Respecting Our Roots: Making A Case For Modern Japanese Tenkara in the USA

Respecting Our Roots: Making A Case For Modern Japanese Tenkara in the USA
By Adam Klagsbrun

Fixed line fly-fishing may be centuries old, but as it is practiced today, tenkara is new. Tenkara is modern. Tenkara is not from the USA – tenkara is from Japan.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the years about what tenkara actually is, and what the definition of tenkara should be. There has also been discussion about what tenkara is not, and that seems to have created some really interesting, and in some cases intense, dialogue. What perplexes me the most is why some people immediately get defensive and upset about being told that fishing for bass or crappie in local warm water ponds and slow-moving rivers isn’t “Tenkara.” My goal in this article is to lay a foundation of understanding, to make a case for why it is important to keep tenkara from being re-defined, and to explain why we shouldn’t be the ones to re-define it here and now.

At this point most of us know the story about how Daniel Galhardo started Tenkara USA around 2009. What many do not know, or have not paid attention to, is how he honored tenkara’s roots in Japan and did not try to sell it to us as something that it was not. Sure, he added a more minimalist pitch in his marketing, but it made sense, given that from what I recall, the earliest adopters of this sport here appeared to be, in fact, ultralight backpackers who were largely exposed to Tenkara USA via Ryan Jordan at backpackinglight.com.

What Daniel did was to go spend time with Japanese tenkara anglers who were involved in creating and naming tenkara, the people who actually defined it for modern times, in Japan. He asked them questions. He listened to the answers. He watched the anglers. He learned from them. He got the definition. What he brought and packaged for us here in the USA was very close to tenkara as it was in Japan, and so began our adventures with tenkara here in the USA.

Since that point, Tenkara has grown to encompass a larger group of fishermen and a broader range of styles. As soon as there was a market established, other companies jumped in. Many of them became known as “me too” companies – some survived by producing great quality products at reasonable prices and attained a permanent seat at the “table” of tenkara rod-makers. Others did not. A lot of anglers here “grew up” on these rods when it comes to their personal journeys into discovering tenkara. But there has been a bit of an elephant in the room… Most of these rod companies never looked to the Japanese for anything in creating companies that were selling a Japanese-designed product for a Japanese sport. Does this make any sense?

While some people may have taken advantage of Oni school, most of the owners of these other companies didn’t appear to seek out relationships with the creators of tenkara the sport, they didn’t travel to Japan, but, most importantly, they didn’t learn about what a tenkara rod taper was all about, and they didn’t license any tenkara mandrels from Japan. They still haven’t. The result? The result is that the consumers got the short end of the stick. Many of us never learned what tenkara was, where it really came from, or why any of that matters. Many of them still have never cast a rod that flexes like many of the most popular Japanese tenkara rods do.

As one example, Patagonia made an early impact of this type, offering not only a completely incorrect taper and action in a “Tenkara rod” but then going one step further to apparently take credit for tenkara here in the USA. Chouinard painted a picture of fixed line fishing for his fishing kit that was loosely inspired by Pesca Mosca Valsesiana and tenkara, without truly representing either style in their kit. He calls it “simple fly fishing.” It is not tenkara.

This was particularly disappointing, as Patagonia, usually working hard to truly engage locally with their marketing and environmental/business impact campaigns and to understand what they were getting involved in, didn’t do any of the necessary legwork at all. This helped to create a complete misunderstanding within the market, and helped to foster an idea that somehow, anything could be tenkara. I believe this is just one element of what created a lot of the early anti-tenkara “hate” from other fishing communities online, and is something I’d like to delve into deeper at another time in the future.

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It is clear there was no mal-intent in any of this, but the results were less than stellar on many levels, and some may argue that “damage” has been done. I’m glad to see other companies beginning to put effort into all of this, and I think it will go a long way to undoing some of the damage that may have been done early on. There’s more work to do.

