The trout were there. I could see them. Every few casts, a fish would follow the lure. Every so often, one would swipe, its white mouth flaring as it tried to kill its prey. I even hooked a few, but kept losing them to their jumping antics. Part of the problem was that the fish were small. This is definitely one of the advantages of fly fishing over lure fishing: you can catch a huge fish on a tiny fly, but it’s much harder to catch a tiny fish on a huge lure. And the relative hugeness of any lure depends on a number of different factors, including the prey in the water you’re fishing, but also the average size of the fish themselves.
My gradual learning curve this weekend past was that a small wild trout isn’t necessarily a stupid trout. I was fishing an eastern flowing stream with a healthy population of wild, self-sustaining, invasive river rabbits; those controversial, enigmatic, likeable, tasty, yet oft-hated quarry.
I started with a fairly large brown trout pattern, made somewhere in countries where small trout like the ones I was targeting are stocked into rivers and lakes for the tweed-wearing gentry to target after a nip of Scotch and a few puffs of a pipe. Some of the fish I was seeing were roughly three times the size of my lure. I told myself I was targeting the big fish, even though I couldn’t see them.
One small fish followed, and then another. I had a big knock in the deeper water, but failed to connect. I tried different retrieves, fast water, slow water, undercut banks, rocky sections, under trees. Meanwhile, little fish flipped and flittered near the banks, their quarry of small insects occasionally falling prey to their acrobatics. Eventually I cracked the shits and tied on another lure. A spinner. Surely, these stupid little fish would eat a celta.
Day one done. No fish. Day two arrived and I was woken in the tent at 5.30am by the cacophony of birdsong. Surmising that the trout would be similarly frisky, it wasn’t too difficult to emerge from my sleeping bag. There is a metaphor in there somewhere about a slug emerging from its chrysalis to turn into a fully functioning human being. Whatever it is, it should (and did) include a strong cup of coffee.
Speaking of insects, the fish were active. I saw the same small fish flitting along the banks, launching themselves out of the water, and in my coffee-induced state of clarity and with the sun shining its light on the river as if to whisper ‘here is the solution!’, it started to make sense. There was only a certain amount of food available in this system to support the number of fish in it, and, by whatever formula, the system had arrived at this: a large population of small rainbow trout, eager to take advantage of the niches afforded by the thick, bankside vegetation and shallower, flowing water, and a small population of larger browns, presumably feeding on little rainbows, gambusia, frogs and tadpoles. I had everything I needed.
There was one very small lure in the box that I hadn’t yet tried. It was also the most expensive. At $30 a pop, was this lure worth losing on a trout? Surely a big bream or a bass would be a more fitting adversary. It was a small, finely crafted, neutral buoyancy and natural coloured diving lure. Now that I had my inkling about what this system was all about, it was an easy decision. On it went.
I could talk in detail about the fish that were caught, the beautiful scenery and the pleasure of kayaking up a small mountain river. In the end, all it really came down to was the learning curve, the best lure in the box and that 30cm brown; a trophy fish for this water. He was probably an old fish, definitely a smart fish, but relatively speaking, a small fish. Cooked in the chop rack over a smoky fire for breakfast, with another cup of hot coffee, he was also a memorable fish.