Wednesday, November 29, 2017

In Search of Water

A good friend recently suggested that a hidden creek he found in the canyons might have enough water in it to hold a few tiny brown trout.  That was all I needed to start planning a full day in search of that particular creek, and in search of those particular trout.  I had no idea what I was getting into, but scouting new water is always fun!

I used that whole plan as an excuse to put some much-needed miles on my legs, heart, and lungs too. After poring over maps, I came up with an off-trail loop, about 10 miles in length, that would include at least three miles of that unknown creek.  It was a great exercise in scouting...a strenuous off-trail hike, lots of use of the map, GPS, and compass, and even a bit of bushcraft thrown in for good measure.  In all it was a great day, even if I didn't find any trout!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Gear I Use: Banks Fry-Bake Pan

You might wonder what in the world a lightweight fry pan and tenkara have in common.  They may seem totally unrelated, but in fact (in my world) they are tightly connected.  Bear with me, because tenkara and backcountry cooking keep me busy!

Well over a decade ago, my good friend and frequent wilderness companion, Patrick Smith, gave me a 5-ounce, 9" cake pan he bought at King Soopers.  I'll bet he didn't pay over three dollars for it.  Well, that pan, forevermore called the "fish pan", has cooked up literally hundreds of trout, made-from-scratch biscuits, sliced elk tenderloin, freeze dried hash browns, sausage patties, dried name it.  It's been dented, scorched, washed with sand and creek water, and hauled all over creation in my backpack.  It was a really good pan.  However, it lacked a few things...durability, a fitted cover, and the ability to bake.

Enter the Banks Fry-Bake Pan.

I had been researching a replacement for the venerable fish pan for quite some time.  One day while I was actually doing some browsing online about backpack cooking, I stumbled upon the Banks Fry-Bake Pan.  As soon as I read the specifications and reviews I knew I had to order one as soon as possible!  To my surprise, there was also a good amount of information out there about cooking with it, including recipes, in the fine little book entitled "NOLS Cookery", produced by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and published by Stackpole Books.  The Fry-Bake Pan is a cornerstone of NOLS' bacI kcountry cooking program.

The Banks Fry-Bake Pan comes in three different sizes - an Expedition (10.5" X 2" deep), an Alpine (8" X 1.5" deep), and a Deep Alpine (8" X 2 3/8" deep).  Each comes with a close-fitting cover specifically designed to hold hot coals or charcoal on top for baking.  Since most of my use would be for backpack trips and guiding tenkara trips with a large day pack, I chose the smallest and lightest pan, the Alpine.

Here are the specs for the Alpine model Banks Fry-Bake Pan from their website:

Outside diameter:  8"
Depth:  1 1/2" 
Weight:  Approximately 7 oz.
Total weight:  Less than 12 oz.

The Alpine Fry-Bake Pan is spun from .062" 60-61 "O" member aluminum and then given Uniform Anodic Coating of .002 inches of clear hardcoat.  (NOTE:  This hardcoat anodizing makes the pan what I would call "stick resistant".  It isn't stick proof the way Teflon might be, but you sure don't have to worry about Teflon particles getting into your food.  Just apply a light coat of oil and you'll be fine)

Pan measures:
8" in diameter x 1 1/2" deep
Total weight:
less than 12oz
I was impressed that several options were offered for the pan cover.  Standard lids, NOLS-style lids, and lightweight lids are offered.  Here are the specs for the three from the website:
Standard and NOLS-Style Alpine Fry-Bake Lids are spun from .050” 1100 “O” temper aluminum and weigh less than 5 oz.
The Standard Lid has an “L” shaped tab for lifting riveted with 2 rivets to the lid. This tab has a small hole in it to allow for insertion of a stick, “O” ring or “S” hook.
The NOLS-Style Lid has a wingnut installed with a bolt through a single hole in the center of the lid. This style is the easiest to customize with the addition of your own knob or handle for lifting the lid by replacing the wingnut.
The Lightweight Lid is spun of .040” 1100-0 temper aluminum and weighs less than 4 oz. The Lightweight Lid has a wingnut installed with a bolt through a single hole in the center of the lid.
Since I planned to use my new pan mostly for backpacking and guiding, and every once would count, I selected the lightweight lid.
As with most really good gear, the Banks Fry-Bake Pan isn't cheap.  I ordered my pan from the Banks website, and ended up spending $72.70, including shipping.  However, after using this pan for the past few months, I can safely say you truly get what you pay for and it's worth every penny.

