Can you catch eight or so fish and honestly claim that it wasn’t a good day’s fishing?
That probably sounds a dreadfully egotistical question and more so if the answer is yes, but actually on a recent trip to a local lake the answer was undoubtedly in the affirmative, I did catch eight fish and no it wasn’t a good day..
It is pretty much accepted that most of us go through various phases in our fly fishing lives. The sequence varies slightly from author to author but the general list looks something like this.
To catch a fish
To catch lots of fish
To catch big fish
To catch a specific fish
To catch fish in the way that you would like to.
To catch a specific fish in the way that you would like to.
The list probably goes on with variations of more species or specific fish such as trying to catch “Ol Bert” who lives next to the third pylon on the road bridge and has become a local legend. The permutations are endless really but pretty much all of us are in a “phase”.
Now I am going to add another, to catch a fish such that you think at least that you understand why you caught it. There is something soulful about doing this, even if it is a figment of one’s imagination. One of the reasons I don’t like to pump fish stomachs too often, the contents can ruin what was up to that point the perfectly happy illusion that I had cracked the code.
So for example you flip a perfect drift over a rising trout and he ignores your offering, you change patterns and still the fish simply rises to a natural next to your imitation. You persevere and notice some flying ants on the rocks. You switch to an ant pattern, the fish takes on the first pass and when you finally land it you pump its stomach only to find ants, ants and more ants, does piscatorial life get better than that?
There is a certain wholesomeness to that scenario, a closing of a circle, a combination of dexterity, skill, observation and deduction that takes fly fishing far above the level of throwing out a woolly bugger and dragging it back. Sort of Zen Buddhism versus WWF wrestling.
Just recently I visited a productive lake which I have fished three times now in close succession. Normally I would be drifting it with my mate and regular boat partner Mike, I have to take him as he owns half of the boat and will cough up for some of the petrol, but this time around he was tied up with work projects and unable, at the last minute, to make it.
So I set off alone a two and a half hour drive arriving at the water in the pre-dawn, air temperature 3°C and set about pumping up the boat and sorting out the gear. Launching was only moderately more challenging than with two people and I was afloat and heading for the first drift within forty minutes or so.
My view and Mike’s view of boat fishing a lake is that one should first drift to find the fish, the wind was variable with some calm spells and it took a long while to locate even one fish. That taken on a hare’s ear nymph dragged behind the boat whilst changing position so it didn’t really count.
By lunch I had only that one fish despite flailing madly, changing lines from Di5 up to slow intermediate and back. It is times like this that you get to truly value the benefits of a good boat partner and I am already realising that I shall have to apologise about the jibe in respect of owning half the boat. With two of you fishing, different sink rate lines, different flies and covering twice as much water is should be easier to find a concentration of fish, indeed I would suggest logarithmically easier. On my own I hadn’t found more than that odd one.
Then I hooked another fish trolling the line behind me as I moved, it really isn’t cricket to catch fish like this and again to my way of thinking it didn’t really count , but at least I figured that the fish perhaps wanted something moving faster, or shallower or both.
I then hooked yet another trout whilst on the move, why would a trout attack an orange blob fly moving at 15 Kms an hour? It didn’t make sense and finally with a very rapid retrieve I hooked and landed my first “legitimate fish”, a hen that poured roe all over me and the boat when I landed her.
This now raises yet another question, you see many of the fish we have taken in the past week or two have been bright silver, rounder in aspect and more salmon like, showing none of the expected colouration and gravidity that might normally be seen in the early winter months. I strongly suspect that those silver fish are indeed triploids, part of a stocking years back who are now unaffected by spawning urges.
I landed a few more fish on either orange blob flies or red and green boobies which are in fact a pretty fair imitation of a dragonfly nymph when retrieved at speed., but in all honesty I never quite got with the program. I didn’t have any working hypothesis as to why I caught when I did or failed when I didn’t.
When I got home that female trout was with me, she had been badly hooked and was bleeding so was put down and brought her home for supper. Her stomach contents? Four small boxy dragon fly nymphs no more than a 10 mm in length, each as though a sibling of the others, not exactly a suggestion of a feeding frenzy.
So here are my thoughts, I suspect that the dam is currently harbouring two distinct populations of fish, the sexually active ones who are hardly feeding and responding more from aggression than hunger and the triploids, which I failed to find this trip, feeding happily somewhere out there in the watery expanse.
So I ended up with eight odd fish to the boat and I was none the wiser by the end of the day than when I had started. That is annoying, we generally start out without too much of a clue but gradually find fish, hone in on the correct depth and then suitable flies such that we have worked out the formula for the day. This time I didn’t manage that and the numbers of fish didn’t ameliorate my disappointment.
It isn’t egotistical to suggest that this wasn’t the best of days, sure a few fish in the boat makes it seem worthwhile but in the end I learned very little. It has to be said that I would far rather catch feeding fish than purely aggressive ones and if this was a victory is was to my mind a little bit of a hollow one.
Never mind, next time I am out I shall have Mike as a wingman and we can perhaps hunt down those triploids who are behaving a little more normally, go back to imitative patterns and kid ourselves that we have worked it out. Just so long as neither of us decides to check the stomach contents and spoil the day.