Northeast Brookies: Where the Streams Have No Names, Leave the 12-Footer at Home

Northeast Brookies:
Where the Streams Have No Names, Leave the 12-Footer at Home
Words by George Roberts
Photos by Brad Clark

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My first tenkara rod was a 13-footer, which I used on the trout streams of North Georgia—the Chattahoochee and the Tallulah River among them. This purchase was quickly followed by that of an 11-foot rod. The 2-foot subtraction helped me stay out of the rhododendrons, but if a shorter rod had been available then, I would have bought that as well. Unfortunately, there wasn’t.

When I moved back to Massachusetts a couple of years later, I knew these rods would be unworkable on many of the small streams in northern New England that are home to wild native brook trout. These waters, heavily canopied, often unnamed, faint blue lines on the Gazetteer, do not allow for 9-foot rods, let alone 13-footers.

When the Tenkara Bum, Chris Stewart, began touting the Daiwa Soyokaze as a micro rod that could be fished tenkara-style, some tenkara traditionalists (who’d been at the game for all of three years) balked. For those of us who fish for brookies in New England, however, the short sticks seemed tailor-made for the game. For me, whose initial attraction to tenkara was its minimalism, the Soyokaze further simplified things. Here was a fly rod stripped to its essence: a carbon stick and little else. The Soyokaze cast both furled and level lines well—and it caught fish. When Daiwa ceased production, I regretted not having bought a few more of them.

If you’re interested in playing the small-stream tenkara game, the rod is your primary consideration. There are several seiryu and micro-rods on the market of fewer than 9 feet that will fit the bill, including the Nissin Air Stage 190 (which comes in several flex profiles) and the Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 24, 21, and 18 (just under 8 feet, 7 feet, and 6 feet, respectively). Although the Kiyotaki 18 has become my go-to rod for small-stream brookies (simply due to its length), it’s a bit stiffer than I would like.

Fast-forward 7 or 8 years after tenkara first hit the U.S. and we now have several homegrown companies producing rods for the American market, 3 of which offer a dedicated tenkara rod of fewer than 9 feet.

At 8’6” extended and 18 inches collapsed, Badger Tenkara’s U.N.C. (which stands for “unnamed creek”) is spartan, a matte drab olive blank (presumably for stealth). Writes Matt Sment: “We founded Badger with the goal of making tenkara accessible to the broadest possible audience … focusing on the angler’s preferred experience rather than trying to clone Japanese products and culture. The vast majority of our customers are Americans fishing American water and terrain, and our products are shaped by our experiences on the same.”

The company describes the rod as a 6:4 action with a medium flex. Frankly, I don’t pay too much attention to technical specifications. I fished the rod and it cast well and hooked fish. And at $90 retail you really can’t argue with the price. (I didn’t get a chance to take the U.N.C. down to the pond, but I’m sure it’s an awesome little bluegill rod.)

Zen Fly Fishing Gear’s Suzume (“sparrow”) is one of the neatest tenkara rods I’ve fished with yet—a downsized triple-zoom (10’8”, 9’3”, and 7’7”) that Zen owner Karin Miller designed specifically for Rocky Mountain National Park. “Those are our home waters,” she writes, “and what we fish every day. It’s small streams, tight places, lots of trees and overhanging canopy, and pools and pockets. We wanted something that could handle these places without a lot of acrobatics and maneuvering and could also reach the other side of that wider pool or beaver dam when you finally get to that place where you can see the sky and the water opens up for a bit. The range that the Suzume has is something we’re pretty proud of. You can cover a lot of situations with a single rod—and still feel pretty balanced and not tip heavy in any of its three positions (which is very hard to do on a zoom rod and especially a tri-zoom). It’s a sweet rod that offers some really nice options.”

Zen describes the rod as a medium-fast action with a 6:4 flex. I was afraid the rod would feel a bit stiff at its shortest length—but it didn’t. At $229, the Suzume is more than twice the price of the U.N.C., but if you think of it as buying three rods, the price gets a lot nicer. As an added bonus, Zen includes an extra tip with each of its rods. Says Miller, “It just makes life that much sweeter if you should experience a break.”

Figure 01
A roster of short sticks. From the top, Zen Fly Fishing Gear’s Suzume; Badger Tenkara’s U.N.C.; Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 24; Shimotsuke Kosasa, 6’10”; Nissin Air Stage 190; Shimotsuke Kiyotaki 18

Once you’ve procured your rod, your next consideration is the line. Although most tenkara anglers today prefer to fish with level fluorocarbon lines, I still prefer furled lines, which feel and handle more like conventional fly lines. In the tightest spots, however, you’re bound to end up in the trees occasionally. Pulling on the line to break the tippet is almost sure to cause the line to tangle. Tangle a furled line and you could spend the next five minutes trying to untangle it. Furled lines for very short tenkara rods are not the norm. You may have to substitute a furled leader made for a Western-style fly line. Otherwise, Mike Moline at Streamside Furled Leaders is willing to do custom work at a small additional charge. Whatever line you choose, 3 or so feet of 5X or 6X tippet will suffice.

Life in the headwaters is a hardscrabble existence. Competition for food is keen, so the fish aren’t fussy. Forget about matching the hatch—just throw a few flies into a glass vial and go. I do most of my small-stream fishing with only two patterns—an Elk Hair Caddis and a Yellow Soft Hackle, size 14 or smaller. Plan to do a lot of walking when you play this game. If you don’t get a rise after a cast or two into the same water, move to the next likely-looking spot. If you rise a fish but don’t hook it, don’t spend a lot of time working over him, as it’s unlikely you’ll rise the same fish again.

As I said previously, the thing that attracted me to tenkara initially was its minimalism. I like to travel light. I can fit everything I need for a day of fishing into a small fanny pack. If I can get away with wet-wading in a pair of shorts and Vibram FiveFingers, I leave the waders at home (I find the Vibrams made for trail running offer better grip on wet stones).

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To enjoy this game requires a shift in attitude that some will never manage—which may be why I rarely see another soul. You have to accept there will be no rods doubled over, no singing reels, no trophies as such—none of the usual rewards of the five-star experience. (The first time I showed my wife a wild brook trout she said, “We came all the way up here for that…?) If you’re after those things you’ll be elsewhere—wading the ranch’s private water, or standing at the bow of a flats boat.

