Memory

Memory.

How Small a Trout, Every Day in May Challenge.

Much has been made of trout’s memory, or lack thereof, and anglers differ in their views of what fish do and don’t recall from previous encounters. Do they remember the fly or the mistakes they made, do they become smarter? (In my opinion they do and on catch and release waters they definitely get harder to catch). But what of our memories, what do anglers recall, what pleases us or haunts us as the years pass?

Probably most of us have caught hundreds of fish, perhaps even tens of thousands and which ones do you recall? For me it is the ones that I didn’t catch that remain clearly engraved in my cerebrum. Those fish which by ill fortune or poor planning were lost or missed only to live on in glorious Technicolor beneath the sweated brow of troubled dreams.

There is for instance a very large brown trout which haunts me still. I brought him up to the fly against a brambled bank on the Mooi River during a competitive session in the South African Team trials years back. A tricky little back eddy amongst the overhanging blackberry bushes which required a dangerously adventurous cast with disaster only inches away. The fish rose wraithlike from the depths as I mended the line and the fly hovered for a second before twitching in the current. That twitch was sufficient to change his mind as to the wisdom of engulfing my offering and he faded back into the slightly coloured waters.  However, all was not lost, it was early and I earmarked the spot for a last cast at the end of the three hour session.

Fishing on with a dry and nymph combination I asked the controller to tell me when there were five minutes left on the clock and planned to return. I caught fish to be sure but that brown trout lurked there in my thoughts and I had to give him another try.

Hours passed until the session was nearly up and with warning from my controller I headed briskly back down the bank positioning myself across and slightly downstream from his haunt under the thorns. It was obvious that he wasn’t going to come out from his hidey-hole and equally that I was taking a big risk to throw a weighted nymph into the tangle. Without time to re-rig I simply added another dry to the point of the 7X tippet so as to be able to land it with some margin of safety inches from the bankside vegetation.

The fly alighted and as the current tugged at the leader I was able to mend the line and hold the fly, hovering quietly in the reverse current. A massive shape appeared slowly under the caddis and as I held my breath in anticipation his mouth opened flashing white. Steeling myself to wait I eventually struck into the fish which dived for the security of the roots.

The controller who was supposed to stay relatively uninvolved in proceedings squealed with delight when he saw the size of the fish uttering the entirely understandable if somewhat unprofessional “F#$% he’s got him”.. A massive struggle ensued, the brown fighting for the protection of the bank and my battling gamely to hold him off without breaking the tippet. I was over time for the session but the rules allow that one can land the fish after the whistle and by now my prize was nearly done.

Tired and in midstream he was mine, his head showed above the surface most of the fight in him gone and I slipped the net under the water. The huge trout glided along the surface towards the net, his bright red spots catching the sunlight, his energy spent and inches from capture, he was all but mine, and then the hook pulled out. No drama, no snapping tippet, no pop or bluster, it simply fell out of those massive white jaws and tension was lost.  The fish lazed there on the surface, not entirely sure that he was free and quietly sank bank into the depths, a feeble flip of his tail waving a disappointingly poignant goodbye.

I did very well in that competition made the National Team and booked a place to go to New Zealand for the World Championships. One would think that was sufficient reward, but that trout haunts me still. Thoughts of him hover in my memory and for all the fish I have caught, before or since I would still like to have held that one in my hands.

When I close my eyes at night I can still see that huge shape drifting momentarily at the mercy of the current. Still visualise those bright red spots, fading from view as the slightly turbid waters of the Mooi swallowed up my prize and I break out in a sweat as in my mind’s eye that massive tail waves a feeble au revoir.

Fishing is a bitter sweet pursuit but for some reason the bitterness of failure lurks longer in one’s synapses than the joy of success, perhaps that is how things should be. For it isn’t success that drives one to venture out onto the water so much as the determination to right past wrongs, to redress the balance of one’s failures. To push to succeed where previously one has lost the game. And to think that some people don’t understand why we do it, it’s a strange world 🙂

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4 Responses to “Memory”

  1. howsmallatrout5 Says:

    Another good one, Tim. Definitely some universal truths there — some fish stick with you, whether or not you actually catch them.

  2. stephen Says:

    Great piece Tim! I can almost see and feel
    that fish in your writing.

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