"Is that your first trout?"
"Yes it is," I replied, flushed with success.
"Well, it is the most expensive fish you will ever catch."
My excitement at catching the fish disappeared at once.
What had I done wrong?
The Avon River, is not high on fishermen's lists of famous trout water. In fact, the piece of the river that flowed alongside Hagley Park, smack in the middle of Christchurch, New Zealand, alongside a busy inner-city road, rated very low indeed. I had never seen anyone fishing there.
However close and lengthy examination of the water, on the way to and from Christchurch Boys High School, had revealed fish.
The River at this point was about a meter deep, from bank to bank. Long strands of weed waved in an irregular dance, in time with the currents. The bottom comprised of stones and rock, poking through the solid mud base.
The trout were hard to spot.
For starters there were few fish. Secondly, they held close alongside, or under the sheltering weed. Lastly, they were Brown trout, notoriously difficult to spot at any time.
With some help, I learned the lesson that it is better to look for movement, rather than the fish. Most often a moving shadow was the first sign. The white flash of an opening, and shutting mouth, became another dead giveaway.
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The fact that the river held fish, visible fish, and was an easy bike ride from home, proved too much of a temptation. I had recently been given a light spinning set-up. A few Zeltic spinners, from Crombe & Merrit in the City, plus some advice on how to catch trout, saw me down by the river one Saturday morning.
My first casts, taught me more lessons. Casting directly to the fish was a definite no, no. Also the line could not pass over the fish before the lure. Any flash from the lure, or line, in the air would send the fish into a mad panic.
The lure had to pass the fish within a foot or so, and within a few centimetres of its depth. Too far away and the lure was studiously ignored. On the few times I managed to get the lure close to the fish, one of two things happened. The fish would swing across to look at the lure, and usually swing straight back to its lie, or it would take one look at the lure and streak off to the middle distance.
Chasing trout proved to be a frustrating exercise.
My previous experience had focused on Kahawai, and Salmon, near the river mouth and in the surf. Casting and retrieving to likely water was all that was required. It was rare to see the fish being cast to.
On the rare occasions I had cast to surface schools of Kahawai, they had been so intent on feeding, the splashdown of the lure in the middle of the school was treated with complete indifference.
I returned home troutless for the following many Saturdays, but each new expedition added to my store of information. I began to identify the lies where trout were likely to be holding. This meant that I wasted far less time looking for fish in fishless places. I learned to cast well ahead of the fish, and by careful line control, waft the lure as close to the fish as possible.
Finally, the inevitable happened, I hooked up.
The fight was short, and the fish was soon lifted out of the water, still dangling from the rod tip, and on to the bank. (Not all lessons are learned at once.) I was totally rapt. Here was a sport that combined hunting and fishing. The chase was as important as the catch.
Many years later a customer in my shop described this in the best way I have heard. He said that the difference between saltwater fishing and trout fishing, is that in trout fishing the foreplay is more important than the climax, and in saltwater the exact opposite is true.
"What have I done wrong, Sir?" I asked, (the "sir" seemed a very good idea under the circumstances at the time), "I have got a license."
"Oh, its not that Sonny," he laughed, "It's just that you think it is the fish that has been hooked. You have got it the wrong way round. You are now hooked for life. It is the most expensive fish you will ever catch."
I was hooked, and I would not hazard a guess on how much money I have spent on chasing more fish.
When I arrived home that afternoon, my parents reckoned that I was still quivering and so was the fish.
Mum prepared the fish that night, a French recipe with almonds as a prominent feature. The result was, in a word, well two words, absolutely disgusting. The trout tasted like mud. I became an avid trout catch and release man long before it became fashionable, and necessary.
It was some time later that I learned that I had in fact been fishing in a banned area. The Ranger who gave me this information, luckily, thought that youth should be encouraged, rather than damned, and directed me to legal, and more fish-holding, water.
Article written by Tony Bishop
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