But if you’re here, bare ankles numb, dancing your CDC Caddis across a pool no larger than your bathtub, you’re after something else.

Needle Shop Brookie

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

Have You Ever Set a Hook in Mid-Air?

Have You Ever Set a Hook in Mid-Air?
By John Mosovsky

It was a week since I received my new Suntech Genryu Sawanobori 45 Keiryu rod so I was anxious to test it out.  I purchased the rod for its stiffness (54 penny), lightweight (2.8oz), and length.  At 14½ feet, it’s probably the longest rod that I can comfortably manage one-handed.  That’s an important feature since my intention is to use it for Czech nymphing on big water.  Big water where I live is the Lehigh River.  Unfortunately, water flow management on this tailwater is controlled by the antiquated Francis E. Walter Dam constructed in 1961.  The dam was built for flood risk management but recreation became a Congressionally-authorized purpose in 1988.  The Lehigh is a wonderful trout fishery that has overcome a dark history of industrial pollution.  It has the potential to be a blue ribbon trout river if design changes to the dam ever become a reality.  The Lehigh Coldwater Fishery Alliance and the Lehigh River Stocking Association are two organizations that work tirelessly at trying to make that happen.  But I digress!

On August 5th, the Lehigh River water temperature at my favorite spot was 71°F and the flow rate was 320 cfs (cubic feet per second).  A little on the warm and low side so I decided to Czech nymph a colder mountain stream called Mud Run in Hickory Run State Park.  It was running at 60°F.  The air temperature was cooler than normal, registering in the mid-seventies, and cloud cover was thick.  Weather-wise a pretty good fishing day for early August in Pennsylvania.  For the smaller mountain stream, I decided to use my softer TUSA Amago rod (31 penny/13½ feet) with a “short” 11-foot casting line/indicator sighter/tippet and multiple flies (#16 bead head pheasant tail dropper and a #14 bead head, lead wrapped George’s Killer point fly).

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My line to line connections were made with ligature knots and my flies were attached with nonslip mono loop knots.  Both knots are highly recommended by Art Scheck in his book Fly-Fish Better.

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George’s Killer

I was on the stream at 4:00pm and netted two Brookies and a Brownie before deciding to start the 45-minute hike back to my Jeep at 6:00pm.  It gets dark early in a canyon!  When I reached my Jeep I realized I still had a good 1½ hours of daylight left so I decided to drive to my favorite spot on the Lehigh.  I got on the river at 7:20pm, excited to try out my new Suntech rod.  Because of the waning daylight and to save time, I decided to use the 11-foot rig I had on the Amago rod.  I knew the line length was a little on the short side for the 14½ foot Suntech but the flies were still attached and I was pressed for time.

The water I targeted was a swift, deep run with multiple seams and hydraulic jumps leading into a large deep pool.  I started off easy, fishing the near side shallows of the pool working my way upstream along the near side shallows of the run.  The rod performed beautifully!  In no time at all, I landed a few smallmouth bass, a Sunny, a couple fallfish, and a nice rainbow trout.  I caught a few more bass and fallfish before I reached the head of the pool and the swiftest part of the run. A feeding fish in a seam on the far side of the run caught my attention, but it was going to be a stretch reaching over the run to make a presentation to him.  I was already in the middle of the river hanging on to my wading staff, but hey, I had a 14½ foot rod (with, unfortunately, a short 11-foot line).

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(I often catch more fish Czech nymphing seams on the far sides of runs compared to seams on the near sides of runs.  Fish lying in the far side seams have the run between them and us and don’t see or hear us as well.  Part of the beauty of Tenkara Czech nymphing is using long rods to reach overruns and target the far side seams.)

I got within one step of the run’s hydraulics, lob casted the flies upstream into the foaming whitewater and hoped that I hit the seam.  What happened next was a bit surreal.  It was like what athletes say about things slowing done when they are “in the zone”.

My line and flies began moving very slowly downstream in spite of the swift, rushing water surrounding them.  I had hit the seam!  A split second later (well before the flies were anywhere near the bottom) a big rainbow (18 inches?) jumped 3 feet out of the water facing upstream like a torpedo.  I immediately thought that the fish had taken one of my flies even though I never saw or felt any indication of a strike. ALL of my line came out of the water and hung in the air “downstream” of the fish (“downstream” is in quotes because my line wasn’t in the stream at all!).

I instinctively raised my rod to set the hook in mid-air and in doing so turned the fish’s head toward me.  When he splashed down on the far side of the run, he took off downriver.  I tried to keep the power curve in my rod and because of the swift water and short line, the fish was drawn to the surface in the middle (read swiftest) part of the run.  It did a couple flip-flops and somersaults and then broke off!  Gone!  The only way I could have possibly brought the fish to hand was to go for a swim – but it happened so fast, was too near dark, and the water was too swift and deep to entertain such an idea.

If I had been fishing with conventional fly fishing equipment, i.e. rod AND reel, I believe the drag on the reel would have vastly improved my chances of landing the fish.  But then, I probably wouldn’t have had the ability to target the fish’s lie in the first place.  I also believe that had I used the appropriate line length (14½ -16½ feet) for Czech nymphing with a 14½ foot Keiryu rod on big water, I could have turned the fish and ran with him.  I was disappointed but exhilarated; pleased with my choice of Keiryu rod but upset with myself for not using the appropriate line length.  All in all, it was another exciting day on the Lehigh.  Tenkara rocks and rules!

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Epilogue

When I teach Czech nymphing, I always tell my students to wait a couple seconds for the flies to sink after making a lob cast and before leading them to control depth and speed.  Not waiting long enough for the flies to reach the feeding zone is a mistake even the pros make.  George Daniel owns up to making this mistake in his book Dynamic Nymphing.  He also emphasizes “The key to allowing nymphs to quickly drop is not to create tension on the rig, but to maintain line and leader control so you can determine if a take occurs.”

In his opinion, this is the key to getting deep drifts with little weight.  I couldn’t agree more.  I was fishing #16 and #14 flies in very swift water when the big ’bow struck.  Granted they were bead heads and the point fly was wrapped with 0.010 lead wire, but that’s not much weight considering the conditions.  The relatively light casting line and tippet also helped.  The beauty of Tenkara!  In their Discover Tenkara tutorials, Paul Gaskell and John Pearson call the nymph sinking phase a kind of “induced take” movement that entices fish to strike.  Very true!  To capitalize on this phase, however, as George Daniel says, the nymphs must be allowed to sink without line tension but at the same time, the angler must maintain line control to detect a strike.  This is a very fine line (no pun intended) to maintain in swift, deep water.

