Trip Report by David Sass
This last summer, after what felt a lifetime of planning, I found myself hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Having spent my life in coastal South Carolina, I was in a radically different world, one full of small streams packed with trout that people out there called rivers. I knew redfish, flounder and speckled trout, but these sublime little shapes flashing through the crystal waters were otherworldly to me, and I wanted nothing more than to get a closer look.
Sitting at a wide pool on Deep Creek and watching trout rising in the shade, I lamented to a fellow hiker about not having a way to properly enjoy pursuing these fish. I lacked the skill with a fly rod, and a spinning rod didn’t seem right for such fish. He told me about a simple and elegant style called tenkara fishing, and I spent the next two days waiting to get service so I could find out more about this mysterious new method. When we got to town (a bar, in reality), I couldn’t contain myself and ordered the Tenkara Rod Co. White Cloud kit post haste.
After an eon of walking and waiting, I received my rod. Just in time to reach a long, hot and dry stretch of desert. It seemed the waiting would continue. Eventually, we reached Walker Pass and hitched into Kernville, right on the Kern River. I found a local fly shop and asked everything I could possibly think of, then headed down to the river. After an hour baking in the noon sun learning how to handle the seemingly delicate rod, I caught my first trout, a sturdy rainbow. He set the hook in me as much I in him.
A week later, as we approached Mt. Whitney, we camped at Rock Creek. The water was packed to the gills with California goldens. In the failing light, having barely set up my tent, I leapt at the creek and caught a dozen in as many minutes. I didn’t want to stop and cursed the sun for setting. In the morning, my rod ready to go and the water inches from my tent, I sprang up and went straight to the creek. As the other hikers ate and packed up, I paraded a dry fly across the riffles right into the mouths of hungry trout. When they said they were leaving, I told them I’d be a half hour behind them.
Two hours later, a half mile up stream and with a head full of new memories of strikes and near misses and flashing colors of golden and scarlet, I made my way back to break camp. My face must have been glowing like the bellies of the trout I had just released.
Over the next few months, I caught more trout than I could ever count. But what made it the experience I could never forget are the people I met along the way. At a stream crossing, trying for spooking browns and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, I met a hiker who went by “Tom Sawyer”. He shared with me a fly tied of his young nephew’s own design, which later landed me a handful of feisty rainbows. I shared the water frequently with a fellow hiker, “Angler”, who seemed to be driven solely by his love of tenkara fishing and wanted nothing more than to spread that passion. And I was fortunate enough to share that great feeling with another hiker, “The Dude”, a fly fisherman by habit, and to see his joy at catching a rainbow on the elegant minimalism of a tenkara rod for the first time.
The simplicity of tenkara fishing is what makes for such a pure and delightful experience. With so little to distract from the moment, one is readily lost in the flow of the water. Time loses sense, becoming measured by flicks of the tippet, the soft sounds of moving water, and heartbeats that quicken at the strike. Watching a fly caught in the seam disappear into the mouth of a hungry trout or spotting the submerged flicker of a turning tail as it takes a nymph are the moments that every angler remembers. The opportunity to share those moments and that passion is why we stay on the water.
David Sass is a PCT thruhiker and a novice tenkara enthusiast who looks forward to exploring new waters with a tenkara rod.
This article originally appeared in the 2022-23 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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