Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Posts tagged “pocket water

Zamalek and Butter Beans

Brown Trout release

I was standing in a fast flowing stretch of white water, “picking the pockets”. I had rigged up an 8 foot three weight with the new Rio Creek line which my wife just bought for me.

The hopper had been working well, with many fish coming up to it. I had been hooking half of them. Then I thought of something I heard in a flyfishing podcast about how true learning comes from changing from something that is working, to something else that may not work. As they put it ”trying not to catch fish”. It’s counter intuitive. I like it.

So I put it into practice and tied on a CDC and Elk. It was an almost white one, which doesn’t look anything like the colour of the caddis we get in these parts, but as my friend Ray says, at least we can see it. It does have a dark brown body, so maybe that is the important part….the part the fish sees.

Anyway…I lashed it on with my newfound Eugene-Bend knot, which so far has served me much better than the improved clinch which I have used for so many years, and I set to work.

I was targeting the smooth spots, where white water gave way to flat surfaces. They were still very fast flowing surfaces, and this ‘dusting’ practice required a flick of the fly every few seconds. The fly would sail down the slick, and then start skittering as drag set it. I would try throw a mini mend or lift the rod tip to dangle the fly. Anything to extend the drag free drift by a half second or so.  

I stepped forward to another good looking run. As I had worked up this piece, I had often looked ahead, decided it was all white water here. ‘Time to move on’ I would say to myself…then take a few steps, say ‘hang on a second’ and take the fly from the keeper again. So progress was really slow. As it turned out, we did about 600 metres of river in near four hours of fishing. (and I did a lot of talking to myself).  This run was one of those. As I stepped forward I reassessed and decided it had merit. I started casting again. If you could call it that. Flicking maybe.

On about the tenth flick, I got the seem just right and the fly drifted down closer to me, drag free all the way. You know what that looks like. It’s a minor victory. As it came towards me, in the flash of an eye, a decent Brown rose towards my fly, hesitated, then turned to follow the fly as though it had now been grabbed by a conviction that it needed to clobber it, and clobber it properly! Maybe it was repairing on its earlier indecision. It came straight towards me, and opened its mouth wide enough to have swallowed a lot more that just the fly. It was consumed by a hunger. It was a bit like my mate, who just that morning had greedily emptied way more than his portion  of the breakfast Zamalek quart we were sharing, while I was off opening the gate.

But suddenly the fish made direct eye contact with me. It was as though it all happened in  slow motion. Its mouth wide open, closing on the innocent little caddis. Greed in its eyes, focus at 7mm off its snout. And then in the blurry backdrop it sees this bloody great fisherman looking straight into its eyes.

Unlike my fishing pal, it decided on discretion over valor, and turning hard right, I saw its broad side as it dashed  across the quickening flow in the tail of the pool. It was suspended in the crystal clear slick for a lot less than a moment, and then it was gone, and I was cursing.

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A little further on, I concluded fishing another little slick. I had given it as many drifts as it deserved, and I had caught and released a lovely little Brown.

While I was deciding whether to reel in and skip the apparently entirely white water above, I threw the fly just a little less determinedly into a tiny patch of bubbles and detritus that was caught in an aimless patch of water. It was one of those spots where the water comes racing past a big boulder and then just in behind the boulder some of the water gets spat out, and dawdles like it doesn’t know where to go next. If it were a midlands river it would have had some foam and scum and more  leaf matter in it. It was one of those places where, if you threw the fly in and lifted the rod tip, the fly would swirl there indefinitely.

I did that now. I tossed the fly in, reached forward and lifted most of the line off the water in front of me to prevent the fly being pulled away.  Then I just guided the rod tip this way and that, in an attempt to float the fly over a variety of spots. One quickly learns that in this fast water, with its mysterious undercurrents, moving a drift an inch to the left or right means the difference between a fish and no fish.

This time it didn’t seem to make any difference.  Or so I thought. But then, like an apparition, this Brown appears very very slowly from nowhere. It just kind of slunk in there when I wasn’t looking. Which is strange, because I was looking. I was looking intently, but I didn’t see it arrive. It just got there without arriving, if you know what I mean. Then it proceeded to turn on the caddis. But this fish didn’t just get an angle on the fly, swallow and leave.  Not this one. Watching it was like watching my buddy eat his after-beer breakfast beans that morning.  Just like he scraped the spoon languidly around the base of the can, to secure every last butter bean, this fish did about two hundred and seventy degrees. It just seemed to keep on turning, like it had all the time in the world. I suppose it did have all the time in the world. Its butter beans were going nowhere. Unlike my share of the beer, which disappeared fast, this caddis wasn’t about to be taken from it.

I waited patiently for Mr Brown to finish his theatrics, and when he was quite done, I said “Thank you sir” very politely, and without a sneer, I lifted  into him.

The fish came off.

As I changed back to the hopper, I got to thinking that this was one of the more unusual breakfasts I’d had. But then changing things up does make life  interesting.


Neighbouring water, big Trout.

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.

Graeme (1 of 1)

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.

Umgeni (5 of 49)

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.

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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.