A Late Autumn Tenkara Trick

A Late Autumn Tenkara Trick . . .

Harlem Meer in November: The fish are there . . . but where? (photo taken 11 12 2012)

Fish do not disappear. They are always there, somewhere within the course of a flow or the confines of a stillwater. A pond fed by a spring, or a manmade impoundment unconnected to a river or stream, supports fish in a fixed area, but at various locations according to the season. Think of the water as a three-dimensional space akin to a house with multiple rooms, each of which becomes the kitchen at a different time of the day, or the year.

When the leaves are mostly down and the shoreline reeds go brown, bass and bluegill tend to bunch up near points and drop offs. This type of cover is static, unlike that afforded by the cyclical growth of vegetation. The plant matter does remain as litter on the bottom and stalks along the edges, which give fish something other than shelter. What earlier in the year provided shade or a hiding place for the predator has become a source of nutrition for the prey. The beneficiary is a major fish food source and subject for a subsequent set of fly patterns: the nymph.

Fallow vegetation along a point on the water’s edge attracts nymphs, and by extension, gamefish. (photo taken 11 12 2012)

Fished slowly along a pond’s leaf-littered bottom, the nymph may be the very best fly fishing (and tenkara) trick available to the autumn-season pond angler. One particular retrieve works very well with the long tenkara rod and level line. The tactic takes a tenkara limitation and transforms it into an asset. Since tenkara anglers cannot strip in a flyline, or inch in a flyline, through guides, the solution is a long, slow lift to simulate a nymph leaving the bottom. Pulses and other incremental retrieval motions are not necessary, and in fact would only interfere with the best presentation. What is needed is patience and resilient shoulder muscles. Once the cast is made, and time taken for the nymph to settle on or near the bottom, what follows is a very slow, very steady, vertical lift of the rod arm that takes into account the crawling pace of insect larvae. Reliable patterns include: Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail, Prince, Zug Bug, even the Copper John, in sizes 10 through 14.

Evaluation day came when I met my coworker Jesse Valentin on a sunny November Monday off from the fly shop. We were lucky to enjoy a free day at Harlem Meer during one of the last periods of jacket and sweatshirt weather. The sun was gold, the sky pale blue, the surrounding trees brown, holding just a scattered few leaves that resembled little flags rippling in the damp breeze. He chose to work the edges with a spinning rod and jig pattern. I knotted on a size 14 Olive Hare’s Ear. Each of us worked our lure slowly, methodically. The Hare’s Ear scored first with the bluegill.

This bluegill pounced on an Olive Hare’s Ear nymph during the middle of November and in the middle of Manhattan. (photo taken 11 12 2012)

Jesse connected with a small largemouth shortly thereafter. We were both now on the board and eager to keep moving, working the banks. He pulled ahead, as I was putting my tenkara slow nymphing trick to a serious test. I scored a passing grade of sorts  when my own rod bent to the strong dives of a largemouth bass.

Largemouth bass like the slow nymph, too! (photo taken 11 12 2012)

While I cannot yet submit this tactic for inclusion into the tenkara canon, I do stand by late-autumn nymphing for stillwater bass and bluegill, and believe the tenkara rod to be the best vehicle. The only drawback to this type of slow fishing is the ironic quickness of a day’s passage at this time of year. Jesse and I had barely moved beyond the initial euphoria of our back-to-back bass when the sun dropped behind the trees, the wind increased, and the cold came out to tell us to head for home.

– rPs 11 28 2012

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