Tired old brown—NO, it’s the Nautilus!

Having had a satisfying day out on my first foray into a previously unexplored corner of my backyard, I opted to revisit it, this time with the benefit of a mental map pinpointing the location of my quarry—a half dozen large browns spread over an equal number of kilometres. Despite a brutal forecast of 45kph gust-wielding Norwesters, the day began placidly enough. A flamboyant band of pink donned the predawn horizon as I sped for the river, and had me pondering the old “Red sky at morning, shepherd’s warning” adage. But what of pink? Regardless, it looked ominous.

009Flamboyant predawn

It seemed a little bit of West Coast weather had crept over the main divide, as the air was laden with moisture and light rain began to fall from leaden skies, as I entered the river and began my journey up it. Thankfully, Accuweather hadn’t lived up to it’s name for once, and all was calm—for now. My aim was to at least get in a morning fish before the raging winds arrived and did their best to sabotage any angling attempts—shattering the liquid windows separating fish and I, intercepting fish-bound flies and hurling them angrily into the trees. That sort of thing. Hence, urgency was the order of the day, as with the benefit of intelligence gathered on my prior visit, I knew the fish were few and far between.

The muggy conditions wreaked havoc on my spotting attempts, leaving my glasses perpetually fogged. The perfect excuse for only managing to sight the first fish when it steamed off up the pool! As I sat down on a riverside rock to indulge in refreshments, I spied a hulk of an eel below. Friendly fellow he was, rising to the surface as I filmed him, ever inquisitive. It’s amazing how mellow and trusting these creatures are—gentle giants. Rather than bolting like most wild things would, he appeared as curious about me as I was him. Sensing this may well be the highlight of the day, I hung out with him a while—my new jet-black bud. It had me wondering what they eat to attain (and maintain) such a build. I suppose they occasionally gorge on opportune findings of deceased livestock, and that provides ample sustenance for the time in between such bonanzas, similar to how a camel loads up on water whenever they happen upon an oasis. The minimalistic movements these eel exhibit hint of a slow metabolism, so I suppose they can go several days without having to feed. But regardless, I didn’t tempt fate, and kept my fingers clear of the water whenever he angled his head upward to begin another investigative rise. I know—ya big wuss!

017Well-conditioned longfin

043 - CopyWPMy new bud (I’m sorry Wilson)

Approaching a narrower, rougher section of riverbed, I spied a rock of a darker shade of grey, spurring my overly hopeful fish radar into sounding off. With the sun having burnt away the grey, glare was no longer an issue, but an exploratory force of the Norwester had now arrived—sporadic sharp gusts—which regularly ruffled the surface of the water. I froze several metres from the dark anomaly, watching a while, trying to determine whether it be mineral or fish. Rocks, egged on by the mischievous angular sunlight of early morning or late afternoon, all too frequently cast fish-like shadows. Fool me once!

At this point, a young boy appeared high above on the opposing side of the gorge. He pointed, I waved. His mother soon came into view and stopped by his side. I pointed toward the dark figure, certain it was a trout by this stage, and made some feverish gesticulations about it being very large—cliche fisherman stuff. They watched on, no pressure. Numerous casts were made—most well off the mark—and flies changed, before they probably figured they’d read the writing on the wall, and moved on. But that writing was wrong, surprisingly, and I soon had a hook up, albeit a foul one. I can honestly say it was in no way intended. Fish twitched, most likely upon feeling the line glide into it’s side, and I struck in response, impaling it’s adipose fin. Of all the fins aye?

073Rock or fish? Starting to believe it’s a fish!

Considering he was a large fish, I didn’t hold out much hope of success as he set off into the bottomless blue. Having said that, he had a very dark appearance which initially had me wondering whether may have been sick or stressed. From my vantage atop one of the flatter riverside boulders, I watched him patrolling the pool in strangely sedate fashion, leading me to believe my hunch may’ve been correct. Figuring it was a straightforward matter of tiring him a while in the current, I was content to just wait it out. But with him being hooked near the rear there really weren’t any proactive measures I could have taken anyway.

When he began to charge about the depths with increasing fire, no less than half an hour after being hooked, any judgments of him being an old fish past his prime were completely dispelled. And instead, my mind was now conjuring comparisons between him and Jules Verne’s Nautilus—both tireless steely machines! While Ned Land’s harpoons had failed to penetrate his Nautilus’s armour, my size twelve rubber-legged harpoon had no such troubles. Continuing the 20,000 Leagues references, I could’ve done with Mr Land’s physical prowess and sailor forearms by this stage, as mine was beginning to burn. Bruised knees and shins were soon added to the list of brutalised body parts, as I was forced to scramble a boulder taller than myself when he broke free from the roaming routine he’d set for himself the best part of the last hour. A routine as repetitive as a gym circuit—dive, hold station on the liquid treadmill, surge for foot of opposite bank, saunter downstream, hold side-on to current, dash for crevice under my position. Repeat.