After the ‘bow broke off, I was left standing with the pheasant tail dropper at the terminal end of the tippet.  There was no indication of any tippet having existed beyond the dropper.  When I got home and examined the broken line I could detect an extremely small “tag” coming out of the dropper ligature knot where the terminal portion of the tippet had broken off.  This told me a few things. The dropper ligature knot held, the fish struck the point fly, and the nonslip mono loop on the point fly held.  I can only assume that the line weakened when I tied the dropper knot because I failed to adequately moisten it.  Not a terrible mistake considering the rig held up to a dozen fish and a few snags.  The big one always gets away!

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

Tenkara Fishing in an Inflatable Craft

Tenkara Fishing in an Inflatable Craft
By Daniele Beaulieu

I am a river fly fisher, that means 95% of the time my feet are in a creek, stream, or river, but this Summer 2016 was awful as the temperature and humidity made the water super hot and very low. It was so bad that the rivers that I fished in were almost empty and the fish were not at the rendezvous, so I decided to take my float tube and my inflatable pontoon out and explore ponds in the Northeastern NY, more precisely, the Adirondacks, that big giant playground where you can have access to many ponds.

The thing about an inflatable craft is that there are a lot of pockets where you can put things, like your water, raincoat, something to eat and much, much more. They are also easy to transport; you don’t need to have a big truck or a carrier on top of your car.

I learned to love fishing that way.

Bass

Tips to Fish in an Inflatable Craft:

You can fish the standard way, that means you cast where you want the line to go. Or, you can fish just by letting the line out in the water and paddle away allowing the line to troll behind you. (Don’t forget to put your rod at an angle if you are fishing for big fish, see article in Tenkara Angler Summer 2016).

Since you will have your oar in your hands in an inflatable pontoon you can fish by placing your rod end underneath one of your legs and the rod tip on the top of one of the inflatable keels.

Don’t forget to always keep tension in the line, that means if the fish is coming to you, step back by paddling away from the fish. Don’t let the fish go behind the float tube or pontoon!

Security Measures to Take While Fishing in an Inflatable Craft:

  • Remember that tenkara rods are an electrical hazard, so be careful if you are in the middle of the pond. If you don’t have time, just throw away your rod in the water, they float.
  • Always wear a life jacket!
  • Have a rope in case somebody has to tow you
  • Have a patch kit in case you develop a hole and you are far from home
  • Do not over inflate in warm weather because hot air expands. Check out your air pressure from time to time

The Float Tube:

Float Tube

  • They are small and lightweight so if you hike trails to reach a pond like many of them in the Adirondacks, it is the perfect choice
  • They are slower in bigger ponds; they should go in ponds about 20 acres maximum
  • You’re seated in the water, so beware of leeches if you are fishing in shorts

The Inflatable Pontoon:

Camo Pontoon

  • They are faster than the float tube
  • You can go in bigger ponds
  • You sit outside of the water so if you are going through a bunch of lily pads it will be easier
  • You can paddle in both directions so it will cause less fatigue
  • You can take them in rivers
  • They are heavy, bigger, and take longer to assemble.

Video Resources:

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

Tenkara In The Last Frontier

Tenkara In The Last Frontier
By Paul Vertrees

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I recently traveled to Alaska with tenkara.  It was epic.  In a way, I really don’t know how to begin to tell this story, because the whole experience was so big, so successful, and so perfect!  It was a trip to a place that has left an indelible mark on my soul, because Alaska has a way of getting under your skin.  I suppose I should start at the beginning, as most good stories must.

I have dreamed of visiting the north since I was a boy, spending many nights sitting up in bed with a flashlight propped against my right shoulder, reading about the north country in Jack London’s White Fang and Call of the Wild, which took place in the Yukon, but could have happened in Alaska just as well.  The fact that I’ve always been drawn to wild, lonely places filled with wild fish only pulled me closer to making a trip to Alaska, but it took until the summer of my 53rd year to put everything together and head out.

Many things converged to make this a special trip, but it couldn’t have happened the way it did without two things…a good traveling partner and some folks on the ground in Alaska, who served as my hosts.  I was blessed with both, and that made all the difference.

My good friend, Shawn, and I are nearly twins.  If viewed from behind, you probably couldn’t tell one of us from the other.  The two of us, on a full stomach, soaking wet and fully clothed, wouldn’t tip the scales to 300 pounds.  We both eat like maniacs, live life to the fullest, and we hit the trail and the water the same way.   We’re both slightly over 50 Colorado natives with a love for backpacking, hunting, and most importantly, backcountry fishing.  Shawn and I have hunted and fished wilderness together in the Colorado Rockies off and on, and he was the one person I knew who would jump at the chance to go to Alaska.  I took a well-deserved week-long break from guiding tenkara trips for Royal Gorge Anglers here in my little town in south-central Colorado, and Shawn was wrapping up a six-week sabbatical from his work in financial and retirement planning.   He had just returned from a fly fishing trip to Iceland, and I had wrapped up a very busy week on the water of the Arkansas River in Bighorn Sheep Canyon, and on tiny creeks in narrow canyons.  It was time, and we had some of it.  Alaska would wait no longer.

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My man on the ground in Interior Alaska, Mike, is a fellow backcountry hunter.  We share the same love of foot- and paddle-powered hunting of game, both big and small.  We also belong to the same hunting and fishing conservation organization, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA).  Mike is doing work as the interim state chairman for Alaska, and I serve as the Pike National Forest representative here in Colorado.   After a year or so of corresponding, we finally met in person at the national BHA Rendezvous in Boise, Idaho, back in 2013.  In the years since Mike and I had talked many times about my hypothetical future first visit to the Last Frontier.  Mike has extensive knowledge of Interior Alaska in and around the central and eastern Alaska Range, which contains some trophy grayling fishing.  Based on seven years of solid tenkara experience here in Colorado and elsewhere, I felt that tenkara would be challenging, but very effective.  What I didn’t realize until we arrived in Alaska was how absolutely perfect tenkara is for arctic grayling, how completely suited for the streams and upper reaches of rivers in the Alaskan interior it is.   Mike was a godsend, and I can’t thank him enough.

