Chris Hunt is Trout Unlimited’s National Digital Director and author of Catching Yellowstone’s Wild Trout: A Fly-Fishing History and Guide as well as Fly Fishing Idaho’s Secret Waters. In this episode Chris will guide you through Idaho’s fly-fishing landscape inspiring you to search for your tenkara in its beautiful and diverse waters. Chris is also one of the earliest adopters of tenkara in the US.
From the South to North, East to West, Daniel and Chris talk about the ideal places for tenkara in Idaho and the fish you can catch there.
Chris Hunt’s books:
– Catching Yellowstone’s Wild Trout: A Fly-Fishing History and Guide
– Fly Fishing Idaho’s Secret Waters
Chris’ daughter, Delaney, with an Idaho Cutthroat
From the high desert landscape to the mountainous country of the Teton and Sawtooth, tenkara rods can be the ideal tool to travel and fish around the state.
Daniel Galhardo: This is Daniel Galhardo, and you’re listening to the Tenkara Cast, the podcast about a simple Japanese method of fly fishing, tenkara. In the Tenkara Cast, I’ll be sharing information with you on techniques, history, gear and philosophies, as well as tenkara stories from anglers all over the world. This podcast is brought to you by Tenkara USA, introducing tenkara outside of Japan since 2009. It is only possible we create content such as this podcast and all the videos that we create because of your support, so we thank you so very much for purchasing Tenkara USA rods, lines and flies. I hope you enjoy learning more about the simple Japanese method of fly fishing, tenkara.
DG: Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode of The Tenkara Cast. Today, I’m very honored to be speaking to an old friend, Chris Hunt. We haven’t talked in quite a while, but I reached out to him to try to learn a little bit more about the tenkara fishing opportunities in Idaho, and Chris is also with Trout Unlimited, so he’s in the communications department of Trout Unlimited doing the social media, but he’s also the author of… What is it called, Chris? Secret Waters of Idaho, is that the title?
Chris Hunt: Yeah, I’ve got a couple out that have come out in the last few years. One is the Fly Fishing Idaho’s Secret Waters, and then I just last year had a book published on kind of a species-specific guide to fly fishing in Yellowstone, which is just up the road from me. ( Catching Yellowstone’s Wild Trout: A Fly-Fishing History and Guide)
DG: Somehow I missed that. I will make sure to put those on our podcast page, at tenkarausa.com/podcast, I’ll make sure to link up to both of your books, but Chris has also been tenkara fishing for quite some time, so he’s got this experience in some of the cutting edge to tenkara fishing early on where he caught pike and salmon. So let’s talk a little bit about that and then we can get into Idaho. How long has it been since you first used a tenkara rod, Chris?
CH: Oh my gosh, I bet it’s been over 10 years. In fact, I would imagine it’s been closer to 12 or 15 years when I first started doing it, and a lot of it, Daniel, was thanks to you and Tenkara USA kinda pushing me into the discipline, and actually I really love tenkara fishing. There are instances where I honestly believe it is more effective than traditional angling work and even traditional fly fishing in some instances, but what I really found that interested me most about tenkara fly fishing was being able to introduce my kids to the outdoors and to the rivers and streams here in eastern Idaho, because the tenkara rod was so much easier for them to pick up and become adept with it and my daughter for instance, she really started fly fishing with a tenkara rod and kinda moved over to traditional fly fishing, but has since probably done more tenkara than traditional fly fishing, and she actually lives and works over in Grand Teton National Park about two hours from here, and she fishes the park with a tenkara rod all the time, so.
DG: Yeah. So you introduced your kids to fly fishing through tenkara at some point ago, but she is now working, so I’m assuming she’s an adult woman?
CH: She is, yeah, she’s all grown up and out of the house, and my son is actually over there in Teton Park with her as well, for his first year working over there, and he’s got his tenkara rod with him.
DG: Nice, that’s great. So when did you get your kids hooked into tenkara? How old were they?
CH: Shortly after I started. I started, and then, I don’t know, I was a bit younger back then, I’m 51 now, I was probably in my late 30s, and I started using tenkara and then I started trying to figure out, “Okay, what can I do with a tenkara rod that nobody else is doing?” And I don’t know if I was one of the first or the first, but I did catch and land a Northern Pike on tenkara off a boat in Lake Athabasca in Saskatchewan, and then on that same trip, there’s a unique round of lake trout that actually runs up some of the rivers and streams that flow into the lake. Then I caught an eight-pound lake trout on tenkara, much to the surprise of the guide who was there, he kept trying to tell me that I was fishing for a white fish, and I’m like, “This is not a white fish.” But it was fun and it was exciting, and it was kind of pushing some of those earlier Tenkara USA rods to their limit. The guy I was fishing with, eventually hooked a really big pike, probably 36 inches, and it just pulled the lillian off the end of the rod and it pulled it so tight that we couldn’t get it to fold back down and then we just kind of put them down and said, “Okay, I think we figured out where the limit is with pike.”