Watching the end of my fly line being towed off upstream at speed—woven between mid-river boulders—toward a substantial rapid this late in the fight, I could not believe what I was seeing! It’s a horrible feeling, the friction of fluorocarbon on rock, possibly even surpassing that of shin on boulder! And it’s trauma is always further amplified by the knowledge you have slippery rocks to scramble over before you can attempt to remedy the situation. Once the reel stopped singing and I’d negotiated the riverside boulder, I reasoned some sort of control had been restored. But then I began to feel a powerful tugging sensation travel up the line. This continued for a good ten seconds before the reel once again broke into song. I couldn’t believe it—he was running up the rapid! In the blindness induced by whitewater, I was reliant on the sensations in the line for clues on my adversary’s movements, in the same manner the blind utilise a cane. As I closed in on the rapid he was ascending, his shoulder was the first thing to come into sight—dark brown breaking through white—as he powered his way up out of the turbulent whitewater and into a far more placid pocket of water.

214Up through that? You’re ‘avin a laugh! He wasn’t

207Undoubtedly the steepest battleground I’ve navigated

There was a moment when, while taking a rest from his rapid-scaling endeavours, he came to rest behind a rock in shallow whitewater. A brief window of opportunity presented itself, and I had a chance to nab him. I couldn’t see his head so felt circumstances were unsuitable for a netting attempt, but upon applying sufficient upward force with the rod, his tail emerged from the water. Thoughts of a “tailing” arose, but any action was hesitated by the placement of the fly in his rear fin, as I didn’t fancy being attached to a large brown via a size 12 hook! I suppose it’d be a novel way to get drowned—towed down rapids by a large brown trout! Anyway, as I evaluated the risk he turned and glided back down through the boulders, and I was forced to endure another boulder-hop pursuit. I think I’d scaled the big boulder about five times by now, and probably eroded a half millimetre of goretex on it’s face.

I’m sure anyone reading this knows all too well, it’s near impossible to manoevre a fish when you’re connected to their rear instead of their front. All you can do is apply steady resistance in the opposite direction you want them to go, hoping to turn them. Kind of the reverse to conventional methods. I managed to succeed with this on a couple of occasions, but only near the end of the battle. Even then, he still returned back to the rock crevice he’d found, just taking a longer route than usual. Probably the most hope-eroding session of the hour and a half duel was this rock crevice phase, when all I could see was his tail—decorated with my orange rubber legged nymph—wagging steadily, countering the pressure I dared to apply. The only way to get him out was reversing him out, and with a fish this size it’s a slow gradual process. A process my back wasn’t enjoying one bit, as it maintained it’s hunched position for the majority of the fifteen minute long tug-of-war.

Once pried from the crevice one final time, he was manipulated down into the tailout. Here we stood for a time, face to face—a standoff in the shallows. Him facing upriver, myself down. It’s tempting to rush in with the net in these scenarios, but history has taught me unforgettable lessons in the form of top-nymph-on-net bust offs. To my immense relief, he opted to enter a mini backwater just beside where we’d begun our engagement, rather than back into the dreaded crevice slightly further up. All that remained of the duel was a straightforward netting. When I took him out of the black nylon corral for a photo, such was his indefatigable nature, I was half expecting (and left a little disappointed) when Captain Nemo failed to emerge from some hidden side hatch on the trout-like machine. It was hard to comprehend, but this apparently was just a fish. Or perhaps it was just that Captain Nemo didn’t feel I was worthy to board his majestic subaquatic vessel. Regardless, my foe retained his defiance to the end, even summoning the strength to break free from my grasp and attempt a speedy getaway shortly after being removed from the net. Incredible fish.

106Defiant till the end!

144 - CopyWPI know you’re in there Captain Nemo, the game is up!

119No, turns out this was just a trout—a very special one

The fishing slowed after this point. Well okay, that’s an understatement. I didn’t sight a single fish the rest of the day. But that was okay—part of me was even relieved!—as I was knackered. It was a pleasant but rather tough walk, which saw me passing my turnaround point of my last visit by some distance. Being down to my last rod I took it easy on the way back, and thankfully the rocks here were far more benevolent than those of the last river I fished, and none felt the need to conspire against me. Along the way, I paused at the vantage point where the boy and his mother had stood earlier in the day, to survey my former—well the only—battleground of the day. My foe was nowhere to be seen however. He was probably still lying deep, catching his breath. And most likely Captain Nemo would still be busy running diagnostics—refusing to believe he was just a fish!