Any extended fishing trip over great distances is much more affordable and fun with a traveling partner.  Shawn and I split the cost of shared expenses like ground transportation and lodging.  Since we would be camping for most of this trip, we only required lodging for the first and last nights (the only days we would have a hot shower too!).  Our surprisingly uneventful flights from Denver to Seattle, and from Seattle to Fairbanks landed us in Fairbanks at around 1 AM.  After picking up our rental Jeep, we were on the road east, following the Tanana River in near-dark along the Richardson Highway.  Bleary-eyed, we reached Delta Junction and our room at Fort Greely (I was eligible due to my retired military status) at around 3:30 AM.  We couldn’t really see anything in the way of scenery on the drive from Fairbanks to Delta Junction, because it was the middle of the semi-dark night, but we did manage to see a cow moose and her calf along the highway near North Pole, and a porcupine waddling along the shoulder at Birch Lake.  After checking into our room, we caught up on sleep for a few hours and were ready to travel south later that morning.

My friend, Mike, is the sort of guy who goes out of his way to make you feel at home.  After checking out of our room at Fort Greely, we drove a few miles to Mike’s house on the north side of Delta Junction, which is the terminus of the Alaska Highway, and the crossroads for interior Alaska.  Delta Junction is a “big town” by rural Alaskan standards, with a population of around 1,000.  Mike’s wonderful wife, Christy, had prepared a huge pot of caribou chili, and we sat around the table talking about our trip and wolfing down the chili and pilot bread.  Christy also loaned Shawn and I a copy of Milepost (THE Alaska travel guide), some maps, several field guides for Alaskan plants and animals, and a blueberry picker.   The blueberry picker was an ingenious hand-held contraption used to skim the berries off the tiny branches and twigs of the blueberry bushes.  We would learn later that Christy’s comments about the proliferation of blueberries on the tundra were an understatement!  Mike would accompany us south to the Alaska Range, and we would camp there together along with Mike’s hunting partner, Gary.  Mike and Gary were hunting caribou and moose on subsistence tags so our basecamp would support both our fishing and their hunts

As we drove south from Delta Junction, we began to get an idea of the enormity of Alaska.  I had heard it for years, and I always thought it sounded cliché, that “everything in Alaska is bigger”, but as we pointed our Jeep southward up and over the pass on the east side of Donnelly Dome, we began to understand.  The Delta River valley stretched far and wide for many miles, and none of it contained a house, an antenna, a powerline…nothing but wilderness, except for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline zigzagging across the landscape near the road.  Somewhere far below a bend in the Richardson Highway, several miles to the west, a herd of bison grazed along the edge of the alders, aspens, and black spruce on the other side of the Delta River.  The landscape of Alaska at once isolates you and draws you in.  We were hooked.

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Mike had reserved us a campsite at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground at Tangle Lakes, which is also the spot on the Denali Highway where the pavement ends.  The remaining hundred-plus miles to the intersection with the Parks Highway at Cantwell, is gravel, with a maximum speed limit of 30 miles-per-hour.  The miles between the Richardson Highway and Tangle Lakes are covered with wide-open interior Alaskan tundra, that country above about 2,700’ elevation that stretches up toward the nearby foothills of the Alaska Range.  It’s very different, in distance from the sun than the treeline in my home state of Colorado, which averages around 11,700 feet!  The wild tundra west of Paxson also contains the Tangle Lakes Archeological District, a 226,000-acre area that holds the densest grouping (over 600 documented sites) of early prehistoric archaeology in Alaska.  Near the Tangle Lakes Campground, alongside the Denali Highway, sits the Tangle River Inn, an off-grid roadhouse that offers travelers showers, gas, cabins, canoes, good food, billiards, and beer.

It’s time to get down to the fishing!  I had planned for this trip to be a focus on tenkara.  I personally knew of only one person who had taken tenkara to Alaska, my good friend, Richard Wheeler, from Evergreen, Colorado.  I’m sure others have, but after scouring the Internet, printed articles, and such, Richard was my only boots-in-the-water source of information.  Richard had actually used tenkara earlier the same summer on one of the streams we would visit while in Alaska.  One day in July, while I was working behind the counter at Royal Gorge Anglers, Richard called me.  He was standing on the edge of the Delta Clearwater River, catching grayling!  Richard knew I planned to arrive in Alaska about a month after he did, so getting his call only added to my excitement of the upcoming trip!

Prior to the trip, I had done a lot of research about the fishing in interior Alaska that would be suitable for tenkara.  I had a whole atlas full of topographic maps for the entire state, and I had spent months poring over them.  I had also discovered, and read (over and over), Cecilia “Pudge” Kleinkauf’s excellent book (one I would highly recommend to anyone fishing for grayling in Alaska), “Fly-Fishing for Alaska’s Arctic Grayling-Sailfish of the North”.  After reading Pudge’s book, and talking to Mike about the local water, I knew that Arctic grayling would be what we’d be looking for, especially trophy grayling.  It seems, even to the Alaskans, that respectable grayling start at 16” and anything over 18” is considered trophy-class.  What Shawn and I discovered is that there are a lot of grayling around 16”, but very few at the 18”-plus length.

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The first location we fished was, of course, on the Tangle River.  Our camp at the Tangle Lakes Campground was no more than a hundred yards from the river so we could hike down to everything we would fish there.  The Tangle Lakes is a 16-mile chain of lakes connected by streams.  We fished the stretch between Round Tangle Lake and the next lake upstream, south of the Denali Highway, which crosses the Tangle River.