CH: But we really had a great time kind of… And of course I fished, on that same trip I fished and caught a lot of grayling on that trip, and then over the years, of course here in Idaho we have native cutthroats, we have brookies, browns, rainbows, white fish, you name it, we’ve got it. I’ve caught a couple of smallmouth bass in the Snake River off of tenkara. I’ve yet to land my first tenkara carp. I hear it can be done, but the carp I’ve been fishing for here in Idaho are between 10 and 25 pounds, so I’m not sure.
DG: Oh. Those are hard.
CH: Especially on foot.
CH: But we’ll see.
DG: I think that’d be hard. I have caught some carp, much smaller than that, but I did have an experience where one time I decided to take a stand-up paddle board to a lake, and I threw a fly in front of… Or by a carp, and I started pulling the fly back, and for a microsecond I hooked a carp on the tail.
DG: And I just had this vision of just going into the water so hard and my heart jumped and I had this vision of just kind of being dragged, but luckily the hook came right off which was… Yeah, I can’t imagine what would have happened. That might have been like a good 15-pound carp. It’s like, it would have been a hard one. But maybe that’s the trick, maybe take a watercraft of some sort and get dragged around for a bit.
CH: Well, I think that would be… You’d have to be on a boat or you’d have to be able to be mobile. Because even if you can follow the old Craig Matthews method, which is just drop the rod in the water and then run down the stream where it pops back up, you can pick it up again. But with carp in a lake, who knows, you know?
CH: It’s like Jaws pulling under that big yellow barrel, and maybe it comes up again, maybe it doesn’t, you never know.
DG: Oh, totally. Yeah, no I… And that’s one technique I always… I haven’t done that since I started tenkara, but I always tell people, “Somebody’s trying to sell you more tenkara rods.” ‘Cause yeah, I don’t think that should really be done. There’s a good chance you might lose the rod, especially in a big lake.
CH: Well, I think that the applications for tenkara are varied and many, but for really what tenkara was initially made for all those centuries ago in Japan, today it still meets those requirements. And like I said earlier, I think that it can be as or more effective than any other kind of angling, particularly if you’re in small-ish water and you’re able to control the line much easier. I love the fact that with tenkara you can have nothing on the water except the fly. I absolutely love that. And I noticed too, fishing… And you know Tom Sadler in Virginia, Daniel?
DG: Oh yeah, yeah.
CH: Tom and I one year, this was years ago, I guess it was probably 10 or 12 years ago, we fished the Rapidan, and I realized then and there that tenkara not only gave me the flexibility that I liked on small water like that, but it gave me longer drifts because I could… With just switching the rod over to my left hand suddenly I was ambidextrous and I love that. So like I said, I just think in the instances where it was designed to work well, it really does work well.
DG: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think that’s kind of… It’s always been my focus. And that’s also part of the reason I wanted to talk to you about Idaho because there’s so many good mountain stream fishing and that’s kind of where tenkara originated, that’s kinda what it’s designed for. A lot of our customers play with all kinds of fish, but I think most of them are focused on those mountain streams, and if anybody is also making a trip to Idaho, they’re gonna be probably focused on those beautiful mountain streams along the Sawtooth Forest, or the Teton area. So there’s so much good variety of those kinds of waters.
CH: Yeah, we’re very lucky up here to have lots of public land and lots of places to put a tenkara rod to good use. And considering the times, it’s also a great place to go to kinda get away from other people, and you can put your social distancing and responsible recreation practices to work fishing with tenkara on these remote mountain streams where we have plenty of them.
DG: Yeah. So before we get into the lay of the land in Idaho, and where people can go, and the characteristics of the waters, I wanted to ask you since we are in the middle of this pandemic, the COVID. How is the vibe over there? Like, are people… Do they feel like tourists can come by and fly fish there, or do they want them to wait? It’s kind of this… We’re in this weird limbo right now in the States where it depends on the area, and people are starting to travel more, but I’m not so sure it’s appropriate. I wonder what your thoughts are on that.
CH: It’s a really good question, and the answer is gonna be somewhat nuanced, so bear with me. Idaho is in the reopening, it’s in phase four of reopening. Our governor, Governor Little, had a four-phase reopening plan once we all endured the stay-at-home order. And we are, like a lot of places, seeing an uptick in COVID cases because honestly, I just think people were so exhausted of being stuck inside and not being able to be social that when those first two or three phases came up, they got a little cavalier. And it’s interesting you say that because at TU, Travel Unlimited where I work as the Digital Editorial Director, we’ve been engaged in this #ResponsibleRecreation campaign. I’m not sure if you’ve seen that or heard of it, but we’re saying that it’s okay to go fishing regardless of where you live if you just adhere to a few simple rules. Like, maybe travel to the river by yourself rather than with someone you’re not quarantining with, wear a face covering when you’re fishing within a rod’s length of someone else, and especially wear a face cover if you’re on a boat with someone, and then also cleanliness is important. But one of the things that we recommend, at least for the time being, is to try to fish close to home. Idaho is, for a lot of people, it’s a destination place.
