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Henry Coe State Park Trip Report

Trip Report by Nick Feller
March 14 – 17, 2022

Day 1: 13.6 miles, 3053′ gain (-3817′)

Our first backpacking trip of the year. A shakedown to finalize some gear choices. Maddie read about a place called Henry Coe State Park, and the joke was “people don’t go to Henry Coe to train for the Sierra, they go to the Sierra to train for Henry Coe.” After a quick Google search it appeared that the park boasted good fishing as well. Warm water ponds filled with bluegill, bass, crappie, and sunfish allegedly littered the landscape. Sold.

Following a 4 hour drive down from our home in Northern California, we arrived at Coe Headquarters. The ranger at the station was a bit of a fear monger, and thought we must be bikepacking after telling him our itinerary. After telling him that wasn’t the case, he wished us luck, and we started on our way.

After just a couple miles, we stumbled on our first unnamed pond. I saw bluegill everywhere and caught a few while Maddie had a snack. It was a small pond and I fished my way around it in about 5-10 minutes. I saw two small bass, but the bluegill were too fast to the fly. I threw everything back in my pack, and we were back on the trail.

The next section of the trip was “The Narrows” and it was a little rough. It followed a beautiful creek, but unfortunately it’s still closed to fishing until after April. The following climb up to our first camp was just as fun as the descent down, but at least there was a small lake to look forward to.

Henry Coe State Park - Nick Feller - Tenkara Angler - Pond

I geared back up with my setup from earlier. The Tenkara Rod Co. Sawtooth rod, 10.5′ of level line, a few feet of 5x tippet, and a foam beetle. Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting the same action here as I was at the smaller pond. As the sun began to set, I saw a few small rises. A sign of hope. I cast towards one of the rises and suddenly my beetle EXPLODED! Fish on! A monster of a bluegill! Bigger than my hand, and thicker than a snicker. Now I’m a happy camper. I caught one more bluegill, a bit smaller, and then called it a night as the sun crested below the hillside.

I crawled into the tent with a feeling of excitement. The “good lakes” were supposed to come in the following days. I was just happy to catch some fish, so I never want to get greedy, but I was very anxious to see what was to come.

Day 2: 14.5 miles, 2852′ gain (-3535′)

Things were a little chilly Tuesday morning. Clouds had rolled in overnight. We knew there was a possibility of inclement weather this day, a 30% chance of rain was in the forecast when we were last able to check. Around 9am, it began to sprinkle. Good thing we packed our ponchos.

As we reached our next lake, a larger one, the rain had picked up a bit. In lieu of trying to fish, we carried on. Possibly because we were trying to hurry, maybe the brutal downhill the previous day, but I aggravated a shin splint on my right leg this day. It wasn’t too bad on the uphills or flat ground, but the downhill was a killer. It wasn’t THAT bad though, so I decided that we didn’t need to alter our route. At least not yet.

I hobbled my way through the rest of an afternoon filled with soul crushing rolling hills. At about 5pm, we reached our projected camp. The most remote lake in the park. Hardly a lake and more of a large pond, this was alleged to be some of the better fishing and I was DYING to see for myself. No shin splint was going to stop me.

Maddie walked over to filter water, and I began to rig up my rod. Before I could even do that she exclaimed, “Nick, there’s bass!” Excitement filled my veins. I kept my setup from the day before and cast out. Nothing. I tried twitching it. Minor interest, but no takes. Time for a change.

I returned to my pack and got out my tin of “big flies.” It’s mostly filled with woolly buggers varying in size and color. I grabbed the biggest, olive colored one that I had and made my way back to the lake’s edge. I cast out, let the fly sink, and gave my best attempt to “strip” it back. BOOM! Fish on! And then fish off. I botched the hookset. I cast right back out and repeated the process. BOOM! Fish on! This one I was able to bring to hand. A modest, probably half pound, largemouth bass. My first one on a tenkara rod / using fixed line. Talk about a rush!

The next two hours or so, I spend in bass fishing paradise. It was almost every cast at times. If you check out my YouTube video about it, you can see how action packed the evening was. I lost count of how many bass I caught. Nothing huge, the biggest maybe a pound and a half. It’s hard to beat that kind of non-stop fun though. This was certainly a fantastic way for my first backpacking trip of the season to be going!

I even got Maddie to finally try the tenkara rod! She caught a modest, half pounder as the sun was setting. THAT made the whole trip for me right there!

