My father reckoned that if you do not learn something new every day, you should pinch yourself because you could be dead. I reckon this adage has got to be very true in the field of trout fishing. If ever you think you have got it sussed, trout will soon show you how wrong you are. A case in point.
In June 1998 I was fishing the Hatepe rip down at Lake Taupo (central North Island NZ) as the sun began its last hour’s rush towards the horizon. I was in the company of three other anglers. I fished the left-hand side of the rip using a Booby fly off a fast-sinking shooting head. Two blokes were in the middle of the rip fishing sinking lines to traditional type flies, Rabbits and Red Setters.
But it was the bloke fishing the right hand side of the rip that caught my interest. He was using one lightly weighted nymph and an unweighted nymph on a three-metre trace, fished below an indicator, with a floating line.
My first thought – patronising old fart that I can be – was that he was a ‘duffer’ who did not know what he was doing.
He would roll-cast out his nymphs, only five or six metres in front of him, puddling his line in a series of curves between him and the indicator. Then as the slight current out there at the side of the rip picked up his line, he regularly flicked more line into the water in front of him.
The indicator revealed the slow progress of the nymphs as they meandered out in the swirling current. Once all the fly-line was out in the current he very slowly twitched the line back towards him.
For about a half-hour all four of us engaged in the usual rip-ritual of casting and retrieving, each silently saying to ourselves that the fish would come on as dusk descended. For my part I was very confident that if my Booby was not getting hit then the fish were not about – such is my faith in the fly.
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I was idly watching the indicator of the man on the right as it drifted away, when I saw it dip below the surface. The angler immediately – and this is important – swung the rod tip in an arc across and just above the surface of the water, at the same time using his line hand to pull on the line.
The fish boiled on the surface and then raced off across the bottom away from the rip. Once the angler got the loose coils of line on the reel he began the walk back to the beach where he landed a lovely six-pound hen.
The two in the middle of the rip declared this feat to be ‘beginner’s luck’, but I was by now less sure that was the case. My doubt was reinforced over the next hour.
This fish signaled the pre-dark activity and over the hour I caught a couple of fish, the guys in the middle of the rip caught one between them, and the ‘duffer’ on the right caught another two.
“There’s a lesson in here somewhere methinks,” I thought as I wandered back towards the beach heading for a bite to eat before I made another foray that night.
Later that night I wandered back down to the rip. A three-quarter moon mostly screened by cloud cover made it dark enough to fish but not too dark to see what was going on around me.
As I wandered down the road to the river mouth the nymph fisherman joined me. He was still rigged up with a floating line and an indicator. But he had changed flies. Now he had on at the top a size 12 gold-bead nymph with a couple of turns of lumo as a body and a little tuft of black marabou as a tail. Below this was a size 12 hook, no bead, two turns of lumo as a body and again a tuft of black marabou as a tail.
I had on a black-eyed Booby, size 10 hook with a couple of turns of lumo as a body and a small tuft of black marabou as a tail. At night I would normally back this fly against all others. It was going to be interesting to see what happened.
We were the only two out that night – me to the left of the rip – fishing the current edge, he to the right of the rip fishing just off the edge of the current.
This time the nymph angler changed tactics. Instead of the short cast followed by the outward drift he cast way out – and I mean way out. For a duffer he cast a mean line, he must have been giving close to the whole fly-line an airing. He gave the nymphs a good time to sink and then began a very slow two- or three-inch twitching retrieve. Every now and then he would pause the retrieve to give the nymphs time to re-sink. I noticed that this time he maintained a tight line to the nymphs.
It took me a while to work out why he did not use the same tactic as he had during the afternoon – casting out a short distance in front of him, and flicking out slack line as the fly drifted away. It was simply because he could not see the indicator, so he needed a tight line to detect a take.
Over the next hour and a half or so we both caught and released four fish, and driven away by the cold, we both walked out and talked together.
Seemed the nymph fishermen had not seen his technique used somewhere else, it was just something he decided to give a go. He reasoned that if during the day nymphs were used in rivers and successfully caught fish surely they would work in the ‘extension’ of the river as it flowed into the lake. His logic on the evidence of earlier in the day was hard to beat.
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But night fishing, that was a different thing entirely.
Both of us had used small luminescent flies when fishing at night, regardless of the line we were using. Mostly we had used floating lines off the main rip, with something dark to sink the leader, and a small (10 or 12) fly made of just a few turns of lumo as a body. I had taken this small fly theme and used it on the black Booby described earlier.
He had taken his daytime nymph theme and adapted it to night fishing.
Both of us agreed that, in essence, our techniques achieved much the same thing at night. The slow twitching retrieve of the Booby caused the fly to sink to the bottom, and then bob up. His twitching retrieve using the indicator as a float caused his flies to dart up during the pull, and fall back down during the pause. Because he could not see the indicator at night he fished with a tight line, as the hook needed to be set by touch, not sight.
It is the daytime technique that intrigues me most, but with the caveat that unless the hook set is done properly, it is hard to get fish to stick. Because the line is drifting away from you, and you must put slack in the system to achieve a good drift of the fly, there is a lot of slack in the system when it comes to setting the hook.
This is why it is so important to set the hook by sweeping the rod in an arc with the rod tip close to the water. This tends to pull the line against the ‘grip’ of the water, thus moving the end of the line where the hook is. If you strike by lifting the rod tip into the air all it will achieve is to lift some slack off the water, and not move the end of the line, and not set the hook.
Subsequent to this night I have tried the technique on many occasions. On each occasion I have caught fish.
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The Dance of the Desparates
One thing my Guide friends moan about their clients is what happens immediately a fish is hooked. You can see this time and time again, on the water or in videos.
The fish is hooked and immediately the angler raises arm, hand and rod to point vertically above his or her head.
Now what? There is going to be trouble right here in river city!
Catch and Release Dogma
Most aspects of human endeavour have collected their share of dogma and cant.
Trout fishing is one sport where a short-sighted, blinkered view of how things could and should be done is rife amongst a self appointed ‘elite’.
One aspect these dogmatists latch onto with total disregard for the fishery they are fishing in, is catch and release. According to them, all trout should be released in any water, anywhere. This is nonsense.
(In fact strict adherence to C & R in all trout water may indeed kill off the sport - a number of European countries now ban Catch and Release.)