Expect the unexpected

A story about rainbow trout caught on the surface at night

By Dale Hes

Fly fishing has an incredible way of completely smashing all your expectations. Last weekend, we were spending one night at a large stillwater known for producing the odd brown trout, and we had decided beforehand that we might attempt to catch a big brownie off the surface at night. At the end of a full day’s float-tubing in windy conditions, we weren’t feeling particularly eager to head out into the autumn cold, especially after a massive braai and a couple of beers each. But I didn’t know when I’d come back to this venue, so I convinced myself to gear up and give it a bash with surface flies.

Having not heard of any reports of success at night-time here before, our expectations were low – so low that my buddies James Kitshoff and Matt Geri hadn’t even set up rods, simply coming down to the water’s edge to watch what would presumably be a fruitless endeavour. It was just before 11 pm.

A few casts into the blackness, and no sign of movement, apart from the noisy pops of the faintly ridiculous #2 bass flipper I had tied on to perhaps tempt a brownie that may have moved into the shallows to hunt.

But a few casts later, I heard a massive splash where my fly was, a noise that would be more suited to a garrick-filled estuary than a trout lake. My casual indifference was immediately shocked into tense expectancy – did I actually have a chance here? I made another cast into the dark, which resulted in another startlingly aggressive smash, but the fish missed again. A few moments later, another one came up to the fly and this time I lifted my rod into the heaviness of a fish, feeling the bucking of the rod with a mix of disbelief and joy. It fought hard, but I soon brought the lovely rainbow trout to the net, asking Matt to take a photo of both the fish and my wide grin. My buddies weren’t convinced that this wasn’t just a fluke, saying they would only get their rods if I hooked another one.

A few minutes later, there was another knee-shaking slash at my fly and I was on again, which set my fishing buddies into a mad scramble back to the cabin to get their rods. Another solid rainbow, hooked underneath the jaw – perhaps struggling to see the fly but homing into the sound of the flipper with all the fury of a guided missile. James and Matt arrived armed with small poppers, and got a few hits, but it was the black flipper (of which I only had one) that was getting most of the attention. I missed a few takes and then hooked another aggressive fish, which immediately set off on an incredible surface run that fooled Matt into thinking that an Egyptian goose had made a skidded landing on the water. I netted him just before midnight, concluding a truly exceptional hour of fishing.

The results of this little outing exceeded our expectations in many ways. The fishing had been slow during the day, so we didn’t expect things to pick up at night at all. We thought there may be a very slim chance of catching a brown – but instead three hard-fighting rainbows were netted. The manner of the surface takes was more aggressive than anything I had experienced fishing for trout. And all on a flipper intended for bucket-mouthed bass. It is these sorts of unexpected surprises that make me return to the water to cast a fly again, and again, and again.

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