Tenkara Trip Reports Trout & Char

The Sensei and the Student

Trip Report by Mike Hepner

After six months of planning, a five-month countdown from date of reservation confirmation, hours of tenkara fishing in frigid mountain waters to refine and sharpen our skills, and endless hours behind a vice tying kebari specific to the targeted area, we knew we were about to embark on a great trip… what we didn’t know was that the trip would be EPIC.

The destination was to be Poe Valley State park in the Bald Eagle State Forest. A month-long discussion yielded this decision as we could get a cabin and hike in any direction from it and fish four different wild or native trout streams! The primary waterway being world famous Penns Creek.

High hopes and laughter filled the OG’s Toyota 4Runner the entire 2 hours of our journey. Pulling off the highway we gave one last look at our phones knowing we would be using them only as cameras for the next three days. Fifty yards off the highway the road changes to gravel and stays that way for the rest of the trip, and twelve miles later to be exact, we finally had arrived at the cabin.

Upon arrival, we immediately set up “base camp” and unloaded our gear. With no cell service and only printed directions and park maps, we geared up and headed out for our first shot at Penns. Driving the windy road alongside a beautiful Big Poe stream through the bottom of a valley the excitement was uncontrollable with Steel Panther jamming on the radio!

Upon arrival to the gravel parking area we stepped out to be greeted by the beautiful turquoise waters of Penns Creek. Having previously decided on what spot to hit first, we took the small fisherman’s path alongside the creek to our first spot. Tying on kebari we both start addressing the promising water. Suddenly, a brilliant sun popped out from behind the clouds and a spiral hatch goes off! Now “snowing bugs,” the water bubbled with beautiful wild brown trout slamming top-water anywhere and everywhere you looked, even in what seemed to be within arms reach!

The OG matches the hatch with a kebari and hooks into a twenty plus inch wild brown. With the Tenryu Furaibo seemingly doubled over, the fish jumps completely out of the water backflipping and thrashing, successfully freeing itself from the hook. Two casts later he does it again, this time with the Furaibo bent in half on a sixteen-inch wild brown we know it isn’t going anywhere. Seeing it hit the landing net was a great feeling for both of us. The Ratskin Canoe Crew was already full speed ahead!

Mike Hepner - The Sensei and the Student - Stream

A few hours later we decide to hit “Mustard Run,” a small feeder stream to Penns just up the path. This did not disappoint, with plunge pools and waterfalls, we went back to our bread and butter, lighting it up for an hour and a half while hiking alongside the run.

Retiring for the evening we head back for Team Ratskin Canoe dinner. Using fishing rod hot dog sticks to tomezuri cheese dogs from our local Chambersburg, Pennsylvania butcher, while cooking a pot of maple and bacon beans and roasting marshmallows for Hershey’s chocolate s’mores. Sitting by the fire the Gap Tiger pulls out his prize bomber from Roy Pitz – our local brewery – a dark belgian strawberry quad! With We laughed ourselves to sleep telling stories with full bellies.

Mike Hepner - The Sensei and the Student - Food

Waking up at first light we head out for our day two excursion. We headed to “Ratskin Run” arriving to the junction where it meets Big Poe. At about 6:45am we took off up the trail, backpacks full of beer and water.

Mike Hepner - The Sensei and the Student - Ratskin Run

Within the first hour we had each already landed double digit brook trout and had climbed through the soft moss along the dense forest over endless waterfalls and plunge pools that greeted us around every bend. For about four hours we did this losing count of fish and having a blast. It felt like we were fishing in a magazine.

Mike Hepner - The Sensei and the Student - Brook Trout

After heading back to the 4Runner for a “snack like” streamside lunch we hit Big Poe at the mouth of “Ratskin Run.” Gap Tiger landing two larger natives and a large stocked rainbow, and not to be outdone the OG doing the same. Two hours later we decided to head back to go regroup and prepare for the next body of water.