CH: But I’ll say this, it’s probably wise if you don’t live within a couple of hours of some great Idaho fishing destination that you try and wait it out. Maybe wait till next summer or later in the fall, just because if you or someone you’re with might be an asymptomatic COVID carrier and you end up in a place like Riggins, Idaho or Driggs, Idaho, or some smaller community that really doesn’t have the medical infrastructure, the healthcare infrastructure to handle an outbreak, it could really cause a problem. So the advice stands. Try and fish close to home, but hopefully we can archive this discussion and it will be much more appropriate for when the country is kind of fully open to travel, and that could be later this summer, or it could be next year.
DG: Yeah, no, absolutely, I’m glad we touched on that. The last few podcast episodes that I’ve done, I’ve been trying to focus, like let’s explore waters close to home. There’s so much good waters. And yes, Idaho is a good destination of fly fishing, but in general, also avoiding those multi-day trips to anywhere outside for those very reasons. So yeah, thanks for sharing the information, and, yeah, hopefully down the line, people can be like, “What? What is COVID?” Although I don’t think we’re gonna forget it.
CH: Yeah, I’d love to forget all about it, but it has been such a part of our lives now for, what, four or five months, and… Idaho does not have a giant number of cases. We’re starting to test more. And that, of course, is revealing the truth about COVID is that it’s probably more insidious than we ever suspected, and I’m glad we’re testing more. I wanna know more about how this disease is affecting my community, but it also gives folks like you or folks like your listeners who might wanna come and visit an idea of what they’re up against, should they come and go fishing. But I’ll say this, I’ve been, within a couple of hours of home, several times fishing, but it’s always either been by myself or with someone that I am self-isolating with, so that I’m not putting anyone else at risk, but there is quite a bit of anxiety when you… Like I have a little camper that I take with me and I had to go to the RV dump, Sunday, and I had to wait in line ’cause there were so many people out RV camping, and that’s already a sketchy process.
CH: You’re dealing with raw sewage and you’re dealing with things like that and then you have to worry about this coronavirus thing, so it’s the anxiety level in these smaller communities, I think is still pretty high. Folks don’t wanna see those stuff come to their town if they don’t have it yet or if they just have a few numbers of them, but… So the simple answer is stay as close to home as you can and when you’re out there fishing, fish right, fish within a rod’s length of someone you’re not social-isolating or self-isolating with. And if you’re on a boat or a guided trip, man, I know that guides have really had it tough on this, during this pandemic, but every guide out there should be wearing a face covering and so should their clients for the entirety of the process.
DG: Yeah, no, absolutely. Yeah, thanks for sharing those thoughts on responsible angling, and yeah, a good thing that the fly fishing community is very used to using those neck and face coverings, hopefully that stays in place throughout the summer.
CH: Yeah, right, I mean most of us would wear a buff or a gaiter or something anyway, just protect ourselves from the sun. And now you’re kinda getting a two for one out of those face coverings so that’s good.
DG: Exactly. So let’s get into the lay of the land for Idaho, because it’s a diverse state. There’s a lot of different waters. I personally love the mountains of Idaho, and I was a little bit bummed ’cause I was actually planning a little bit of a road trip in the beginning of the summer where I wanted to kinda hit some of the mountain regions, starting the Teton, which I fished in the past before with tenkara, but not enough, and then I was really interested in doing some backpacking and tenkara Sawtooth and White Cloud mountain ranges over there. There’s so much cool stuff going on in the state. Why don’t you tell us maybe… Can you give us a breakdown of how Idaho, where you can find different types of waters and what are the attractive waters that people go there for, like north, south, east, west?
DG: How would you describe the state?
CH: Yeah, that would be great. You could probably divide Idaho into four separate regions. You’d start with North Idaho, the Panhandle region, then maybe you’d come down to Central Idaho which is where you have your Salmon River, Country River of No Return, Wilderness Sawtooth Country. Then I would say, you got kind of Southwest Idaho, which is from, say, McCall south through Boise, Payette River Country, south fork of the Boise River Country, Boise River itself, several good trophy trout streams but also the Snake River, which, in that corner of Idaho is really good for smallmouth bass and carp, if you wanna put your tenkara rod to the test. And then Southeast Idaho which is kinda where I live. I live in Idaho Falls. I’m about two hours from Yellowstone National Park, two hours from Grand Teton National Park, and from the west side of town on a clear day, you can barely see the top of the Grand Teton, so that’s the Wyoming, essentially the Wyoming border.
CH: And then farther southeast in Idaho, we have great fishing and rivers like the Blackfoot, the Portneuf, and the Bear, and there’s lots of small backcountry streams that migrate, or not migrate but connect to those bigger rivers, and fish from those bigger rivers migrate up those smaller streams.
DG: So those… That part, like the… Maybe we can start close to your home, I guess. So when you’re in Idaho Falls, where do you tend to go fishing? Is there like a particular direction that you kinda choose more often than not?
