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Adventure, Fish / September 4, 2016

Tenkara fishing the Pacific Crest Trail

Written by: Stewart Moore

On the trail, it’s best to fish in the late evening and in your underwear.

At least, that’s what I did. After a 20-mile day on the Pacific Crest Trail, I would toss off my pack, strip down, and break out my Tenkara rod at the nearest piece of water. I did this every night on this section: a 127-mile commute linking the Tahoe Rim Trail to the John Muir Trail.

Fishing in your underwear allows you to get in the water without wetting your clothes. Then, if you don’t catch anything, you can just jump right in to wash off the dirt and grime of the day.

This only works at the magic hour, of course, before or after the mosquitoes swarm. Miss that sweet spot, and you won’t catch a thing. You’ll be far too busy swatting insects and cursing.

Among anglers, the mountains are something of legend for their isolated streams and lakes teeming with trout. Among long-distance hikers, the Sierras are better known for their mosquitoes. Many of the hikers I saw along this stretch carried a fly fishing rod. All of them carried DEET.


Fly fishing while hiking 20-plus mile days involves two major challenges: pack weight and rod set-up time.

In the world of thru-hiking, every ounce counts. My traditional rod, reel, and protective case weighed in at around 32 ounces. That was an extra two pounds I’d have to carry every step of my 529-mile journey from South Lake Tahoe to Mount Whitney.

Likewise, the 10 minutes it took to set up and break down my traditional fly rod would add up to hours. Hours I could better spend hiking to or from camp.

Before I set out on my hike, these concerns led me to Tenkara. That’s a Japanese style of fixed-line fly fishing that forgoes the reel, extra line, and a great deal of hassle.

Fly fishing die-hards hate on Tenkara. It’s widely viewed as too simple—as an entry point for kids and first-times into “real” fly fishing.

But it’s perfect for backing. Without its protective case, my telescope Rhodo rod weighed in at just 2.1 ounces. It slipped easily into the side of my pack and could be set up or broken down in less than a minute.

The weighted line attached to the rod with a simple cow hitch, and a fly could even be left on the tippet for immediate casting. With three adjustable lengths ranging from 8’10” to 10’6”, the Rhodo adapted seamlessly from small, tight streams to large, open lakes. That made it perfect for the wide diversity of water sources encountered along the Pacific Crest Trail.


Travelling over Sonora Pass and crossing into Yosemite, I found myself coupling mid-day water-filtering breaks with five or 10 minutes of fishing. Almost without fail, a trout would surface to take my fly while I cast upstream in the canyons and meadows.

Long distance hiking can get monotonous. Few things spice it up like the excitement of a taught line and a glimpse into life below the surface.

about the author

Stewart Moore

Stewart Moore is a writer and endurance athlete based in Fort Collins, Colorado. Originally from Alabama, Stewart has hiked over 1,000 solo miles, completing the Colorado Trail in 2015 and a 500+ mile trip linking the Tahoe Rim Trail and the John Muir Trail together via the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016. Outside of hiking, Stewart enjoys trail running, snowboarding, ice climbing, fly fishing, and yoga (subjects which he also finds himself writing about).

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