But I digress, this article isn’t really a history lesson on the tenkara industry, it is meant to make people think. Furthermore, I truly love Patagonia as a company for many other reasons… I don’t bring this up to judge any company or person, or to be negative. I bring it up to paint a picture of how tenkara began to lose its way here in the USA, and how tenkara went from a style of fishing to a becoming a marketing term.

I believe that bringing this reality to attention is important, because it has the potential to be dangerous for the knowledge and the future of the sport. If we allow tenkara to simply become a marketing term to sell rods and gear, not only will we dilute the meaning of tenkara, but we will all be personally responsible for undoing decades of work that the masters such as Ishigaki-San, Sakakibara-San and countless others have worked so hard to create. Do we, the USA, want to be known for effectively destroying a well-defined niche sport with established teachers & sponsors, established methods and styles, and be happy about that? I certainly do not think so, and I believe most tenkara anglers here do not want to do that either. Do we?

What is it about? Honor. Honor is important in Japan. Honor is important everywhere. It would surely be dishonorable to have taken this wonderful sport from Japan and to then turn it into something completely different, simply because we don’t want to create new words for what we are doing now, do we? I don’t see how these shortcuts would benefit us, or the sport of tenkara here.

We have all advanced to the point where we understand why tenkara is not cane pole fishing, and how it is not simply dapping. I believe at this point, now, we have finally gotten to a point where we have learned enough to know that tenkara also is not fishing for bass or warm water species in slow and still water. There are enough Japanese anglers, facts and history to support this claim. Ishigaki-San and many others have defined tenkara – so yes, tenkara has a definition already.

As Ishigaki-San and many of the others have confirmed, tenkara means fishing for trout in bubbling brooks and raging rivers with some elevation change, using a fly, utilizing a long rod and a very light line. Tenkara is as much about casting as it is about drifting, something I used to incorrectly speak about by saying pretty much the opposite. I am just as guilty in doing damage to the definition and image of tenkara as any company or blogger or early adopter who decided to use western fly lines, floating lines or dry flies.

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Dr. Hisao Ishigaki
I didn’t mean to dilute tenkara by pitching bead heads, ultra-short lines and nymphing techniques… but I did – heck, they worked! But I now know more about how to cast correctly, how to fish a slightly longer line effectively, how to manipulate flies more effectively, as well as more about what tenkara actually is – and with this knowledge comes new understanding. What follows that for me is just a lot more good old fun while fishing, a lot more success catching the “hard to catch” fish, a more “zen” attitude on the stream, and a mission to spread this all to others.

Tenkara was defined by the most active, important anglers within the sport at that time, many of whom we know of today. They are the “masters.” The word tenkara was chosen by this group of existing, established Japanese tenkara anglers, some of those masters and their teachers, in order to help distinguish between the new western style of Kebari Tsuri (fly fishing,) and the traditional old style with a fixed line… then also called Kebari Tsuri.

Tenkara is not a broadly defined style. It is a niche that was created in order to describe something very specific – something that was evolving both alongside, and separately from, other methods of fly-fishing. So in effect, tenkara has evolved as a niche within a niche. It followed a path to that point that helped to define the techniques and the tools of the sport, and we have barely even begun to scratch the surface of all of this over here in the USA. We are lucky to be exposed to decades, if not centuries, of this knowledge from Japan; lucky to have friends in Japan to teach us the right ways, and lucky to have all found this wonderful sport.

So my question is, given these realities, do we, as a community, really want to go backwards in time and re-define tenkara as something broader that encompasses all kinds of fly-fishing? Do we really want to promote a train of thought that undoes the very ideas of why tenkara was defined in the first place? What good would it serve to be the ones who undermine the very people we are trying to learn from right now? Does this help us, and does this have a positive impact on the sport of tenkara?

Tenkara, as it is defined from Japan, is well established for these reasons – and there is a lot we have left to learn before we are ready to go off and take it to the next level ourselves. For if we cannot first fully learn and understand the myriad of techniques and knowledge that has already been accumulated, all we will be doing is throwing that out the window, by letting tenkara become a marketing term.

