I recently remarked to someone, and I can’t remember who it was, that big river Trout are often caught in riffle or rapid water in close proximity to a good pool. I expanded the theory a bit. “Fleshed it out”, as one tends to do with a good fly fishing theory. Big “peachy looking” pools often disappoint. You expect that you will get a lunker out of there, only to be disappointed with a tiddler or two. Then your best fish of the season comes out of some shallow run, or frothy white water, with just an inkling of a pocket in it, You often hear “I would never have said there would be a fish in there, let alone such a good one !” . And I got to thinking about some of the better fish I have pulled out of such thin or fast water, and it dawned on me that there was often a monster pool close by.
Graeme Steart raised some good fish one day last season, on a fast stretch on the Mkhomazi.
He failed to hook them, but I was watching, and they were GOOD Trout. I got my best ever river Brown in a shallow run in the river, that was just above a very deep hole. Some of the better Browns on the Umgeni come from the rapids at “The Bog” which is above the longest pool I have ever fished. I could go on.
Then lo, and behold: I was reading Dave Hughes’ excellent book “Trout from Small Streams” the other day, and I stumbled upon these words ”my only guess is that the trout view the depths of the nearby pool as a bomb shelter and stay near it so they can dive into it when they come under attack”. This is in a paragraph (Page 99 in the second edition) wherein he describes rivers with good looking pools that turn out to be barren on account of their featureless rock bottoms, and where trout are more plentiful in the fast water between pools.
He describes how a pool may contain very little by way of sand, mud and gravel that sustains insect populations, and how a trout that may choose the pool for its depth and sanctity, may need to venture out to find food in more fertile spots. So like all good theories, I was certainly far from the first one to come up with the idea.
Looking at some local permutations of this: On the Umgeni, in a severe drought, pools like “Three quarter mile pool” always have plenty of water, and the area seems to act as a nursery for fish, from which the water is “re seeded” when flows return to normal.
Deep pools lack the degree of sunlight shining through to the bottom that more shallow stretches of water enjoy. Re-flooded shallows always seem to offer terrestrial food turned water borne food, and therefore attract both insects and things that feed on those insects. We all know this in the stillwater context, but I wonder if we think about it much in the context of rivers?
The other aspect that might be worth a thought: Often a pool contains one lunker, and several little chaps of similar size to one another, but considerably smaller than said lunker. If you are a little guy, and you leave upstream on a bug hunt, when you get back you may be way down the pecking order, and lose your spot at the tongue of current up front, and have to fight your way back. If you are the lunker, you can go on a veritable safari, and when you get back, the little guys shove off in respect for your size, and you can merely take up station at the front of the dinner queue when the current delivers morsels to you first. So a really big fish, might be more inclined to move about, secure in the knowledge that he can return.
With these things in mind, it makes sense to fish just above and below deep pools with the greatest of anticipation, and all the stealth and care that comes with that. This may be an even more highly recommended practice after a normal dry winter, or after a drought has been broken. The theory would be that the grandpa of the pool is hungry, and heads out into more fruitful waters to hunt and re-gain his summer condition. He can go back to deep water and snacks when he feels the need.
I don’t know why, but I sense this is more likely to be a practice of Brown Trout than Rainbows. Maybe it is something I once read, or perhaps it is just one of those things that has sunk in over the years. It could be drivel too! All I know is that the season starts this week, and I live in Brown Trout country.
Maybe all this is more the stuff of dreams than pure science. It is more fun than trying to decide whether to fix ones mortgage rate though.
Of that I am sure.
By Paul De Wet
By the age of ten I must have read Neville Nuttall’s chapter entitled “My first trout”, in Life in the Country a hundred times, and I think I could quote bits of it verbatim. When, aged ten, I finally did catch my first trout (in the upper Umzimkulu) my Mum persuaded me that I should write and tell Neville all about it, which I did. I was so touched by his reply – I still am!
I don’t remember if I told Neville about the details of the catch – I am sure I would have. I had followed my Dad endlessly up and down rivers for years without catching anything.
the late John DeWet on the Pholela 1981
That weekend, we were up at a cottage on the upper Umzimkulu and it was our last morning – I thought I was going to go fishless once again! I was pulling my line back up a rapid when I felt what I was convinced was a fish on the end of my line! I shouted to my Dad who came charging along with the net, grinning from ear to ear until I pulled a stick out of the water! I was bitterly disappointed and I still remember watching my Dad trudge sadly back to his rod, deflated, with slumped shoulders while he folded up his landing net. I cast my line down the rapid once again and was almost immediately into a trout – 9 ¼ inches long! I pulled it straight in and onto the bank with no finesse whatsoever. My Dad came charging along with the net for which I had no use. He lifted me up in the air and swirled me around while the hapless trout flapped about on the bank!
