“Winter” in Waterton Canyon

Today was a surprisingly warm day (up around 60!), so I got down to Waterton Canyon for a bit of tenkara. I actually saw more people fishing here today than I have before — probably 6 or 8 people in total I think? I’ve decided that unless I take a bike, it’s probably not worth going to Waterton any more. I’d like to try taking my bike and ride up to Strontia Springs Reservoir (or just below it), because I hear that’s where fishing is best. Without a bike though, it’s just a long trudge along the road to get to some good spots, and it’s not much fun in waders + boots.

Anyway — this was a pretty unfruitful trip. I was fishing straight tenkara, no nymphs or anything, and didn’t catch a thing. I saw 2 dead fish (one pictured below), which is always a shame, and I did see a few live ones here and there, but couldn’t hook anything up. I had trouble finding spots to get into the water as well, between steep banks and ice shelves it just wasn’t that accessible.

I’m a little disillusioned with winter fishing thus far, and might end up giving it a bit of a break until some of the ice melts off. Maybe I’ll make another trip to Deckers, we’ll see.

Denver Fly Fishing Show

On Saturday I attended the Denver Fly Fishing Show which, according to the sign out the front, is the largest show of its kind in the world! There was a huge range of merchandise and services on show, and it was a pretty energetic scene. The show covered all sorts of things, including:

  • Trips
  • Rods/Reels
  • Tackle (flies, leader, tippet, etc)
  • Waders and boots
  • Clothing
  • Cane/bamboo rods (really impressive pieces of art!)
  • Fly tying

There was also a decent presence of tenkara-related stuff (both merchandise and information sessions). I stopped in at 2 tenkara sessions, and saw a few different booths with tenkara gear (including, of course, Tenkara USA). I got the latest copy of Tenkara USA’s magazine (which is just as good as the first edition), and another book about tenkara just to see what it has. I guess I’m hooked.

While I was there, I also picked up a beautiful hand-carved fly-box and a kind-of-matching spool, which both turned out to be crafted by Dave Burchett (based in Boulder, CO). Really beautiful work, and a nice small fly box, perfect for tenkara. See below. All in all it was a fun day, and I saw a bunch of interesting stuff. Some of the trips that people were promoting sounded really amazing (llama-packing, multi-day fishing trip in the Colorado wilderness? AWESOME!). I might eventually hit up Kirk’s Flyshop and get out on one if I’m lucky. It was also great to see my local shop, Trouts Fly Fishing represented with a cool-looking booth (see below also).

Winter Tenkara on Clear Creek

As I mentioned, Erika got me a tenkara rod recently. Between waiting for some tackle to arrive, some travel, and cold weather, today was the first chance I got to actually try it out. It’s Christmas Eve, and here in Colorado that apparently means 50 degree weather. I’m definitely not complaining. I was expecting it to be colder as I gained some elevation, but it was right around 50 up on Clear Creek, and it was actually a pretty nice temp to be fishing in. Definitely a lot more bearable than a few weeks ago when it was closer to 40.

I honestly wasn’t too concerned with catching anything today, which was lucky because I didn’t even see a single fish. I was more interested in getting a feel for the rod, which is really quite different from a “western fly rod”. Because it’s so long, and so light/flexible, the tenkara rod needs barely any effort to cast, and you can place the fly quite precisely (even me, a rank beginner). It took me a few minutes to get a bit of a hang of it, but I think I can handle it reasonably well now. I fished an Amano Kebari, although as I mentioned I didn’t even see anything there. While dropping a nymph (or 2) off of that may have increased my chances of a strike, I wanted to get a decent feel for the “pure form” of tenkara before experimenting a bit more.

Probably my favorite thing about the experience was just how simple the rod is. I was set up (tied on a hook, rigged up the line to the rod) in a few minutes, and was off and running. When I moved from place to place, it was really easy to either wind up the line and collapse the rod, or just keep it as-is if I had a clear path.

As far as the winter side of things goes, I was a bit nervous about the ice shelfs that were everywhere, so that made getting into the water a bit tricky. Once I was in there it was pretty comfortable though, and my waders worked wonderfully. I had thermals and thin track-pants on underneath them, plus some woolen winter socks. I could feel the temp difference, but wasn’t particularly cold. It was definitely a weird experience fishing and having “ice bergs” banging against my legs as they came sliding down the river. I also managed to catch a few ice-cubes to keep things interesting (see below).