In Japan, they define the fishing style by the kind of fishing you do, not the rod you have. Because of that, each style of fishing has developed its own gear… carp fishing for Herabuna carp is called Herabuna fishing. There are “Hera rods” for that. Chub fishing for Hae in mountain streams is called Hae fishing. Did you know there’s a whole category of rods that are sold for this too? The Daiwa Rinfu is one of them. Ayu fishing utilizes insanely expensive and much longer rods, and you use a half of a fish as the bait. Most of us have heard of Keiryu fishing too, as Chris Stewart has largely been responsible for making people aware of this style and marketing it as its own unique thing – as well as selling the rods to us here in the US.

So I believe that it is time for us to begin to communicate more accurately about modern Japanese tenkara, to accept its definition more clearly, to think about using Japanese carp rods for carp, salmon rods for salmon, and calling each method of fishing by its own name as has already been defined. Maybe it is even time for us to be creative and to make our own names as well. There is no reason that anyone cannot use their tenkara rod to fish however they’d like and for whatever species of fish they’d like to fish for. But I do believe it is as good a time as any to begin to re-define that stuff for what it is, instead of pretending that it is all actually called tenkara.

Japanese tenkara anglers I have met and watched interviews about have always seemed to say that we in the USA will have a profound impact on tenkara, and suggested that many of the next great innovations within the sport would come from us here, not from within Japan. I am sure these innovations didn’t involve re-defining the entire sport for the sake of marketing. Do we not want to make the best impact on tenkara that we can? Can’t we still do that while also, at the same time, creating new names for the fishing we like to do with fixed line rods that doesn’t fit the definition of tenkara? I believe that we can.

I’m very much looking forward to the evolution of our fixed line fishing industry here, of Tenkara, Keiryu, and of the people involved in it. I’m looking forward to continuing this journey of knowledge among all of you, no matter what kind of fish you want to catch or what kind of line you like to use. But most importantly, I’m looking forward to doing a better job honoring those from which we took and learned this wonderful Japanese sport here in the USA.

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This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016-17 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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Reader’s Corner: What Trout Want & Simple Flies

Reader’s Corner:
What Trout Want and Simple Flies
By Anthony Naples

Winter is coming. Well it’s a little while off still. But a guy can dream. I happen to love winter. Autumn is nice too. Who doesn’t love the smell of fallen leaves crunching underfoot and the crisp mornings warming to comfy afternoons? And of course the splendid dress of the brookies trying to impress their ladies. But fall can make me a little frantic as I know that prime fishing weather is slipping away. Every trip feels as though it may be the last of the season. Spring has that hopeful feeling of a fishing season just coming into its own. Summer can be just fantastic salad days of easy fishing, and then when the trout streams get low and slow I can usually switch over to some local warm water smallmouth streams. But autumn, though the fishing can be the best since early summer, has that nagging feeling of something slipping away.

Winter for me has no fishing expectations. I get out from time to time when the weather and schedule permits— but those trips are a gift. I can still look back on the fall fishing with good memories, still mull them over and think on them and enjoy them. But the winter is a time of comfort and relaxation. I don’t like the heat. The dog days of summer are my least favorite time of the year. Winter makes me feel alive again— the bracing air, the crunch of fresh snow underfoot, no yard work to do.

And then there’s the reading. Sitting inside, frosty windowpanes, hot cup of coffee and a good book. Most likely the book is science fiction, non-fiction science, nature or fishing. Winter is a good time for woodshedding, preparing, planning and thinking about the next season. It’s a good time to rethink things, to look back on the fishing season and think about what went right and what went wrong and what you might want to try next time around. And of course a good time to fill those fly boxes.

With all that in mind I have a few recommendations for your upcoming winter reading list – of course you don’t have to wait to winter. You could get started early and maybe even have time to implement some of what you learn and use some of the flies that you tie this fall.

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What Trout Want: The Educated Trout and Other Myths by Bob Wyatt

Reading this book is a little like being Neo in The Matrix. So part of the speech that Morpheus delivers to Neo before making him choose whether he wants to really learn about the Matrix might be in order…

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Remember… all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more…. follow me.”

