I stood there, tenkara rod in hand, and stared at the grass carp.
In all seriousness, it had to have been nearly four feet long. It’s back and tail were out of the water, and what was exposed of this creature was bigger than most trout I catch. I could see its mouth opening and closing from time to time. It looked like I could have fit my fist into its maw.
I made a cast to it, consciously suppressing the instinctive mental process of playing out the most likely scenarios. Many of these would result in a lost fly, a lost fish, or a broken rod.
Suddenly the line went tight. Not a slamming take like a bass, just a hard pull in the opposite direction. I set the hook and the water exploded. The carp did a 180-degree turn and sent splashes up onto the bank. However, the stimuli I was taking in with my eyes betrayed what I was feeling with my hands. The throbbing and tugging didn’t match up with the violent run I saw the carp take.
As quick as I set the hook and became very confused, I saw the sunfish surface. In hooking this panfish right in front of the carp, I spooked the much larger animal.
Upon releasing the (quite nice, actually) sunfish, I allowed the suppressed cognitive simulations to remind me that I was under-gunned and outmatched. That carp would have taken my seventeen feet of line and tippet in a direct angle away from me, and the rod would have snapped at any number of places.
I recalled a conversation I had with Daniel Gelhardo, owner of Tenkara USA, this winter. I was telling him that I mainly fish with a tenkara rod in the suburban ponds around my home. The long, sensitive rod is perfect for big panfish and bass. I asked him if he thought that my Iwana could handle grass carp. He laughed, and replied with something to the effect of: “that really isn’t what these are made for… but give it a shot and we’ll repair your rod!” This, coming from a man who flaunts the versatility and surprising strength of the technique and tackle.
It all comes down to simply wanting to catch a fish. We’ve all probably done it, from time to time. Fishing light fly tackle in the salt, you might see a big shark swim by. Simply out of “OH A BIG FISH!” you make a cast. Using a three weight on the spring creek is perfect for small dries and scuds, but you’ll heave a big and heavy sculpin imitation into the dark green hole under the bridge… just to see what might happen.
There is a disconnect somewhere in our brain, where certain things – like big fish – trump a usually logical and deliberate routine. The modern philosopher, Jeff Foxworthy, says that the most famous last words of a particular demographic (characterized by sun over-exposure on the nape) are “hey y’all, check this out!” Truth. A shark, massive trout, or giant carp will freeze an angler and reduce him or her to a Neanderthalistic “CAST TO FISH!”
I know I can’t be alone in this. I make dumb decisions when there is no reason for discernment to not be the name of the game. Maybe it is the slight possibility that it could work out in my favor that pushes me over the edge. In all actuality, how many fish do I catch simply because the stars aligned?
That night, I casted to two or three other giant grass carp as I pondered this question. I figure that I’ll have a good answer in a few decades, after I break a couple more fly rods.