Essay by David West Beale
The fish in this picture is a stand-in for the one I want to show you. Oh, so badly want to show you. It’s similar, the scenario is similar. A wild brown trout from the same river catchment, caught by me, accidentally and out of season, while fishing tenkara for in-season grayling. There the similarity ends. Because the trout I want to show you is about five times bigger.
It out-smarts me before I can get a photo. This is a shame because out of season or not, it’s the biggest wild brownie I’ve ever caught, by any method, and an absolute monster for the river in question. A yard long, scaled from my net, if mere numbers could do justice to such a magnificent fish. And the problem is, it’s way too big to fit into my scoop net, which up until just now seemed quite a big scoop net.
In all honesty I’m not even sure I can claim I’ve caught it all, as it stays in my net only momentarily, half in – half out, before flipping swiftly back into the river, snapping the 5lb tippet as if mere formality. It looks for all the world like a torpedo with spots as it runs past my waders, showing me who really is boss in this river. Today it isn’t me. On closer inspection I see that the point fly in my grayling team has snagged in the mesh, allowing the trout to snap its short, taught, fluorocarbon leash. My little barbless kebari was only lip hooked though, so most likely shed in that same instant, or shortly after.
Anyway, I didn’t actually touch the fish, and even if I did it would still be out of season, so I guess it doesn’t count. But there again, my friend fishing with me says it was in the net, so it does count after all, close season or no. My ego is feeling fragile, so I’m inclined to believe him.
All of which leaves me with a number of burning questions, not least of which is that I can’t actually work out if I’m happy or sad. I think that writing this might be a kind of therapy to help me find the answer.
Happy that I connected with such a rare creature and successfully played a fish of this size to the net with tenkara. I’m pretty sure too that I got the job done more quickly than many western anglers would, comprehensively dispelling the myth that tenkara is by default harder on the fish than running-line tackle. It’s worth noting though that I’m fishing with the Hellbender, a big fish rod from DRAGONtail Tenkara that has proven its worth time and again.
Nevertheless, this was a powerful fish and smart with it, boring deep and making several runs towards the rapid water in mid-channel. This would surely have parted my line with the weight of water-drag alone. Except that I’ve read the advice on fighting big fish with tenkara, I’ve even deployed it once or twice myself before (though not quite at this magnitude) and guess what? The advice is sage, it works.
So, I step back and take the fish away from the area where it was first hooked, I apply side strain to turn each run it makes for heavy water because I know if it gets there I’m smoked. I allow my fish to cruise around in the calmer slack water for a while instead of piling on the pressure, and this seems to calm it right down. With the lightest grip of a ‘soft hand’ I can now draw the fish to my net. All the above goes so smoothly that I’m lulled into a false sense of security, so that now I am already planning my hero shot in self-congratulation. Except Fish has different ideas. And looking back I can’t help thinking that Fish was just biding its time. Oh well, I guess you don’t get this big by being a dumb-ass.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019-2020 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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