Stories Tenkara Trout & Char

“Justin Doesn’t Fish”

Article by Justin Cox

"Justin Doesn't Fish" - Tenkara Angler - Justin Cox

I HATE FISHING! For the last twenty years that was my standard answer when invited to go. I didn’t hate fishing itself, necessarily, I just didn’t like fishing enough to pay for a license. I was quite the angler when I was a child. I grew up in West Sacramento, California, less than a mile from the Sacramento River. My dad and his friends were always out ‘til the wee hours of the morning with a line in. Usually that meant bringing their kids along.

I have vague memories of a rope tied around my waist with the other end tied around a tree, just enough slack to allow me to dip a hand in the water. Now, I was too little to be expected to have the patience required to keep a line in all night, mostly I built sandcastles or played down in the cabin of the boat while the adults fished. 

The big trip every year was when the dads would pack us kids into the back of a cab-over camper (it was the Eighties) and drive three hours away. Once we were deep in the mountains, you know, the kind with arranged campsites, public bathrooms, and a greasy spoon café. (Hey, I was only about six the first time I went, so it was the deep mountains to a city boy like me.) We would be there every year for the opening weekend of rainbow trout season. Just us boys. Sleeping on the ground. Stream fishing. This I liked. After drifting your bait downstream, you had to reel in and re-cast, none of that trolling, or watching a bobber for hours. The action kept my attention. Plus, the thought of a possible lunch at the aforementioned café. 

For years we made that trip. Then my family moved three quarters of the way into those mountains. We moved to a small town called Paradise. The next year, when opening day came, we didn’t go camping. My dad’s friends simply came and stayed at our house since it was only an hour drive  to our favorite fishing holes. Now there was no camping, although I still slept on the ground, (one of my  dad’s friends got my bed) and no chance of food from the café, “Mom’ll have dinner ready when we get  home.” The fishing was still good, but it wasn’t enough. The next year I didn’t go. I was a teenager now and had my sights set on catching girls more than gills. As the years went by, I slowly forgot how to even rig a pole. 

I came back to the outdoors in my early twenties. I picked up hunting. Fur, or feathers I was out looking, never doing much killing, but I enjoyed the gentle quiet of the woods. Buddies of mine who hunted, inevitably fished as well. Invitations were extended frequently, mostly to sit on boats on Lake Oroville fishing for bass. This definitely did not appeal to me. What I had liked most about stream fishing, was the action. Pretty quickly, the invites stopped coming. People just knew, “Justin doesn’t fish”.  It slowly became a running joke. I would meet someone new, and we would be talking hobbies, four wheeling, hunting, hiking, and the topic of fishing would be broached, my friends would chuckle, and my eyes would glaze over, “Justin doesn’t fish,” they would say.

Fast forward to the summer of 2022. I’m now closer to forty than thirty, I have a kindergartener, and I’ve started a business with a friend of mine. I no longer have a boss to answer to. I don’t have to get up at 5 AM. What else could change in my life? If you had said “you are going to fall back in love with fishing,” I would have laughed ‘til I cried.

"Justin Doesn't Fish" - Tenkara Angler - Justin Cox - Fishing

The business I started is called sUAVe Aerial Solutions; it is a small drone photography/videography company. Having a meeting with my business partner, Kory, one day, he suggested that I bring the drone out to film him and our good friend fishing. The friend happened to be Nick Feller, or NorCalTenkara as he’s known in the online world. I’ve known Nick for almost a decade, but all our hanging out involved hoisting a few adult beverages at whatever party I was throwing. At this time, I probably hadn’t seen him in over four years. Life does that. Nick happens to be buddies with the guys from Tenkara Rod Co. and has always been into fishing. Now he’s exclusively doing it on a tenkara rod. I love going out to take nature photos, so, off we went to get some shots of Nick fishing. 