-Morpheus, The Matrix

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I hope that you choose the red pill…

The first part of this book is dedicated to what Mr. Wyatt calls “A Beautiful Fiction”, wherein he systematically picks apart much of what the previous few hundred years of fly fishing literature has taught us about trout and more specifically the idea of “educated trout” and “finicky trout” and “fly refusal”. And he does a pretty thorough job of it. He points to trout behavior that has led the fly fishing world to attribute much more intelligence, decision making ability and learning capacity to trout than he thinks they ought to be given, and provides alternative and simpler explanations based on experience and science. He then gives us his thoughts on what is really important to the trout and and some basic fly patterns that will cover most situations that the trout fisher will need to imitate the insects (and stages).

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Bob Wyatt’s Deer Hair Sedge

I don’t want to give it all away.

But let’s say it’s something to do with what many tenkara anglers have been suspicious of— presentation….

Mr. Wyatt is not a “one-fly” proponent in the way that some tenkara anglers may be. He’s not afraid to admit that trout get selective at times. And that a different fly may be needed, but the key feature of the fly is likely not what we’ve been taught by mainstream fly fishing. He’s in the school that says fly size is probably the most important factor (assuming adequate presentation too of course) not body color, wing material, tails, ribbing and/or other anatomical details.

I have not always been in this camp. But after taking up tenkara, my views have shifted. Though up till now I still hadn’t gone so far over to all of what Wyatt discusses in this book. I may be converted now – though I need to do some field testing.

If you’re coming to tenkara from a fly fishing background this book may really help you to clear away all of the excesses that you’ve picked up along your journey and give you a nice grounding in why you should reconsider the “common knowledge”. If you’re new to fly fishing, and tenkara is your entry point, this book will give you a solid foundation on which to build.

Some readers may think Mr. Wyatt goes too far – some may think not far enough – and like all fly fishing books I’m sure there are things in it that you just won’t be able to agree with completely based on your own experiences. After all the author is not immune to the biases that affect all of us, such as confirmation bias and availability bias. But I do get the feeling that he’d be happy to discuss things with you and keep an open mind.

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Bob Wyatt’s Deer Hair Emerger

In the end, for me this book provided a slightly different perspective on the trout and it’s brain that I hadn’t really quite grasped previously, and I’m willing to open my mind up to the idea that I’ve been wrong about a few things. Next trout season will be the time for some serious investigation of the ideas in What Trout Want.

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Simple Flies: 52 Easy-to-Tie Patterns that Catch Trout by Morgan Lyle

I’m not going to go on too long about this book. I’ve written about it previously when I presented an interview with Morgan Lyle on my Three Rivers Tenkara blog and in a previous issue of Tenkara Angler. But I think it’s well worth mentioning it here again in the context of having just read Bob Wyatt’s book, because I first heard about What Trout Want in Morgan Lyle’s book and in the interview that I did with him.

What Trout Want lays down a great technical and theoretical background – but it is not a fly tying book. It presents only a few basic patterns – which considering the author’s entire thesis is probably quite appropriate. If you want to take what you’ve learned in Bob Wyatt’s book but also learn to tie some additional patterns for other species and situations, then Simple Flies is the book you want.

Morgan presents some great, easy to tie patterns and step by step instructions to go with them – along with additional background on the ideas behind using simple flies – it is more than just a tying manual.

Armed with these two books you’ll have a very productive off-season of reading and tying in preparation for your most successful trout season yet. Also it doesn’t hurt that Morgan Lyle is a member of our tenkara brotherhood and tenkara gets it’s due in his book.

Good reading!

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Columbine Meadows

Columbine Meadows
By Sam Larson

The sky presses close overhead, dark grey and rippled with the texture of winter storm clouds. There’s no wind. Just the overwhelming stillness of the first autumn day where winter starts knocking on the door and summer packs her bags to take the long road south for the season. I have my tenkara rod and gear with me, chest pack laid over top my wind shell and net swinging back and forth from my shoulders, but my rod isn’t rigged up yet. The collapsed tenkara rod swings easily in my hand as I stomp down the path in my wading boots.