With my phone in its new QuadLock case (the second one I’ve owned), I put it on my running band and had it on my upper arm. A bit of a risk, since if I went for a swim it’d definitely be toast, but it did allow me to snap a few pics one-handed, without having to actually juggle my phone and risk dropping it.

Tenkara USA Iwana, 12ft

As an early Christmas present, Erika got me a 12ft Tenkara USA Iwana rod! Now I’m really psyched to get back out and try it, even if it is cold 🙂 Given that I’m about to leave on a work trip though, I’m not going to get a chance until right around Christmas.

I’ve put in an order for a few things to round out my tenkara kit: line holder, level line, tapered line and a set of Takayama Kebari flies.

South Platte River/Carson Nature Center

Decided to take the “middle” of the day out today, and headed down to Carson. Got completely skunked, fishing a thingamabobber with an Adams-ish looking fly up top and a zebra midge down the bottom. Not a single bite, didn’t see any fish, and the river is running really low. I didn’t bother with waders, so was just limited to the banks, but that’s pretty doable along that section of the Platte. I guess failure all around, but it was still nice to spend some time on a river.

Deckers/South Platte/Winter Fly Fishing

On Thursday night, I went to a session at Trout’s Fly Fishing about winter fly fishing. Their marketing manager, Kyle Wilkinson, presented a bunch of great info in a very informal session (with free PBR!) to a group of interested folks. He talked about what sort of rig and flies he’s using in the winter, where he’s going, and what sort of areas he’s looking for fish in. He also talked about 40 degrees being a good rule of thumb — if the water isn’t getting over that then it’s going to be tough to catch anything.

Inspired, wanting to finally try out my new waders and boots, and with Erika out of town for Thanksgiving, I headed towards Deckers for the day to see if I could catch anything. To cut right to the chase, I didn’t catch a thing. Not even a bite. I did see some fish, but they were spooked really easily, and mostly scattered as soon as they spotted me. I’d see a fish or 2, get near them and cast a few times if I was lucky, and they’d be gone. It didn’t really feel like a productive session at all — it didn’t feel like I had my hook in the water that much at all (especially given the 1.5 hour drive each way).

Apart from not catching anything (as usual), this was my first try at anything resembling winter fly fishing. Funny that I combined that with the first time I’ve been able to stand around in the water as well. Ironically, it wasn’t at all my feet/legs that were cold — it was purely my hands (and I guess my face a bit as well). My hands were the worst. By the time I was packing up, I couldn’t even grip my nippers enough to clip off my flies and put everything away.

During the session at Trouts, Kyle talked about using a 3-fly rig, but I didn’t really get enough details on how it was all set up, other than having 3 flies on there, and a bunch of weight to get it down to the bottom. 3 flies feels a bit like cheating, so I stuck with 2, but I did add some weight to get them both down underwater. I should go and pick up some of the other flies that he talked about: San Juan Worms, Eggs and Blue Wing Olives, which apparently work well.

As a bit of fun (and since we all need to eat anyway), I also took along a package of Patagonia’s Tsampa Soup mix (recently acquired, hadn’t tried yet) and my Jetboil. The soup was pretty good, although my Jetboil doesn’t have a fully-sealing lid (the lid has a pouring hole and straining holes), so the 9 minute wait for it to cook in its own liquid didn’t really turn out that great. It was a bit undercooked, but still pretty darned tasty. I think next time I’ll try cooking it a bit longer upfront, and also having the oil/parmesan/salmon in it that they mention on the pack. Having some hot food in me really helped deal with getting skunked, yet again, only this time in around 40 degree temps.

This section of the South Platte is pretty nice, although the drive out there is about the limit of what I’d want to do for a day-trip, and the roads aren’t great. There’s a crazy 15 degree slope on the gravel W. Pine Creek Road (the way I took in), which was so steep that I didn’t want to attempt it with the tires currently on our car. Instead, I took “Highway” 67 back, which is also gravel, although quite well-maintained. There are a bunch of campgrounds in the area though (including some weird ones along the side of the road), so maybe an overnighter there could be a way to get in some more fishing, without having to have 3 hours of driving in a single day.

