I got my grunter ticket punched quite late this season and not due to lack of trying. In stark contrast to the beginning of last season, where all my swoffing buddies and I managed good catches of grunter, the going was slow this spring and I got skunked on several outings. Mike Gradidge and Jannie Visser both managed good fish on our last outing together, I was itching to set the record straight with our spotted quarry.
This changed when I got my first grunter of the season at the beginning of November. I arrived at my regular haunt to find stellar conditions and the place to myself. Perfect. The South Easter was blowing nicely and there were no clouds in the sky whatsoever. Part of my difficulty pinning a fish earlier was fishing in overcast conditions. Try catch a cruising grunter on sand with the lights off, almost impossible. Ok, Jannie Visser will make it look easy, but that’s seriously next level.
On this day there were lots of cruising fish around, but very few tailers. It took me a while to read their body language, and target the ones swimming slowly. At some point they would slow right down and eventually hover in one spot before tailing, but mostly without the tail breaking surface.
The fish also responded well. I had quite a few inquiries, some fish even changed direction to come and have a look. And then it happened; a grunt came for the fly aggressively, from quite far away so I couldn’t see what it was doing very clearly. I kept tension on the line and then a solid pull! But I missed it and he cruised away as if nothing happened. Damn.
I then decided it was only a matter of time. I knew that presentation was crucial and very important to get the fly right in front of the fish. I found some fish in shallower water, which made things easier. But the South Easter was giving me a hard time and a cast aimed in front of the fish would land on its tail. Pick up and cast again. On its head, luckily it didn’t notice because of the wind chop. Haul and cast again. A bit too far in front of it, but ok. Strip strip, he’s seen the fly! Strip strip, pause, he’s on the fly. Tension on the line. Then it dips and pins the fly on the sand. I put tension on the line and we’re off to the races! Woot! Woot! A feisty bugger that runs for the channel a number of times and gives me a good run around on the 7wt.
Yesterday I spent another day on the water and looking at the clear skies and good tides I assumed I would have the same good fishing of two weeks ago. Boy, was I wrong. Everything was more difficult; it was only the good visibility that was the same. For starters, there were fewer grunter, and no fish on the shallow flats, all in the very deep part of the flat. Despite the serious wind chop, it seemed that they could see me from a mile away and stayed away from me. In contrast to my usual stationary position waiting for fish to come to me, I found myself stalking every fish that I cast to. To make things worse, the flat was full up with huge mullet. It took me a while to recognize the slightly faster cruising speed of the mullet and not mistake them for grunter.
And then there were the fish’s behavior; classic grunter paranoia. Put a cast close to them and they would be off the flat as soon as the fly hits the water. Ok, so lead them well and let them find the fly. Cast, let the fly settle, wait, ok the fish should spot the fly about now. But instead of showing interest when it sees the fly, it freaks out completely and hauls ass off the flat.
I wade the flat and find new fish. I keep leading the fish with a good few meters. Cast, strip strip pause. OK, this fish has seen the fly. It’s swimming over, it’s on the fly! But then same thing, it reacts by having a meltdown and tearing ass off the flat like a bat out of hell. What’s up with these fish! By now my confidence has disappeared like a cement bag down a mineshaft and I am considering calling it a day. My three-hour window is drawing to a close anyway.
I spot a new pod, single out a fish and make a cast. It sees the fly, swim over and eats. I’m on. I can’t believe it, this is sweet!
While I’m driving home I’m pondering the grunter’s paranoid behavior and that last crazy fish. To make sense of it, I come up with a little story that, in a parallel universe, would be what our spotted friends were experiencing on this day. So, I’m dreaming, and in my dream I am hungry as hell and decide to stop for a Big Mac. I park the car, check my cellphone, usual stuff and walk into McDonalds. I’m inside and look up. Shock and horror! It’s filled with Zombies. It’s a scene straight out of Walking Dead. The last guy in the queue turns to me, makes an unearthly snarl and lunges forward with one eye hanging out. The rest of the Zombies are in close pursuit. I experience a nauseating panic! I turn around and haul ass out the restaurant! Hell and damnation! I don’t stop running! So that’s what I told myself, I had a days fishing for grunter in Zombie Land. Luckily for me, one of them woke up and smelled the coffee.