I’m walking in the creek and remembering trout. I know this river, have walked it almost my whole life, and each bend and sandbar has its memory. At the foot of the bridge I stop think about the big brookie that holds here, with his small kype and dark black streaks around his jaw blending into a rich swirl of spawning colors. He’s the king of a stream where fish multiply, stunt, and rarely top eight inches. I wonder where he is, whether he’s sunk down low in the cold water, preparing for winter, or whether he’s given up his hard-fought climb to the top of this particular food chain, tumbled downstream over rocks and riffles to be picked apart by other, lesser fish.

Depressing thoughts, I tell myself… Autumn thoughts.

Above the bridge is a stretch that I don’t fish. In the spring and summer it’s too overgrown, a tunnel of trees and brush that meet and intertwine overhead. In this part of the creek flies migrate to the trees by way of my backcast, forming a sparse, tattered constellation of feathers, hooks, and tippet in the branches. I leave this part of the river to the fish and the dappled, leafy shade. But autumn strips the leaves and brush from the banks and, for the first time since last winter, I can see the bones of the river; the gravel and sand rippling along the bottom, the splash of clear water, and the stark, rocky banks.

I wade noisily upstream, noting lies and eddies where I’ve landed fish, favorite spots where I can always find a fish that will rise to an emerger or a micro Chernobyl Ant. Next season, after winter, spring, and a heavy runoff have had their way with the river, things will be different. Old, familiar beaver ponds will vanish, swept clear by rising water, and new deadfall will redirect the current, carving channels and cut banks to house the coming summer’s brook trout. In spring I’ll come back to a river that I claim to know and have to learn about it all over again.

Stretches of the creek have accumulated names over the years: The Swimming Hole, the Cow Ford, and the Magic Stretch, where the fishing is always good. The Bridge, the Black Pines, and the Rocks, where I am now. In the middle of the creek two tall boulders are framed by deep currents. In late fall’s low water, I can approach and scramble up their backs, sit astride them and look up and down stream.

An advancing wedge of clouds noses over the ridge to the south and starts to tumble down the valley, bringing vague puffs of wind along with it. The smell of snow is thick in the air and if I want to get any fishing done I need to keep moving upstream. The granite rasps on my waders as I slide down the Rocks and splash heavily back into the stream. A pod of brookies darts out of the pool I landed in and vanishes downstream. I note them but keep walking upstream towards an appointment I’ve made with a few favorite bends, above the twisted bramble and trees of the valley.

As the valley continues to narrow I step out of the water and follow a faint footpath through the crackling brown grass. It traverses a steep hillside and rises quickly above the water. Through the bare treetops, now at eye level, the pebbled bottom of the creek is visible. Clouds continue to edge down the side of the valley opposite.

I feel as though I’m climbing into the sky, heading upstream and upslope, parting swirling tails of fog with my tenkara rod and splitting violent cracks in the cloudy silence with every branch that snaps underfoot. I feel small, one man climbing inside a vast silence. The physical presence of the sky leans in so close that it seems I could cast a fly upwards and play a cloud into my net. Or perhaps, where the creek recedes into the lowering horizon, I’d get hauled upwards through a river of fog by a bucking trout-shaped swirl of mist, angrily shaking streamers of vapor from its silver-gray tail.

My boot slips on a clump of grass and I have to put out a hand to steady myself. That’s the wakeup call I needed to stop staring at the clouds and start paying attention to the thin trail ahead of me.

Columbine Meadows is a flat, square-acre field projecting off the side of a steep hill. Beneath the pines in the center of the meadow blue columbines remain hidden long after they’ve faded away elsewhere. Above the meadow the river slows into broad curves across the bottom of the valley. Sweeping cut banks and glassy flats replace the pockets and small eddies that define the lower stretches. This is the kind of water that offers curious trout all the time they need to hover below a fly and pass judgment before they commit to taking a bite.

