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The Need for Speed

I seem to have a lot of friends called Andrew and one of them is making the transition from stream fishing to lake. Andrew is what I would describe as a born flyfisher. For example, although he’s relatively new to the sport as a whole, Andrew already spots fish almost as well as I do (which is at once pleasing and a bit ominous.) But for the time being Andrew still has some catching up to do and when lake fishing with him the other day, I saw a pattern which is repeated across nearly all stream fishers who are new to lakes: he was too slow.

Most of the time, stream trout wait for the current to deliver food to them. If you see a trout rise in a stream, that’s where it is and will likely stay for a while, to within a square metre or so. There are plenty of challenges facing the stream fisher – choice of fly, accurate presentation, perfect drift, etc. – but beating the clock is seldom one of them.  I can be fishing a stream, notice a trout rise under a willow 50 metres upstream and think to myself, ‘Aha! But I’ll just finish prospecting this nice run first.”

Lake trout on the other hand must constantly move to eat. While they may pause briefly to turn on a missed dun or hesitate before ambushing a school of smelt, fundamentally, when you see a swirl left by a lake trout, that’s where it was; not where it is. The consequences for fishing success, lake versus stream, couldn’t be more black and white – as Andrew quickly discovered. On our typical lake fishing day with less than ideal polaroiding light and a wind-ruffled surface disguising subtle disturbances, the window of opportunity to make the perfect presentation to a sighted trout was fleeting in the extreme. No time for false casting or second thoughts: just a single presentation to where you thought the trout was heading, leading it by enough not to spook it; but not by so much that it couldn’t find the fly.

It took Andrew a few goes to get it right, and the strong cross wind didn’t help. But then he got the hang of it: stop the back cast earlier in the stroke…wait…forward smoothly, rod tip down and there – midge pupa and trout finally on collision course. The brownie that had swirled moments before moved upwind as predicted (see Peter Hayes’ column in FlyStream 1) and ate the fly. Andrew lifted and despite the 2 pounder surging towards some submerged fence posts, he landed it soon after. On the way back for lunch, we passed the other Andrew – the one with years of lake fishing – literally sprinting along the bank to get a cast to a fish that rose and briefly appeared in the ‘window’ of a reflected bush. His Klinkhammer dry was a foot in front of the trout within a second, and it really had no choice but to eat it. Another good brown landed and, other Andrew conceded, point doubly made.