After I got my new pan, my buddy Eric Lynn, who owns Mountain Ridge Gear, sewed me a custom cover for it.  He even surprised me by fashioning a deer antler knob for the lid.  Thanks, Eric!

Custom deer antler knob.

Custom cordura cover for my pan

I've used my Fry-Bake pan in various ways.  One of the really cool things I've done is baked pizza in it, and although I didn't use hot coals on top of the lid yet, baking pizza with only my old MSR Whisperlite Internationale stove worked just fine.

Getting ready to bake pepperoni and cheese pizza in the Banks Fry-Bake Pan.

Piping hot pizza!
I've also been using my Fry-Bake Pan for cooking up hot lunches for my clients on the tenkara trips I guide for Royal Gorge Anglers.  Whether it's a drive-up trip along the Arkansas River in Bighorn Sheep Canyon or an all day hike-in backcountry trip in the canyons, I always cook a hot lunch.  So far I've done bratwurst on my Coleman stove, and both pork and beef fajitas in the backcountry.  One day I even put the Fry-Bake Pan directly on hot coals to sauté fajita meat because of a forgotten fuel bottle for my stove.  The pan has worked well for all of this!

Pork fajitas, cooked on an open fire.
Hot meals in the backcountry are always a big hit with my clients!
Breakfast sausage cooked on top of a Kifaru wood stove.

Cooking up bratwurst on my Coleman stove.
Beef fajita mix, using my old MSR Whisperlite Internationale stove.

Well, there you have it.  The Banks Fry-Bake Pan.  It's a great piece of bombproof, simple gear that'll outlast its owner!  I hope you have a chance to try one of these pans out...happy cooking!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tenkara Angler Magazine is LIVE!

Just a note to let you know that my article on tenkara in the Alaskan interior, appearing in the Fall 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler Magazine, is available online, and in print.  It's packed with a wide range of informative and entertaining articles, and our editor, Michael Agneta, has once again done a fantastic job of putting all of it together.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Alaskan Tenkara

“To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.”  --John Muir, Travels in Alaska

Many things have pulled me away from my blog, and nearly all of them have been really good things!  I enjoyed a long, busy summer of presentations on behalf of Zen Tenkara, guiding tenkara trips for Royal Gorge Anglers, as well as spending many days behind the counter at the fly shop there.  Each year I keep a journal of client’s names, miles driven, water fished, and productive fly patterns, among other things.  This year was no exception, and my journal is full.

Toward the end of my summer guiding season, just prior to the annual start of my “real job” as a high school teacher, I was able to allow enough time to make my first trip north to Alaska.  My mission was to take tenkara to the Last Frontier.  I really didn’t know what to expect, but I had rolled the idea around in my head enough to know that it would be a personal milestone, and one that I would remember for a long time.  It was those and much more.

I won’t go into great detail on the trip here.  A full account of the trip will be published, along with some photos, in the fall edition (coming in the next couple of weeks) of Tenkara Angler Magazine, edited by the hard-working and extremely capable Michael Agneta.  I hope you enjoy it!

Photo by Shawn Larson

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Trip Report: Spring Tenkara in the Canyons

It’s pretty safe to say that spring has sprung in the canyons.  The ice has long since disappeared, the baetis are alive and well, and with the recent arrival of daylight savings time, I can fish longer and I don’t have to hike out via headlamp.  Even as I sat here yesterday in my office, with the woodstove cranked, while a spring snowstorm dumped several inches of late March slop, I knew that come Sunday it would be back up to near 60 degrees.  I just love spring snowstorms along the Colorado foothills!  It looks like winter one day, and it’s back to shirtsleeve weather the next. 

I just came off four straight days of guiding tenkara clients on one of my favorite streams.  With warm (albeit windy) weather, willing browns and rainbows, and the best clients on the face of the earth, it was a simply amazing week!  We spent each day on different water, and each day we tasted a different flavor of this canyon.  When my guys flew home to Utah yesterday, I knew they had experienced something special, and I’ll bet it won’t be the last time we poke up into deep cracks containing tiny blue lines together.

