I went fishing on Sunday. For this time of the year (Spring) , the weather was uncharacteristically warm and bright, with a touch of a light breeze.
At Little Pine Lagoon, the fishing was slow to dead. With just the occasional fish showing and then nothing, no-one was catching anything. “Too much ripple on the water” was the consensus. “Curious” I thought. “I’ve had my best fishing here, when there is wind on the water”. Are we on the wrong shore? Nope. There is a nice quartering in- breeze to bring the feed in along the shore.” I did see one really great fish in shallow water, just as I was walking behind the dam wall. I froze, the fish mooched a bit, flicked its tail and was off. I resumed breathing, got my cast ready and waited. After a small eternity, the fish came back, coming towards me, looking this way and that. I waited for him to come to the end of his beat and turn away when I could make a cast. Suddenly he darted back to the deeper water. Something had spooked him. I waited for a long eternity, then gave it up.
At Pine Tier Lagoon (usually reliable), I and everyone else did not see a fish. The trollers were idling up and down, lying in their boat. The spin fisherman was just going through the motions. The bait fishermen were just leaving. “Too bright” the spin fisherman said. “Funny” I thought. “I’ve had some of the best fishing here in bright light and slight breeze”.
At Bronte, I did manage to catch one fish (deep down on the nymph). He was full of small (number 16) green copper beetles and tiny black beetles. The fly he took was small and black. This was the only fish seen there.
All of this got me to thinking about fish behaviour, anglers and catchability. I am now about to propound my Grand Theory of Fish Behaviour —and the weather has only a little to do with it.
Before I do so, however, I should warn you that it probably won’t reveal the Great Secret of How to (almost) Always Catch Fish using a Fishing Line, although it is definitely related to it.
The Grand Theory of Fish Behaviour as it relates to their catchability.
Probable fact (I can’t find any scientific evidence for this one way or the other, so take it on faith, or not): Fish don’t feel hunger. Or to put it more accurately, fish feeding is, unlike humans and lions, not triggered by hunger. Fish feeding is governed by the availability of food. The more food there is available, the more the fish will want to eat and the more they will feed. That is why fly anglers yearn for the hatch, sea trouters chase the whitebait runs and maniacs gather at the mouths of the Taupo estuaries.
Fact two: the other great imperative that fish have almost all of the time is to avoid being eaten (fear of anything unusual, bigger or moving fast—which just about describes some anglers I have known).
Fact three: the final great imperative is, of course, procreation, which for fish is a once a year irresistible urge that replaces the food imperative.
Food, death and sex probably sum up the trout’s main concerns —which just about describes some anglers I have known.
Now (here’s the theory part): feed and fear are alternative states, that is the more there is of one, the less there is of the other. A spooked fish doesn’t feed. It just hides until the threat is no longer dominant. If there is little food about, the fish will be very nervous (on high alert). In the lakes this means that they will be very spooky and move about a lot avoiding threats and looking to see if there is any food; hence the famous “oncers”, hence the behaviour of my fish at Little Pine. When food is abundant, the fish go into a nearly fearless feeding frenzy. At the height of a hatch, I’ve seen lined fish just relocate a little, as if the line were a minor nuisance, rather than the big-scary-dropping-out-of-the-sky thing it usually is.
Oh and the weather is only important in that it affects the availability of food.
Here is a diagram.
Now, reams have been written about all of the feeding situations, but much less about what to do in the spooky searching scenario. That’s odd, given my experience, because that’s how it is most of the time.
Now, I would love to say, I have a magic bullet that will work (actually I do, and I shall reveal it and why you can’t have it). Some observations of mine and some things to try are
Searching: you move a lot, hoping to intersect with a searching fish or a feeding fish. Searching on the surface seems to be less productive than deeper. While something like a small black thing (Black and peacock spider, black nymph) would seem to be non-threatening, something big and flashy would be more likely to attract from a wider area. Maybe a red and black woolly bugger or a two fly flasher and small black thing might be a good cover-the-bases option. Perhaps even a third fly on the surface deer hair or foam floater, as a sighter? In the rivers, the nymph and dry might be the way to go.
The ambush (only for the terminally patient): find a good feeding spot. Watch and wait until a fish shows up. Pray you don’t stuff up your one and only cast.
The moving ambush (or fish spotting 101). Keep moving until you find a moving fish. Cast your never-fail fly exactly 1 meter or 1 yard or three feet in front of his nose and preferably on his right side. Why his right side? I hear you clamour. Well, there is some scientific research (which I don’t have with me at the moment…it’s in my other pants, guv’nor) which suggests that, having a laterally divided brain, trout would prefer the right eye for close-up feeding and prefer the left eye for scanning for prey and predators. Note; this might explain why searching fish waggle when they move (as per the fish by the dam wall). By doing this, they can scan the widest field for both prey and food.
Okay, drum roll please. I shall now reveal the Great Secret of How to (almost) Always Catch Fish using a Fishing Line. The Great Secret is of course predicated on basically reasonable fishing conditions. We are not fishing in a toxic waste dump (sub-lethal quantities of mercury as in the Derwent River Tasmania are okay) or during a cyclone (actually even a minor gale would make things difficult). So, assuming that there are fish where you are fishing and that the basic weather is basically okay, what’s the secret? Simple: berley. And you can’t use it because it is illegal in just about every trout water in the world (and a good thing, too).
If you have any great ideas about catching oncers or spooky searchers, love to hear from you via the comments facility.
P.S. The Grand theory doesn’t work for the Taupo spawning runs (bugger!)
Cheers & may your lines be tight.