Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thinking About Winter

"There are three reasons for becoming a writer:  first is that you need the money; second that you have something to say that you think the world should know; the third is that you can't think what to do with the long winter evenings."  --Quentin Crisp

Mid-November snow in the backyard.

It's nearly mid-November.  Dusk came at around 5:00 PM this evening, it's 2 degrees above zero, the windchill is at minus 13, and it's snowing.  It's hard not to think about winter.

Contrary to what Quentin Crisp had to say about winter, I can think of plenty to do with the long winter evenings!

First, my vise has been neglected to the point that I recently found myself scrounging around in the only little fly box I take in my chest pack, searching for the one fly that always produces in my canyons…a Killer Kebari.  So, one thing I can think of doing on long winter evenings is refilling my go-to backcountry fly box.  I started last night, tying up some bodies for future Killer Kebari finished patterns.

An unfinished Killer Kebari pattern…an ongoing project for months to come.

Secondly, I think about what Crisp said about having "something to say that you think the world should know".  Winter nights are for writing.  They come early, giving me ample time to pound on the keyboard, think, research, and revise, revise, revise.  As Dave Peterson says about revision…it's "where the real writing begins…and ends".  There's plenty of time to do that when the mercury drops with the sun and hours go long into the night.  Winter is a time to catch up on all the writing that summer guiding didn't allow.

Ground zero…The Desk

Lastly, winter is a time to recharge my tenkara batteries, doing so through events like the Fly Fishing Show in Denver each early January, and the newly-created Tenkara Winter Series by my friends at Zen Fly Fishing.  Zen co-owners Adam Omernick and Karin Miller were tenkara clients of mine through RIGS Fly Shop this past summer.  I guided them on a backcountry headwater and the downstream wild tailwater on the same small river.  We slammed rainbows all day long with tenkara, and a lasting friendship was formed in the process.  Adam and Karin are good people.

Join me for the Tenkara Winter Series!

I was honored that Adam and Karin asked me to provide a presentation at the inaugural January installment of the Tenkara Winter Series!  I'm completely humbled to be in the company of well-known journalist, editor, and author, Kirk Deeter, and Tenkara Bum owner and tenkara guru, Chris Stewart, as presenters.  Each of the three months of the Tenkara Winter Series, Zen has paired up a tenkara presentation with the work of an accomplished artist.  I'm looking forward to presenting on the evening of January 24th with my friend and tenkara photographer extraordinaire, Kevin Fricke.  Other artist/photographers in the series are another good friend, and Three Rivers Tenkara owner, Anthony Naples, and widely-renowned fly angler Mark Boname.

I hope winter treats you well.  I also hope that those "long winter evenings" involve a fly vise, some introspection, and your attendance at events like the Tenkara Winter Series.  Stay warm, my friends.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Trip Report: Rocky Mountain National Park (October 12-14, 2014)

Our family recently took our annual fall trip to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.  This is one of the most peaceful, relaxing trips we take as a family.  Mary and I have been visiting Rocky Mountain National Park since the mid-90s, even before we were married.  My favorite trip with her was in the winter of 1995, when we snowshoed up Longs Peak Trail to Jim’s Grove and beyond.  There Mary saw her first Colorado ptarmigan.

We've been coming here a long time together!  Mary and I, winter 1995.

These days, with three of our own children (and usually one of their friends) and our pup, Koda, we like to stay at the YMCA of the Rockies- Estes ParkCenter.  There are lots of family and faith-based activities for the kids, the cabins we rent are cozy and extremely well-kept, and you can just about bet you’ll have a nice 6X6 or better bull elk grazing right next to the front porch.

Our cozy family cabin at the YMCA Estes Park Center.

My long-suffering wife, Mary, always lets me sneak away for most of one day to explore Rocky Mountain National Park.  For me, that always means I’ll head out with a tenkara rod in my hand and a full day pack on my back.  This year was no exception.

On our visit last year I fished Glacier Creek just above Sprague Lake and went upstream a ways.  I also fished the Big Thompson River in Moraine Park, catching brown trout with bull elk bugling over my shoulder.  I can think of few more beautiful places than Moraine Park in mid-October…trout and elk…two of the creatures I love most in the world.

The view of Moraine Park this fall.