CH: Well, I’m really lucky. I’m about 45 minutes away from the South Fork of the Snake River, which is a trophy trout fishery. I’m the same distance away from the Henry’s Fork, which is hallowed ground for trout anglers. And both of those rivers are totally doable with tenkara, but for the sake of finding some of those out of the way, smaller streams, there are lots of little streams that flow into both rivers that are particularly good. I’ll give you a couple of examples just to tease you a little bit, but there’s a little creek up in Island Park, which runs into the Henry’s Fork, which is one of my favorite places to fish. And it’s not a huge secret, but it’s called Moose Creek and Moose Greek is full of wild trout and wild rainbows. And also in the fall it gets a run of kokanee salmon that come up out of Island Park Reservoir, they run up the Henry’s Fork and then they actually spawn in Moose Creek and it’s a beautiful little trout stream. Kind of idyllic, flows through a lodgepole pine forest meadow. Chances are, you’ll see moose and grouse, a good chance of seeing bears, both grizzly and black bears, so I would recommend bear spray.
CH: That’s a good one kind of in the northern reaches of where I fish. And then, to the immediate east of me, we have great fishing in all the tributaries that run into the South Fork of the Snake. The nice thing about those fisheries is that a partnership with Fish and Game, Trout Unlimited and others, we have set up these weirs that prevent rainbows that have found their way into the South Fork of the Snake from migrating up into those native cutthroat streams. So you’re seeing big river cutthroats that are post-spawn by the time the streams open. And they’re 15 to 20 inches long in some instances. So it’s a great place to go to catch bigger fish in smaller water, which is every tenkara angler’s dream. And then to the south of me we have the… Well, I should mention the Teton River and its tributaries is a little bit northeast of me. And it’s a great fishery too. Access is a little tougher to the river itself, but there are a couple of tributaries that are definitely worth hitting. Excuse me.
DG: I was curious about the Teton because I spent a little bit of time on the national park front, and I didn’t get a chance to really go in deep or fish the Teton River itself, but how is the Teton tenkara fishing?
CH: Of the three big rivers where I live, the Teton, the South Fork and the Henry’s Fork, the Teton would probably be the easiest to fish tenkara. It’s not as big. It’s very simple to read. You’re essentially casting to banks. Some riffles, but the Teton is a pretty straight shot river that flows into the Henry’s Fork. The Teton is definitely worth a shot. Like I said, access is tough. If you have a guide or a boat of your own or even just a one-man, or a one person, like a cataraft or a pontoon boat, totally doable, totally doable.
DG: And one thing… Like when you just mentioned some brook trout and also the rainbow. Let’s talk a little bit about the fish. And actually it just came back to me that, I don’t know if you’re still running it, but you at least used to have a blog called, “Eat More Brook Trout.” So let’s talk a little bit about the native trout in Idaho, or maybe at least in the eastern part of it, and what’s the relationship with the “Eat More Brook Trout” thing that you… You still have that?
CH: Yeah, good question. It’s still around. I mean, I’ve removed the URL. And essentially, when I blog now, I blog for Trout Unlimited. I do some freelance writing for some magazines and things like that. But for the most part, I blog for TU. So I kinda let the old school blog… It’s hard to imagine that blogging is now old school. But I sort of let it go feral. Sometimes I can go back and pull some content from it, which is always nice. But it’s eatmorebrooktrout.blogspot.com. I even got rid of the eatmorebrooktrout.com URL, I just wasn’t using it, so I didn’t pay for it. So in Eastern Idaho, in fact, in most of Idaho save for the Salmon River country, and then that country on the western side of the state the native salmonid is cutthroat trout and we have three sub-species of cutthroats in Idaho. In the north and in the central part of the state is the Westslope cutthroat, and then we have the Yellowstone cutthroat here in the eastern side, and then in the southeastern corner in the Bear River and Bear Lake drainages, we have the Bonneville cutthroat trout.
CH: So all three of those sub-species are very susceptible to the introduction of non-native fish, particularly rainbow trout, because rainbows and cutthroats spawn at similar times. They can mingle on the spawning redds, and the offspring is fertile. So it’s a fertile hybrid that just continues to… The cycle continues, where you might have a pure cutthroat spawning with a rainbow one year, and the next year you’ve got a hybrid spawning with a pure cutthroat and the next year you got a hybrid spawning with a rainbow. I mean, it just, the cycle goes on and on, so Fish and Game, to their credit, is working really hard to keep rainbows out of the tributaries to the South Fork. The South Fork itself, the Fish and Game asks anglers to catch and kill any rainbows. No catch and release of rainbows on the river itself now.
