Tenkara in the Clouds
by Andrew M. Wayment
“There is divinity in the clouds.”
-Lailah Gifty Akita, Pearls of Wisdom: Great Mind.
With the Arkansas River totally blown out for the second year in a row, Shawn and I had to find another place to fish on our last day of annual Colorado fishing trip. Our friend, Josh Houchin planned to join us and we met up at Barry’s Den in Texas Creek to discuss our options over breakfast. Their green chili smothered omelets always put a hum in my tum.
During breakfast, we talked about tenkara and all of the negativity it gets from other fly fishers. Brother Shawn has often teased me about tenkara by using that meme with the oriental dude in class that yells out, “HA! GAY!!!”
“I have no opinion on tenkara whatsoever. I just like to give you a hard time,” Josh replied.
I boldy responded, “I really don’t care what others say about tenkara. It’s fun and it works. I let the fish be the judge. ”
When we finally decided to fish Can’t Tell Ya Creek in the Sangre De Cristos Mountains, Josh proclaimed, “That won’t hurt my feelings one bit. That is my favorite place in the whole world.”
Josh, a career army man from Kansas, was stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs at the time, and had just received word that he was being transferred back east. So he knew his time at this special place was limited. Brother Shawn had introduced Josh to this creek years earlier as he was teaching Josh to fly fish. Both the lesson and the creek obviously stuck.
The Sangre De Cristos, which means “the blood of Christ,” are towering red-tinted mountains with numerous peaks over 14,000 feet. To get to the prime waters on Can’t Tell Ya Creek, you have to hike up quite a ways. The fishing is good all along the way, but especially above treeline.
Shawn and I had fished this creek together two times before, including the previous year. However, on that day, I was worried that the creek was too tight for tenkara and borrowed a fiberglass rod and reel from Shawn. We had a great day and caught a lot of beautiful fish.
This year, I was determined to fish nothing but tenkara come hell or high water. I opted to use my Tenkara USA Rhodo rod as it is adjustable to different lengths, which would come in handy on some of the tighter spots. Having fly fished now for over twenty years, I can attest that tenkara is every bit as effective as traditional fly fishing on small mountain creeks, maybe even more so.
As we drove to our destination, we climbed up quickly in elevation from the valley floor onto a forest road that ended in a patch of quaking aspens. After we parked, we took to the trail and hiked as quickly as we could up into the pines. Along the trail, we saw numerous Columbines, the Colorado state flower, which are some of the prettiest wild flowers I’ve ever seen.
After about a half mile, we crossed the icy-cold creek, and then started to fish a few of the holes. At one point, Josh showed us where he caught “Bob,” a chunky resident brook trout. He let me try for him, but we did not find him. Josh mentioned, “The runoff blew out the log jam that was here and Bob must have moved on.”
We fished many of the creek’s holes on the way up. Renegades and Double Renegades were the perfect fly for this high mountain creek and, after he came up fishless, I gave Josh a Red-butted Double Renegade so he could get the skunk off. I showed Josh and Shawn, a technique that I call “Skittering,” which is when you cast the fly and then drag it either upstream or cross current to trigger a strike. Tenkara is perfect for this technique because with the longer rod, you can get most of your line and leader off the water so that only the hackles of the fly disturb the water’s surface. The cutthroat of this creek went nuts over this technique and I giggled, hooted, and hollered with each fish. I love all cutthroat, but the fish of this creek are the most beautiful cutthroat I have ever seen.
The higher we went, the better the fishing. We mostly fished together and cheered each other on. Once we hiked above the treeline, the stream’s gradient leveled out some and the runs were longer and held more fish. The casting was easy and the fishing was excellent. We all took turns at one beautiful run and caught twenty to thirty fish on Renegades. The camaraderie with Josh and Shawn made for as pleasant a day as I have ever had on the stream.
I talked Josh into trying tenkara at this open spot overlooking a waterfall with a deep hole below. I showed Josh the skittering technique in the hole below us and told him to go for it. Josh cast a few times, skittered the fly back upstream and quickly caught an eager cutthroat. They can’t resist the skitter! After he lined the fish to hand, he placed the cork grip of the rod in his teeth so he could hold the line in one hand and release the fish with the other. He then grabbed the rod and yelled out, “Good Stuff, man!” I can’t say that Josh will become a tenkara fisherman, but he certainly gained a respect for it and learned firsthand that it is fun.
Once we made it back to the trail above treeline, the clouds in the otherwise blue sky looked so close at such altitude, I almost felt I could reach out and touch them. I can see why Josh and Shawn love this creek so much. I hated to leave.
On the way home, we stopped at a nearby Mexican restaurant (can you expect anything different from a Wayment Brothers?). As we enjoyed our food, Josh said, “I had a total blast fishing with you guys today. Andy, I have never fished with anyone who exhibits as much genuine childlike enthusiasm and excitement as you. It was a true pleasure to fish with you.”
For me, I could think of no better compliment. “Right back at you buddy. I’d spend a day on the water with you any time.” I replied.
Isn’t that why we go fishing? To feel that wide-eyed wonder of a child again? Tenkara in the clouds is the perfect way to reconnect with the inner child.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.