It didn’t take long for us to get into grayling!  The first day Shawn and I estimated that we each caught around 50 fish, but neither of us are “fish counters”, so that was just a guess.  What we did know is that we caught a LOT of grayling!  We soon discovered that the largest grayling occupied the best feeding lies in the river, pushing the smaller fish out.  We caught many fish over 16” and a few that would go close to 18”.  Both Shawn and I had brought several tenkara rods, but we ended up fishing 12-foot or 360 cm rods all of the time.  We threw dry flies and we nymphed, with nearly equal good results.  Floating lines were used for the dry fly fishing, allowing us to more effectively cast and drift the #16 CDC and Elk, #16 Extended Body PMD, and Larry Kingrey’s #16 Lil’ Hottie patterns, along with the venerable Parachute Adams.  Our nymph rigs were identical to the ones we use at home in the Colorado canyons, with #20 RS2s trailing behind #18 bead head Pheasant Tails with a little weight in front of both of them.  Our tenkara nymphing technique is very similar to the tactical nymphing done by western fly anglers…no indicator, tight-line nymphing.  Tenkara rods are extremely effective at this.  Over the previous few months I had been designing, constructing, and testing a new line for nymphing, and this trip would prove to be an excellent laboratory.

Mike had given us his warnings about grizzlies, and even though we were in a relatively grizzly-free area, we both strapped bear spray canisters to our belts.  Those would be standard equipment for the entire week, and once we moved south into the grizzly’s backyard, we felt much safer than without the bear spray.  We never saw a bear during our week in Alaska, but one evening, while we were picking blueberries along the Denali Highway, Shawn nearly stepped into a huge, warm, purple pile of grizzly scat.  One day, while fishing the Tangle River, I found myself on what looked like a bear trail in the thick of the alders along the water.  Five-foot visibility, and with the rush of the river, I couldn’t hear a twig snap if it was right next to my ear.  Grizzly country…they were here first, we were visitors, so kept our “bear radar” on the whole trip!

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We had hauled a canoe down from Delta Junction to our camp at Tangle Lakes, and after a couple of successful days fishing for big grayling on the Tangle River, Shawn and I decided to carry it several hundred yards down to the lake to see if we could catch any lake trout at the inlet, where the river comes into the lake.  We took turns manning the canoe and fishing, as the wind and the current of the river at the inlet required constant paddling.  What we found was that there no lakers at all at the inlet, and that the grayling were stacked up there, rising and splashing at what we decided must be the smallest midges we had ever encountered.  We had nothing with which to match the hatch.  Traditional kebari were all but useless, as the grayling were very keyed-in to those midges.  We wrote the still water of Round Tangle Lake off the list.

Mid-week Shawn and I decided to travel southeast to the upper reaches of the Gulkana River to look for more trophy grayling.  It was within a half-hour drive, so after a leisurely breakfast at Tangle River Inn, we headed to unknown water.  A quick stop at the small Alaska Department of Fish and Game hatchery just upstream of Paxson proved to be invaluable.  The hatchery worker gave us some good beta, let us know that salmon fishing on the Gulkana was now closed (any salmon caught must be immediately released), and wished us good luck.  We headed down the Richardson Highway, and by exploring a few two-tracks, found a spot along the Gulkana that put us on water small enough to use tenkara.

Where the Tangle River was wide, shallow, and full of pocket water, the upper Gulkana was narrow, deep, and packed with very strong current for its size.  We put boots in the water to find that not only were there big grayling there, the spawning sockeye (red) salmon had moved up into the same water.  Looking down into the crystal-clear water we could see many 24-36” salmon stacked up in the current.  Tangle River, and its surround tundra had a campground within a stone’s throw.  The densely-vegetated Gulkana was totally different, with a feeling of total isolation.  Tangle was relatively bear-free, while the Gulkana was littered with half-eaten salmon, bear scat, and pawprints, and several bald eagles watched us fish from their perches at the tops of the tallest spruce trees along the river.  Wading on the Tangle was routine, on the Gulkana it was suicidal.  We were in no position to call the shots on this water!

Once we arrived on the Gulkana, Shawn and I rigged up and started fishing.  I had gotten some help from my boss, Royal Gorge Anglers owner, Taylor Edrington, on what fly patterns I would need to target grayling and rainbow trout that were following the spawning salmon.  Taylor has extensive knowledge of fly fishing in Alaska, and I valued his opinion.  Although we never even got close to water that held rainbows, Taylor’s recommendations held true for the grayling.  I rigged up a bead type egg pattern, sized and colored appropriate for the task, with a BB split shot about 9 inches above the egg.  Since we were fishing for grayling, I used a smaller hook than the ones Taylor had given me for the trip.  I deployed a fluorocarbon tenkara level line and started drifting the egg pattern.

Paul_Gulkana Grayling

We began to catch very nice grayling almost immediately, again with the largest 16-20” fish holding in the deepest and heaviest current, which was very similar to our experience on the Tangle River.  We fished right on the brushy edge of the river, simply because the river was too deep and fast to wade into, and the willows and alders were too thick to step back into for better positioning.  All the while, I kept my bear radar on, mostly because of the lack of visibility along the river’s edge, and the fact that I was almost always within arm’s length of a half-eaten salmon or bear track.

After catching a half-dozen big grayling, I decided to move down below Shawn twenty-five yards or so to fish down by an abandoned salmon cage, left there by the hatchery workers.  I ran my egg down through a deep, fast strip of current as a few yard-long sockeye salmon bumped into my legs in the water.  After a few drifts, I hit what felt like a Greyhound bus!  There was way too much current and very few obstacles in the water, and I know in an instant that I had hooked into one of those salmon!  The fight was on!  I yelled to Shawn to come down and run the net for me.  He ran down, started shooting video, and stayed very close.  That salmon called all of the shots, moving when he wanted to, into and out of the current.  Few thoughts ran through my head, but I remember two distinctly…I’m either going to break my rod, or I’m going to break off this fish!  I continued to dance with the salmon for what seemed like an eternity, keeping him in the power bend of my tenkara rod, and he took me for a walk downstream, into and out of the heavy current.  I finally got him out of the main current and into shallower water near the salmon cage.  Shawn reached out several times with his net, and it took several tries to finally get it done.  Only half of that big fish fit into what we thought was a big net.

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I was shaking as Shawn helped me get a grip on my salmon and remove the hook.  We both marveled at the fact that he had actually eaten the egg, as anadromous fish seldom, if ever, eat once they start their trip upstream to the spawning grounds.  He was heavily colored, had a huge kype and hump, but was still strong even after swimming upriver some 350 miles from the ocean.  After a couple of quick photos, I lowered him into the current, letting go of his tail after he gave me the signal he was strong enough to swim away.  That feeling as he slipped out of my right hand, was one of the most wonderful moments of my trip to Alaska.  I was saying goodbye to that fish, but right then and there I made myself a promise that I would return to do this again.

