That is, fish milling about. If the fish had stayed in a prime lie, and routinely moved up or slightly to each side to take a morsel of food, I would have applied river fishing 101, and taken fish more predictably. But in the slower reaches, like at the great big Shropaan’s pool, the fish were cruising around.
I know this because I hid behind a tree high on the riverbank, and watched them in the clear spring time water. At any time a number of fish would pass each other going in opposite directions. One would arrive at some structure, open its mouth to take something, turn, and head off to some place 15 yards distant. It was exciting to watch, I tell you. But when I crept back down and fished to them from below, I could not see them at all, and therefore had no idea where they were cruising or milling about at any one time.
So it was little surprise when some sections of water yielded nothing at all, despite me having seen so many fish. I could imagine that some of my early casts had gone over the head of one or other fish moving unpredictably about the pool, and lined it. Lining fish, or spooking them in some or other way, was something I did a lot of on the day. I know that because I saw enough bow waves, and puffs of silt to confirm that the fish were spooky in the low clear water.
At one long run, where I had seen rising fish, I crept slowly forward, fishing the weak tongue of current slightly to my right, reasoning that the shallow water to my left would barely cover a fish’s back, and was no place for a self-respecting fish to be. Halfway up the run, I glanced left and saw a puff of silt. I cursed myself for not having looked there, reasoned that the one silly fish that would have occupied that space was now gone, and went back to fishing the more likely looking tongue of current. When I got to the top (fishless I might add), and was reeling in to wade up to the next section, I glanced left again. There, in water no deeper than my ankles, was an area of inexplicably dirtied water. Maybe not so inexplicably. There had been a fish, maybe a big one, or maybe more than one, lying in the even more exposed water above the one I spooked earlier, and their panicked departure had caused the commotion that dirtied the water.
Later I had success in a few spots. In fact I caught two or more fish from some reaches and pools, and in others only frightened fish. I got to analysing why I was spooking fish in some places and catching them with a fair degree of ease in others. I believe the pools where I did better, were ones where my approach put the sun at my back. While the old manuscripts tell you to keep your shadow off the water, there are others that advise you to put the sun behind you, based on the fact that no being can look into the sun. These two notions seem contradictory. They are not. If the sun is high enough, you can achieve both because your shadow is short, and if you just hang back a little you will have the sun at your back and a shadow in the grass in front of you, but not over the water. As the day progresses the shadows get longer and it may be a bit tricky, but if you can find a bush, or high bank, already shading the water, it will mask your own shadow.
In one run I did particularly well. The sun was at my back (roughly), but in addition to that there was a drop-off running down the centre of the run. I was on the shallow side, and the fish were holding tight against the drop-off, just out of sight from me (and hence I was out of sight for them). When I hooked fish, I immediately got them over the shelf onto my side of the river, played them there, so as not to disturb the water where more fish were stationed. This way I got three fish from the run, despite startlingly low, clear water.
Further up I was pleased to witness swooping swallows and rising fish in the tail of a long curving pool. I moved slowly into an upstream casting position, not realising at the time, my good fortune in having this coincide with the sun being behind me again. These fish were also milling around, but in close proximity, with me able to fish for them while watching them, and with them just below the surface, significantly narrowing their window of vision through the surface film. Unlike earlier in the day, I was able to spend well over an hour in one spot and watch fish come cruising down towards me to rise less than a rod’s length away, and then calmly head off back upstream, completely oblivious to my presence.
Later, as I headed up, I was faced with a broad expanse of the tail of a big pool, with shallow clear water and absolutely no cover whatsoever. To fish it blind would result in either lining fish I hadn’t seen, or fishing empty water. Realising this I climbed the bank and walked above the pool as slowly as I could on the off chance of spotting a holding fish, and not spooking it. The odds were stacked against me, and I knew it. Sure enough, about twenty yards up, a giant Trout shot out from the bank immediately below me in a spot I would never have thought to look.
Half an hour later my mates came looking for me, to let me know the day was done. It felt like I had just blinked, but five or six hours had passed. Hours of stalking and thinking and casting and spooking and catching.
What a wonderful way to spend a day!