In Japan, the best angler is often considered to be the one who can catch the smallest of fish. Tanago fishing is a unique sport with a long history in Japanese sport and lore. The tackle consists of the smallest of rods with the smallest of hooks, and before the advent of nylon lines, a woman’s long hair.
Maybe I was born at the wrong time on the wrong side of the world.
Let’s go back a few days for the main text of this story. We had a couple of weeks worth of warm weather with rain mixed in periodically. Between the air temperature and the warm rains, the rivers and lakes warmed up rather quickly, finally hitting the mid 60s. The various species of fish had begun their spawn cycles, one after another.
And there was a largemouth bass tournament. I had never really fished a true bass tournament, and this was a kayak only tournament, so I decided to give it a go. There would be people I knew competing, and many more I did not know. My only worries were I would not catch anything, finish dead last, and either embarrass myself or the companies I represent.
However, I am not one to get caught up in whether people laugh at me or not. In fact, I laugh at myself aplenty. Let’s face it, you have to have thick skin and a sense of humor in just putting your life out in front of thousands of people in these words each week.
I watched the weather during the week leading into the tournament and realized it was going to be much more difficult than I originally thought even though we would be fishing on one of the state’s premiere bass fisheries. The weekend was shaping to take a nose dive in temperature, and rain was likely going to set in early as well. Just enough to kill the bite. As if I needed more obstacles than the nearly 100 other competitors to contend with.
Having never fished the lake, I put in hour after hour of internet scouting. I read reports from forums dating back several years during the same monthly time periods to see what was used to catch the lunkers as well as what didn’t work. I watched Youtube videos taking note in where they were fishing, how they were fishing, and what time of year they were fishing the lake. I scoured over Google Earth, Yahoo maps, and Navionics trying to determine the best locations for plan A, plan B, plan C, and so forth.
I set up four of my Denali rods with different lines and lures, ranging from top water plugs and chatter baits, to worms and plastics, and even my favorite, a Beetle-spin. My thought process was three small bass would likely out do one large one if the fishing become tough. Therefore the Beetle-spin may be my salvation, and I could try and upgrade from there.
After getting the launch word that morning, myself and 85 other kayak anglers began paddling to our plan A locations. My first target would be about a mile and a half down the lake and then work my way back towards the check in location throughout the day. I found a small cove that I was able to paddle into and hog from the other competitors and began making casts with a jitterbug. No luck. I switched to a large double spinner, only because I spotted a couple of bass in the cove breaking surface and tailing.
Second cast of the double spinner and I had a thump. Then another. Boom! I embedded the hook with a firm set but immediately realized this was a small fish, but one nonetheless. Another angler down the bank from me yelled “fish on!” and I noticed every one of the dozen or so kayakers turn my way to see what I was about to reel in.
It was a crappie. He was a nice size, but it was a crappie. One guy yelled over to me “how big?”
“It doesn’t matter, it is a crappie. I’m not on the board”
And then the rain hit. I fished and fished and just didn’t get a hit. I tried different lures, different techniques, and different depths with no luck. Then, while peppering a rock ledge near a bridge, the same double spinner I used on the crappie felt as though it went flat. I didn’t have the pull of the spinners spinning any longer. As the lure breached the surface of the water I realized why.
Fish on! Or maybe it should be more like “fish on?”
I proceeded to pull a threadfin shad from his watery home with a hook over half his body length. A clean hook set too, not a snag or foul hook. I am still unsure how the barb of the hook was able to pass into his miniature mouth, but it did.
That would prove to be my last fish of the tournament.
If I existed in ancient and not-so-ancient Japan, I would likely have been sitting atop my kayak in wanderment, instead of wonderment. At least I would have been a great angler at some point in history.