Shawn and I hit the road the next day, traveling north, for a return to the Delta Junction area.  We were headed to where Richard had made that awesome phone call from the edge of the Delta Clearwater River earlier in the summer, to see if we could match his success with trophy class grayling.  We accessed this gin-clear, frigid, spring-fed river just a few miles northeast of Delta Junction.  There’s a short section of public water there, so we set up for some dry fly fishing, both of us using floating tenkara lines.  We spent all day catching eager grayling, many of them pushing the 18” mark.  Despite the fact that every couple of hours a jet boat would scream upriver in front of us, the grayling didn’t seem to care.  Five minutes after each boat passed, we were back in the fish.  Adult caddis, PMDs, and Adams were the flies of the day.  I simply cannot remember a day when I’ve caught more fish on a dry fly!  The highlight of my day wasn’t so much all of the big grayling I had caught, but watching Shawn fight a 20” monster for at least ten minutes, finally landing him on the far side of the river.  It was a fitting way to end the fishing for the week, and with sore arms, we walked back to the Jeep and stowed our waders and rods for the last time.

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I cannot say when I will return to Alaska with a tenkara rod, but I know it will be soon.  Shawn and I had no sooner unpacked after arriving home than we were planning the next trip north.  As I’ve said, Alaska has a way of getting under your skin, and after fishing there, just about everything you do is compared to it.  We stepped into an unknown…fishing in Alaska for trophy grayling, and the possibility of catching salmon, with tenkara.  It felt so very good to have traveled so far, seen so much country and found success with tenkara.  What’s next?  Trophy Dolly Varden on a wilderness float north of the Arctic Circle?  Coastal mountain rainbows?  Yard-long sheefish along the Brooks Range foothills a hundred miles from the nearest settlement?  Perhaps the answer may be “yes” to all of those, and more.  I’m certain of one thing…this hasn’t been my last trip with tenkara in the Last Frontier!

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

Conversing in Japanese

Conversing in Japanese
by Isaac Tait

Perhaps you are planning a trip to Japan, or maybe you are just interested in the Japanese language to help you harvest information from the complex Japanese worldwide web. Whatever the reason Japanese is a fascinating, yet distinctly different from the English language to learn. With well over 2,000 characters in three different alphabets called Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji it is no small task to undertake.

While I am hardly an expert, I have put together a little of what I have learned here in Tenkara Angler. My goal for writing this article is two-fold. First, I would like to spark an interest in those, who prior to reading this, may have had little to no interest in the language and perhaps even the country of Japan. Secondly, my overall goal is to assist those with an already developed affinity for Japan and its language get off on the right foot.

I believe that every Tenkara angler should make a pilgrimage to Japan not just for the fishing but to immerse themselves in another culture. Too many of the problems currently facing the “west” today, I believe could be easily resolved with a little perspective, grace, and respect. Something that Japan, its people, and its culture can offer in spades.

So without further ado, let’s dive right in!

Asking Questions in Japanese:

In the English language if you come across a “WH” word it typically indicates that the sentence is a question (e.g. Why, Where, When, What, etc.).

In the Japanese language if a question is being asked the character “か” pronounced ka will be appended to the end of a sentence.

For example –

  • Daijobu desuka? (Are you okay?)
  • Anatano namae wa nandesuka? (What is your name?)

Please Note: desu often precedes the ka, but not always. When it is, the pronunciation is “des-ka” The U is silent.

 Toire wa doko desuka? “トイレはどこですか“. While this is the correct English way of asking the question “Where is the toilet” it is infrequently (almost never?) used in Japan. Instead, they will just say toire “トイレ”  pronounced “Toy-re” with a  question inflection.

Whole and complete sentences are not the norm in Japan, something that took my English speaking brain a while to wrap itself around. In that regard, it is a very efficient language.

Intro to Correct Pronunciation of Japanese words:

A common English mistake is to pronounce the Japanese with English consonants and vowel sounds as it is written.

For example –

Onigiri “おにぎり”. The well-loved rice ball food is very often mispronounced as – “O-ni-gear-ee”

The correct pronunciation is – “O-knee-gee-ree” (make sure to make the ree sound with a hard almost D sound too)

The city where I live 横須賀 (Yokosuka) is often mispronounced “yo-ko-sue-ka”. This is incorrect, it is pronounced “yo-kos-ka” Again the U is silent. The city Asakusa in Tokyo is pronounced “A-sock-sa” Noticing a pattern yet? 9 times out of 10 the U will be silent (especially when it comes at the end of a word) but not always.

I tend to pronounce the U silent first and if I get a blank stare I try adding in a subtle U sound.

Counting in Japanese:

In English, there are very few counters – one, first, single. While in the Japanese language there are hundreds of counters for everything from beer(s), people, paper, and even farts! Knowing all the counters is probably impossible, as some are fairly obscure and hardly used. If you use the wrong counter (something I do frequently) no one will understand what you’re asking. The most important counter to know is the tsu counter as it works pretty well for anything you might need to communicate an amount for.

Here are just a few of the counters that I use regularly.

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There is a counter for swimming fish, captured fish, deboned fish, fish cut into chunks, fish wrapped for sale in a supermarket, and fish cut into bite-sized pieces – to name just a few (and I won’t list them here, because it’s confusing I think).

Beware of useful phrases that many “helpful” sources will try and teach you. Japanese is not a romance language (meaning it is not based on Latin). Therefore, the language’s grammar and sentence structure is totally different from English. This makes the translation process often times very messy.

Keep your questions/remarks short, simple, and sweet – and you will be fine. Most of the time what you are asking or talking about is readily apparent in the context of the situation.

Scenario:

You are standing next to a river with your Tenkara rod and you ask another fisherman “つりチケットどこですか“ Tsu ri chiketto doko desu ka which when translated literally means “Fishing ticket where is?” However, it is understood to mean “Where can I buy a fishing ticket?” If you tried to ask the question in perfect English but translated into Japanese, you could say something like this:

Doko de tsuri no chiketto o kōnyū suru koto ga dekimasu But, after all that work they would almost certainly look at you with a blank stare, uncertain what the heck you were trying to ask.