CH: There are other rivers in the area where rainbows are a little bit more common, like the Henry’s Fork, and certainly catch and release is the dominant ethic these days, and that counts for rainbows and brown trout on the Henry’s Fork. So to kinda get into why the brook trout thing started the eat more brook trout idea is brookies are really hard on those small waters that tenkara anglers really love. In fact, you in Colorado, you deal with the same challenges we deal with here in Idaho, brookies are just, they’re voracious, they have a life force that I truly admire. I love catching brook trout. I also love eating brook trout, but brookies spawn in the fall, and by the time the cutthroats are spawning in the spring, brook trout fry are already out, and they have kind of a biological headstart, if you will, over cutthroats, so when cutthroats hatch out, let’s say they spawn in April, May, June, by the time those fry are out and about at the end of July and end of August, the brook trout or probably two or three inches long in some instances and have a real advantage.
CH: And what happens is brookies essentially take over. They don’t mingle on the spawning beds like they do with rainbows, but they just take over, and when brook trout take over, and you’ve all seen this, they stunt and they get really small to the point where a 4 or 5-inch fish is a spawning adult. And as fun as that can be in a backcountry setting with a lightweight fly rod or a tenkara rod, imagine what it would be like if you had what was actually the fish that actually evolved there, and it is perfect for those conditions. You wouldn’t catch 50 4-inch brook trout. Instead, you might catch 10 12-15-inch cutthroats, and that is what we’re, when I say eat more brook trout, that’s what I’m talking about.
DG: Absolutely. And it’s a good call. Yes, and absolutely it’s the same thing in Colorado, actually, I’ve watched it firsthand, one of the streams nearby here, they populated it, or they planted some native cutthroat, and I started catching them, I didn’t realize they had been planted. I used to only catch brook trout there, all of a sudden started catching cutthroat, and then within one season, it kinda reverted back to just brook trout because during the summer, the cutthroat, they fry out, but the water level is also very low, and brook trout seem to be totally fine with those low water levels. You often catch them in these little tiny beaver ponds and that kinda thing, so yeah, they’re voracious and prolific, and it is the best eating as you say.
CH: Yeah, if you can find some that are big enough to eat, I would totally do it.
CH: And I think it’s so hard in today’s catch and release world for fly fishers of any stripe to kill a fish, but honestly in some instances it’s absolutely the right thing to do. Absolutely the right thing to do.
DG: Yeah, and I’ve done a podcast, at least one, where I talk about just my thoughts on the responsible eating and taking the fish, because sometimes we think of catch and release as this only way to go. It is dogma, and there’s a lot of value to catch and release but I think, in a responsible way, sometimes there’s a lot more value in potentially keeping some fish, like in the case of brook trout where, like in Rocky Mountain National Park here, they wanted to keep… I don’t know if there’s a bag limit, it used to be like 10 brook trout ’cause they just want them, try to get them out of there. And it does nothing, but yeah, I’ll post a link if anybody’s listening to this and wants to learn about my thoughts on that, but I think they’re very similar to Chris’ as well.
DG: No native, prolific trout, places that you just don’t see anglers and that kinda thing. So you kind of went south a little bit for a moment before I interrupted you. Did you have something that you were gonna point out about the fishing a little south of Idaho Falls?
CH: Oh, there’s the Blackfoot River, which the upper regions of the Blackfoot river is a really, really great trout fishery. Again, mostly cutthroats. There are some streams farther south, tributaries to the Bear and the Portneuf that have brook trout, and of course when they have brook trout, they don’t have much else. But the Bear River itself is an amazing fishery, and for those of you who don’t know much about the Bear River, it starts in the high Uinta Mountains of Utah, flows kind of north into Wyoming, cuts across the lower kind of… It’s like a pizza pie slice of Idaho, and then it flows eventually into the Great Salt Lake, so it’s actually the longest river in the world that does not flow into an ocean.
DG: Wow, I didn’t know that.
CH: Yeah, a little bit of trivia for you. And the Bear River is a great cutthroat fishery in spots. It’s been pretty heavily developed and used over the years, but those fish in the Bear are called Bonneville cutthroats, and they’re very adaptable. They are able to adapt high water temperatures, which is something that’s a bit unusual for cutthroats, a lot of cutthroats have to have a water temperature within a certain range, but the cutthroats in the Bear River have been documented surviving and thriving in water temperatures well over 70 degrees, which is really warm for trout. But that’s kind of the eastern quadrant there of Idaho, and if you move to the, for me, to the north part of Idaho, the fastest way for me to get there is to actually drive through Montana rather than do a sort of an L-shape drive through Idaho. And north Idaho is a different world all together. A lot of it is an inland rainforest that connects with Northwest Montana and Southern British Columbia. And that’s great lake fishing for rainbows, kokanee… There’s even a, believe it or not, there’s a king salmon run out of Lake Coeur d’Alene that goes up some of the rivers there.
CH: The St. Maries River is in North Idaho, and the St. Joe River is also in North Idaho, so is the Selway and the Lochsa. All of those are excellent cutthroat trout streams, and in their more remote reaches, there are some really big fish, 18, 20-inch cutthroat, sometimes even bigger, and on a tenkara, they’re great fun. North Idaho is also home to bull trout which is our native char. It’s a relative of the brook trout, the Arctic char, Dolly Varden. It’s sort of our answer to those fish, and bull trout get really big. And they are found in Salmon River drainage, north, north, generally speaking.
