Strange Days…Tenkara in the White Mountains During Covid

RBT ONE tenkara rod“Strange days have found us. Strange days have tracked us down.” Lyrics by the Doors, Jim Morrison seem appropriate for our current state of affairs. The world is being rocked by the coronavirus pandemic and on top of that, the United States appears to be going through a major transition. All of this has created a stressful situation for most of us. Fears about our future whether it be issues of health, employment, or equality have most of us on edge. So, you can imagine how excited I was to plan a weekend camping trip with some friends in the White Mountains (NH).

I booked a site in Lincoln, NH with two friends Mark and Tyler. Our plan was to fly fish most of the weekend, forget about daily lives and drink some beers. Mark has been fly-fishing most of his life and I was looking forward to showing him tenkara. Tyler is an avid outdoorsman but has never fly-fished so he was pumped.

We drove up Friday morning and planned to meet at the Visitor Center in North Woodstock. When we arrived at the visitor center it was a much different scene than last year. Due to the pandemic, the place was very sterile, with plexiglass everywhere. All the brochures were behind the counter instead of out in the open. Luckily, they still had copies of my favorite hiking map that to me is a tenkara fishing dream. I had to replace the copy that was taken from my table at the Marlboro Fly fishing show. This time I bought 2 copies. Hopefully, I can remember all the spots that I had marked on the original. We also waited in line to use the only bathroom for 30 minutes.
entrance to trailNext, we headed to one of my favorite spots for tenkara in the White Mountains. It’s a trail that follows a tributary to the Pemigewasset river that holds some beautiful native brook trout. It has a very small parking lot and is known for picnics and a small swimming hole, but we walked right past all that to some cool fishing downstream. Unfortunately, the water levels were low this year, so we had to work harder to find the fish.

Streamside, I gave Tyler some brief instructions on tenkara, including extending the rod, casting, and setting the hook. Tyler took to it right away, so I left him alone to try it out. If he needed any help, I was only a yell away. Mark immediately headed to the water and began methodically working areas, searching for brookies. His experience clearly showed as he worked a grid pattern.
hancock branch

I was working my way downstream, drifting small bead heads, including the blowtorch. I started to get some strikes early on, but my reflexes were a little slow at first, missing a few opportunities. Then I started to get in a groove, setting the hook and bringing in some beautiful but small brookies. I released as quickly as possible, resisting the urge to take pictures, after all, it was hot out.

I moved back up to check on Tyler and he was starting to get the feel for it. He was getting a few hits but having trouble setting the hook. Which is not surprising as these hits were from very fast brook trout that are tough to feel. It is better to watch for a flash because once you feel something, it is too late. But it was only a matter of time before he got the hang of it.
GHOSTech strike indicatorsThe conditions on this water can be tough. The water is crystal clear, the bottom is rust-colored and the sun reflects off the rocks in a blinding glare. There is no sight-fishing here as the brookies hide under rocks and do not appear until the food is near. Polarized sunglasses are a must. But this year I brought help in the form of Ghostech strike indicators. I met the owner of Ghostech, Stephen at the Marlboro Fly Fishing Show last winter. Our booths were next to each other, so we spent the weekend swapping fishing stories and he gave me some samples to take home. I will write a review in a later blog post. But for now, I will say these indicators work very well with tenkara because they are easy to see and do not make a splash. Using them improved my takes immensely. You will be seeing them soon in our kits.

After a couple of hours, Tyler and I headed back upstream a little way to find Mark. We asked him how he was doing and in his laid-back manner, he just said pretty good. You see Mark is a humble guy and does not count fish, he is just happy to be on the water and in the moment. I asked him what fly he had settled on and surprisingly we were both using bead heads in similar color and size. It was hot, and we were anxious to get lunch and set up camp. So, we hiked out to the car and made our way to the Woodstock Inn for lunch and some craft beers.

The Woodstock Inn is a great place. I started going there on snowmobile trips when craft beer was not even a thing yet. I had not been there in quite a while and was happy to see they still had great beer and food and a beautiful garden in the outdoor seating area. The Woodstock Inn is doing a great job during the pandemic too. They take your name and text you when your table is ready. All seating is spaced nicely, and the staff does a great job. Oh yeah, and the Mountain Haze beer is hazy, hoppy awesomeness.
tent on the river

After lunch we heading to camp to set up. Our site was at the back of the campground, right on the water. Except the water was missing. The temps have been so warm and the rain so sparse that the river was more like a gravel bed.