The following list is a few helpful words that I use almost every day. These words make most daily interactions go pretty smoothly. Whether it be at the train station, the convenience store, or on the trail if you know these few words you’ll be able to get through many interactions with as little awkwardness as possible.

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Notes for use                                                     

  • If you accidentally bump into someone Sumimasen (excuse me) will often suffice. If they are in obvious pain, you bumped them pretty hard, or they are much older than you a Gomen’nasai (I am sorry) will go a long way. This is pretty common interaction, especially during the morning rush hour.
  • There is no need to preface Wakarimasen (I don’t understand) with a Gomen’nasai (I am sorry). While it sounds right in English it is a tad too formal for day to day Japanese. Prefacing the (Wakarimasen) (I don’t understand) with a Sumimasen (excuse me) is best.
  • Onegaishimasu (Please) is very formal/polite. I tend to use it when requesting the check after dining – O kai kei onegaishimasu (check please)

Kudasai (please) is more common for day to day interactions e.g. when they offer to bag your food at a convenience store.

The Intricacies of the Japanese Language

One of the more confusing Japanese words that I hear all the time is So-so. My research has turned up that a lot of Japanese people when they say this word, believe that they are actually speaking in English. For example:

“How was work today?”

“So-so”

“How are you today?”

“So-so”

From this, you could deduce that the word So-so would mean more or less okay, undecided, or eh (with a shrug of indifference). Basically what it means in English (which is, incidentally, some Japanese speakers intent).

However, I have also heard the word So-so used in such a manner that it would imply that its meaning is It is! or That is correct.

For example:

“So, this is where we are going to camp tonight?”

“So-so”

“Is that an Iwana?”

“So-so”

Things get even more confusing as the Japanese for So-so would seem to be まあまあ. Obviously, this does not match the pronunciation (if pronounced as it is spelled it would be Maa Maa). To further add to my confusion when I search for the definition of まあまあ it takes me down a whole other path of meaning.

I have been living in Japan for 18 months and I’m still not sure what the word means, because depending on who I ask I get a different answer… So I don’t really say it very much.

During a pleasant day of skiing with one of my female Japanese co-workers, I came to discover another Japanese word: Ne. This word is used as an exclamation of agreement. However, it is a distinctly female word. I was told that if I used it too much when conversing in Japanese, that Japanese men would assume that I learned my Japanese from women (not that this is a negative thing but my friend seemed to imply that it was). I guess it is the valley girls equivalent of ‘like’…

When I first moved to Japan I intended to speak, read, and write very good Japanese by the end of my second year of living here. With that anniversary rapidly approaching it is with a little regret that I feel I am a long way off from this goal. Languages have never been my strong suit, and the Japanese language can be very confusing at times. Still, I have not lost my original infatuation with the language. I love to listen to native speakers and imagine what they are saying based on the context of the situation; their intonation and facial expressions is a lot of fun to absorb.

Slowly but surely with tenacity and grace, I hope to one day hold my own in day to day conversational Japanese. Until that day I will just bask in the cordiality and understanding of the Japanese people while I fumble for my iPhone.

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Authors Note: I have compiled a lot of helpful information, that didn’t fit here, on my site http://www.fallfishtenkara.com/information/learning-japanese/

Alternately, you can navigate to “Fallfish Tenkara” and click “Info” then scroll down to “Learning Japanese”.

I would be remiss if I did not give a hearty thank you to David Walker for his extensive assistance in compiling helpful resources at Tenkara Fisher, which I have utilized in creating this article. His extensive compilation of some very helpful information is a great resource for anglers, of any discipline, planning a trip to Japan or just for the further study of interested individuals. You can find a sampling of his useful information at the aforementioned link above.

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

How Can Being A Tenkara Geek Change Your Life?

How Can Being a Tenkara Geek Change Your Life?
Words: Paul Gaskell
Pictures: John Pearson & Paul Gaskell

Something struck me today. Isn’t it amazing just where in the world being a geek can take you? In my case, I somehow found myself with fellow fishing nut John Pearson in the mountains of Japan eating a fish (whole) and fumbling my rookie Japanese phrases – all while being filmed by a local TV crew. Which is pretty far-fetched by most peoples’ standards (and yes, they subtitled both my English AND Japanese speech in the broadcast)…

You might already have seen the following quote by Simon Pegg (thanks to Anthony Naples for reminding me by posting it on Facebook recently!). In case you don’t have it memorized it goes like this:

Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating

When it comes to tenkara, I know exactly what he means.

Of course, there is a huge role of plain ol’ blind good luck in all this too. But being passionate about tenkara beyond all rational limits – and not being able to help it – does seem to toss amazing things your way. Our route to Japan for the first time is one example…

It started when British angling journalist Jon Beer (who is a VP of the trout conservation charity I work for) phoned me with a curious request. Jon had been contacted by someone (Steven Wheeler, a really great guy) that he had previously chatted to about a net that featured in one of Jon’s articles – but that is not so important.

The real point is that Steven spends some of his working life in Japan and he’d had a fishing lesson from a Japanese teacher.  The teacher in question was interested in visiting England for his first time to fish tenkara and had contacted Steven to see if he could help him out. So Steven asked Jon Beer for help because Jon had written an article about tenkara in Trout & Salmon Magazine (I hope you are following this… the payoff is coming, I promise).

Now Jon cheerfully admitted to not really knowing too many fine details about tenkara (his article featured fascinating letters and tackle he had been sent by another Japanese angler and also an account of Jon’s enjoyment when fishing with his tenkara rod). But he certainly did know how much I’d been yammering on about how awesome tenkara is whenever we’d done any work together through the Wild Trout Trust.

Which is how I came to be chatting with Steven.

Who casually got round to mentioning the name of the very nice chap who had given him a fishing lesson, some flies, and a rather nice hand-carved spool.

And that is how we came to host Dr. Ishigaki for 10 days in England in 2013.

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All that happened through a combination of blind chance and being “Really, Really Into Something”. A geek. During his stay with us, Dr. Ishigaki invited us on a return visit to Japan that he would organize, oh and he’d set it up so we could spend time with Masami Sakakibara and a whole gang of what turns out to be some of the best tenkara anglers on the planet. Amazing. I still can’t believe it even now.

Now, before I get to describing the fishing and try (and fail) to give you a small taste of the unique vibe of fishing a Japanese tenkara stream, I want to tell you why I had no business going to Japan.

