Persistence Pays When it Comes to Fly Fishing by Piscator
Last season I learnt a valuable lesson about persistence which has since paid off in increased numbers of ﬁsh caught or hooked. A friend took me to a spring-fed stream not far from Christchurch which, he assured me, was loaded with ﬁsh. It turned out to be willow-choked water with thick beds of weeds on a clean gravel bed.
Even from the main road bridge, we spotted half a dozen ﬁsh ranging from 6 oz to perhaps 2 lb. The most effective approach was to wade up the spring bed casting to visible ﬁsh. We both tied on size 16 Pheasant Tail nymphs and slid down the bank to enter the water through the watercress lining the edge. That was when I discovered why G… was wearing chest waders as I sank to the crutch in the silty margin.
After repositioning ourselves to the clean gravel in the middle of the stream, we continued on our merry way, scattering panic-stricken trout before us. This was of little import as we were in a willow tunnel, making casting well-nigh impossible.
Upstream was a bend where the willows opened a little. G… indicated I should start by casting to the nearest of three ﬁsh that I estimated at about a pound each. All were actively feeding on something sub-surface so I was quietly conﬁdent of success if I could only put the nymph in the right place.
When I had put the nymph over him a few times with no results he ﬁnally stopped moving and just lay there. “He’s bloody spooked,” I said. “Try him with something else” urged G…” Sceptically, I tied on a small Hare’s Ear nymph and cast it to the trout which had not moved, and did not move, to three close passes with the H.E.N.
“Bloody waste of time” I muttered to G… who responded by asking if he could have a go. I was itching to get on as more ﬁsh were clearly visible ahead, but thought I had better humour him, as, after all, he did not have to reveal his secret spot to me. I could hardly believe it, when three casts later, the ﬁsh took G…’s Pheasant Tail nymph. When extracted from a weed-bed before release, the fish turned out to be closer to 2 lb than the 1 lb I had estimated.
The pattern for the day was set. I will not bore you with the details, sufﬁce it to say that the ﬁnal tally was
G… 5 ﬁsh, yours truly, 1 ﬁsh! I must be a low learner or something. Anyway, once I got over the humiliation (not that we are competitive mind) I thought back to a long weekend that I shared with two other friends in the South Canterbury area.
The river we had chosen to ﬁsh was so popular we were never out of sight of other anglers both up and downstream. In the end, we elected to look at another nearby stream which we had not ﬁshed before, but found the lower reaches so willow-infested that ﬁshing with a ﬂy rod was out of the question.
We decided to look for open water upstream. Pushing through willow and scrub, I saw a ﬁsh rise in a dark pool and stopped to attempt to cover it, not being able to resist the challenge of close quarter ﬁshing. It was not long before I spooked it and continued upstream, by now separated from my two mates.
As I struggled on with no sign of an opening in the dense growth, I began to doubt if they had come this far, perhaps they had turned back. Feeling foolish I started yelling my friends’ names to no avail and decided to turn back.
Eventually, I came across C…, but of S… there was no sign. The last time I had seen S… he had been on the opposite bank, working his way upstream. He could easily have turned back without our being aware of it.
We decided to return to the car and if S… was not there, to look for some more open water downstream. This we did, returning to the car some two hours later, after enjoying some small success. S… was waiting for us with a nice 5 lb brown that he had killed . . . and an attitude problem. In fact, nothing C… or I said could remove the smile from his face as he related how the willows suddenly thinned out and the marvellous sport he had enjoyed releasing seven other ﬁsh, before deciding to look for us. Needless to say, he was hard to live with for the rest of the day! Yet again, persistence had paid off.
Following these two incidents, I went alone to fish a spring creek feeder which runs into Lake Ellesmere. The day was perfect, cloudless blue sky, a light upstream breeze, and the stream crystal clear. As I tackled up by the car a good fish rose steadily in the nearest run. It showed no hesitation in taking the small unweighted nymph I offered it. After releasing a well-conditioned 3 lb fish I walked some distance
downstream before commencing to fish back up, quickly catching and releasing a second fish – the day was going well.
Up ahead I heard a fish rise, and moving up saw it feeding below where the ubiquitous willows completely blocked the stream.
The fish was ranging far and wide and sometimes breaking the surface as it fed. It looked a complete sitter as I cast the Hare’s Ear nymph to it with high expectations. Immediately, it moved over to investigate as the nymph plopped gently in, but then turned away. Ignoring the next presentation totally, the ﬁsh continued feeding.
What could it be taking? I thought. Looking at the smooth water surface revealed nothing despite the trout still rising occasionally. In a ﬂash of inspiration, I deduced willow grub and enthusiastically tied on an artiﬁcial, which was less than enthusiastically received by a disdainful ﬁsh. “Think again mate” I muttered. Persistence is the answer!
At this stage, I put down the rod and ate a muesli bar while observing the ﬁsh, and thinking a caddis emerger may be the recipe for success. I tied on a lightly weighted pattern and put it before the ﬁsh. Three times the ﬁsh moved to take but turned away at the last moment. Clearly, something was wrong.
Suddenly I saw a sandy coloured caddis fly ﬂutter out from under the willows blocking the stream.
It had not drifted more than eight inches before the ﬁsh nailed it, and at last, I had the answer. My ﬂy box was sadly lacking, as all I could conjure up to imitate this delicate insect was a large deer-hair model which was tied for boisterous back-country rivers. I had no other choice so on it went. The reaction of the ﬁsh was amusing to watch as it drifted back about three metres, its eyeball on the fly. I could
almost see it thinking, “Wrong size, wrong colour” – until right opposite me it made up its mind and took. I was so keyed-up by now that I struck much too early and lightly pricked it. Expletive!
The brownie shook its head and slowly cruised back upstream where it resumed feeding in a less abandoned manner. Leaving my rod, I went for a ten-minute stroll to calm down and rest my quarry. When I returned, I tied the caddis emerger back on, and cast it up. As the fish moved to it, I raised the
rod tip. This action was all that was needed to produce a solid take.
At only about 2.5 lb the ﬁsh was smaller than I had thought, yet the details of its capture remain etched on my memory. It was a further lesson in the value of persistence.
Tying the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear Nymph