The question is not how to fish, but why you do it. The author and his fishing buddies do it out of necessity. It’s more important than life and death to them to escape the human world, step in to water and wave a stick. Left on the shore is their misery and worries. Standing in the water they find freedom, healing and occasionally a fish.
Battles are lost and won with tongue in cheek and always celebrated with mountains of cake and an endless stream of fresh espresso coffee. To the band of brothers it’s more important who you fish with than how big the fish is; except for the ones lost.
You may not learn a lot about catching more and bigger fish, but reading these stories is like holding a mirror up in front of yourself getting a little wiser. The small why is a big one.
- This artickel is written by Danish photojournalist Søren Skarby
You know the feeling. The table was well laid, courses were numerous and plentiful and the company civilized and educated. Leaning back in your chair you realize that you are more than full. But then again, there’s always room for one little delicious extra snack.
That was how this sea trout was feeling. It started when the sun stuck it’s crowbar in and turned winter in to early spring. The trout began hunting herring in deep water. A diet of those fat little glittering fish helped it get in perfect shape after a long winter. Like a trophy it shined silvery in the water. The next course was served in low water.
Lugworm came out of their holes to breed and the trout downed so many of them that its tummy was hard as a drums skin. But more wants more. Sand eels started swimming around just after the worms disappeared and they didn’t have a chance when the high-speed hunter carved like a radiant sabre through their schools.
At last the Supreme Being jumped for joy out of the water, when the main course was served, shrimps. Those yummy crustaceans made the powerful muscles of the trout turn red and the skin of its belly yellow. The orgy lasted all summer.
Lately it was beginning to loose a bit of its ferocious appetite. Actually it was full. Standing still in the water, hovering just above the seabed, the trout was gaining another kind of appetite. Up in the river was a party being planned. Its shining armour had begun to look a little more like a wedding dress, but it wasn’t fully dressed yet. While it waited for that to happen it just stood there and burped once in a while. After all the meal had lasted more than half a year.
I served it a gammarus. The fly landed with nearly no sound and glided slowly down in front of the trout. It was half asleep, but opened one eye and inspected it. Could it? Just the thought of more food was, to put it mildly, overwhelming. On the other hand, it was a nice looking little snack. Of course it could. To save as much energy as possible the fish just opened its mouth; the vacuum sucked the fly in. I lifted the rod and set the hook.
It became a battle of epic dimensions. The trout forgot all plans about a honeymoon in the cool freshwater of the river and raced for the depths. All loose line dematerialized from my line basket in a few seconds. Then the sweetest melody a fly fisher can hear started; the reel made a sound so high pitched, that it went straight into my tooth fillings. Far, far out the trout jumped high in the air and the evening sun reflected in its athletic body; the landing created massive waves.
Rumour has, that two toddlers on the opposite coast got saved in the last moment before the tsunami hit, but that is of course only a rumour. I took some trying turns on the reel and the fish followed, heavy as an elevators counterweight. Suddenly a new rush made the reel scream again, but not as long as the first time.
We all know that Hemmingway was right; fishermen talk to the fish. That was what I started to do. Told the trout that it was tired and that it was time to give up. In the beginning it didn’t listen at all, but after a while it started swimming around me. We turned around each other like bullfighter and furious bull in smaller and smaller circles. At last it ended in my landing net and I cried out in triumph.
Gammarus is, for a sea run brown trout, like a sandwich made on the kitchen table: fast, easy and efficient without spending too much energy. If you catch five trout at the low water coast of The Baltic Sea, you are likely to find gammarus in the stomach of at least one of them. Actually odds are pretty high for finding the small crustaceans in all five fish.
The reason is in the category of economic theory and predators like trout are perfect performers when it comes to turning theory into practice. One gammarus is for sure not a whole meal or even close to being a meal, but the amount of them makes the difference. Even small fish don’t have to hunt for them they can just pick them up.
In winter, when the water temperature is just over what a trout can survive, the gammarus becomes the fish’s steady diet. Yes, the herring swimming ten feet away is a tempting site, but will it catch it? A lost chase costs a lot of energy and the trout is nearly “swimming on fumes” in the cold water. It’s so much easier to pick one of the small crustaceans once in a while.
At the same time the engine inside the trout is running very slowly and doesn’t need a lot of fuel. So the fish keep on sucking in the small snacks.
The term sucking becomes very important when it comes to fishing a gammarus fly. I’ve learned it the hard way. The first time I was fishing for sea trout that were digesting half a years feeding frenzy I did it all wrong. It was at a place in between where two small rivers meet the sea. The water was boiling in front of me with trout showing off and fighting and I was desperately trying nearly all the flies in my box with no luck at all.
It culminated when a large fish taunted me and went ballistic in the air, just a few feet from me. Frustration is the term that comes to mind.
Nice people once built a bench on the beach and I sat down, had a coffee trying to figure out what to do. The water still looked like an erupting cauldron. I opened the box again and down there in the corner was a small dull looking fly; a body of cobber dubbing and a short grizzle palmer hackle, both violently brushed back with Velcro.
The math teacher had given it to me some weeks before. Was this the fly that could heal my aching pride? I tied it on the tippet, finished my coffee and stepped back in the water.
I had only stripped the fly a few times, when I felt the first take and immediately lost the fish. Well, that was better than not having any contact at all. My confidence was raised a bit. A new cast and several takes, but nothing stayed on the hook. That pattern continued cast after cast and my moral fell like a boulder in the water. Time to find the bench and coffee again.
On my way to dry land I thought of swopping fly fishing with collecting stamps or building scaled models of small picturesque villages. If it continued this way I would be financing a therapists new car.
All my life I’ve been holding meetings with myself. Sitting with a cup of coffee asking what to do now and then let my mind flow. Doing it by a river, a lake or at the sea shore, as I did, helps a lot. In this case the enigma was simple. How could it be that those gammarus sucking trout wouldn’t get hooked?
Sucking! That was the right word. I, the biggest fool on earth, had been stripping the fly high-speed like it was a shrimp or a baitfish. In other words the fly was dragged out every time a trout tried to suck it in. I said a lot of words aloud that would make my ten-year-old daughter give me a serious look and tell me not to swear.
Stripping more than slowly with long pauses did the trick. I hooked several nice fish and the stamp collection blew away with a gust of wind. The therapist had to make do with his current car. My self-esteem and pride was restored.
Today the simple little fly is accompanied by several siblings and other gammarus flies in my box. There are loads of patterns to choose from. From the most popular, which is made of sparkling cobber dubbing and nothing else, to advanced little creatures with butthole, eyelids and fingernails. To be very honest, I think that the most important thing isn’t how the palatable little snack looks, but how it moves.
When it got dark it was time for me to go home. I rigged my rod down and picked up the backpack. It was heavier than when I arrived from the two nice trout that I had kept. I turned around ready to start the long walk to the car. An enormous moon had just crept over the horizon and the stars were all sparkling. I took the backpack off my shoulders again and sat down on the bench. For nearly half an hour I just sat there, letting it all in. Serenity is the right term.
As I write this, Søren is in place at the Bait Bash in Stockholm, getting ready for the show opening at 2pm. We’ve been on so many shows by now that our setup routine is fine tuned, so we’ll be ready in time. Come and say hi – we’re hanging out with our friends from Hökensås Sportsfiske.
As if by magic, we’re also getting ready for the opening of the The Fly Fishing Show, this weekend in Edison, New Jersey. Morten and Håkan are in place.
We hope to see you there!