It really should never have happened.

You see, my first response in my head to the invite was “Amazing – but what a bitter pill to swallow because I can’t go”. I did not have the disposable cash, my young son had a hard start in life with his epilepsy and we were just getting into what turned out to be a year-long struggle to move house (while my partner was pregnant with our second son).

But here’s the thing. Because of the amazing support from my partner (huge thanks doesn’t really do it justice) and because I decided to keep my old car on the road and put off the (sensible) update and because we could make do with holidaying at home with our young family – I began to think, maybe it is possible? What would happen if we could offset some of the costs by publishing the stories of our trip? How about documenting our discoveries on video? Nah, that would never work.

The thing is, that requires a pretty big blind leap of faith. You need to suspend disbelief. You have to trust that it will “probably work out OK”. And that is even before the huge amount of support that you need to help you navigate the language barrier, geography, fishing permits and accommodation bookings in the strange and wonderful country of Japan. So, there is a massive debt of gratitude owed on top of the crazy good luck to even meet the series of people who had given us that opportunity.

This is the reason that www.discovertenkara.co.uk can even exist to share the stories and techniques of tenkara in Japan. Just geeks, kindness and good fortune…

I hope it is obvious, then, how overwhelming that feeling of good fortune becomes when you experience Japan’s tenkara rivers, the beautiful fish and the amazing camaraderie of the band of “tenkara nuts”.  These are the folks who drive anywhere between 4 and 14 hours across the country to gather for a few days, maybe over a weekend, to fish, eat and drink together.

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I get why they do it though. The cool, clear-blue waters flowing in and around the rocks and big, smooth boulders are just impossibly perfect. Go Ishii tells me that Japan has more than 20,000 streams like this that you can tackle with tenkara gear. That means you could fish a different one every single day for 54 years with no repeats. I love the atmosphere and the character of these rivers and streams and the word “privilege” is really the only way to describe how it feels to fish them.

Even the way the streamside vegetation smells when the sun warms it in late spring and through summer makes me happy – which is extremely weird. The scent? In all honesty, the closest thing would be skunk (!) – and I don’t think I will ever get over the novelty of river banks that are covered in dense bamboo thicket… The Oriental reed warblers that flit and “chu-chuuk-churra” between the stems complete that scene and define the setting for me.

Then there are the fish – the different kinds of iwana (some rare native strains survive in spite of widespread stocking of the “nikko” variety of iwana), the yamame and amago. I love the slightly arched back and chrome, reptilian head of the more mature males of these last two species. They just look so exotic and prehistorically wild.

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It is also completely addictive to work out the characters of each fish in different streams. Yes, iwana from different streams tend to behave more like each other than they do compared to either amago or yamame…But the iwana in some streams seem much more “lazy” than others. OK, lazy is not the right word, they sometimes seem to need the fly to travel downstream reeeaaallly slowly though and that gives them a kind of “don’t work too hard” character in my mind’s eye.

Did I say that it is very common to need to present the fly slower than the true dead drift? The steep gradient of the streams means that, without weight, your fly would often be swept downstream too quickly to make an easy meal for the fish. This is one of the reasons that so many named presentation techniques have evolved in Japanese tenkara.

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You see? My inner fishing geek wouldn’t know something like that (not “bones-deep” anyway) unless I’d had the stupid good fortune to see it and talk about it with the amazing tenkara addicts (kei-kyo-jin; “mountain crazy people”). What is really cool is that these tactics work so brilliantly on my home rivers – and of those in different countries outside Japan that John and myself have fished too. It turns out that knowing many of these things completely changes the way that you view rivers, their character, features and ever-morphing current-structures. Did you know that Masami often waits until a favorable swirl of current “blooms” in the right way before dropping his fly into it? More stuff that means nothing to the fishing “nonaddict”.

Perhaps there is something that anyone with an ounce of soul (angler or not) could appreciate and has a similar quality of satisfaction? Maybe the feeling of fine drizzle at dusk on your face, sitting in a volcanic hot-spring “onsen” pool looking out across a darkening, forested valley with the dull, reassuring thud of your heartbeat in your chest? That you can sit there, scalding water up to your chin, after already showering to remove the day’s grime won during a tiring day of wet wading and catching perfect fish from perfect water… Well, that might just be the finest feeling on earth.

And without the realization that “yeah, I’m a geek for this stuff”, you could never have experienced the good fortune and kindness of strangers that put you there. That’s worth celebrating in my book.

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

Tenkara Tribe Poe Paddy Round-Up 2016: Day 2

Tenkara Tribe Poe Paddy Round-Up 2016: Day 2
By Rob Lepczyk

In the last episode, Day One of Poe Paddy Round-Up 2016, we arrived Friday morning, drank beer, got lost on dirt roads, fished, drank more beer, set up camp at Poe Paddy State Park on Penns Creek in Pennsylvania, then fished more, then we settled in and partied by the fire for hours.

The rain started at 4 am Saturday morning. It woke me up when it pitter-pattered on my camo, hammock tarp. When we all arose, it was still raining. Some of us woke up before others. Coffee was brewed, and plans were made. While avoiding the rain and nursing our hangovers, Charlie hatched the bright idea to go into town for breakfast. At first, we resisted but broke quickly.

We, Charlie, Navigator, JP and myself, drove out on the dirt roads around 9:30 am, in search of potatoes and eggs. It was still raining. We just sorta’ ended up in Millheim. But, success! We found good coffee and homemade English Muffins. Charlie got an extra treat, a favorite guitar player of his wandered in with the rest of the band to get breakfast. Charlie admitted he knew they lived there and was hoping he would see them.

This is also where the idea of the Ratskin Canoe was hatched. What was initially a caffeine-induced idea to clean up the cites of America of its rat problems, and we figured hipsters would buy the Ratskin Canoes due to the weirdness.

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Wandering down the street, we found what became a favorite of TeamRatskinCanoe, Penns Valley Meat Market. This was like stepping back in time, and we loved every minute of it. We bought them out of peppered jerky and smokey beef tips and headed back to camp.

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We got sidetracked on the way back. Little Poe Creek got in our way. We spent hours wandering the stream, I won’t try to describe it, I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.

We got back to camp much later than anticipated, the party then began: Brookies and Beer for life!

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