DG: Bull trout are protected as well, right?
CH: They are protected. You can fish for them in Idaho, but you must release them. In other states, you can’t even target them, like Montana. There’s only one or two places you can go to target bull trout, but in Idaho, you can fish for bull trout, you just cannot keep them in any way, shape, or form. Bull trout, I don’t if you guys know this, but bull trout get really big. It’s not unusual to see a 24, 26, 28-inch bull trout, and they are voracious. They look exactly like you would expect them to look. They look mean and hungry all the time. And on tenkara, I’ve caught small bull trout on tenkara, 10, 12 inches. I’ve never caught a really big bull trout on tenkara.
DG: Yeah, I actually remember there’s a website called Backpacking Light. Ryan Jordan, who was the guy that created that, he was one of the pioneers of content on backing, ultralight backpacking, but also packrafting.
DG: And I think he talked about catching bull trout on tenkara, and if I remember right, he said that it’s kind of like lassoing a bull with dental floss.
DG: He has caught some of the big stuff, but it’s… Yeah, I can only imagine what that fight would be like.
CH: Yeah, that’s a pretty good analogy. I have… Fishing in a little tiny tributary to the Salmon River above the town of Riggins, I did catch about a 20, 22-and-a-half-inch bull trout on a two-weight fly rod, which was quite the rodeo. I was actually fishing for little redbands, which is the other native salmonid in Idaho, the redband, which is a rainbow trout subspecies. A lot of people, especially in the biology and the science communities, understand that redbands are likely steelhead that just chose to stay home rather than travel to the ocean.
DG: Interesting ’cause there’s the redband trout in the Sierra Nevada too. When I used to go tenkara fishing early on in Sierra, there was the redband in McCloud River in Northern California. I wonder if they have any relationship because that’s closer to the ocean too.
CH: Same, yeah, same general idea, and Oregon is the same way that, it has big redbands, but they just all migrate to sea, and they also get a round of steelheads. So, it’s just one of these weird, hard to explain biological phenomenon where, at one point, a fish comes out of the gravel as a fry and decides, I like it here or I’m out of here. It’s weird.
DG: Yeah, I never quite get the biological transition from like a migrating fish, to one that just decides to stay landlocked. It’s an interesting concept, for sure.
DG: The other thing about Idaho, it seems to me like there’s this huge variety in terrain. When I picture Idaho, I fished from Boise, into the, what do you call, the Silver… Sun Valley area. And also when you’re in those areas, it’s easier going to Oregon, and you kinda have this more of a open and high desert kind of feel, but I’ve also driven up in the northern Idaho, and it was like rugged mountains. Is there a way… Is that kinda like accurate, or is it mountains all over the place, how to describe that topography over there?
CH: It is such a varied state. Where I live, we have sort of a Rocky Mountain topography, and that’s kind of true for Eastern and much of Central Idaho. The Sawtooths are one of the most underrated mountain ranges in the country in terms of just sheer beauty. I think they’re Teton beautiful. Tetons are dramatic and stunning, and I get the exact same feeling when I look at the Sawtooths, just rugged, hardcore backcountry, and there is good tenkara fishing in the Sawtooth. A lot of it is in high mountain lakes that require a bit of a walk, but there are some around the town of Stanley, Idaho, which is essentially the top of Idaho. If you imagine Idaho as a giant pyramid, Stanley sits right there at the top, and all this stuff runs off. All the water runs off Stanley or the Sawtooth area, essentially. But then you go north, and you get out of the more rugged mountains, but you’re into dense, dense rainforest with Spanish Moss. A lot of people call it old man’s beard, kinda hangs off the trees. There’s a lot of rain, a lot of water. It could just as well rain during the winter as it would snow.
CH: Just big ponderosas, big fir trees, and cedar trees. It’s got a real northwest feel to it. And then Southern Idaho, imagine if you will, just put a picture in your mind of the state of Idaho map in your brain, and just draw a smiley face across the bottom third of the state, and that would be the Snake River. And the Snake is all volcanic basalt cliffs and canyons in very desert open country. It’s warm, it’s hot in the summer. This is where, you know these days though it’s really good, smallmouth and largemouth bass fishing in some of the reservoirs. The river itself has become an amazing smallmouth bass fishery. Also, the carp are there, there is some trout fishing. It used to be before all the dams went in on the Lower Snake, salmon and steelhead would bump their noses at the base of Shoshone Falls outside of Twin Falls, Idaho, and now that’s basically a bass, catfish, carp fishery, there are some sturgeon. God help the guy who hooks a sturgeon on a tenkara rod.
DG: Yeah. That might be one fish I haven’t seen. I started telling people that nowadays you can pretty much google any fish species and tenkara and you’ll find an image, and if you google pike and tenkara your image is probably the one that comes up first ’cause you were, I believe, the first one to catch it. And… But yeah, sturgeon might be one that hasn’t happened yet. I think it can use a tenkara rod as at tube fly for a sturgeon, if you had one of the segments.