With my fishing time even more limited this year, my first stop was Steve Schweitzer’s “A Fly Fishing Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park”.  This extremely useful and very well laid out guide provided me with several options for a partial day of tenkara that was easy to access from our YMCA cabin.
Monday, October 13th dawned clear and cold at the cabin, with the temperature just above freezing.  Perfect!  I headed into the park, with the upper section of Glacier Creek in my sights.  My goal was to avoid the trail and streamside traffic lower on Glacier Creek, and concentrate on the section just below Mills Lake.  I wanted a stiff hike and some solitude.  I got both.

I parked at the Bear Lake trailhead, which was packed with cars and tourists.  Putting my head down and my legs into overdrive, I hit my three-mile-per-hour “power hike” pace.  Once above Alberta Falls the trail traffic thinned out, the path narrowed, and the farther up I went, the more I enjoyed my hike.  I flew right past good looking water, wanting to reach Mills Lake by lunchtime.  I ended up at Mills Lake to find it cold and windy.  I looked for trout in the pools just below the outlet, finding none.  Just below the lake there’s a wonderful ltrough of water beside a sheer little cliff, but I found no trout there either.

The view of Longs Peak from just below Mills Lake.

Prospecting my way downstream from Mills Lake didn’t produce any brookies until I had gone below Glacier Falls.  Once there, I started getting into fish, all brook trout in the 7”-9” range.  These bends and pockets kept gifting me those wonderful little brookies for an hour or so, until I had to stop, bushwhack my way back up to the trail, and fly down the trail to my truck.  It was a good day for a hike and a few hours of breathing thin, cold air and catching feisty little square tails.

Some things that worked really well on this trip were:

My Tenkara Times TRY 330 rod, sent to me by my good friend, Anthony Naples, who owns Three Rivers Tenkara.  I’ve thanked you before, Anthony, but please accept one more kudo!

Tenkara USA 3.5 level line.  The TRY 330 REALLY likes this line for most conditions.  If it had gotten any windier, I’d have switched to the same line in 4.5. 

My self-tied Killer Kebari.  I got this pattern from Chris Stewart quite a while ago, several years in fact, and it never stops producing.  I wish I knew how many Killer Kebaris I’ve tied for both my fly box and for others.

My tried-and-true full-day day pack…a Kifaru Spike Camp.  I’ve worn this pack through a number of seasons guiding tenkara trips in the backcountry, hunted elk and mule deer with it, and have taken it just about everywhere in my truck and on my back as a go-to piece of gear.  You might as well bury me with this pack on.

You might as well bury me with my boots on my feet too.  They’re Salomon Quest 4D GTX boots, and they’re damned fine footwear for the backcountry.

Thanks for reading!  I hope you have an opportunity to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in the fall.  It’s a short season of golden aspens, frosty mornings, screaming bull elk, and the last good fishing before winter arrives.

PS:  I've just received very good news!  Tenkara USA will be hosting their annual tenkara summit in Estes Park, at the YMCA, in September 2015!  Check the Tenkara USA website for upcoming details!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Trip Report: Annual Surf 'N Turf Weekend (October 3-5, 2014)

There are places on this earth where time stands still.  Most of those places in my world are tiny pockets of seclusion, hidden for a while from most, known well to a few.  They hold trout, snowshoe hares, pine squirrels, and blue grouse.  The barren ridges above the streams have provided my family with lean, red meat from elk and mule deer for decades.  They sustain, nourish, and renew.  They are, and forever will be, my stomping grounds.

The Stomping Grounds, as seen from the east from 12,000 feet.  Our camp is at the center of the photo.

Steve and I, heading south toward our camp.

On the trail...

I come here each year for an extended weekend that falls just after the Colorado archery big game season draws to a close at the end of September, and just before the first big game hunting season begins for hunters toting guns, of which I’m one.  It’s usually the first full weekend of October.  A bittersweet time of the year here, when the aspens have mostly blown off all of their little golden pages, but a few weeks before snow starts to pile up faster than it melts.  Autumn is a fleeting season at 11,000 feet. 

This year’s Surf ‘N Turf Weekend came and went like a swirl in the wind.  It came fast, twisted and spun quickly, and then blew on past like the dead aspen leaves it picked up and scattered while I was there…just like it does every year.  This narrow window between my summers spent guiding tenkara trips in the San Juans and a month of time between mid-October and mid-November securing a year’s worth of venison, signals the onset of a dead and decaying world in the backcountry with autumn, and the bone-cracking cold and stillness of high-country winter.