Pardon the horrible mustache in my pic below, I blame Movember for that 🙂

Waders and Boots

After my last trip, I decided that it was definitely time for some waders. It turns out that this is quite an investment, so I shopped around a bit online to see what was what, and ended up choosing a pair of Orvis Silver Sonic convertible-top waders, plus a pair of Simms Freestone (non-felt soles).

I’m a little annoyed with the Orvis waders, because the sizing is pretty limited. I noticed that they had a “Long” size, which I had hoped would mean I’d be able to get a really good fit. It turns out that “Long” also means “Huge”, and so the Large/Long size, which has a perfect leg-length for me, leaves enough room for me to carry a small child in the spare belly room that the waders have. Instead of swimming inside them, I’ve opted for the Large size, which is definitely not quite as long as I’d like in the legs, but the body fits much more reasonably. I really want to get out and try them though to make sure that the fit isn’t going to be too restrictive for getting in and out of waters, hiking around a bit, etc. The bootie is also probably not quite as big as I’d like it to be, so I’m a little concerned that’s going to be a problem if I want to be out there for longer and remain comfortable. The more I look at the specs online, the more I think maybe the guy at the store handed me the wrong size; I think I’ll take them back in and try again on a Large/Long.

As for the boots — I bought the Simms without trying them on, and I think they’re going to work perfectly. They’re pretty huge (size 13 after all), but seem to be a nicely put-together boot, somewhat reminiscent of my Keen hiking boots. I don’t have any studs or cleats yet, I figured I’d give them a shot and see how they feel before I go spending another $30+ on those modifications. After looking around at the options, the Simms had great reviews, seemed solid, and had options for additional traction. I opted for the non-felt sole, since it sounds like felt causes problems with “aquatic hitchhikers”.

UPDATE: I took the waders back to Orvis and exchanged them for a pair of Large/Long, which, while definitely bigger in the body, fit me much better as far as the inseam is concerned. The pair I got turned out to have a busted seam holding the flip-out chest-bag in place, so I’m going to go and exchange them AGAIN, and then hopefully I’ll finally have waders and boots and can actually go out and try them.

Waterton Canyon/South Platte River

This weekend I headed down to Waterton Canyon to fish a section of the South Platte River (technically, just further upstream from when I fish Carson Nature Center). I picked this spot based on the book I picked up a few weeks ago, “Colorado’s Best Fishing Waters“. I’m not a huge fan of the book to be honest — it doesn’t seem to give a huge amount of information other than “there’s pretty good fishing in almost all running water in Colorado”, except for a few places that it mentions as being “barren”.

Anyway, I picked Waterton Canyon because it seemed accessible and they describe it as having “very good fishing” (although they mention needing to go further upstream than where I was to get to the best stuff). I didn’t get a single bite the whole time I was there.

I only actually saw 2 fish; one just below and one just above a small waterfall/dam constructed within the stream. The one I saw above the dam was mottled and looked like it was crossed with a goldfish or something, although it was hard to tell while it was underwater. I lost a nymph trying to cast towards it, because it was hiding near the banks, under some overhanging branches.

This trip was spent mostly fishing with an elk hair caddis dry-fly, and some of the time (until I lost it in a branch!) I had a zebra nymph dropping off that.

If nothing else, this trip convinced me to get some waders (and wading boots) so that I can get access to more waters — it’s been frustrating at times to only be able to cast from whatever spots I happen to be able to get at from the shore of a stream. More on the waders front in another post.

It’s a nice little stream, which I’d like to come back and try fishing again, preferably further upstream next time (so either a longer hike, or maybe take my bike and ride further up before giving it a shot).

Tenkara

I don’t remember where I first came across Tenkara, but I know that as soon as I did, I was quite enamored with the idea of it. In short, tenkara uses an extra long (normally 11 to 14 feet)  telescopic rod, with a fixed line and no spool. The line is attached directly to the end of the rod, and you use the length of the rod itself to provide reach/maneuverability rather than reeling out more line (and then stripping it back in again). After poking around a bit I’ve started following Tenkara USA (the first company to bring it to a wide audience in the US) quite closely to see what’s going on.

