presume, most fishermen never go above. Obviously we had to go above this section, scrambling over boulders, bracing ourselves between rocks and logs, and finally reaching a second canyon wall above.
Not only was this area extremely picturesque, but it was quite fishy, too. And there was plenty of open space for real Tenkara casting, using longer lines and rods. I watched Mike as he really began to grasp these concepts. Rob gave him some pointers on the river and he was starting to really clean up. I love watching the progress as the ideas and tactics click, as the confidence builds, and as one beings to realize there's actually something behind these methods... a far cry from stabbing around in the dark with a bead-head nymph!
Below, Mike releases a fish he caught in a beautiful run along the rock wall. There were many spots like this, and we took turns hitting them with wild abandon.
Up here above a few sets of falls its all cutthroats, as the invasive trout species have either never made it this far up, or simply couldn't survive. I'd guess the former, and I hope it remains that way.
It was hard to choose the photos to share in this post, I took so many of them, and caught so many fish that it was hard to keep track!
Streams like this and conditions like this make for perfect practice of the many Tenkara manipulation techniques. I spent a lot of the day playing with "Tomezuri," which involves stopping the fly or holding it in the current in different ways.
Most of the time we hear about the upstream style of Tenkara, and here's a video of JP landing a nice little cutty fishing that way:
Full days on the river allow for enjoyment of not only many different ways of presenting a fly, but also different environments in the mountains. I particularly love all the canyon climbing and rock-scrambling... it makes the exploration of the stream more fun, and adds more exercise. It also feels extremely remote to be surrounded by tall rock cliffs, knowing we are isolated from the rest of the park's visitors even if just for a little while.
There were tons of pockets to pick along the canyon walls, and fish came from many of them...
After climbing up again, we reached a fine section of stream, and the sun came out in force. I truly felt like we were in a special place... As is dictated by Tenkara culture, we took plenty of time to break, laugh, spend time together - snacking, enjoying some cannabis and opening a few beers. The camaraderie in the wilderness is what this is all about!
Everyone wants to fish stretches of plunge pools like this. But how many are willing to put the time and work in to find and hike to them? Not many... and that's just how we like it.
If you take the time and effort to come visit, make the sacrifices necessary to get here... live the Tenkara life for a few days, fish the Tenkara style, enjoy the Tenkara community... we will show you. It is not a secret. But it is a commitment!
One of my favorite things about native and wild trout is the slight variation in color between the populations. Some rivers here show cutties with more pink-hues. Others show more orange. In different sections of this river I found different hues on the fish. Fascinating. I can't help but to wonder if there are little sub-species that have developed between different blockages or waterfalls...
.... of which there were plenty! We must have climbed 3 or 4 waterfalls by the end of the day at least.
Later in the afternoon the clouds moved back in for a bit, but the wind pretty much died, making for a fantastic final few hours on the water.
Here Rob fishes a nice pool under a waterfall, and then I moved up and grabbed a few casts after he was done.
I scored one nice fish out of that pool that was worth a photograph...
Climbing around this one required plenty of work, and I somehow lost my 2 way radio along that route. Hope I find it when I go back this season!
Above these falls was another beautiful flat-ish section of river with a bit more cover, and I began to snag and lose some flies here and there.
Up here there is ZERO evidence of other fishermen. We didn't see any footprints that belonged to humans, no fishing line, no trash/plastic or lost flies. I smelled that musky smell of an animal, and figured a bear or moose was nearby. The bear-bell made an appearance on my pack, and I started making more noise as I moved through the brush.
The sun came out again, and while I was spooking some fish, there were plenty still willing to come out and play.
Rob and JP joined me here as I prepared to take a break after netting a few cutties. We each got plenty of time in the lead, and there was tons of water to share. Some pools yielded many fish, breaking the "spooked fish rules" about pools back east.
Taking turns is important. Its almost as much fun to watch your friends catch fish as it is to catch them yourself. If you walk ahead and spook the stream for them, you're a jerk... so if you don't want to be patient, walk at least 10 yards or more from the river when walking around so you don't ruin your friend's water. People have no idea how many fish they spook most of the time... that's major! Don't be that guy who gets impatient and walks ahead spooking the fish for everyone else.
Because of the full sun, we did have to make an effort to avoid casting shadows or making our presence known. Most Tenkara anglers know to move carefully and deliberately on the stream as to not ruin our chances at the fish. This is where it becomes obvious when you get a western angler in the group who isn't used to getting very close to the fish they want to catch.
Never forget that the sport of fishing requires elements of stalking and a good self-awareness. If you stomp around, create too much vibration, cast shadows on the water or slap your line around, you are going to catch less fish, even if they are wildly hungry.
As the evening approached and the sun dipped, we fought with the reality that it was just about time to turn back, since we had a good bit of hiking left to get back to the car...
JP caught one more and, although there were clearly still miles of fishable water to go, we accepted the fact that the sun would in fact go down, and began to re-trace our steps through the canyon.
The walk back was pretty intense, although with the water being low at the end of the season, it made for easy navigation of the river itself. That probably saved us a good 15-20 minutes right there.
Descending the boulder fields was another story, however, and while it was tedious and tiring, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Needless to say we took our sweet time.
On the way back we came across some bear scat, presumably from the bear I thought I had smelled earlier in the day. It was relatively fresh and so we crashed through the brush making as much noise as we could until we got away from the area.
Once out of the canyon and back on the trail, the going was easy and we made good time.
The walk along this trail has been a favorite place of mine to hike since the first time I visited the area back in 2013. It'll always have a special place in my heart and I think about it during the cold winter months and during melt-out alike, dreaming of the days I can return and wet my line here once more.
Leaving the park we got stuck in Elk tourism traffic... it blows my mind how people are so ridiculous and inconsiderate that they can't pull over to stop before running out of the car to take pictures. I have mixed feelings about this, being that its good for people to be in nature... yet terrible the way they act once there. Secretly I always hope to watch an ornery Elk charge the crowd and send them running scared, but I just grit my teeth. lay on the horn, and continue on instead.
Mid September is an epic time in the Rockies, with the Aspens glowing yellow, contrasted so perfectly by the dark green evergreens and a deep blue sky... its the bittersweet reward for the end of the headwaters season, fast approaching when these colors appear.
Back in town we grabbed some pizza, saw some more Elk at the laundromat/supermarket, grabbed some extra snacks and retreated to the cabin to watch Discover Tenkara videos and tie flies.
The Tenkara life is amazing. Do you even Tomezuri, Bro? ;)