Finding and Catching Big Brown Trout in Very Shallow Water
Logs & Hogs in the Fog
"It doesn't look much. Just an itty-biddy stream trickling out
onto the beach, but you should see the fish that hang off the little lip
of sand, not a rod length from the beach. I saw one there that I thought
was a log in the water, till it moved. Biggest fish I have ever seen, an
absolute hog of a fish.
I hooked it once but it took off like a high speed torpedo and broke me off. Could not believe a fish that big would be in such shallow water."
I heard this story repeated enough times, by enough different people, about the same stream mouth to spark interest, but not enough to spark action. Too consistent at each telling to be anything other than one of those legends that gets reinforced and embellished by each telling; the actual facts of the tale probably clouded in the fog of myth.
A tale ignored but not forgotten. Filed away in the information stored in the darker recesses of the brain for some purpose or other.
The tale's time would come.
Lake Taupo, in the middle New Zealand's North Island, when the smelt are running is a magic place to fish. Trout gorge themselves on these little fish.
Repairing themselves from the rigours of the spawning runs of our Winter/Spring (May - November), building themselves up for next year's effort.
Most anglers chasing smelting trout concentrate on fishing around and in stream and river mouths, or harling. In NZ 'harling' is usually defined as 'trolling' a fly on a fly rod. Trolling usually refers to pulling a lure, not on a fly rod. Trawling is pulling a net and will get you arrested. from boats. Success comes from both methods, but for me there is another way to fish the smelt runs that is much more satisfying.
Trout chasing the smelt move into very shallow water - sometimes knee deep or less. Sight fishing for these trout is a totally absorbing way to fish.
Wearing a pair of polarised sun-glasses, anglers move slowly and carefully along the shore, at the edge, but not in the water.
The best time to spot fish is when the sun is behind the angler. This makes it easier to see into the water. But, it also makes it easier to cast a shadow over the fish, a sure panic device for trout. (You can disguise your shadow by moving into the shadow of a tree if one is available).
The key is to avoid sudden movement, especially arm movement. Eyes should scan the water in an arc starting from the water's edge, and out to around ninety degrees out from the angler, searching for shadow or movement to reveal the fish.
Starting the scanning arc from right on the beach is important. Trout can be found as in the story above, less than a rod tip from the beach.
'Found' being a relative word. Most often the first sign the angler gets of these super shallow fish is the puff of sand made by the fish as it bolts for deeper water at the sight of the angler.
But sometimes a fish reveals itself by a nose, fins or tail out of the water chasing smelt, almost oblivious to the world, and the angler, around it. Once spotted, the lure or fly is cast out to a position where it can be pulled across the likely path of the trout. Sometimes they bite it.
There is to me another key advantage to this type of fishing. It requires the sun to be well up. The low sun angle of early morning or late afternoon manufactures an impenetrable mirror on the water's surface. Impossible to spot fish. So it is 'bankers' hours' fishing.
Totally absorbing fishing, requiring high concentration,
careful movement, and solitude.
Ah, solitude, now there is a commodity in very short supply on much of the shores of Lake Taupo in peak Xmas-holiday summer season.
What universal rule has decreed, and where is it writ, that the moment an angler finds a quiet cove, a deserted stretch of beach, a stretch of beach with fish actively feeding, a man and a woman appear with two large dogs that immediately bound into the water in boisterous charge after the sticks tossed by their adoring owners?
The dogs and their doting owners followed immediately by a pair of high-speed water-ski boats which deposit children, wives, girl friends, picnics, and sound systems and on the beach, then take off towing athletic young persons around the beach at life threatening speed. Their lives would definitely be under severe threat if you could reach the necks that hold up their stupid unthinking heads.
If I find the book where the rule is writ, I will tear out the damned page.
Frustrated by too many days of interrupted fishing I decided to give up and retire into a book for a few millennia until the crowds subsided.
One morning, at about the time bankers unlock their vaults, lying in bed listening to the sound of boats revving up their motors in preparation for going out to find a secluded cove or beach to annoy an angler, the tale of the log like trout lurched out from the fog of the secluded corners of my brain.
Ten minutes later I was on the beach that parallels the main south road. This beach is about a kilometre long, and shallow. Walking out a hundred yards will not wet the chest of the average man.
But right at the waters edge the beach drops in one or two metres to about mid thigh.
