WINDOWS OF OPPORTUNITY
©Wolf Avni 8/6/2005
On high, etched against indigo in the jet stream, faint wisps of cirrus cloud in mares-tail-striates glowed in the pre-dawn. “See that?” Salmo Nella asked, pointing skyward. “There is a cold front on its way. Ahead of it, the wind will kick up out of the north and by noon there will be a fair gale howling down the funnel of the valley. The lake will turn to a raging mess of frothing white-caps and icy spray. Eventually the pressure differential will dissipate and the wind will ease off. It will back slowly around into the south-west, and mark my words, before sunset vast rafts of cloud will blow in against the mountain, fetched from the far-south, deep in the sub-antarctic. We are in for some weather, maybe even a bit of snow, but in the meantime, before the wind gathers intensity, the trout will forage freely and we should get our fishing in while we still can.” We left our mugs of steaming coffee half-drunk and headed down to the lake, anxious to get there ahead of the sun.
“Too much of a good thing is very nice,” said Salmo to no-one in particular, looking up as he did, into a red-tinged winter sky. As if it had been waiting only for him to speak, a trout picked up his fly within seconds of him laying his first cast out. Salmo set the hook and the pricked fish took off down the old river channel. Salmo turned his full focus to the rod bucking in his hands. Moments later I was into a fish of my own. Both fish were landed, and within moments of their release we were hooked up again. We could do no wrong. We found ourselves in one of those rare, golden instants where the reality, briefly, is more perfect than any dreaming of it, where all of the imponderable vicissitudes and variations of this thing called “fishing” come together in a conspiracy designed to delude even the most righteous of anglers that they really have finally cracked all the codes. As speedily as any of our flies hit the water, they were gobbled in by eager trout. The action was fast and the fishing remained fervent for about forty minutes, then, as if someone had turned a switch, as quickly as it had begun, things went quiet.
The precursory rays of the rising sun fell upon the water as a couple of late-rising anglers emerged from the comfort of their lodgings to make their way towards the lake and the first subdued zephyrs from out of the north began to caress the lake surface into a carpet of riffles. Initially, the wind was gentle, pleasantly warm for a mid-winter’s dawn and so we continued to fish for a while, though we knew that the best of the days fishing was already past. As the shadows cast by the high berg shortened, the action slowed perceptibly. An occasional trout continued to move to the fly, but the takes were diffident, more hesitant, almost nervous. The newcomers joining us on the water began to rig their lines.
The wind continued to strengthen and before long, the fishing was no longer a pleasure, the casting almost impossible and downright dangerous. Salmo and I packed it in and as we rowed downwind, we waved at the fishermen from the lodge. “Hey, Sissy-fishers,” they teased as we left them behind, their craft at anchor, bucking in the wind.
And so we sat, back in the farmhouse with mugs of fresh steaming coffee, feeling rather clever with a good mornings’ fishing behind us, watching in comfort from behind the protection of solid plate-glass windows as the poor anglers from the lodge battled in the face of wind-blown misery to catch no fish. Although separated from our own incredible session by barely more than an hour, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and all they might expect from their considerable efforts, would be discomfort and distress.
Usually at this time of year we do not even bother trying to fish the dawn rise... as there simply isn’t one. At this time of year, the metabolism in the fresh water system of the high berg is very much at its lowest point of an annual cycle - and the brief insect or fish-feeding activity that may take place is far more likely once the weak winter sun has added that small daily fraction of its energy contribution; that is to say, mid-afternoon, by which time the water temperatures will be at their per diem high point. However, it is the exception that proves the rule and here we had a particular set of circumstances which would turn convention on its head. Our success could be entirely subscribed to the fact that we responded to this particular set of circumstances in a way that was sensitised to the actual conditions occurring, rather than mechanically, to conventional wisdom. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the conventional response would have been entirely appropriate. Therein, somewhere, lies the definition of what creates opportunity.
Averages Rule! Yet trouts (God bless them) - like any other living creature within any specific environment - are incredibly complex organisms, reacting with unbelievable physiological subtlety to all the ranges of variables within the niche they occupy, designed by evolutionary forces to so do. Their behaviour as a consequence, is broadly predictable in a general kind of way, but only broadly so, because within any given population not all individuals will react in precisely the same way to any given stimulus. Behavioural patterns might better be described as behavioural trends, but they are always the repercussion of the process of natural responses to simple and fundamental survival impulses. It all hinges around the three F”s; Feed, Fight or Flee (of course, in the breeding season there is a transient fourth Freddy) and the simple reactions to these fundamental predispositions. From the fisherman’s point of view, all one is trying to do is to get at the fish when they are more focussed on feeding than the alternatives. Primarily, this can be achieved by presenting a familiar food in an unthreatening and unthreatened way. If one can encourage the targeted species towards feeding when they may not have been particularly so inclined at the time, good and well, but that of itself must raise the levels of expectation. Therein lies material for a dissertation all its own. Still, the points of foci are not particularly complicated. Conceptually, the point of fly-fishing is merely to present the fish with an acceptable imitation of a real meal. Clearly, any biological and entomological insight which one brings to the moment must assist in improving the quality of the guesswork upon which the angler must depend. The deeper the understanding, the greater the confidence of the angler and the more likely fortunate is to shine upon his guesswork. Windows of opportunity are always open. All that is needed to recognise them is about four or five decades worth of lifetime experience. No big deal.