My level line tumbles off the foam spool in loops and whorls, nothing a few false casts won’t shake out. The water is clear and low, and the peacock and partridge soft hackle that I’d already decided to tie on seems like a good place to start. A puff of wind sends the line out behind me like a pennant and there is snow falling around me. The ticking and rustling of the snow on my jacket and hat brim is loud in the overcast silence. The dry grass whispers in the new breeze and my boots crunch in the gravel of the river bed as I walk towards the first seam, thinking about rivers, trout, the coming winter, and the spring that will follow.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Where The Water Forks

Where The Water Forks
By Nathaniel Skaggs

Parking on the side of the road, the sounds of a clear mountain stream echo throughout the quiet stretch along Rocky Fork Road. Small cascades create deep pools that scream large, hungry mountain trout.

It is the first cool morning of September, and autumn teases the end of another hot, dry summer. You know dry flies are becoming useless on the larger rivers and streams, unless you use a Light Cahill or Adams between size 12-18. However, these enthusiastic mountain fish can be tempted by anything that looks real enough to provide energy for the upcoming colder months.

Though it is a younger state park in northeastern Tennessee, Rocky Fork State Park proves to hold both eager rainbows and a wise older trout that require delicate presentations and realistic flies. Do not trouble yourself with matching the hatch on these waters, these fish can spot the difference.

These pristine waters are wide enough to use a nice 9-foot, 3-weight outfit with enough room for a good false cast that curls around the boulder next to a small cascade; on the other hand, you choose an eight foot tenkara rod in order to get to the smaller pocket directly underneath several branches of rhododendron maximum.

A Louisiana waterthrush stands on a rock watching you, it’s hard, metallic chip, a reminder that your fly is not tempting to just the trout. Working upstream, a rise indicates a larger rainbow feeding right at subsurface.

Passing hikers stop and watch what will sure to be a magical moment for any angler on small mountain streams in southern Appalachia. Picking a size 16 Light Cahill and adding an extra six inches of 7x tippet, you delicately place the fly on top of a small rock a yard or two above the rise. For these fish, you only have one chance before the entire pool is spooked and washed out.

A small flick pops the fly up and down into the creek without even a ripple. Breathing stops. Hikers stand, unmoving while the same waterthrush trains a quiet eye on the fly. The Cahill disappears without anyone noticing. A quick jerk and fight later, you hold an Appalachian prize.

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The size does not matter to you or the cheering hikers, only that you convinced one fish to rise above the water’s edge where the water forks.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Tenkara Got The Girl

Tenkara Got The Girl
Words: Jacques LeBrun
Art: Jim Tignor

It was a cool and breezy summer night before a rain. Most of the guests were heading back to their cabins, but John was heading to the only place with electric lights still on in camp – the dining porch, of course.

He sat down at a table and set up his vise, methodically removing some tying materials from his travel kit – hooks, dubbing and grizzly hen hackle, the only kind he used, because it worked.

A father and his two kids stopped over at the table to see what was going on…. “Are you a scientist,” one of the children asked excitedly? “No,” said John,  “I’m not a scientist, only a fisherman.”

The child pressed him: “you should be a scientist.” John chuckled and began to wrap some red silk around the first hook.  “Science is important, but my head is in the fishing game right now,” he said. The child looked puzzled but laughed anyway.

John began to explain what he was doing to the children, who were watching intently as the dubbing was wound onto the thread with a few simple twists of the fingers.  However, a moment later the children were suddenly bored and wandered away, leaving John alone on the dining porch, where he was listening to the sounds of the owls call and the lonely cry of a loon far away.

After tying a few flies up for the week, John heard someone emerging from the staff room. Looking up, he saw her – and they linked eyes for a moment. Thinking nothing of it, he went back to stripping a hen feather and tying it onto the hook, orienting it just so, in order for it to face the right way as he wrapped.

Without a sound, she walked over to the table and surprised John with a question… “What are you doing, can I watch?”

“Sure,” John said, as he awkwardly attempted to explain fly tying in a concise, interesting manner that wouldn’t sound as nerdy as it really was… but there was no way to win on that one, so he asked her if she’d like to try instead.

