Here I was, waxing lyrical about the way trout seem to learn from their mistakes, the effects of catch and release and a logical approach to what trout may “think” and then along comes an incident that puts the entire process in the shredder. Or at least apparently so.
Small flies work better don’t they?
I have been firmly convinced for a long time that as catch and release fishing continues so the fish become more discerning and a good deal more tricky to fool. One of the major tactics on dedicated Catch and Release streams then is to “go smaller”. Tiny flies are frequently more effective on “educated trout”, simply in my view because most anglers avoid fishing micro flies much of the time. They are troublesome to tie (or obtain) and tricky to see on the water and the majority of fly fishers will then eschew the advantages in favour of patterns that they can more readily keep an eye on. So the theory goes that the fish start to realize that large tasty looking bugs, out of sync with the real insects present on the stream are likely to result in a stabbing pain in the nose and consequently “learn” to avoid them.
All well and good, perfectly logical in my book and one of the few things on which a fly angler can pretty much “hang his hat”. Small is in general better, except when it isn’t..
Recently my very good mate Mike was fishing a local stream as the water levels dropped from late seasonal rain. With him his fishing buddy Rob, a man of some piscatorial aptitude but equally one who tends not to get bogged down with the minutiae of the sport, taking a rather generalist and pragmatic view of things. One of those happy go lucky rod wielders who are likely to throw caution to the wind and end up out fishing you if you aren’t darned careful.
So it was that with the water rather on the high side of fishable the two compatriots set about working their way upstream, on a particularly good, and often technically demanding stream. They fished a variety of methods, Czech Style nymphing, Mono nymphing, Dry fly and dropper rigs and all sorts as the water changed about them. The heavy stuff in the faster pockets and more generalist approaches to the slower sections, normally one might expect the fishing to be a tad more easy in the higher water but at the same time presentation of the fly under such circumstances can be something of a struggle.
Apparently at some point, Rob, having battled to keep his dry fly afloat under the anchor like influences of his heavy nymph, tied onto the leader a fly of not inconsequential proportion. In fact Mike described the fly to me as an “overdressed, large (size 10), baby hedgehog pattern”. A fly that no self respecting and well educated trout should so much as sniff at and indeed they didn’t. For most of the day not a fish even looked at this veritable monstrosity, they all came to the subsurface nymph and the dry fly (if a hedgehog pattern might be referred to as such), was simply there to serve the function of a strike indicator.
However fishing along the edges of a wide and rather rapid run, which generally holds fish under the bushes on the right hand bank Rob was casting away merrily into the slightly less rapid run on the left when the Jaws like maw of a large trout confidently broke the surface and inhaled the “Hedgehog”. Mike immediately realized the fish was well above average size for this particular stream and screamed advice to Rob not to go for the net too soon as he was sure the fish was going to “do a runner” at any moment. It turned out that with some careful manipulation of rod and line Rob successfully landed the fish after something of an extended battle. According to Mike later, the effort was aided by the fact that Rob was using unusually stout nylon, somewhere around 4 or 5 X and far too thick for fishing these streams under normal circumstances, (I seem to recall that in the telling Mike may have suggested the tippet would be better used to tie up a small boat, but that could be simply my imagination). However, not withstanding that he was breaking all the rules, massive fly, thick leader etc, there was Rob standing in the stream with the trout of , if not a lifetime, at least the fish of the season.
One could easily write off the episode as simply good fortune, the fish starving after a long winter (although it was far from skinny), the water a tad coloured and running high, it at first glance puts a spanner in the works of all my thoughts on selectivity, presentation and the educated trout.
Or to misquote a popular if negative phraseology “It is a good theory, watch some B******* spoil it.”
To almost all regular fishers of these waters, catching such a fantastic fish with such gear is near to heresy so why should the trout show such aberrant disregard for what we all assume to be perfect logic?
Perhaps trout only learn what we choose to “teach” them?
I think that it may just be that over the years the practice of catch and release combined with the ever continuing “arms race’ between angler and quarry has meant that for much of the time, more and more anglers are avoiding really large flies. So that where in the past fish have learned that consumption of large , even if apparently real, flies, is an unwarranted risk, now they would rarely see a massive fly on the water that wasn’t indeed real. It is possible that having taken advantage of the odd windfall of a large beetle, dragonfly or perhaps hopper over the years without any ill effect a fish such as the one described would feel confident in inhaling a relatively massive pattern.
I can’t profess to understand trout, but I do have an inherent belief that few things happen in the natural world that are not logical, even if we as observers cannot see that logic, and it strikes me that if this spectacular fish ate Rob’s imitation then there has to be a logical explanation as to why.
To me it may be an indication that larger flies may well start to make something of a comeback on our waters, at least until everyone starts to use them and then the fish will wise up again and the cycle will be repeated.
More food for thought I suppose, but perhaps these vagaries are what in the end makes fly fishing for trout such an entertaining pursuit. It sometimes appears to be as illogical as female shopping behavior, but I think that I may just be getting some understanding of the trout and the shopping thing is still a mystery. Perhaps that is at least some sort of progress?