Article by Joey Ortiz
Approximately five months ago two close friends and I began planning a reunion trip to get outdoors together. We’d last seen each other in Seattle around 2017 before I’d ever knew tenkara existed. The pandemic put a fierce hold on any plans we had on getting the gang back together and we were itching to get back outside for an extended period of time.
“Which park would you be down to go to?” Asked John.
“I don’t care as long as there’s places to fish!” I replied.
“How about Yellowstone?” He asked.
“I’m down!” Exclaimed my other buddy Raj.
I’d always known I’d like to see Yellowstone National Park, however fishing would add another layer of connection with the environment that is hard to put into words. If you know you know!
Now before I continue I’d like to say this is not a trip report, but rather an account of sharing the beautiful experience of tenkara with others. I haven’t been a tenkara angler for very long and I knew I’d really have to prepare myself in order to increase my, and now my friends’ success. With the loaded itinerary we’d only have about two full days out of eight to fish. Time my friends graciously afforded me. My goal was to catch a Yellowstone cutthroat trout and to hopefully give my buddies a crash course to pull some in as well.
Here in southern New England there are a few wild trout management areas with regulations quite similar to those I’d find at the park. There was no shortage of wild brown trout and native brookies calling the particular stream I chose home. I spent the next five months challenging myself locally. I practiced my water reading, fly presentation, and stealth skills. Before I knew it the time was here and my family was sending me off to the airport for a nice and early five hour flight to Bozeman, Montana. I didn’t know if I’d be able to put my friends on to fish with such little time, but I was about to find out.
After my buds and I caught up on the past few years and grabbed some breakfast we headed down to the park. I’d never been to this part of the country and all of the ballads and novels written about this beautiful part of the country were coming into fruition before my eyes. The route we took followed the Gallatin river and I was dying to get onto some water but had to wait a few days.
We stopped at a local and renowned fly shop just outside of the western part of the park. The folks there were very helpful and gracious in providing the information we asked for as well as some advice on useful fly patterns for the time of year. I grabbed some terrestrials, nymphs, and an obligatory cutthroat trout t-shirt as we made our way into the park to settle in and hit some hikes for the next few days.
While I was waiting for the big day (at least for me) I was looking through the book The Yellowstone Fly Fishing Guide by Craig Mathews, which proved to be an indispensable tool for the trip. I certainly had a bit of worry that we might get skunked, or that the learning curve would be tough for them. I dug through the book searching for a viable stream with easy access, would be good for beginners, and had our targeted species. We settled on Cascade Creek, definitely not the first body of water that comes to mind in the fly fishing Mecca of the United States for sure.
When we first arrived we kept a distance from the water and began to scout for pools as we made our way downstream. Raj opted for a hike instead, and thankfully to grab some great photos of us.
“Hey John, how about that spot over there?” I said. It was a nice little pool with some taller grass to seek cover behind. We first had to wait for a rightfully concerned bison to cross the stream before we could safely and stealthily get to the portion we wanted to cast from. After a brief tenkara crash course, we hid behind some brush and began throwing some dries at a school of fish. Not even a bit of interest from the trout.
After some time I turned to John, “They definitely don’t want what we got, let’s lay off the pressure and switch flies.” Turning to my little fly box I let him decide which fly we’d use. He settled on some size 12 kebari and we got back to casting. That was all it took before he exclaimed “Got one!”
My eyes widened as he brought in a beautiful little Yellowstone cutthroat! After that it was back to back to back. It was so amazing to share something like this with one of my best friends, someone who was already an avid outdoorsman was discovering an entirely different way to become a part of nature. The lightweight nature of tenkara allows us to minimize tackle and maximize our connection to the stream and the beautiful creatures that reside there. We finished that first day with a sense of accomplishment and contentment that only a day on the stream can provide.
Day two would prove to be even more rewarding, and not only because we caught more trout. We went to the same spot with the same flies and the trout were wise to our tricks this time around. We both decided to work the stream back to the car and possibly find some trout not as privy to our kebari. Here’s when something amazing happened, John not only read the water to correctly to find some very eager cutties, he was bringing them to net too! He let me jump in and have some fun and I realized the goal I’d set out on was now complete.
I’m not sure if John will continue his tenkara journey despite my constant badgering. We did both agree however that it was some of the best fishing we’d ever done if not the best, and I think we would also agree that it was because of so much more than just catching fish, and that is why I love this sport.
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