Trip Reports Trout & Char

Into the Tenkara Frontier: Exploring New Water with Paul Vertrees

I’d been trying to catch up with Paul Vertrees for a few years. We’d crossed paths at events but were both always too locked into obligations to really hang out. When circumstances lined up this summer, we got to enjoy a few days camping and scouting for new “tenkara water” in the wilds of south-central Colorado.

What stood out most to me was how the fishing was only one part of what made the trip enjoyable – fishing with Paul really highlighted the value in sharing the “exploration” aspect of the tenkara experience.

Tenkara Frontier - Matt Sment - Paul Vertrees Fishing
Paul stalking the outside bend of a stream.

Paul has the experience of a lifetime of outdoors sporting pursuits, backed by both a full military career and a full teaching career. It’s no wonder that has translated into a well earned reputation as one of the premiere tenkara rod fishing guides in the US. He knows backcountry travel, how to do it safely, and how to find the fish when he gets there. To top it off, he has developed his own personal tenkara angling systems and tactics that maximize efficiency for the way he chooses to fish. There is a lot to learn when you hit the backcountry with Paul.

Tenkara Frontier - Matt Sment - Stream Access
Looking for stream access – can you spot Paul?

Maybe because we are both US Army veterans, Paul and I quickly fell into a shared “mission mode” in examining the area we intended to fish. In addition to sizing it up for our own fishing, we both took a hard look at the area for future purposes as well.

Where are the campsites, how many people can they support? What is the proximity to water, both for camp use and for fishing? How suitable is the water for a new angler – is the backcast area clear, not too choked with weeds or other strange obstacles? Will the average angler be able to get up and down the slopes to access the stream we are looking at? Could you park and walk a loop on this particular stretch of stream?

Paul is very dialed in to the factors besides fishing that make up a good day on the water. We spent a fair amount of time in exploration mode, marking routes and checking to see how real life conditions looked in relation to the map. In the end we probably scouted more than we fished, but we got the fishing dialed in, too.

Tenkara Frontier - Matt Sment Fishing
Matt focusing on the drift

We split our focus as we prospected the new streams for trout. Paul fished subsurface with a hopper dropper and I targeted the surface with wet patterns. We both generated a decent amount of success in the bright, windy conditions. Brown and brook trout ranging 6 -12 inches seemed eager to strike when we found appropriate holes and runs.

Other terrain seemed devoid of fish. We speculated as to why, either the terrain wasn’t as “popular” for holding trout as more structured sections downstream, or perhaps the fish were still moving upstream into summer positions. In any case, it fueled our choice to explore sections further downstream and drove us to examine the area in greater detail.

Typical backcountry rainbow

As a result, we got eyes on miles & miles of new water, and got to know the place well enough that we can target specific “high confidence” areas when we return.

We talked a lot about scouting and planning trips, and what tools/methods we use to do it. For both of us, this sort of thing is a big part of our tenkara fishing. While tenkara rod fishing is the central pin, it is also a vehicle that transports us into a larger relationship with the wilderness and streams we fish. The exploration is as much as part of the experience as the fishing itself.

Fell asleep in the Rockies; woke up in the Driftless

Paul guides Colorado backcountry tenkara rod fishing trips out of Royal Gorge Anglers. When you dream of fishing jaw dropping Rocky Mountain water with a safe and experienced outdoor guide, Paul will make it happen.


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