CH: If you hooked a small one, 20 inches or so, you might be able to bring that up, but sturgeon get six, seven feet long. It’s like trying to pull a refrigerator off the bottom of the river, it’s just not gonna happen.
DG: Yeah, no, I cannot imagine that working out very well, I’ll give them that. So, and one thing that I’m doing right now, I think you painted a beautiful picture I think to our listeners here about the state. And you kinda have to go through it to see all those pieces about the desert, and then you have those mountains, and then the rainforest. And one thing that I just started doing on our blog actually is just talking a little bit about equipment specifically, tenkara gear specific for certain areas. So if you don’t mind, maybe if I was gonna go to the Sawtooth National Forest, what is a good tenkara setup for fishing in the Sawtooth, for example?
CH: Well, you’ll have to help me out ’cause it’s been a while since I’ve bought, or purchased, or even reviewed a new tenkara rod. I still have my old Iwana that I absolutely love and I use that almost… I think it’s got a 6:10 ratio, I believe.
DG: 4. Yeah, 6:4. Yeah, we kinda stopped talking too much about that, the flex ratio. Yeah, it’s moderate, not too flexible, not too stiff moderate.
CH: Yeah, it’s kind of a mid-flex rod and I really like it. I really like it. In fact, it’s probably, I bet it’s 12 years old, and I still use it, and I really like it. I guess I just don’t really see, for what I use it for, I don’t see a need for anything new or different. I would say, for small streams throughout the state, and that would be anything from, say, little Moose Creek that I was telling you about to some of those tributaries that run into the Snake or the Henry’s Fork, anything in the Sawtooth Sun Valley area. Maybe not for Silver Creek ’cause Silver Creek has big fish, but in the Big Wood also, big fish but they’re just a little bit easier to wrangle in the Big Wood River. I would stick with something kind of light to medium weight and light to medium flex, and I would honestly go 11-12 feet. And then either go with a level line, I’ve seen a lot of folks lately using lengths of really light one weight fly line instead of the braided line that kinda started things out. Just recently I’ve become a convert into actually using tenkara flies. I was stubborn in my western United States mindset that nothing is gonna out-fish an Adams, but those…
DG: I know the feeling well on that, we all go through that.
CH: The traditional tenkara flies are, I don’t even know what they look like to the fish, but they look good, and they’ll hit ’em. So I’d be somewhat of a generalist for the most part. Small streams particularly in the Rockies, a good attractor pattern is as good as anything you’ve got and I would stick with that. No need to go really big or heavy unless you’re gonna chase bass out of a boat. And tenkara out of a drift boat is a whole new level of excitement because you’ve got…
DG: Oh, totally, yeah.
CH: Yeah, you’ve got a guy that has the net, has the oars, maybe you’ve got somebody in the rear of the boat and it becomes kind of a circus with somebody who can’t let any line out.
DG: Exactly, yeah. I think a 12 foot tenkara rod in the Sawtooth area, like the Iwana, because you can cover all kinds of waters from some of the smaller covered upstreams to some of the slightly bigger lakes ’cause there’s a lot of them. And then you fish in the Teton and your kids, they’re tenkara fishing there. I always think of the Teton as like bigger water, super open. So when I was there last time in the Teton, tenkara rod I fished with was the Ito, which is the adjustable 13 foot, 14 foot 7 inch. Have you ever had a chance to try that?
CH: No, no, I never fished one that you can vary the length on. I’d be interested though.
DG: Yeah. Alright, I’ll have to hook you up so you can take it to the Teton area, let us know how you like it, ’cause that’s where…it can vary a lot. You can go to a lake and you want more reach, or you can go to a smaller stream, but it’s still open. So that’s the impression I got in that area. Is that fair to say, about the Teton kind of area?
CH: Yeah, the Teton would be an exception to that rule, you’d want something a little bit bigger. And the nice thing about the Teton is chances are you’re gonna be fishing from a watercraft of some sort, whether it’s a single-person pontoon craft or a drift boat or whatever, I’ve even seen people out there lately on stand-up paddle boards.
CH: Yeah, they don’t make those for me, I’m six foot five, 300 hundred pounds, they don’t make those for me. But yeah, the longer rod, maybe with a little bit more backbone would be appropriate on the Teton, there are some legitimate big cutthroats in the Teton.
