Eddie, the no-longer lad, and me, sneaked away for a fishing weekend down at Lake Taupo, Central North Island, New Zealand.
In fact this trip was something of a standout in itself; these days Eddie and I get to fish alongside each other far too infrequently. He, currently living in London, and me in New Zealand, sees to that.
We arrived on Friday night at Hatepe on the eastern side of Lake Taupo, to be met by a river in mini-flood, and all the nearby rivers in worse condition. Things did not look good. But a couple of calls to local gurus suggested that a trek round to the Western bays of the lake might coincide with a flush of smelt in the shallows.
Given that our options were limited we decided to drive around in the morning and see what we could produce. Wise decision.
Next morning Eddie tied up some smelt flies - his own concoction.
A size ten, 2x long, hook with a pearl glass bead at the eye, some blue sparkly-stuff as a body, and a tuft of white marabou as a tail with a few strands of stiff fish-hair mixed in to stop the tail wrapping around the hook bend.
I was impatient to leave and Eddie was only able to complete three or four of Eddie's 'Blue Dudes' before we left. Bad decision.
We arrived at one of the western bays to find the shallows full of smelt, and fish regularly reducing their populations in swirling rises along the beach. I decided in deference to my being completely overcome with a bout of laziness to pursue the fish close at hand - Eddie deciding to strike out along the beach to the south.
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Over the next hour I caught two fish of average quality, around 2.5kg (5lb), but this was certainly not the smelt fishing I have grown to know and love.
Usually when smelt fishing, I sneak along the beach carefully scanning the water with my Polaroid enhanced eyesight for fish. Once spotted I make a careful cast in front of the fish, a twitch, or two and the fish either eats the fly or it does not.
Hunting and fishing at the same time - great stuff.
But this morning the sun was shining off the water towards me and a small wind riffle conspired to make spotting fish almost and mostly impossible. However by watching the pattern of the rising fish I was able to guess, well twice at least, where the fish might be and put in fly in the right place.
By this time Eddie had reached the southern end of the beach and was fishing off some rocks. I noticed that regularly he climbed off the rocks and was soon seen bending down in the shallows.
Intrigued I walked off in his direction to see what he was up to.
Ten minutes later I climbed out onto the rocks at my end of a small bay, but could not reach Eddie, (could have - if I had worn waders), only some fifty metres away on an outcrop of rocks at the other end of the small bay. Eddie called out that he had a big school of smelt in around the rocks and trout were constantly attacking them, he had already caught and released five fish.
Looking down into the water off the rocks in front of me I too could see the water was full of smelt and there too were five or six trout.
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The game began - just like fishing in a goldfish bowl.
I tried all my old favourite smelt flies - cast them out - let them sink - retrieve with a jerking motion - not a touch. Trouble was the fish were so damn close to the rocks I was standing on, there was very little room to cast, and let the fly sink and retrieve.
Meantime Eddie was having a ball - the flies he tied in the morning were killing them. I watched as he caught two more fish - both fish taking the fly from under the rod tip.
Once while watching the lad landing a fish, I stopped retrieving. Suddenly I felt the line tighten and a fish took off with the fly. I landed the fish and let it go and returned to the top of the rock - and returned to my previous method of fishing - sometimes the time I take to learn lessons that are very self-evident amazes me.
A while ago I wrote an article in NZ Fisherman called "Plucking Pluckers". This article was about the fact that while trout predominantly take food by opening their mouths and flaring their gills to suck in food, very often they do bite at food, especially smelt.
Hidden away in this story was my observation that trout sometimes act like large saltwater predator fish, charging into balls of smelt flailing away with head, teeth and tail, then turning back to pick up the stunned and damaged fish.
Here right in front of me was the very thing happening.
A trout would slash into the tightly packed schools of smelt and then turn and pick up the stunned and injured.
Eddie with his fly tied behind a heavy nymph, used purely as a sinking weight, had got the action right. He just flicked out the fly to the edge of the smelt, hardly more than the leader away and let the fly sink.
When a trout slashed through the school he would lift the fly up and then let it sink. Too often to be truly comfortable for my ego, a trout would grab his sinking smelt.
Sooner or later I had to get the message - and I did.
I tied on a silicone smelt and waited. Soon a trout slashed through the school and I dropped the fly into the swirl of water left by the trout, and watched as it turned and almost leisurely sucked in my fly.
Magic when you finally work it out.
For two or so hours Eddie and I enjoyed superb sport. Catching and releasing fish - catching fish we could see not a rod length in front of us. Stand out stuff.
There was another point of note. Eddie's catch rate was about double mine, but when Eddie finally ran out of his Blue Dudes his catch rate dropped back to about mine. Got to be a message in there somewhere.
Then, for reasons that completely mystify me, the trout simply disappeared.
The smelt were still there, in fact there may have been even more of them. All of a sudden the smelt started to swim leisurely around the rocks, and spread out over a wider area.
The trout were gone.
We waited of course, hoping the magic was not yet over, but it was. So we left - mystified, but happy. Eddie had landed and released over nine fish - me just over half that.
A magic few hours. Some lessons learned too. Some theories cemented into more solid fact - that for me really makes a day stand out.
Article written by Tony Bishop
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