My clients this past week, brothers, fishing together.

Fishing a bend.
Another one falls to the reliable RS2!

As for the fishing, it was fairly consistent.  Japanese mountain water and Colorado wilderness streams may lend themselves to only fishing one traditional kebari pattern all day long, but these gnarly canyon trickles require opening your mind to other tactics.  These canyons contain fairly fertile streams with heavy doses of emerging blue-winged olives this time of year.  You have to pay attention to what the fish tell you, and the browns and rainbows in the canyons told us they wanted to munch on a slightly weighted two-nymph rig all day long, with the venerable #20 gray sparkle wing RS2 the clear winner.  That’s not to say that the fish wouldn’t take a #18 Nosepicker or bead head pheasant tail once in a while.   However, they wouldn’t give a sakasa kebari the time of day.  Even though the blue-winged olives were hatching in the late afternoon, the fish wouldn’t take a dry off the surface because of the wind.  The hatched adult BWOs just simply blew away.  That didn’t matter much, because our little nymph rigs were extremely effective.  We fished them on size 3.5 and 4 level line, with 12-foot (360 cm) rods.  We cast middle-of-the  road medium-flex (6:4) rods, and they did just fine.  The gusty wind oftentimes made the decision for us to switch over to heavier size 4 level line.

Fishing one of countless pockets.

Along with sharing spectacular landscapes and water with my clients, I also enjoy providing backcountry epicurean delights along the banks of the stream.  I nearly always pack a homemade, mostly dehydrated hot meal in on my back.  The highlight of our week was a hot meal of alfredo pasta with sautéed portabello mushrooms and Italian sausage (from the best butcher shop in town, Hilltop Market), rehydrated and warmed up on one of my backpacking stoves.  There’s just something special about kicking back in the middle of nowhere, savoring homemade Italian cooking, after a morning of tenkara!

Backcountry, homemade Italian cuisine.
Cherry cheesecake, hauled in on our backs!

The canyons never cease to amaze me, and recent trips have been no exception.  Some relatively big browns and rainbows weave their way up these creeks and end up living in some pretty obscure spots.  Targeting the deepest pools along rock walls on the outside of the bends in the creeks, and undercut banks covered in thick grass produced several fish over 16 inches.  That’s a trophy trout in water that’s only flowing at less than thirty cubic feet per second!

A nice 18" rainbow taken on a lightweight two-nymph rig.

I hope you have a chance to get out and fish very soon, because this is one of my favorite times of the year!  As I sit here on Easter Sunday, watching the sun rise, I’m already trying to figure out how I can sneak out of the house late this afternoon after things warm up and some of the snow melts.  Happy Easter and happy spring tenkara to you!


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Arkansas River Fly Fishing Festival Tenkara Clinic

The tenkara events along the Front Range just keep rolling in!  I'm pleased to offer a half-day, on-the-water tenkara clinic with Royal Gorge Anglers in Canon City on Sunday, March 20th, 12:45-5:00 PM!  It's actually part of our weekend-long Arkansas River Fly Fishing Festival on March 19th and 20th (Saturday and Sunday).  You won't want to miss either day!

My tenkara clinic will cover the following topics...not in a classroom but ON THE WATER.

*  History and heritage of tenkara
*  Equipment (rod options, rod anatomy, line options, traditional and non-traditional fly patterns)
*  Deployment of the tenkara system
*  Casting techniques
*  Reading water
*  Specific technique (fishing the traditional kebari, fishing dries and terrestrials, nymphing, and
    multi-fly fishing
*  Landing and netting fish

If you've ever wanted a down and dirty, nuts and bolts tenkara clinic, this is for you!  It's going to be hands-on, experiential learning...and that type of learning is the most beneficial and the most fun!

Check out event details online,  call the shop at 888-994-6743, or email us at for details.  Registration fee:  $75 per person

Feel free to bring your own tenkara rod and line if you have them.  We will have rods and lines on hand as well.

UPDATE:  As of Thursday, February 18th, we've booked nearly half of the spots available! Book early to take advantage of this clinic!  We have limited reservations available!

I hope to see you on the water in March!