That was over 35 years ago now and was the start of an ongoing love affair with trout fishing. My now late father and I shared thousands of hours together on the water. I doubt that a father and son have ever caught less but had more fun! I have always felt that Neville’s book, and particularly his chapter “My first trout” sparked my imagination long before I ever caught a trout. For that and for his kindness in taking the time to write back to me I will be eternally grateful.
Paul and his Dad
Comment by Andrew: I do not know ANYONE in South Africa or beyond, who has “earned their stripes” , blanking on second rate waters, and with poor tackle for as many hours as this man did. Most flyfishermen I know today would have given up. The outcome is a man who, whilst he does not fish as often as he would like to, has a deeper appreciation of our sport than most.
Paul and I have fished together regularly for 34 years.
video, featuring Paul.
It went something like this:
We were near Mooi River.The water had been booked, but we were somehow unsure of parking arrangements. While hovering around the entrance road the farmer drove past. Bruce is his name. He is from Mooi River. I know him well. We didn’t stop him or greet him, but let him pass like a stranger. Then we parked and walked to the dam in front of his house. Bruce doesn’t own a farm, let alone one with a house overlooking it.
The lake was small and ugly, but the water was devilishly clear. This makes little sense, because it was mid-summer. The bottom was patches of orange clay interspersed with dark green weed beds. The Trout were swimming about, plain as daylight, and must have been able to see our every move.
I cast out over the hopelessly clear water, with its swimming Trout. There was no chance of catching one. They had all seen us, and we had seen all of them. It was a horrible day. But by good fortune, the fly came to rest in a narrow slither of shade, formed by a weed bank. Lo and behold, that slither of shade held a Trout bigger than all the rest.
In a startling moment of excitement the giant fish appeared from out of that slither of inky depth and ate the fly. No. I don’t know what fly it was. That is not important.
The fish went wild. It leapt and thrashed and disturbed the entire lake, thrashing about over that orange clay, and colouring the entire body of water like the Animas river after its mine spillage. It was awful.
I didn’t have my net. It was on the veranda of the cottage behind us. I didn’t mention the cottage behind us did I? No. Farmhouse. Cottage. It’s a dream OK! James was there. James is my son. He is a young man. In the dream he was a sulking teenager. I shouted for him to bring the net. Shouted and shouted. I dare not turn around to see what he was up to: I would lose the giant fish! I shouted some more. “Bring the bloody net!” He was a teenager. I don’t know what he was doing back there, but he sure as hell wasn’t bringing the net, and the fish was thrashing around in the Fanta Orange. It was a desperate situation. I shouted until I was hoarse. James wasn’t bringing the net.
Eventually he came flopping along with the frigin net. I beat him over the head with it in frustration (repeatedly), and then landed the great fish.
It was a wonderful fish, shaped like a Chinook salmon. Deep and broad. I measured it. My tape measures are all cut to the length of a reasonable South African Trout. This one ended at 29 inches. I held a place marker on the fish’s flank with my thumb and pulled the tape through my fingers to start again. 29 plus 3. 31 inches! Magnificent. I hooked the thing up to my budget Chinese spring balance and it went “clunk” as it hit the bottom.
We will never know what that fish weighed! But I have such a clear picture of it in my mind’s eye. It was a hen fish with a big hooked jaw. So clear. I think I am going to get one of those big green plastic looking replicas made of it. Hang it on the wall I will. Maybe I will get the guys to add an animation thing like they did with Billy, that disgusting bass. Mine will play “Sail” by Awol Nation. Or maybe something to the tune of “Mary had a little lamb”
It was a dream OK!
James: I am sorry about that. How is your head this morning? (But why didn’t you just bring the bloody net?)
(James is currently working on a kibbutz in Israel)
Moral of the story: (with apologies to Ed Zern) The frame of your landing net should be built slender and delicate, but don’t overdo it. You might need to land a very big fish with it. Or do other things.