The far northern end of the beach was covered in people, but the southern half was population free. Starting at about mid way down I began to walk slowly along the beach.
My progress was regularly interrupted by the sight of cruising fish, but they were not in feeding mode and my casts only succeeded in putting them into flight.
As I walked along I began to doubt the existence of the famous stream where hogs as big as logs laid wait to engulf the anglers fly. I knew the creek was not at the northern end as I searched that section to no avail. But I persisted in my meandering.
The creek was so small, and I was concentrating so hard on fish spotting, I nearly fell into the miniature gorge it cut through the sand of the beach.
This creek was too small surely? Only a literal hop, step and jump across. There was another clue provided in the stories told about the creek. For part of its length near the beach the creek flowed deep under ground. By all accounts the water in the creek was very cold.
This seemed to be one of its attraction to trout. The bay was so shallow that in summer the water in the bay is warmed. This is ideal for smelt, but less than ideal for trout. Theory is, the trout come to the cold stream mouth to cool off.
Dropping my hand into the creek confirmed that it was cold, very cold. This must be the fabled creek.
Where the creek met the lake, a wide sand fan had formed. This fan dropped sharply into a pool within the lake that was much deeper than the surrounding area.
Probably a cool pool.
As the cool water of the creek washed over the sand fan it picked up some colour. So the water in the pool was a cloudy fog compared to the completely translucent water of the lake that surrounded it.
I moved back from the edge of the water and sat down on a sand bank overlooking the pool. Right at the lip of the sand large shoals of small smelt appeared and then disappeared into the gloom.
So I tied on my small smelt special. It probably has a name, but I don't know it. It is ultra simple to tie.
On a size ten, 2x long, hook, tie on behind the eye a small bunch of white buck tail or white marabou. Over this tie a couple of short lengths of peacock herl, topped with a strand or two of pearl flashabou, wind in a turn or two of bright red wool or floss at the throat, whip finish and go fishing.
Fly ready to go I sat and waited and watched. Persistent watching revealed some bottom features, some weed, a couple of rocks, and four or five logs.
I saw little more, except for the occasional shoal of smelt appearing at the lip edge.
Then suddenly the smelt shoal flashed and burst. Some smelt sought safety in the air, others, most of the others, bolted. Where the smelt had been, was a clear boil of water, a metre across. And then nothing.
Except one of the 'logs' had moved position. Eyes riveted on the moving log through the fog I realised that not only was this log moving, but the one beside it was slowly moving from side to side as well.
Carefully and slowly moving to the edge of the pool I fired out a cast and retrieved the lure across the face of the lip. Not a sausage. More casts, and then more, none tempting enough.
What if I changed the angle, I thought? So I did. I threw in a little reach at the end of the short cast so the fly was swimming up towards the lip. As the stream pushed on the line across its line of flow a short pull jerked the fly back toward the lip.
The change produced the desired result. A fish materialised out of the gloom and the fly disappeared. The fish, a very large rainbow I thought, shot straight out into the lake, with me trying to keep minimal tension on the line as it ran through my fingers. Just as I thought I might get the fish on the reel at last, it suddenly turned and raced back towards me. Panicked I stripped line as fast as I could letting it fall on the sand at my feet. The fish soon came into full view in the clear water beside the stream outlet.
No rainbow this fish. A hog, a veritable log of a brown trout. In the middle of the day, in shallow water? Yes, definitely a brown.
A brute of a fish, maybe too brutish for my six weight outfit? This worry went untested.
The fish saw the beach, saw me, hated what it saw, turned abruptly and headed at high speed to wherever it is that big brown trout go when they don't like what they see.
His progress to wherever it was that he was going impeded only for a short sharp moment when the leader cracked under the unbearable strain imposed by my foot firmly planted on one of the loose coils of fly line.
Losing fish to this sort of stupidity is too common an occurrence for me to become overly emotional about it, but a couple of deeply profane curses vented any residual anger at myself.
And any way where was the other log? Gone, of course.
Visiting this creek and the area around it many times since has produced many fish. Some good fish, up to two and a half kilo (5 to 6lb) and a little more, but never log-like hogs in the fog. But these fish are still there.
How do I know?
The other day, having a few beers with fishy people, I found myself saying, "It doesn't look much, just a tiny stream..."