The Camping Trip

I organized a camping trip with some friends to get away one more time before the summer ends and to teach them how to fish tenkara style. We went to a campground that I’ve been going to for years because it is right on the Pemigewasset River in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This trip was just for the guys, so to prove how manly we were, we booked some primitive sites with no running water or electricity. Of course, it was only a short walk to the campground store and showers. We’re not fooling anybody.

There were six of us in total. My friend Mike and I were the first to arrive and checked in at the office and proceeded to follow the map to our campsites. As we drove to the sites the road transitioned from smooth gravel to washed out dirt and mud. I said to Mike, “Don’t tell my wife that the new Jeep Cherokee is going off-road before it hits the 2,000 mile mark.” Sorry baby, I’ll wash it when I get home. As we were driving through huge puddles, Mike yells out “welcome to hazard county car wash!” We laughed our way to the site and decided to warn our friend Jerry that he should park his car at the office when he arrived and wait for someone to come get him. We didn’t want to have to dig a car out this year. Last year we had to get a friend’s car off a tree stump. But that is a story for another time.

Mike and I decided to set up the campsites before everyone else arrived. Patrick showed up as we were setting up and he had a pickup truck full of everyone’s gear. So after setting up our site, we decided to help Jerry out by setting up his tent before he arrived. That was a big mistake because Jerry’s tent is the size of the Ringling Brothers Big top. We are talking about three rooms and about 200s.f. We pulled the tent and poles out of their bags, laid it all out and decided we would rather go fishing down by the river. We went down to the river to check it out and I started to teach Mike the ways of tenkara. Mike hasn’t fished a whole lot but was excited to learn how. I guess my fishing stories got to him or he wanted to shut me up. While I was teaching Mike how to read the river and cast a tenkara line, the clouds opened up and it poured rain. I asked Mike if he wanted to go back and he said he wanted to continue fishing. Well, we completely forgot about Jerry’s tent lying in the grass and it filled up with rainwater. By the time Jerry and Charlie had arrived the tent which wasn’t even standing yet was filled with water. Whoops! Sorry guys. Of course, the rain stopped right after the last tent was set up.

We were all starving by that point and looking forward to a couple of beers. Thankfully Jon had brought his awesome marinated steak tips and some sort of vegetable dish. We were so hungry we were eating the tips off the grill. After dinner Charlie, Jon and Jerry went to check on their tent. Unfortunately, it was filled with a couple inches of water. So Charlie and Patrick went on a mission to find a mop. They ended up at a Wally World and a couple hours later the tent was dry.

Mike and I took a short drive to Lincoln, NH to visit Mountain High Fly to get advice from the local experts. We met the owner Sarah and her guide. They were both friendly and very knowledgeable about fly fishing in the White Mountains. We bought a map and asked them to highlight some areas to fish. They were quick to recommend a few hot spots as well as flies to use. If you are going to fish the White Mountains I suggest you stop in Mountain High Fly and talk to Sarah.

Back at the campground, we got a fire going with wet wood, after several tries and a little bit of rocket fuel. We stayed up kind of late, drinking beers, chirping each other and telling stories. The next morning after breakfast I gathered the guys around the table to show them how to set up a tenkara rod and gave them some quick casting tips. This went really well as everyone listened like an eager school kid on the first day of first grade. Either that or it was instruction interrupted by everyone chirping insults and slinging the usual male banter. I’d compare it to herding cats. After the quick instruction, we hit Dunkin Donuts to grab an iced coffee because that is what New Englanders do, no matter what the temperature is outside. It was a short drive to the Mad River. As we arrived at the section of the river we wanted to fish we found a couple of trailhead parking lots filled with cars and hikers. We finally found an empty lot that was a very short hike down to the Mad River.

We hiked down and I quickly extended the RBT ONE rod that I had rigged with a dry fly. The Mad River is a beautiful river, filled with rocks and hiding spots for brook trout. It is truly an amazing trout habitat but it is also very difficult to see the trout, even with polarized sunglasses. I made a cast upstream towards a fast running section and dead drifted my fly past some good hiding spots and saw a brookie take notice and come out of the shadows but not strike. The second cast, I repeated the same path and sure enough, the brook trout came out again and grabbed the fly. I quickly set the hook and brought him to my net. It was a small brook trout but it had awesome colors. These native fish have some of the coolest color patterns. I gently unhooked him and Jon took a quick picture before I released him back to the river. Knowing this was going to be a great fishing spot I gave instruction to the guys and set them up to fish. Mike took to it right away and caught three brook trout. The rest were not too far behind him.

After seeing the guys start to grasp tenkara and feeling a little crowded with six guys in the same section of river I quickly headed downstream. I collapsed the RBT ONE rod and began to jump over and under rocks and branches to get some distance from everyone. That is the beauty of tenkara. It travels very lightly, making it easy for you to move on to the next spot. After I made my way downstream I began to fish all the pools and hiding spots I thought the native brookies would be holding in. It was an awesome experience, casting a dry fly upstream, letting it drift down and seeing these small to medium size brook trout appear from the shadows to grab a fly that probably appeared huge in size to them. I made my way about a half mile downstream and probably caught about twelve fish. I wasn’t counting because I was too busy taking in the amazing scene around me.

At that point, I realized I should return upstream and check on the guys. When I got back, Mike was still fishing the same spot. He could see a couple good size fish right below him and was experiencing the same frustrations we all know. How do I get that fish to strike? The other guys were ready to head out for something to eat but Mike, Charlie and I stayed behind and continued to fish. We caught several more small fish but were unable to get the big brookies to strike. We tried a bunch of different fly patterns but I think they were just spooked.

We grabbed a bite to eat and a beer on our way back to the campground. When we met up with the others everyone seemed tired but Mike and I still wanted to fish some more. We drove to the entrance of the campground and found a short road leading to the Pemigiwasset river. Approaching the river we noticed some fish breaking the surface and going after a recent insect hatch. We geared up and began to cast flies we thought were close to the hatch. The longer we stayed the more fish we saw hitting the surface. This was an awesome scene as every few minutes we would see brook trout aggressively grabbing flies off the surface and flying through the air. After several frustrating casts and seeing fish feeding so close I decided to wade in some. I was wearing water sandals and shorts and had my i-phone in my pocket. But I wasn’t worried because it was in a waterproof case that claims you can use it to take pictures underwater. None of my fly selections were working so I rigged up a dry fly and ran a San Juan worm below it. Hoping one would attract attention and maybe the fish would go after it. I was about to give up when a beautiful brook trout grabbed the dry fly as he shot through the air. I quickly set the hook by raising the RBT ONE, in reality, it was probably already set. As I guided the fish upstream towards my net, Mike came over to help. I grabbed my i-phone out of my pocket for a quick picture but the screen stayed black. I guess the waterproof case wasn’t so waterproof. The seal must have been compromised. Mike quickly grabbed his phone and took some pictures as we admired this awesome brook trout and released it back to the river.

We returned to the campsite to meet up with the guys and tell them about the trout we were fishing and my phone getting wet. After more chirping, mostly towards my phone getting wet and the tent full of rain, yeah I know it was a wet weekend, Jon and I headed out to get some rice to see if we could save the phone.

When we got back the fire was blazing and the crew had settled down with some cold beers and bbq chicken sandwiches. We spent the rest of the night carrying on, drinking beers and listening to music. We had a lot of fun this weekend and I hope it becomes an annual event. It was awesome sharing my love for tenkara and I hope the guys enjoyed it too. I just hope I can retrieve the photos from my wet phone.

“no reel, no problems”

-Bill Holleran


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