"Justin Doesn't Fish" - Tenkara Angler - Justin Cox - Overhead

I had never even heard of tenkara. Kory started dabbling a few weeks before and had just purchased his own Sierra Rod. I packed the drone out to one of the local swimming holes with the guys, not even aware you could pull fish out of this section of the river. I watched, shaking my head, as they extended their rods. They didn’t even have reels! I cracked a number of probably lame jokes but got into taking shots and some videos of Nick pulling in some decent sized rainbows. I was pretty impressed. Nick offered me his rod, “Give her a go.” Kory just laughed. “Justin doesn’t fish.”

Being my own boss, I found myself with more free time than I was used to in my old, 6 AM, five day a week job. I started going out with Nick more and more often. I would shoot him for a while, then go get some nice nature shots. We would chit chat on our drives to and from whatever hole we had posted up at and, being naturally inquisitive, I had lots of questions about tenkara. Some of them were even legitimate questions and not just me teasing my friend about his “cane pole”

A few weeks of this repeated and Nick swore he would put me on a fish one day. I still just smiled, but something was bubbling in the back of my brain. One afternoon Kory called to see where I was. We were supposed to be meeting at Nick’s, to go up a hiking trail that has a number of holes along it. I told him that I had just pulled into the sporting goods store to pick up a fishing license. He replied, sarcastically, “Sure you are. Just hurry up.” I got out of my truck, waving my spanking new license, grinning at the shocked look on Kory’s face. 

Nick loaned me one of his rods to use. That first day, I felt pretty stupid. Nick showed me how to rig up the rod. It was surprisingly easy, not nearly the level of tackle I remembered. Casting was simple to pick up and the action was there. I even enjoyed the “sniping” cast, it reminded me of bow hunting. There was one problem, I had no idea what to do with my other hand, it sat awkwardly at my back, or was left in a strange position. 

After an hour or so, I thought I had gotten stuck on the bottom and pulled back on the rod, only to have my line race upstream! There was a fish on the other end! My hand naturally moved to where the reel should be. There was no reel. How was I supposed to land this thing? Nick leapt into action and netted my catch. We took the obligatory photos, and my smile couldn’t have been wider. That day I ended up catching more than anyone else. To be fair, both guys were helping the new guy figure out what he was doing, but still. 

"Justin Doesn't Fish" - Tenkara Angler - Justin Cox - Rainbow Trout

Soon, I bought my own net. A couple more trips, a few more fish, and I bought shoes to get in the water. Then, a lanyard for my sunglasses. Nick would text every few days to see if I wanted to go out, most of the time I said yes. I was starting to actually enjoy myself. I could do this! I had had my doubts about my ability. Even on the days I got skunked, I still enjoyed tenkara fishing. I started watching videos online. Sending texts to Nick to get his opinion on what the videos said. Now I find myself texting him to see if he wants to go.

Then it happened. Opening weekend of duck season here in Northern California, and I’m up in my old stomping grounds, tenkara fly fishing, not sitting in a pond with my shotgun. Maybe I’m neither a fisherman nor a hunter? I’m an outdoorsman. 

I was walking a trail, my very own Sierra in hand, a brand-new fanny pack, my turkey hunting vest is now a tenkara vest, two pre-teens were walking the other way. “Catch anything?” one asked.  Before I could answer the other quipped, “He doesn’t even have a reel! He’s cane pole fishing.” Oh, the irony. “It’s called tenkara fly fishing.” I informed them. “I’ve caught three so far.” I didn’t hear what they said, I was too busy trying to quiet the howling laughter from my inner voice.  

My rod doesn’t even leave my truck now, you never know when you’ll see some juicy fishing hole. I can’t say yet if it’s a full-blown obsession. I can tell you, you are highly likely to see me standing by a steady stream, line in the water, net hooked to my belt, my left hand comfortably in my pocket, and a big grin on my ugly mug.

"Justin Doesn't Fish" - Tenkara Angler - Justin Cox - Smile

Justin Cox is a writer, photographer, hunter and now a fisherman. He is the co-owner and operator of sUAVe Aerial Solutions. See more of their stuff at “@suave_as” on YouTube and Instagram.

This article originally appeared in the 2022-23 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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1 comment

  1. That was a very good read… you have a gift in writing skills amigo. Also a wake up call of sorts to me to finally learn and put to use the excellent tenkara gear I have assembled Will check back on my progress.

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