“What’s your name?” He asked. “Maggie,” she said. Maggie. It was a nice name.

She sat down next to John, accepting the invitation to learn. He explained the process, step by step, as she began to tie her first fly. She was younger than John, he could tell, but not by that much. Her hair was wavy and long, and she had a kind demeanor that instantly pulled him in. She was deliberate, yet soft spoken, and he liked that.

To John’s delight, somewhat surprisingly, Maggie picked up the skills almost immediately – and so he just let her do all the tying, guiding her hand gently only when needed. She moved closer, nervously flipping her hair and laughing.

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As she finished her fly, John remarked at how impressed he was at her first timer skills and wondered jokingly if it was just beginner’s luck.  Removing her first fly from the vise, John wanted to give it to her to keep as a keepsake; however, she wanted to give it to him for the same reason. What to do?

“I have an idea,” said John. “Why don’t you take the one I just tied, and I’ll take the one you just tied. Tomorrow I’ll go fish it after the rain and see if it’s any good.” Maggie liked the idea – he could see it in her eyes. John knew the fly would work, but had to save his own skin just in case the new stream he was scouting was a bust…

It was getting late so they said goodnight and parted ways. John tried not to be too excited, but he was undeniably giddy about the fact that he had somehow just grabbed the interest of a woman using fly tying. What were the chances of that?

The next morning John headed out as the rain was tapering off, making sure to bring Maggie’s fly and some other supplies for the day. Arriving at the stream, he saw it was low, slow, and not exactly what he had been hoping to see. But the water was cold, and so he began fishing the likely spots.

Just a couple of minutes in he had a nice strike, and a fish was on. Bringing it to hand, John noticed how beautiful this particular brook trout was. “It must be the magic of that fly,” he thought. He fished for a couple of hours, picking mushrooms and hooking a few more brookies before it was time to head back for lunch.

After lunch, John found Maggie between her tasks and showed her some photos of the fish he had caught with her fly that morning. Maggie’s face lit up and she seemed excited and happy. Success. Maggie said she’d find him later after work.

John saw Maggie serving dinner that night, but she was nowhere to be found later on. He didn’t want to seem to eager, so he played it as cool as he could in his mind. They locked eyes at breakfast the next morning, but again there was little time off for Maggie, and John knew there was no sense in pushing to hang out while she worked. They exchanged glances, a few short conversations and a desire to spend some more time together late in the week.

It went back and forth like that for a few more days, a few words here, a glance there… until the last night in camp rolled around. After dinner, there was “sing time” and everyone sat on the porch together to listen to some staffers playing guitar and leading everyone through a classic lineup of old songs.

Maggie emerged from the staff room and came to sit down next to John. She moved in close and they shared a songbook together. John felt good singing these songs and sitting with Maggie, it was a refreshing change from the pace of normal city life back home. And Maggie wasn’t a boring city girl, either.

After the songs ended, Maggie announced she would be going for a walk. “Walks are good,” said John, nervously. There was a moment of silence. Finally she asked – “would you like to come?” Of course, he said yes, eagerly.

They walked down the path through North camp, gravel and dirt crunching beneath their feet. Talking quietly about the week, they walked out onto the dock and sat down to look at the stars. Maggie began to recount the story of how she and John had met… among other things she and John had in common. John liked the picture she was painting – it was pretty romantic, after all.

tenkara got the girl

“We make a good story,” said John. He leaned in and kissed her, not missing the moment that he would have missed too many times as a teen or a younger man. They lay together on the dock watching the shooting stars, counting satellites and listening to loons and owls together. Neither of them wanted the experience to end, but alas, as they say with all good things…

John hoped he’d get to see Maggie again, and they exchanged numbers the next day.  She lived far away, but promised to come visit. As he drove away from camp later that day, John played back these events in his head over and over. He couldn’t believe it… Tenkara actually got the girl!

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

Calf Creek

Calf Creek
By Christopher Seep

Serendipity:  making a pleasant discovery by accident. 

