“But the purposeful conspiring for big trout has at least the thrill of anticipation and, if successful, the satisfaction of any job consummated according to design. On the prowl for a three-pounder you become a specialist; you have renounced the easier rewards of small ones for the rare chance of a whopper. The thing has the gambling appeal of any long shot. Swinging a big streamer into the twilight shallows is one of the headier adventures of trout fishing. It is a grand way to end a day of finicky maneuvers with dry flies. It caps a day of precision with an hour of gusto and sends you home with your balance restored. “
Howard T Walden. “Upstream and down” . 1938
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.
I don’t remember what the occasion was, but a number of us had been invited up to Bill Duckworth’s Trout syndicate at the top end of the Dargle Valley.
We were staying over at the “Opera House” , and it was a colourful gathering to say the least.
It was October of 1995. Spring had sprung, and I remember a cool wind across short green veld, some of which still bore traces of ash from the winter burn.
I remember Bill strolling out onto the front “lawn” of the cottage in his stripy pyjamas in the morning with a pair of garden shears, to trim a small tree so gnarled from the cruel weather up there, that I remember thinking that it hardly needed Bill’s help in containing itself. Bill asked me to move my vehicle around the back, since its presence beside his target shrub was doing little to improve the view. It was quite early, and many of the guys were still snoring. Being the youngest, I was up early….keen to fish. I don’t know why Bill was up, but I politely obliged by moving the car, before setting off to fish.
I started out at the top dam, where a number of small fish were moving. I was in adventurous spirits though, so at some point I reeled in, and headed down the steep rocky valley that leads from the wall of the top dam, down to “woodley”. In those days there was no cottage down there, but the dam, the newest on the property, nestled in the valley in an inviting sort of way.
I was wearing some very heavy canvass waders. I had brought them back with me from the States a few years earlier. They were direct from the Orvis shop in Vermont, which I had visited, and were my pride and joy. They weighed a ton. Boot-foot they were.
I waded in to the cool water at Woodley dam, and tried my luck there for a while.
Then at some point I realised that the weather had turned warm and blustery, and that my walk back up the valley in those hot waders was not going to be fun. However while I had been fishing, the others had come down to “bottom dam” in a couple of the vehicles, and I could see them off to the West, fishing that water. I figured I would mosey over there and look needful round about the time they were due to head back for breakfast. So I reeled in and walked over.
When I arrived at the dam, I was really hot! So I walked straight up to the nearest shore, checked to see I wasn’t too close to one of the others, and waded in quite deep so as to benefit from the temperature of the water.
I figured that while I was there, and since the others weren’t showing any sign of leaving, I would throw a fly. At some point I saw a dorsal fin porpoise in the water ahead of me, and on the strength of that, I put on a whopper of a DDD…the largest one I had in my box. Size 6!
The fly rode out there in the waves like a small ship, and I stood there, enjoying the cool water, and not particularly hopeful of anything in particular.
Then the dorsal appeared, and neatly swallowed my fly . I struck, and the fight was on.
Mike was nearby, and I remember him appearing on the scene to ask if I had a net. I replied that I had. I had a small folding net that had belonged to my grandfather. Just then the fish jumped. “Um, about that net Mike”. No…he didn’t have one either. Mine would have to do.
The fish jumped again.
“I think you had better wade back to within the weeds Andrew” he said “because if that thing sees you, you have had-it!”. They were wise words, and I followed Mike’s advice. Mike didn’t know I was using five pound tippet.
It wasn’t long after that, that the fish came past like a stream train, just off the weed-bed. I saw it coming, and at the last minute I thrust the net out in front of it, and it swam straight in.
The fish was very surprised, and it was not ready to give in. I dropped the rod, and holding the net with one hand, I grabbed its tail with the other, since only its head was in the hopelessly small net.
I walked ashore, and a few meters more, just to be sure she didn’t manage a spectacular escape.
Trevor weighed her. Try as he may, he could not get her to tip the scales at ten pounds, but she was mighty close.
The actual fly that I got her on. It has since lost its tail to the elements.
It was quite a fish.
The fish today, on my lounge wall. The inscription on the brass plate comes from one of my favourite poems.
Bill was thrilled at the size of the fish that had come from his waters. He was even more thrilled when he heard that the fly used to catch it, was the one named after him. He asked if he could have a look. “My goodness” Bill said, in his inimitable falsetto whisper tone. “I’ve never seen one so big! Could you tie me some of those?”
How could I refuse.
A few weeks later I met up with Bill somewhere. I pulled out my car’s ashtray, which in those days was used to store trout flies. I had it crammed with enough big DDD’s for Bill, myself, and a few other guys I had promised some to.
“My, those look wonderful” said Bill, as he turned the ashtray upside down, collecting the whole lot, and after quickly admiring them, he crammed them into his waiting box, and he was off with them all!