We usually have a knot of three or four close hunter-angler friends at our Surf ‘N Turf Weekend.  Friends who backpack, hunt, fish, and shoot together at various gatherings throughout the year, all lifelong friends, all with much in common.  This year it was a bit different.  The wrinkles of life kept the usual cast of characters from attending.  Instead, I was pleased to share my camp with a husband and wife who had been former clients of mine on a guided tenkara trip.  I had only known Steve and Melissa for a short time, but I already knew we were kindred spirits.  Nevermind that Steve and I had both spent time in the Army, he a young armor officer, me a twenty-year career NCO, with service time that overlapped during Operation Desert Storm.  Beyond that, I knew that both of them were experienced backcountry muscle-powered travelers, and I also knew that they were open-minded enough to understand and embrace the significance of killing and eating to sustain yourself in the backcountry.  I think we understood each other.

My backcountry palace…my Kifaru Sawtooth and wood stove.

Our weekend was spent exploring the stream near camp, where we had pitched ultralight shelters.  While Steve and Melissa tried their luck with reluctant brook trout, I hiked up the ridge to the north to search out pine squirrels and snowshoe hares.  I had two hares sneak by me, circling around to my left each time and running behind me.  Over this weekend each year, I can usually take a couple of hares easily, but this year there weren’t nearly as many in the woods.  I was able to hike up to the saddle on the ridge and nail down a pine squirrel to take back to camp for supper.  I was hoping there were trout on the stringer from my partners.

Steve and Melissa, prospecting for brookies near camp.

Steve and Melissa hadn’t caught any trout, so I stashed the squirrel and headed straight back upstream to a spot I knew would give us the “surf” in our Surf ‘N Turf Weekend.  We already had the “turf”…our squirrel.  I hiked upstream above a steep section of waterfalls to a flat bend in the creek.  There I caught three absolutely beautiful brookies, all about nine inches in length.  All with orange, white and blue.

Surf 'N Turf in the boonies…brook trout and pine squirrel roasting, while red beans and rice and tea simmer on the coals.

Preparing trout bones for our kotsuzake ceremony.

A wilderness tradition…a kotsuzake ceremony around the fire.

We spent good time around our open cooking fire, roasting up trout and squirrel.  As soon as the sun sank below the mountain to the southwest, the mercury dropped quickly.  We retreated to my woodstove-heated shelter and talked about everything and nothing at once.  This was the most intimate of these weekends I’ve had, and I really enjoyed sharing it in my shelter on a cold night with two very good friends.   Steve and Melissa will be forever welcome in my camps.

*Many thanks to Stephen and Melissa Alcorn for sharing their photography with me for this blog post.  You guys ROCK!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tenkara Times TRY 330 Review

I tested a new rod the past couple of weeks, and I like it!  Anthony Naples, who owns ThreeRivers Tenkara, sent me a Tenkara Times Try 330 6:4 to wring out.  I have some cool friends!  Those of you who know me well know that I get pretty set in my ways.  However, over the past few months I’ve fished more rods than I ever have before and it’s been a lot of fun as well as enlightening.

Tenkara USA 11' Iwana (top) and Tenkara Times TRY 330 6:4 (bottom).  The Iwana comes in a really nice hard rod tube (sadly discontinued), and the TRY 330 comes in a cool stretchy rod sock.

Small streams like this semi-desert creek are where the TRY 330 shines!

The small line holders from Tenkara Bum fit nicely on the handle of the TRY 330.

An unexpected 12" rainbow caught in the canyons on the Tenkara Times TRY 300.  

I took this little rod to two vastly different pieces of water.  While guiding Zen Fly Fishing Gear owners, Karin Miller and Adam Omernick, on the Cimarron River tailwater in the northern San Juan Mountains, I got a chance to try it on a comparatively big section of water.  The Cimarron River tailwater was running around 120 cfs, and was about 75 feet wide at the most.  It has countless washtub-size and smaller pockets and lengthy edges against tall grass.  The 12-16” browns and rainbows there like to hit dry-dropper rigs, so I wanted to see how a short, very lightweight rod would handle a 12’ RIGS floating line, 5’ of 5X tippet, and a #12 Yeager’s Neversink over a #16 purple Psycho Prince.  That’s a lot to ask from a 10’2” mid-flex rod that only weighs 2.2 ounces!  I wanted to see just how much the TRY 330 could handle.  I found that it took some work to get it to cast the 12’ floating line, and that 17-foot line is a little much for this rod.  It was a little difficult to bring fish to net with such a short rod and long line too.  It’ll work, but I think effective fishing on this size water is best left to 12’ or longer 6:4 rods, especially 6:4 rods on the stiff side of that rating. 

