Another Red Letter Day

AnotherRedLetterDayHead

It had been an exceptional morning’s fishing, Jack had risen a lot of fish and landed a good many of them, but our spirits sagged slightly as he had also broken off on some of the better trout, a lack of experience with light tackle and fine tippet mostly to blame.

Still we did some practising on playing fish, with rod held at different angles to demonstrate the effects on the pressure on the hook and terminal tackle and I felt sure that he now understood more of the dynamics of the process.

That old adage of “give them the butt” isn’t just colloquial misinformation, keeping a full bend in the rod with a rough angle of 90° to the line offers the best protection against breakoffs, in fact even with fine tippet on a light rod you can’t break it if handled correctly.

We continued to fish on up the beat, well Jack fished and I guided and we spotted a few fish to cast at as we went. Some of the trout were quite picky, preferring tiny flies and refusing as usual anything remotely suggesting drag. This is catch and release water and at risk of offending the anti-anthropomorphic brigade, in my terms the fish have “grown smarter”.

JackBrown6

After lunch as we proceeded up a nice run we spotted a fish, a big fish which was feeding subsurface and rising occasionally to the top. He ignored the small parachute mayfly we had been using, and a hopper almost deceived him but last minute drag just as his mouth opened underneath the fly revealed the deception and the trout thought better of it.

Then Jack said “he’s moved over to the far bank” which was odd because I could still see the object of our desire in the middle of the run. It became apparent that there was another fish, a large fish, actually a huge fish sitting close to the bank on the far side. Just occasionally, perhaps every three or so minutes this leviathan would rise gently on an almost imperceptible current and inhale, with heart  stopping lassitude, a tiny morsel from the flow. When she came up it was obvious that this was a brown trout of considerable proportion. The browns are a hangover from an “accidental stocking” some years back and I knew that those that were left were all over 20 inches.

JackBrown5

So Jack had a cast at the fish, the wind had come up a tad and the combination of the downstream breeze and the very tricky lie of the fish meant that accuracy was a serious problem. On top of that, not inches from the trout the current speeded up considerably so that drag would inevitably set in even with prodigiously long leader and tippet. A lesser fish might have been fooled but this girl took all of four or five seconds to engulf any food item to which she took a fancy and you couldn’t get the fly to sit still for more than a second or two. A problem.

JackBrown4

We changed flies and Jack had another few casts, perhaps after five attempts the hopper in this case would land in the correct spot, the trout would rise up in the water like a golden submarine only to shy away at the last moment as the current tugged the leader and the fly twitched. Generally a hopper twitching isn’t necessarily a clue that all is not well but this trout obviously had some experience and eschewed the pattern each time until we decided to rest her and change tactics.

JackBrown7

We tried a tiny dry but it was far too tricky to see, especially with the wind and the long leader. I couldn’t shorten the leader because then more drag was assured and we were boxed into some sort of methodological cul de sac. We needed the long leader and fine tippet to get the drift but the wind was troublesome and the currents more so. We rested the fish again and considered our options, by now almost an hour had passed and the fish still rose every few minutes, apparently unaware of our advances but no more keen to accept anything less than perfect presentation.

We changed terminal tackle again, this time to a two fly rig, a small #20 dry with an orange post such that we might have a better sight of where the line was and an even less obtrusive #20 black parachute pattern that without the sighter in front of it would have been invisible.  We also determined that it was time to go for broke and try a slightly downstream approach in the hope that Jack might fashion some sort of slightly extended drift.

Wading carefully above the trout and hoping not to spook her Jack was eventually in position, he cast a slack line into the seam where the trout sat, the two flies resting quietly on the still water and Jack manipulating the line as best he could to hold it off the tugging faster flows not inches to the side of the fish.

She rose quietly, as she had done before, the sun catching her golden flanks as she closed on the surface, me admonishing Jack not to rush the strike, big fish require time and this one was big.  All the time we expected the current to tug the leader and the fish to refuse as she had before. However on this drift the Gods were with us, the flies held true and the fish opened a massive white maw and engulfed the tiny black pattern with confidence. After what seemed an eternity her mouth closed and Jack set the hook, and nothing, it was as though for an instant she didn’t know anything was wrong, the rod bent and the fish held fast on the edge of the current before starting to shake a huge head in what seemed like slow motion.

I don’t think that Jack or I had really considered what might happen if she actually ate the fly, it was on 8X tippet and tiny and here was the fish of a lifetime pricked by this tiny twist of feather and metal.

I shouted at Jack just to keep the rod up and pressure on without forcing the fish, I knew that if we had any chance of landing her we couldn’t afford to panic the fish more than necessary and a steady approach would offer the best chance of success.

She bored down into the run, sought sanctuary under the bankside foliage, me shouting at Jack to apply side strain but keep the rod bent. (Those practise lessons were coming in more than a little handy now). The fish then headed for the tailout and I charged into the water to deter a downstream escape, downstream in the rapids with a fragile tippet and tiny fly the odds would turn seriously in favour of the fish.

Eventually after some four of five minutes of relentless pressure and team work between myself and Jack she wallowed in the shallows and I could get her into the net. It had to be a head first swipe, there was no way that this fish was going into my stream net sideways.JackBrown3

As the mesh enclosed our prize both Jack and I let forth a stream of expletives that would have made a sailor blush but we had achieved our goal. A brown trout of some 23 inches on 8X tippet and a minute #20 dry fly. What a moment, all this on a stream where the average trout is probably 12” at best.

Well done Jack, for all my shouting you did the business.

Postscript:

I have managed now to establish from photographs and spot marking comparisons that this same trout was caught by me last year.  The images below confirm the same spot markings on the fish from both sides. She has grown an inch or two and serves as proof of the value of careful catch and release angling. To the best of my knowledge she hasn’t been captured in the interim, at least not by anyone who would have told me..

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4 Responses to “Another Red Letter Day”

  1. Patrick Coleman Says:

    Well, I know I would have buggered that one up, but what a great way to spend an hour, or even a whole morning!

    Nice one Tim!

    Paddy

  2. paracaddis Says:

    Thanks Paddy, yes it was a pretty intense hour, actually I was quite glad I was guiding and not fishing.. 🙂

  3. A Jabs Says:

    I asked him to take photos of his trip… this was more then I expected. Great blog! This was the very first story he told me about his trip (South Africa & Rome). THAT is how much this meant to him.
    NIce job!

  4. almightylee Says:

    Reblogged this on almightylee and commented:
    Fly fishing, South Africa, Brown Trout “Fish of a lifetime”, patience patience patience
    A blog about a close friend of mine and his river fishing adventure on the other side of the world

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