STEVE DUGMORE COMMENTS ON THE CAPACITY OF THE TROUT BRAIN
Further to the debate in the last two Newsletters sparked by Bob Wyatt’s latest book, What Trout Want, in which he questions ‘educatedness’ in trout, Steve Dugmore, a local master bamboo rod maker and professional architect, adds this splash of fuel to the fire...
I had an extraordinary experience a while back which I thought I should share with you. It is almost unbelievable and, without the witness that I fortunately had, I would be opening myself up to the proverbial 'Fisherman's tall story" in relaying it to you. So with witness at hand here goes:
My wife, Karin, and I took off work and spent the day on the Elandspad. I had booked beat 4 and we walked up to the cave enjoying the cool crisp morning air and the knowledge that we would more than likely have the place to ourselves.
I started fishing at the cave pool. There were a lot of 9 inch fish in the riffles at the base of the pool and some 10-11 inch ones lying low in deeper water. I decided to use this as a sight-fishing opportunity to test out some fly patterns I have been experimenting with. Having caught a couple of smaller fish and experienced numerous rejections, a larger fish of about 16 inches materialised in the middle of the pool. I immediately focused my full attention on it. It appeared to be beyond temptation until I abandoned my experiments and tied on a RAB. Almost immediately the fish rose up to the fly, hovered below it for a second and then nonchalantly sucked the fly in. I very gently but firmly set the hook. With a single flap the fish bolted for the depths and I was left with a slack flyless leader. I pulled in the line to inspect what had given. The tippet had snapped off at the knot. I put on some fresh tippet and another RAB and carried on fishing.
About 5 minutes later a fish jumped out of the water twice. It was obviously the same fish trying to get rid of the fly in its mouth. It then swam around just below the surface 'mouthing' the fly. I tried to tempt it to take another fly knowing the chances were less than zero - although stranger things have been known to occur. It was therefore ironic that at precisely this point things really did become strange.
The fish began to swim towards me just below the surface in what could best be described as a sidling motion. It appeared to be looking at me with one eye and keeping the other eye on the safety of the deeper water. The fish came within two feet of the rock I was standing on. I very slowly crouched down and the fish then came right up to the rock. It put its mouth slightly out of the water literally two inches from my boot. It seemed obvious to me that the fish wanted me to remove the fly! I very gently slid my hand under the fish. It let me do so until I applied a little pressure at which point it bolted back for the pool and disappeared into the depths. Thinking that was that, and not a little amazed and disappointed - particularly that I didn't have a net at hand - I carried on fishing.
Sure enough about half an hour later the fish jumps out of the water again and starts swimming towards me. This time it passed in front of me and stopped about 3 feet away to the side in thigh deep water. I lowered myself inch by inch into the water and approached the fish with my hands palm up under the water. The fish sidled up to my hands and I was able to slide them underneath it. With my heart pumping, I very, very slowly cupped the fish in my hands. It again felt the pressure and moved away a foot or two only to return again. This time I increased the pressure on the fish very steadily until I had it firmly around the tail and belly. At this point the fish gave a very powerful flap and in my determination not to let it go I very ungracefully lost my balance and both fish and I ended up completely underwater together. Still clutching the fish I surfaced, removed the RAB and let the fish go. It swam around me for a minute or two and then made its way off downstream leaving me dripping wet and somewhat bemused.
Okay, now how strange a story is this? I was at Steve Dugmore’s house only last week and over a pot of stove coffee, Karin vouched for the whole thing. She watched it all, as she said, with her own two eyes! The only reason Steve could think a fish would behave this way is that it had been caught and released so many times it associated humans with removing artificial flies from its mouth - an interesting development in the catch-and-release ethic if it is so! I hope Bob Wyatt reads this! By the way I persuaded my wife to join me on this section of the Elandspad a year ago when we were encircled by a threatening bunch of hostile baboons. She’s not been inclined to join me on the river ever since.