The second place I took the TRY 330 6:4 was a local semi-desert canyon, with a much smaller flow than the Cimarron River.  This was truly “small water” and from the rod description on Three River’s website, it was “perfect for small headwater streams that require precise casting in tight quarters”.  At 45 cfs and no more than 20’ across, this little creek is a typical canyon country tributary.  A trophy trout in it will go no more than 16”, and most good fish are around 12.  Navigation upstream on this creek requires fishing around and ducking through streamside narrowleaf cottonwoods and willows…lots of them.  I chose to go trad on this creek, and fished the TRY 330 with a 3.5 level line from Tenkara USA, about 4’ of tippet, and switched between an Amano Kebari and a Takayama Kebari, both size 12.  When I started fishing, I was using a 10’ medium presentation line, hand tied by Chris Stewart (and no longer available), but I found that this rod liked casting the 3.5 level line better, perhaps because it has stiffer tip sections than most mid-flex rods do.  This is a level line rod, and it performed flawlessly in that role.  While on this creek I also tried to cast a #10 Hale Bop Leech (think #10 bead head bugger), and it was an ugly cast at best.  This rod is best suited casting a 2.5-3.5 level line with 3-4 feet of tippet, with non-weighted flies.  It just so happens that’s about 90% of what I fish when I’m fishing alone.  Perfect.

The TRY 330 cast this self-tied #12 Takayama Sakasa Kebari perfectly on a 3.5 level line.

I performed a lot of side-by-side comparison to the only comparable rod I own, a Tenkara USA 11’ Iwana (rated by TUSA at 6:4).  This rod option is no longer available in the 11’ handle from Tenkara USA.  I’ve fished the Iwana A LOT, and the feel of it has become ingrained in my right hand and arm.  I know it well.  Here’s my take on how the two rods compare…

The TRY 330 is a slightly lighter weight, whispier rod.  It’s also just a bit shorter, but not enough to really become a factor in the negative.  The “feel” of a rod is a highly subjective thing, but I really like the feel of the TRY 330 over the Iwana.  I cast any tenkara rod with a rather quick, snappy cast and I like rods on the stiffer side of the spectrum.  Having a mid-flex rod with stiff tip sections gives me the best of both worlds…a responsive and sensitive rod that likes my snappy cast.  Those stiffer tip sections also allowed me to keep casting the TRY 330 in a moderate up-canyon breeze better than any 5:5 mid-flex rod I’ve used.  Another feature I prefer with the TRY 330 over the Iwana is the more deeply contoured, slightly shorter handle.  My hand migrated toward the butt end of the rod, where it felt balanced and comfortable.  The bottom cap on the TRY 330 has a tool slot for ease in removal, and although I do carry a couple of tools in my day pack that could be used on it, it would require taking off my day pack to do so.  This rod could use an improved bottom cap that has a knurled edge and no tool slot.  The two rods are similar in price, neither of which are a burden on the wallet, and both are a bargain.  The Iwana is a prettier rod, and if there’s one thing I would change on the TRY 330 (if I could) would be improved finish and an upgrade in cork quality.  Of course, those things come at a price, and the $129.00-$139.00 price tag would take a bit of a jump, I’m sure.

In all, the TRY 300 will spend a lot of time with me on the little creeks I fish, both in semi-desert canyons and high alpine headwaters.  I’ll send this rod back to Anthony with an agreement that he sells me one immediately!  You’ve got a great little rod in your inventory, Anthony, and I’ll bet Three Rivers Tenkara will sell a bunch of them.

Tenkara Times TRY 330 6:4
Length as tested:  10’2”
Weight as tested:  2.2 oz/61g
Segments:  7
Retail price:  Currently $129.00 from Three Rivers Tenkara

Tenkara USA 11’ Iwana 6:4
Length as tested:  10’6”
Weight as tested:  2.4 oz/69g
Segments:  8

Retail price:  $157.00