Article by Amanda Hoffner
I have been fishing all of my life. I have gone to places I never would have if it weren’t for tenkara and I have grown in my own art of tenkara and methods to my madness. That includes taking some risks, albeit generally when they’re calculated.
Being in my mid-30s, I am well aware that my body doesn’t recover like it used to. However, I didn’t start fishing the way I do with tenkara until my early 30s and I surely have since hiked many miles and rambled a lot of rocks to catch my preferred trout and fish. These adventures have led to me falling or slipping at least once per day on the creek. This last trip I got hurt worse than I ever have before, and it has taken me the longest to recover.
I decided to go overnight backpacking with a few friends into an area of North Carolina that is home to wild brook trout. This was my first overnight camping trip without easy access to my car; although, looking back, I definitely could have stayed less than one mile away from the trailhead. Regardless, that would not have taken away my wounds.
Backpacking in was worth it. It was definitely a welcomed feeling to wake up next to a waterfall and be able to crawl out of my tent, half awake, bare-footed and easily fish the body of water. I was even able to catch a brook trout in the dark with my tenkara rod which was a first for me! I usually heavily depend on seeing the main line do a dance or display unnatural movement in order to hookset. Instead, I used my fixed line rod to sweep my sakasa after I paused from a fly-first cast and I was able to clearly feel the fish take the fly. The next thing I knew I had a fish in my hand!
Back to the main point of the story: risks versus rewards, and the risks you must take while fishing in a wilderness area that does not have much information to be found from locals (or the internet).
My injury occurred after I had actually decided to put my rod away to get to the trailhead to meet my friend. On the way, I came across an angler who saw me walking through the creek bed where he was fishing. He assumed I was some random hiker not paying attention to him, or any fishing potential in the spot I was wading through. But I saw the creek was ankle deep and he was on his phone.
I had already been fishing for three and a half hours, though I really didn’t travel far from just above the falls at camp. Exhausted, I had climbed rocks and bushwhacked the overgrown trail all morning. I was hot and sticky and didn’t feel like talking, but there I was defending my choice in collapsing my rod and “walking through his fishing zone.”
I apologized and he told stories about fishing and seemed interested in my rod. He continued to fish as we talked and he caught an 8-inch brook trout right at our feet as he let his dry fly sink because we were deep in conversation. Funny enough, I had just told him I was fishing subsurface flies and showed him my sakasa. That was the ticket for the day for sure.
I decided to cast a few times into the plunge pools created by the cascading waterfalls that we were standing at and I didn’t have any luck. I don’t usually stay too long at one hole, so I quickly made my way to the main hole, a five-foot round plunge, and decided to traverse the rocks to the next waterfall that looked very close on the map, seemingly only a stone’s throw away.
I started climbing on all-fours up the rocks as I tend to use all contact points such as knees, hands, and arms, etcetera to steady myself. I hadn’t once slipped on my way up what was probably a 30 degree rock wall until I was halfway up. My foot slid out from under me; I then caught myself, took another step, and boom. I went down so quickly into the water below that I wasn’t even able to get out a yelp.
I am only 5’2” and my feet didn’t touch the bottom of the plunge pool. I had my hands up over my head and those were submerged as well. That hole had to be at least six feet deep. The force of hitting the water threw my baseball cap off from around my ponytail and I was thrown under the water a few times by the fast-flowing waterfall, running higher from the previous night’s rain.
I was eventually able to push my way to the furthest rock wall from the falls and pull myself out. The guy I was talking to before walked towards me and asked if I was okay. Of course, from the adrenaline, I felt okay. It wasn’t until I walked away from the waterfall that I realized my knees were all cut up, dripping with blood. I still had about a half a mile ascent to get to a spot to meet my friend, to then walk back down another trail to get to our campsite.
So, what makes this fall worse than others? It wasn’t the abrasions and cuts on my knees and hands. It wasn’t the torn nails I got from trying to get a grip on the rocks that were carved by water. It wasn’t that this was my worst fall yet since I started fishing. What makes this fall worse is that when I walked maybe 50 steps up the actual trail, I could see the next waterfall through the trees.
If I had just had a more thought-out plan to reach the next hole to fish, then I would have seen the trail and it would have been much less risky than what I had done. I would have spent an equal amount of energy and only saved maybe 30 seconds. So, the risk outweighed the benefit in this moment and I paid for it with this rookie mistake.
A factor that led to this decision was fatigue from rambling for hours on the mountainside and in the stream over rocks and over branches. To stop this from happening again, I will just have to think about this trip and take a step back from the situation. The only time I should have to traverse that type of terrain again would be if there is absolutely no way out of the waterway. And next time, even if I have to follow the stream back a few tens or hundreds of feet to get out of a ravine, I will take that walk back.
Rookie mistakes make for lessons learned and I’ll never stop exploring!
Amanda Hoffner, a half Japanese angler from Pennsylvania, began her tenkara passion when researching fly fishing methods from Japan. She can be found deep on a blue line in the East coast/Appalachian Mountains fishing for native brook trout. Her Instagram name is @ladytenkarabum.
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