Henry Coe State Park - Nick Feller - Tenkara Angler - Maddie

I kept fishing until dark and retired to the tent. What else could this place be hiding? My shin was still sore, but I was too excited to see more!

Day 3: 13.6 miles, 2982′ gain (-2024)

A restless night. First and foremost, I had overdone it the previous evening. My shin wasn’t feeling better this morning, and being generally uncomfortable woke me up a few times throughout the night. On top of that, we risked the condensation that can come with a beautiful lakeside campsite… We lost that gamble. Our single wall tent was getting soaked and Maddie had been waking up intermittently to try wiping it down the best she could.

Off to such an obviously good start, we had our coffee/ cocoa, and hit the trail. Our first stop was another small pond a few miles away.

The “spur trail” for our pond was a swampy, rugged creek bed. Nice. I hobbled my way in, hoping the whole time the fishing would be as good as the lake the previous evening. Spoiler alert, it wasn’t. It was also still early in the day, so that could have made a difference too. I did end up catching one small bass at this pond that can be seen at the end of my YouTube video.

We decided to take our own way back to the main trail and avoid the creek bed as much as possible. This left us with more steep hills, but sometimes you have to pick your poison.

The next small pond we approached had a similar looking spur trail, and we decided to forego it all together. We still had the big climb of the day ahead of us.

That climb was up and over Hartman Peak (2211′). The elevation doesn’t seem that bad, but it’s the ups and downs that start to add up. The highlight of that section though was getting to see a Blainville’s Horned Lizard in the wild. It was like a little dinosaur! I’d never seen anything like that in person! Definitely made the steep climb worth it. 

Henry Coe State Park - Nick Feller - Tenkara Angler - Horned Lizard

On the other side, we found a much larger lake to have a nice long break. The shore access here was horrible, and it was hard enough to gather water let alone get a line out. I decided to just rest my shin instead of trying. Maddie was kind enough to fill both of of waters.

After relaxing for a bit, we gathered our things to go the last five miles to our projected camp. Thankfully the hard parts were over and for the most part we were able to “cruise” right into camp. A warm dinner and a beautiful sunset were waiting for us atop a hillside campsite. No lake this evening, but the views were too spectacular to complain.

Even with my shin bothering me, I was a bit sad to be getting into my sleeping bag knowing that the next day would be the last of the trip. It’s always a bittersweet feeling. Can’t get too upset too early though, there was still one more day ahead of us!

Day 4: 6.8 miles, 2605′ gain (-2126)

After giving myself a night of proper rest, my shin was FINALLY starting to feel better this morning. After our usual morning routine, we packed our things one last time in Henry Coe State Park, and hit the trail.

Before getting too far, Maddie made it a point to show me where she gathered our water the night before. A horrific looking cow trough… A blanket of green algae floating like some sort of sick root beer float. A board was wired to the trough, used to scoop out the layer of muck. There was a pipe feeding in, and one feeding out. She told me I had to see the source. Lifting up a bench nearby revealed crystal clear water coming out of a spring. This was being fed by the pipe into the cow trough. This was wasn’t horrific, it was delicious! Some of the best on the whole trip! Still filtered, of course.

We got back on the trail and followed it a few miles until we found a nice, old picnic table at an old horse camp. A perfect place for a break. Since it was only about six miles back to the car this day, this was a good half way point. I stuffed my face with some snacks, and we got back to it.

The last section was a beautiful walk through some oak trees that were just COVERED in hanging moss. It was familiar, yet seemed so alien. We saw many turkeys in this section, and they seemed to be bidding us adieu.

One more climb stood between us and the visitors center. It was another steep farm road that seems to never end, every blind corner seemed to yield yet another monstrous hill to climb. My shin was feeling a bit better, but definitely still hurting. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel though. I pushed on.

Finally, a building appeared over the horizon. The visitor center. I felt my my pace perk up. Suddenly my shin began to feel a bit better. Sweet relief. I marched into that visitor center, and for $1, got the best can of Coca-Cola that I may have ever had.

Headed home, even with the ups and downs (literally), I already missed it. I can’t wait to start the big one! 

Henry Coe State Park - Nick Feller - Tenkara Angler - Trail

Nick Feller found tenkara while going down the rabbit hole of ultralight backpacking and fell in love. Follow Nick’s tenkara adventures on Instagram @norcaltenkara.

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