The best lure in the box

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.

The kayak opens up a lot more water

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.

Morning sun

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.

Beautiful scenery

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.

flickandflyjournal.com

Hamish Webb, Dan Firth, Graham Fifield and Lee Georgeson have been fishing the south-east Australian region since 1987. Since then they’ve become avid sportfishermen who are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. They are all scientists and conservationists who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem in which they live. They promote understanding and appreciation of the complex socio-political, economic and environmental issues surrounding fish, fishing and fisheries, while never losing sight of the various motivations that keep them coming back. In English, that means they love all things fishing and have a damn good time on the water, and that’s all that really counts in the end!

3 thoughts on “The best lure in the box

  • December 14, 2016 at 7:56 pm
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    I recently fished the Vic high country in 3 different towns & 7 rivers. I had to lure fish as my fly rod snapped early in the trip. Of those 7 rivers, I caught trout at will in the smallest of those 7, barely wider than a footpath, mostly on Celtas but they did take other types as well. Some days they would not even look at a Celta, despite smashing them on other days.

    Most of the bigger rivers were running way too fast. I only had hookups on 2 other rivers, but did not land them. And in those other rivers, I had very few follows. The fish seemed sort of interested but appeared rather like “cant be buggered” which is rather frustrating.

    After my experiences, I will now happily take a look at smaller rivers rather than bypass them. 54YO & still trying to figure trout out!

    Reply
    • December 15, 2016 at 3:35 pm
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      Hi Bob, thanks for your comment and sharing your experience. Catching trout in streams you can leap over is a lot of fun. You’ve got me wondering about whether fish in tiny streams are bolder because of more, or less, competition. It seems there is less predator diversity in tiny streams, but probably more intra-specific competition. It’s interesting to consider how these differences would change the behaviour of trout…an idea for another blog!
      Cheers

      Reply
  • December 15, 2016 at 6:07 pm
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    I think they are bolder because so many people overlook a small stream, except the easy access areas near a clearing or by the side of the road. They wont venture 200m around the corner where the fish most likely have never seen a person.

    The larger rivers definitely get the fishing pressure. Fishos think “big river = big fish”. Having said that, the trout dont get to be big by being easy. They also have more food to keep them happy, so if something does not look quite right, they just move out the way of it for the right meal.

    Time of day, weather, clarity of water also can be a huge difference. Go one day & catch fish, the next day could score a blank, Thats what makes fishing for trout so damned hard some days.

    Not sure which is harder; understanding women or trout!

    Reply

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