I watched from my perch on the bank high above New Zealand’s Hope river as the double-digit brown moved slowly back and forth in the current, carefully inspecting mother nature’s offerings, taking some but refusing most. This was a rare find, a trout this big feeding within 50 feet of a busy highway. Our Kiwi guide, John Gemmell, found the big fish there earlier in the week, and kept an eye on its position until our arrival. He was carefully working Cathy into casting position, and when he looked up at me I nodded affirmatively. The fish—so far—was as the Kiwis like to say, “happy.”
From her crouched position, Cathy opened her fly box, and John picked a fly, while I watched the drama unfold. Her first cast would likely also be the only cast, so I held my breath as her fly line sailed through the air, and the 16-foot leader started to turn over. The cast looked like it would reach the mark, but then a strong gust of wind slowed the fly, and it landed near the big brown’s tail.
Over the wind I could hear John yelling at Cathy to get down, as the trout turned downstream toward her. And then I watched as the trout rose slowly to the fly, its white mouth opened, and the fly disappeared. And then, for what seemed like an eternity, I waited for her to set the hook.
In a situation like this, your only hope is to wait for the fish to close its mouth and turn back into the current before you can set the hook, and that really takes some discipline. Cathy waited just long enough, and when she set the hook, the water exploded, and the brown charged downstream past both guide and angler.
John set off downstream in hot pursuit of the fish—and promptly fell in. We now had both the trout and the guide headed downstream, with both Cathy and me just trying to keep up. John regained his footing and eventually scooped the trout into his net, which was awkwardly small for such a large fish. I witnessed and photographed the entire sequence, concluding with the happy grip-and-grin of an angler, her guide, and the fish.
Breaking the Rules
The icing on the cake was the fact that Cathy’s own Super Beetle brought the fish to the surface. Trout of this size feed most confidently under the cover of darkness or low light, or subsurface where there is less risk from predators. Yet this trout came to the surface at 11 A.M. with bright overhead sun, simply because it couldn’t resist a big, buggy beetle.
Cathy’s Super Beetle
Thread: Black 6/0. Underbody: Black Ice Dubbing. Glue: Zap-A-Gap or Gorilla Glue. Body: Precut black closed-cell foam. Wing: Black Krystal Flash under White Hi-Vis (L&L Products). Legs: Charcoal gray Perfectly Barred Sili Legs (Wapsi).
Beetle patterns are nothing new to our sport as fly tiers for many years have been coming up with ideas to imitate the beetles that find their way into trout streams. When you think that there are over 370,000 described species of beetles out there, that’s a lot of bugs. Terrestrial imitations have always intrigued me, and I was fortunate enough to grow up in Pennsylvania where many of these important fly patterns first originated. The team of Charles Fox and Vincent Marinaro, for example, extended our trout season through the dog days of summer by proving the value of terrestrials when the major aquatic insect hatches ended, and trout switched to a diet of mostly land-dwelling insects. It was…