While taking the very scenic Utah state highway 12 from Torrey to Bryce Canyon, in the midst of wonderful high desert scenery, appeared a sign, “Calf Creek Recreation Area.” Any sign with the word “creek” in it immediately gets my attention. Braking hard, I pulled into the parking lot and was immediately struck by the area’s beauty, especially clad, as it were, in autumn colors. Calf creek begins several miles up-canyon, the product of large seeps and springs. Almost impenetrable, its banks are a riot of cattail, reed, river birch, cottonwood, and willow, creating an open-sky tunnel along the stream.

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My wife and I rigged our rods in record time and surveyed the water. Shy trout darted from the root wads and undercut banks, and it became immediately apparent that stealth was necessary on this creek.  A few pools provided access from the water’s edge, but wading in the creek bed proved the most feasible approach for fishing Calf Creek, casting either up- or downstream. The creek has a moderate gradient, and, wet wading, the water against my legs had a pleasant insistence and coolness, especially given the 80-degree air temperature and full sun. Slowly shuffling upstream, I cast my 12 foot Iwana to the bank and boulder pockets. Parachute Blue Winged Olives and Elk Hair Caddis, size 18, did the trick, and that afternoon we caught many browns in the 8 to 12-inch range with some larger trout hooked and lost.

As the sunlight began to flee the canyon we had to make a choice: pack up and drive on or stay and camp for the night in one of the dozen-or-so primitive campsites. For us, that was an easy choice. We pitched the tent on one of the nicely secluded campsites, surrounded by cottonwoods and Gambel oak.  Although the other campsites were occupied, the campground was very quiet, and we almost felt alone.

Dinner on the two-burner Coleman, then a campfire to counter the high-desert evening chill. As the conversation and fire burned to embers, our attention turned to the night sky, the stars exhilarating in their number and brilliance.

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Comfortably ensconced in the tent, I burrowed into my sleeping bag, having donned gloves and a knit cap in anticipation of a cold night. Leaving the tent in the early morning hours, I was rewarded with the sighting of a shooting star, certainly an omen of some portent. We awoke to a clear 30-degree day. We put on our hiking boots, first checking for scorpions, as the sun was beginning to paint the upper reaches of the canyon. The warmth of another fire thawed our chilled limbs.

We had agreed to hike the Calf Creek Falls trail, beginning before breakfast, knowing the day would warm quickly. This is a six-mile round-trip path to a 126-foot waterfall. We agreed in advance to hike about halfway to the falls in order to leave time for another day of angling. The trail was steep and rocky, gradually climbing above the creek, but the rush of water was never out of earshot. In a couple of places beavers had dammed the flow to create large stillwater ponds. Eventually we came to ancient pictographs drawn centuries ago in red ochre, like dried blood, by the Fremont people who once inhabited this canyon.

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Near the pictographs was a small cavern in the cliff face, and old granary, where the Fremont people stored the corn, beans, and squash they cultivated. I imagined I heard their ancient voices borne across a millennium by the wind:

“This canyon, this desert,
gave us all we required.

The perennial spring hoarded the scant rain,
and, in most years, slaked our thirst.

The poor soil grew our meager maize
and fed us, along with the turkey and deer.

The rock shielded us from the summer sun
and in winter warmed us.

Pinyon and oak made possible our fire.

The endless night sky humbled us
and the coyote, too,
for we could hear his night song.

And in years when there was no rain,
when storm and hail destroyed the corn,
when turkey and deer deserted us,
some of us the Raven bore to the Spirit Mesa,
there forever to lie by the Pool of Cool Water.”

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Retracing our steps, we backtracked to the trailhead, the day now very warm, our fleece tied around our waists. Stopping to regain my wind, I crushed a bit of sage between my fingers and inhaled its intoxicating scent, one of those elemental, appealing odors like wood smoke or pine.

After a few hours’ fishing, more browns brought to hand, we reluctantly broke camp and continued our drive to our next destination.

Calf creek. Serendipity.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.