On the way back, we encountered the stocking truck. (Why they stock an area so heavily populated by wild and native trout is beyond me). The truck pulls up beside us and the guy shouts, (in your heaviest Redneck chaw-filled mouth voice) “Hey boys, yuns wanna catch some trouts? We just dropped buckets just over yander!”

Mike Hepner - The Sensei and the Student - JP

Trying not to laugh we both just nodded our heads bit our tongues and continued through an area that originally was empty, but now littered with a parade of forty plus vehicles and just as many “bucket brigaders.” Everyone was trying to get on that good Salmon Peach Hatch while the getting was good. BOY!

Getting to the cabin the OG breaks out his special beer for the trip, a two-liter bottle of Asahi! Putting it down during our lone rain shower of the trip we regrouped for our second shot at Penns. With the rain ending, we geared up and headed out.

Mike Hepner - The Sensei and the Student - Asahi

Once we got back to the spot we started dropping kebari in the middle of a bright green pool of water beside an old stone railroad bridge. The water now bubbling again with fish slamming on a stonefly hatch. Again, the OG landing a beautiful red dotted yellow bellied fourteen-inch wild brown.

Mike Hepner - The Sensei and the Student - Founders

With hatches slowing and our curiosity kicking in we hiked up onto the bridge and took the fisherman’s walking tunnel to the opposite side of Penns. Coming out from the tunnel we were hit with a view of Penns winding through the valley for as far as the eye could see. The amount of sheer, natural beauty in this place is limitless.

Retiring for the evening we head back to the cabin for Chef OG’s amazing fireside dinner of steak fajitas and rice! Stuffing our faces, we kick back by the fire. OG looking at Gap Tiger saying, “man we drank a lot of beer.” Gap Tiger then responding with, “I didn’t drink a lot of beer, but I chugged a bunch!” The celebration of going “slay city” went on into the night until we were too tired to go on.

Packing up and rolling out before the sun came up on our final day, the destination was Cherry Run. Trusting our printed-out directions with our lives we follow them to the gnarliest road either of us had ever seen! Not sure how it even can legally be called a road.

Anyone who has ever hiked the Appalachian Trail over a mountain can relate to what we were trying to drive on for twelve miles! Strong Mountain Road is no joke, and with no way to turn around there was only one choice… finish it. Ninety minutes to go twelve miles while trying to avoid bottoming out and smacking each other’s heads together all while violently bouncing along the way was enough to put the most positive people into bad moods. When we finally arrived at Cherry Run we were rewarded for our struggles by both catching brookies, but then we both decided to head out to our final spot. (We would’ve stayed longer had it not been for the ride from hell.)

Heading to “Hepner’s Gap State Park” to hit “Kebari Creek” on paved roads was a relief and had us both ready to fish! Minutes after arriving, the OG lands a twelve-inch native and a thirteen-inch wild brown almost back to back. (Surprising to us because the weather was in the mid to high 50s Friday and Saturday but had dropped on Sunday and we were facing a windy a high of 33 degrees.) 45 minutes later Gap Tiger landed his first wild brown of the trip (and of his life) and at fifteen-inches what a first wild brown it was! Calling it quits we headed back to the ride for the final trek home.

Mike Hepner - The Sensei and the Student - Brown Trout

The Ratskin Canoe Crew combined for well over 100 trout in the three days spent out on the water. All the preparation, planning, practice, and tying had paid off. All the fish were even caught on our own flies! We ate good, drank good, and fished even better. One thing is for sure… this will not be the last multi day trip for this dynamic duo!

Mike Hepner - The Sensei and the Student - Gap Tiger and OG

Mike Hepner a.k.a. “The Tenkara Kid” or “Gap Tiger”… Husband to 1, Father of 4. Die hard Penn State wrestling fan with a love for tenkara fishing, kebari tying, native brookies, Belgian beers, Pittsburgh sports, and lessons on the water or vise from OG.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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