Tenkara is a very old, Japanese style of stream fishing which was used by commercial fishermen in the mountains. It’s very effective in smaller streams (vs big, wide, meandering flats rivers), and is ideally suited to Colorado-style fishing, where you’re mostly targeting 8-20″ trout. Fishing tenkara has a few other interesting twists, but the biggest (IMHO) is the focus on technique over equipment as far as flies/rigs go. Rather than encouraging complex rigs and continuously switching flies to try to find the perfect deception for where you’re fishing, tenkara encourages the use of one fly (or a small number of flies), and then focuses on different presentation techniques to trick fish into striking. There’s a certain allure to that simplicity, not least of which is avoiding having to buy (and know when to use) a bunch of different flies, knowing how to set up complex rigs, and all the wasted time re-tying things while on the water.

As mentioned in this previous post, I stopped by Orvis in Boulder (who also sell Tenkara USA equipment) to see Daniel Galhardo, the founder of Tenkara USA speak about tenkara fishing. He talked to a small group of us about the history, techniques and equipment, the types of fishing it’s suited to, how it differs from “western fly fishing”, etc. At the end of the presentation, we got to try out casting with a Tenkara USA rod (which is quite different from western casting), and then he also showed us how easy it is to tie a tenkara fly (pretty impressively so!).

Personally, there are a few things that draw me to tenkara:

  • Simplicity: I love how simple the set up is, and how it minimizes the reliance on having all the “right equipment”.
  • Portability: I really hate rigging up and retying my rod, so anything that can minimize my time spent doing that is welcome. Being able to collapse down the rod and spool up the line to get between fishing holes is really nice as well, and seems like it’d make hiking + fishing much more accessible.
  • Technique: The focus on technique over equipment is a nice concept to me — it makes it more about me vs a fish than it does about just putting the right fly on there and hooking something. If I wanted to win that easily, I’d just use bait. That being said… everyone loves to actually catch fish, so I hope I’m up to the challenge. The casting technique of tenkara is also nice, because it seems much easier to master, and while the western style back/forward cast is quite beautiful, it requires a lot of room and finesse that seems a bit overkill.

I’m now angling (pun intended) to get a tenkara set up for Christmas so that I can try it out.

Header image taken from this Tenkara USA blog post.

Middle Boulder Creek, #2 Pullout

I was deciding whether to go to Clear Creek again, or to try out Boulder Creek, but I luckily noticed this tweet:

so I went to the Orvis in Boulder to hear Daniel Galhardo speak about tenkara (more about that in this post), and came away with a new map book (updated version of this book) and a hand-tied tenkara fly from Daniel. After that stop-off, I headed to Boulder Creek and picked a pull-out pretty randomly (which I later established as turnout #2, according to a map of the area) to try my luck. Once I put on the fly that Daniel had given me, I got one step closer to finally landing my own fish — I hooked one, fought it in, then almost landed it. Since I didn’t really know what I was doing as far as landing a fish without a net, I tried to grab it once I got it in, and instead managed to hook my finger, and lose the fish  😛 . I think part of the lesson here is to make sure the fish is worn out a bit more, and also to get them to an easier to maneuver place before trying to get a hand on them. I was perched on a rock, and didn’t really have a good angle to get to the fish before I tried to grab it.

Walking upstream from the turnout, there’s a fording/crossing point (for cars, in the right conditions), and just above that there’s a bit of a pool area where I spotted a few fish that were feeding. Despite all my best efforts I couldn’t hook one of them; I think I’m just not presenting my fly convincingly enough for them to take interest.

At that point it was getting pretty late, so I decided to call it a day and, appropriately, ended up at a sushi restaurant in Boulder. Since I was solo, I got sat in a single empty seat at the bar, and the guy next to me turned out to be a visitor to the area (a physician, attending a conference in Boulder). He was Japanese, and tenkara turned out to be an interesting topic of discussion. We ended up splitting some sake, and then said our goodbyes so that I could make the miserable drive back down the construction-plagued Denver/Boulder Turnpike (36).