Tenkara in the Eastern Sierra Nevada

I have been wrestling with this post in my mind for two months now. I originally intended to post within a week of getting home. But the experience was such that I cannot easily put it into words. So, rather than put it off any longer I am just going to go for it and stop caring so much about wringing every last detail out of the experience into this blog. Where the dialogue is lacking I hope the photos will round out the story. On that note, let me begin…

This is a two part post, be sure to read Part I here.

After a long drive and a great day of skiing I meandered my way south back to Bishop, California. I pulled into the Starbucks parking lot, hopped out of my truck, and was greeted with a boisterous offer for a massage. I turned to face the person making such an uncouth offer. Of course I immediately accepted the gracious offer with a hearty “Hai, onigashimasu!”. It was my good friend, the one and only Go Ishii.

Day 1 – Friday

Mesa Camp

When I had said goodbye to Go Ishii in Japan I was not sure if I would see him again for many many years and I was 100% certain if I did see him again it would be in Japan. Seeing Go again in the parking lot of the Bishop Starbucks took a while for my brain to register. We were both very hungry and decided to get some lunch. Afterwards, we headed over to the local gear store to get Go a rain jacket. Then it was a quick stop at the grocery store to get supplies for that evenings campout.

It was a good thing that we got Go a rain jacket because as we were setting up camp the rain started coming down in buckets. I was very grateful that I had brought my extra large Eno tarp on this trip as it gave us ample protection from the high winds and driving rain.

After the rain subsided we got our campfire going, started cooking our dinner, sipped on our beverages, and talked well into the night catching up on our experiences over the last 18 months on separate continents.

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Day 2 – Saturday

Bishop Creek

The Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains is a veritable anglers paradise. However, knowing where to look can be quite daunting. The Eastern Sierra Nevada rises out of the Owen’s River valley and in a few places the vertical relief between the valley floor and the peaks is over 10,000′(~3,050m)! Because of this extreme topography many of the streams that flow from the Eastern Sierra Nevada are too steep and too short for fish to inhabit. Case in point: much of Olancha Creek is guarded by waterfalls. While the falls are fun to canyoneer they do preclude much of the fishing action to Owen Valley. Which brings me to the next big hurdle of fishing in Owen’s Valley – the brush choked streams.

The first river we checked out was Bishop Creek. Go graciously offered to let me fish first, so I rigged up a short-ish 3 meter nylon line (there was hardly a puff of wind) and began working the first pool. Go who is quite the master angler quietly watched as I tried all the obvious spots in the pool. After a few minutes I had not gotten any bites and was ready to call it quits and try another pool. Go stopped me and suggested I try a spot I had missed. When he pointed it out, I thought to myself “Oh yeah, that is a good holding spot for a fish. How come I missed it?” The first cast to that spot and I landed a beautiful 10 inch Brown Trout.

After that fish I offered to let Go jump ahead but then we realized that he did not have a fishing license. The road was within in eye sight of the river and we both were not comfortable risking it on a weekend so I took point. After half an hour and no more fish action we bailed and headed back into Bishop to get Go a fishing license.

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Owen’s River Gorge

We headed back north towards Owen’s River Gorge. On the way we stopped at the world famous Schatt’s Bakery and got some coffee and sandwiches to go. The hike into ORG was on a paved road and so in short order we were standing on the edge of the river. It did not take long for the fishing action to start.

Between Go & I we probably caught and released close to 50 fish. Despite a massive thunderstorm the fishing action continued unabated. After a few hours we called it quits and decided to keep the last fish I caught for dinner that night.

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The plan originally was to camp in the Buttermilks the second night but the clouds looked very foreboding so we changed our plans and head south to Lone Pine instead.

Alabama Hills Campout

That night Go & I had another delicious meal cooked beside our campfire. Around 10pm though the rain clouds caught up with us and it started to pour. We retreated into my truck and listened to the rainfall for about 20-30 minutes.

After the rain letup the wind was still blowing hard and I was so comfy and wiped out from the full day of fishing that I fell asleep in my truck and woke up well after sunrise the next day!

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Day 3 – Sunday

Lone Pine Creek & Cottonwood Creek

Sunday morning we broke down camp and headed into town to get breakfast at the illustrious Alabama Hills Cafe & Bakery. We got lucky and did not have to wait for a table.

After breakfast we drove towards the Portal. A few miles before the Portal there is a campground where we turned off and then onto an unmarked dirt road. I was following Google satellite images on my trucks navigation and we got pretty close to the base of Lone Pine Peak before the road was blocked by an impassable rock slide.

The hike into the Lone Pine Creek drainage was calm and beautiful. When we arrived at the river I setup my rod and right as I was about to make my first cast a wall of wind slammed into us. I felt compelled to at least try to fish, but wisely Go was not interested. I think he had way more fun watching me fight the stout wind than I did flailing about in the hurricane strength winds…

The river was pretty choked with brush but occasionally there was a spot where I could cast into some amazing plunge pools. The problem was the wind was wreaking havoc with my casts. After a dozen or so snags I called it quits and we headed back to the truck. There was one last river I wanted to check out.

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Cottonwood Creek flows from deep within the Golden Trout Wilderness and can be accessed via a rugged dirt road that threads through Wormhole Canyon. When we arrived though the rain clouds in the high country were beyond ominous looking and the river was totally blown out from melting snow and heavy rain. I tried one cast with my spin rod and promptly got my brand new lure stuck on the opposite bank. Rather than leave it there I risked life and limb to get it back. It was not a wise decision as I nearly got swept away numerous times trying to get across…

Randsburg

Soaking wet, tired, and in sore need of a shower we headed south. The plan was to get lunch in Olancha but when we arrived the cafe was closed even though the sign on the door said open… So, we continued south to the next “big” city Randsburg and had “lunch” at an odd yet quaint cafe/general store. I definitely felt like I had been transported back in time into the wild west.

After lunch Go and I said our goodbyes. He was headed back to Las Vegas and I had a long drive back into San Diego. It had been quite an amazing three days and it was hard to admit that it was over…

On the drive home it rained all the way to Victorville and then I got stuck in some epic traffic. Eventually though I did make it home. Side note: I am quite impressed with my new truck. The 5.3L V-8 averaged 23.4mpg over 975 miles of driving including quite a bit of very fun 4x4ing.


It was a huge blessing to be able to go on the trip and recharged my very depleted batteries so to speak. A big thank you to Go Ishii for making the long trek out and for his patient angling guidance, great cooking, and great company. We had tried several times to get out on a proper genryu adventure in Japan but our schedules never could line up. Finally making it happen in the Eastern Sierra Nevada made the wait well worth it.

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