DG: Yeah, no, that’s one of the attractive parts of the area, and then all the people going around the Yellowstone and yeah, the Teton area. It’s really, really something to be seen. Well, yeah, I think that’s a really good overview of the state for anybody looking at going tenkara fishing, hopefully, after this, if you live in the state, maybe explore something not too far from you, but if you’re coming from out of state, once this whole COVID is blown over, you can take your tenkara rod and have a lot of fun. And get Chris Hunt’s guidebook, fly fishing guide to the secret streams. And I meant to ask about that. So just another kind of a part of the conversation, the secret stream part of it, where obviously it’s…
CH: Sure. Yeah, totally. For clarity, I only actually named about a dozen streams in Idaho in that book. What I really did was kind of give everybody the keys to the castle when it comes to finding these kinds of places in Idaho. This was published in 2014. And to this day, my best friend when I go fishing someplace new, especially if I’m off the grid, is my Idaho Atlas & Gazetteer. I love to find a blue line on the map and find where it either comes in contact with the road or a trail, and then I go there and I have no idea what I’m going to expect, but if you are able to decipher this looks a lot like this, and this was loaded with wild brook trout, then chances are you’re in the same kind of place, but I can’t count the times over the years, especially in Idaho, and I live in the eastern part of Idaho so for me to get to North Idaho, it’s a full day commitment.
CH: So when I go, and I have my Idaho map with me, a good example, probably… Oh, eight, 10 years ago, I was driving over to see some friends who live in Orofino, which is on the Clearwater River. The Clearwater flows into the Snake, but the Lochsa and the Selway, they flow into the Clearwater and it’s a great steelhead river in the fall when we get fish to make it over all those dams and the Lower Snake, which these days is seldom. But I had my Gazetteer with me and I took a turn up the Selway and I kept driving up and driving up, and then I took a tributary and I kept driving up and driving up and just following the blue line on the map. And when I got up there, I was catching these gorgeous Westslope cutthroats that were… Had good size, they were hungry, and tenkara was the perfect way to go after them.
DG: Nice. Yeah, and I cannot think of a more rewarding way to catch fish. Like we always say it’s extremely rewarding catch fish with a fly that you tied yourself, but I also think it’s extremely rewarding to find fish in a place that you didn’t really read about, you’re not being given the directions to catch fish, you’re really kind of exploring on your own and finding something that for all you know maybe nobody’s ever fished sometimes. So that’s something special, I think.
CH: Yeah, and you do get away from the crowds that way. One great example of a river that is full of opportunities like that in North Idaho is the St. Joe River, it’s stunningly beautiful, and there’s road access along a lot of it, but the little tributaries are phenomenal.
DG: Excellent. Well, Chris, it was a real pleasure to catch up a little bit with you again and get a good overview of the state of Idaho from somebody who really seems to know it like the back of your hand and learn a little bit more about it, and hopefully people will look up your book. And what’s the name of your other book, again, in the…
CH: So the one that just came out last year, it’s called Catching Yellowstone’s Wild Trout. It’s a fly fishing guide and history or history and guide, I should say. And I live close to Yellowstone, it’s not… We have a little tiny sliver of it in Idaho, but most of the park is in Wyoming, and a little bit more of the park is in Montana. But Yellowstone is one of those places that every diehard trout angler should spend some time exploring, it’s… And the book that I wrote is, it’s not so much a traditional guidebook as it is focusing on the natural history of all of the trout, native or otherwise that are found in the park, and then I offer up some ideas on where you might catch each one of those species of fish, whether it’s the park is reintroducing Westslope cutthroat into its northwest corner, they’re also reintroducing a rare native population of Arctic grayling, but the park has Yellowstone cutthroats, has mountain whitefish, it has invasive lake trout, which have caused a real problem in Yellowstone Lake. And then it has browns and rainbows as well, so that’s kind of what that book is about. It’s kind of where to go to catch each of those sub-species of fish.
CH: And like I said, it came out last summer, just in time for the park to be almost all but shut down until recently. But if you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone, this year’s so weird, there’s no tour buses allowed this year because of social distancing requirements. I’ve been up into the park a couple of times since opening day, which was at the end of May, and the crowds aren’t bad, the fishing on the Firehole River was really good. The Firehole is a great tenkara stream, by the way, especially if you like to swing soft tackles. I just, I think the Yellowstone Park is… If you’re a fly fishing addict and it’s something that you’re passionate about, you’ve gotta add that to your bucket list. And then the first book you referred to is called “Fly Fishing Idaho’s Secret Waters” and it came out in 2014, and it is essentially a how to with a few where to places in it.
DG: Nice, excellent. Well, thanks again, Chris, really appreciate your making the time to talk to us about Yellowstone and Idaho. I got a two for one on this episode, so that’s cool.
CH: Thanks for having me, Daniel. I appreciate it.
DG: Yeah, my pleasure. And for our listeners, make sure to check out those books, but also Trout Unlimited, which is Chris’ main work.
DG: We’ve always advocated that anybody picking up a rod, if you’re new to fly fishing, take a look at Trout Unlimited, try to join because they support the trout habitat, and they have a lot of good projects that we’ve highlighted in this podcast in the past, but another plug for you, and I’ll make sure to put a link on the tenkarausa.com/podcast for this episode. And until next time, I wanna thank Tenkara Cast. Thanks so much, Chris.
CH: Thank you, Daniel.
DG: And as always I’d like to especially thank Takenobu. Nick Ogawa, also known as Takenobu, provides a lot of the music that we use in this podcast, as well as a lot of Tenkara USA videos. You can find his music at takenobumusic.com. And this is the song Toki Doki.