We quickly set up camp only to find that Mark was missing his rain fly. Hope it does not rain this weekend. Tyler brought a huge tent that he dubbed the Taj Mahal. I think it could probably fit a family of five easily.

Friday night was typical camping fun. We grilled up some steaks and sat around the fire enjoying some fine spirits. We discussed plans for Saturday and decided to visit Mountain High Fly in the morning. I wanted to say hello to Jon and drop off some samples from Ghostech for him to try out. Luckily for Mark, there was no rain Friday night, but we did go to sleep listening to a symphony of bullfrog mating calls. It sounded like someone strumming an out of tune electric bass.

Saturday morning, we took our time and grilled up a nice breakfast. We were on vacation time and not in a hurry. We went to Mountain High Fly and talked to Jon and he gave us some suggestions to fish. After fishing the Lincoln side of the Kancamagus on Friday we decided today to head to the North Conway area. I wanted to show them a special area for tenkara plus I had to stop by North Country Angler.
fly fishing New Hampshire's secret waters

Steve Angers from North Country Angler has supported RBT from the start by putting our RBT ONE Starter kits in his shop and promoting us when he can. Saturday I was dropping off some more inventory for the store and checking in. Plus, I could not wait to get my hands on Steve’s new book, “Fly Fishing New Hampshire’s Secret Waters”. At the shop, we picked Steve’s brain for some good locations to try on a really hot day. We were looking to avoid the crowded spots that were probably overfished this time of year.

We left NCA and headed to Crawford Notch to try our luck. The parking lot was full but thankfully it was with hikers and swimmers, we were the only anglers. We dropped in under a bridge and started wetting lines. As we spread out, we started to get some hits, mostly small brook trout. We made our way downstream hitting all the pools as the water level was low. After a while, Mark and I decided it was time to hit a new spot. I was anxious to show them an area in the higher elevations that I hoped would be holding more fish in colder water. The only problem was that Tyler was nowhere to be found. Mark stayed near the bridge and I made my way downstream to find Tyler. The further down I walked the louder the noise became. As I made the turn around a bend, I came across a sandy beach with a bunch of people swimming and jumping off rocks. I was pretty sure Tyler was here. Sure, enough I found him coming out of the water with a big grin. He took a break from fishing to jump off a huge rock with about a 20 ft drop into the cool water.

Tyler gathered his gear and we made it back to Mark and loaded up the car. We drove north about 30 miles to a spot on the Ellis River that is beautiful. It is an amazing scene that is perfect for tenkara. It has all types of water, with riffles, white water, big pools, long runs, and short runs. I love this location for the fishing, but it is a sight to see, even if you are not fishing.

We all spread out and went separate ways on this river, hoping to land a good size wild brook trout. The Ellis can be a little challenging in this location as you must climb over a lot of rocks and most of them are slippery. I have slipped many times here but thankfully have not broken anything. I quickly headed downstream to get some distance from the guys, hoping to get to the “spot” before they did.
releasing brook trout

The water was a little cooler here but not by much. I landed several small brook trout and I am still amazed at the color patterns of this fish and how it varies from location to location.  After a while, I headed back upstream to find Tyler. He was having a great time but needed some tippet and flies. The pack I gave him was a little low on supplies. I hung out with Tyler a little while and then we headed upstream to find Mark.

Mark was all smiles when we found him. He must have found a honey hole that we walked past. It was getting dark, so we headed out. It was an hour's drive back to camp and we were hungry. We took the Bear Notch road shortcut to the Kancamangus highway. I was telling the guys that Bear Notch is closed to cars in the winter but open to snowmobiles. It a roller coaster of a road with great scenery.

Back at camp we grilled up some burgers and got into the spirits again. We had a great time swapping stories by the fire and made plans to fish again when we got home. I think we have a new convert to tenkara and fly fishing in general in Tyler. Mark and I are planning to take him to the Swift River in MA to sight fish to some big bows and hopefully some browns and brookies.

Another great weekend in the books. It was great to get away from everything and leave worries behind for a few days. I love teaching tenkara to new people and love seeing their reactions. Hopefully, inspiring them to carry on the tradition.


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