He was perhaps fifty. This estimate is subject to a too-long-ago early teenage memory. Everyone over 20 seemed old at that time.
Fishing a wet-line, he had moved to halfway down the pool. Permission to enter the pool requested and granted, and I waded out to mid-thigh at the head of the pool above him. My first cast nearly fell on the opposite bank. Back then, to my immature mind, casting long distances seemed to be the prime distinguishing feature between a real fisherman and a duffer.
"Fush yer feet firrst", he grunted.
"I beg your pardon?" I said, in the deference to age that was still quite common in those days.
"Fish your feet first", he slowly and more clearly enunciated, "you have just put down some good fish".
I did not have a clue what he was on about, but soon all was revealed.
He backed out of the pool, and asked me to join him up on the bank, 5 meters above the pool. There he carefully, and patiently pointed out prime trout 'lies' in the pool, and suggested some of the best ways to swing my flies through those lies.
However the thing that turned his theoretical explanations into indelible experience, was the sight of a shadow moving from the deep water, across to place where I had been standing.
The shadow solidified into a trout, which took up station behind a rock very close to where I had been standing, casting. Another shadow moved into view and slid alongside a clump of weed just below the first seen trout.
The fish had been right at my feet. Well, they were, until I blundered into their lie.
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He quietly explained, that the first thing a good angler should do approaching a pool, is nothing.
Nothing in the water that is.
I should from a good vantage point, study the water, and try to identify where fish would most likely be holding.
To prove his points he guided me back down to the head of the pool. Under his close supervision and in no more than ankle deep water, I began casting, at first short, then longer casts. Covering the water completely and very thoroughly, we worked our way down the pool in close tandem, sometimes wading shallow, sometimes waist deep.
All the time we were conscious of the need to place ourselves in careful position to best present the fly to probable lies. We caught fish.
At home time I thanked my mentor. He replied that thanks were unnecessary as he was only helping himself. My bumbling into the pool had not only put down my fish but their panic had most likely put down his fish as well. His tuition would reduce the chances of a novice ruining his fishing again.
A great attitude, and one that would solve a lot of problems on the more crowded rivers of today.
The fish your feet message, I found, applied to other forms of fishing.
On moving to Auckland, New Zealand in my late teens, I took up rock fishing. For a time I followed the herd and tossed heavy sinkers into the middle distance. I quickly came to believe in the old put-down that the great thing about surfcasting is that you never have to worry about cleaning the fish.
It was not until I watched some Alvey men throwing unweighted baits into the wash close to the rocks, and catching fish, that the 'fish your feet' advice for trout fishing came to a new home on the rocks.
It did not take too long to work out that bait fish used the wash from the rocks as a food source and cover from predators. Predators are where the prey is, so where should I be casting? Simple really.
Sinkers spurned, fish cleaning in the kitchen sink, once again tested my mothers fish-smell hating patience.
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Letting the brain work a little more laterally, the 'fish your feet' theory can be applied to fishing from a boat as well.
My family spent 15 summer holidays, at a little piece of paradise, just south of Cape Brett, Northland, New Zealand. A tinny (Kiwi speak for an aluminium dinghy) is the only boat able to be launched off the beach. Eddie, the Lad, and I probed the coast for miles around our bay.
The then, Cultural Attaché and Profit Disbursement Manager fished infrequently, and mostly reluctantly. However on still, oily calm nights, she could be encouraged to spend a couple of hours chasing snapper.
This night, a late start constrained my usual inclination to zoom up the coast a mile or so to one of my 'spots'. Instead we dropped anchor not 100 meters from the beach, over a small patch of reef. In the fading light we could see the bottom clearly below.
Did we catch some fish? Well, she did. I spent a busy hour or so baiting her hand line and removing fish. There were some good fish too.
As we sat there, she hauling in fish after fish, we watched the other tinnies tearing past us to reach spots up and down the coast. This little reef has yielded many fish, since then, and still the other tinnies roar past.
Closer to home, one of the spots that consistently, produces fish, is not 500 meters from the Takapuna Coastal suburb of Auckland City, NZ, boat ramp, and with a surrounding view of Auckland City. The Lad and I have spent many evenings there pulling a feed of snapper, watching boats speed past on their way to far distant fishing grounds.
As a brief aside, I find there is something magical about the ability to sit in a boat, close to shore, surrounded by the lights of a big city, catching fish. Something about, we don't know how lucky we are, springs to mind.
I guess that fishing your feet is an attitude of mind about fishing in general.
Sometimes it requires a quick reassessment of our fishing objectives, and the strategies we apply, to achieve those objectives. Too often excitement and anticipation sweep common sense to the very back of the brain.
Nowadays I find that before I blunder into a pool, before I try to cast to the far bank, before I try to cast to Australia, before I motor into the deep blue beyond, a quick glance at my feet slows down the adrenaline rush.
There is something extraordinarily satisfying about quietly contemplating a course of action and then, a plan hatched, putting it into practice and achieving a measure of success. But then, maybe all this is some form of passing the baton received in that trout pool so many years ago. My 70th flew past without time slowing down for a second.
Article written by Tony Bishop (Bish)
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