Tenkara in the Dark . . .
Summer has arrived and with the season comes heat, humidity, and an angler’s need to modify both the technique and time of the fishing in order to optimize the sport’s chief objective: outdoor action.
I usually fish alone, and during the day, but my most recent tenkara trip was an after-work group outing of urban anglers. Tony, Edwin, Jesse, and I, as well as a couple of other friends in the observer role, spread out around the west side of Harlem Meer at dusk in search of a refreshing breeze interspersed with bluegills, largemouth bass, and black crappies.
The slanted evening light spilled over the towers and tree tops alike as I worked a Deer Hair and White soft hackle along the pond’s weed edges. A few bluegills fell for the fly, enough to keep me busy. When I did pause to look up and around me, I was surprised to see another angler, not of my party, also fishing with a long rod. As our trajectories brought us closer and closer together, I took notice of an interesting detail. Something was missing . . . his reel! Yes, I encountered my first tenkara stranger outside of cyberspace. He carried two rods with him so, after introducing ourselves, we took a few minutes to speak the praises of the streamlined simplicity tenkara has given to our city fishing.
Meanwhile, the sun set and conditions changed: the bass remained elusive; the bluegills vanished for the most part. My three compadres had by this time clustered along a favorite strip of shoreline near the southwestern end of the Meer; a spot known for large nighttime bass. Their presence soaked up a majority of the spot’s bank space, so I walked farther east to where a small island forms a channel about thirty feet in width. I was now out of sight, without a light. Night was falling quickly, so before I lost all of the available light, I tied on a small (size 12) Brown Woolly Bugger with a bead head.
A black-crowned night heron and a foraging raccoon joined me by the water as I began to cast into the darkened depths of the Meer. By this time only anglers remained. The joggers and dog walkers had gone back to their air-conditioned indoors.
The pattern’s bead head changed everything. On my first cast I felt a light jiggling take that soon revealed the full extent of the Ebisu model’s flexible 5:5 action. I raised the rod perpendicular to the pond, which coaxed the fish to the surface. The headshaking commenced as well as an impressive spiraling dance. The limber tip registered all of its variations. This back and forth ballet lasted for over a minute before I had control enough to lift a silvery foot-long black crappie onto the bank.
The real challenge (as opposed to the reel challenge) occurred when I attempted to photograph the fish. The most daunting aspect of night fishing, for me, falls under the documentation department. I have a fairly good eye for composition, but my mastery of lighting remains to be seen in the exact sense of the word. The absence of sun, the resulting use of flash, left me with a well-composed, yet blurry, portrait of a big crappie resting parallel to the Ebisu on the damp grass. At least the scale of the fish was documented.
This trip was a group effort, as I mentioned, and that comradery soon proved its worth. Tony was the first to stop by to see why I had disappeared behind the island. The blurry image of the crappie, and another solid jiggling hit right before his eyes, answered him better than any loquacious verbal explanation. He switched to a bead head as well. Soon all four of us were back together, sometimes pulling in a quartet of crappies simultaneously. The action was so good that each one of us was satisfied to pause occasionally to take a snapshot or two . . .
. . . Thanks, Tony!
– rPs 07 02 2012