269The morning battleground—the vantage point of the boy and his mother

279I’m stumped how long this wood’s been here, but it’s eroded state suggests it’s a while

Nearing the end of my walk back downriver, I casually flung my nymphs out and let them drift down a shallow, pleasant looking, willow-lined run. The indicator soon dived, and given the shallow nature of the water, I assumed it must’ve been due to nymph on rock, as surely I couldn’t have missed sighting any fish in this sort of water. Wrong!

Reel sounded the alarm—achtung!—as a moderate-sized silhouette fled the scene, dashing past me up and across the river, pausing under a submerged branch just long enough to weave the line through it before continuing it’s escape. Bounding across the river, stripping line from reel as I went, I watched it slide through the submerged entanglement and follow the assailant upriver. Once line was freed from willow I gave chase, but it didn’t last long. He disappeared under more willow battlements—roots this time—at the opposing bank and the line lost it’s feeling of a live connection. Adjusting angles did nothing to remedy the situation, and upon applying more pressure the line sprung back at me. Ah well, it wasn’t that big anyway, were the consolatory thoughts. Still, it would’ve been nice to legitimately catch one for the day. Though not as large as the fish further upriver, this one certainly knew how to fully utilise it’s residence’s willow-clad safe rooms. Perhaps next time it’s a case of breaking out the 8lb tippet and waging some shock ‘n’ awe blitzkreig!

On the drive home, I again stopped roadside to check in on the new-born lambs, but no melancholy musings were had on this occasion, as their comical antics served as ample distraction. But the fiendish Norwester, now in full force, soon drove them to hop to their sanctuary at the base of a Bluegum. Quite impressive smarts for creatures only a few weeks old.

296Frisky lambies—never to young to start!

All in all, given the forecast, it’d been a pretty good day. While I didn’t legitimately catch any fish, I was put through the duel of my life and have the woundings to show for it. Certainly an experience I won’t soon forget! And of course (as is obligatory with us fishermen) the encounter will undoubtedly become more grandiose with every retelling. Perhaps one day, years from now, it may’ve even evolved sufficiently to warrant a novel—one which would no doubt come close to rivaling the original classic in terms of fiction—20,000 Micrometres Under The River X!

The footage…

All is lost

Ominous title aye? Well it had to happen—one of those days. The day hadn’t started off too smoothly, realising I’d left my camera hat at home only after I’d arrived at the river. A bit of insulation tape remedied that, as I secured it to my pack’s shoulder strap instead. Makeshift and not quite as level, and certainly nowhere near as picturesque footage with my mug at times appearing in the side of the frame, but all that aside it worked okay. No amount of MacGuyver’ing with tape could remedy the other regretful events of the day however. Two fish—goodies around six and eight pounds respectively—hooked, and lost. At times, a bit of tape over the mouth may’ve been a good idea!

The first was a bizarre incident. I knew where he was, thanks to a previous encounter a couple of weeks back, but despite that I still succeeded in spooking him off up the pool. In these situations I always fire off a couple of casts ahead of them—hopes eternal—and very occasionally I will still achieve a hook up. On this occasion the ever-optimistic post-spook cast did the business! As the nymphs drifted past him he swayed and I struck. His response was an uncoordinated, writhing mess of movement, offering no real resistance. It appeared I’d achieved yet another foul-hooking—must be about the fourth one this season! His movement just prior to hook up, however, did suggest he deliberately went for the nymphs. Just a few minutes into proceedings I had him on a shallow bar near the river’s edge, but for reasons unknown I took my time. I guess his shambolic fight gave me a false sense of security. Anyway, I soon paid for it dearly, as when he wriggled off the bar and headed for the depths he appeared to regain his composure. It’s as if it takes them a while to adjust their swimming style to overcome the unbalancing effect of a hook in the fin—understandable! Less than a minute after refloating himself the hook pulled and I’d lost him. Cue wild rant.

Okuku17Morning glory, momentarily….

okuku114Close, but no….

So you lose the fish. Provided you can keep it together enough the next thing you do is retie your knots. Sometimes I’ve found this process to actually be a little therapeutic. But having just spent x amount of time in one spot playing (and losing) the fish, it’s highly likely a ridiculous cloud of sandflies have materialised, and you’re of course in the centre of it. It just adds insult to injury really. Losing a fish, and then having sandflies go to town on you while you diligently retie your rig. Fossicking over your face, buzzing under your buff—ample fuel to sustain that inevitable post fish-loss raging. With the apex of that rage having passed, you settle into a sort of brooding irritability, and it’s here that, coupled with the torment of the sandflies, a sort of fisherman’s Tourette’s takes hold—near-involuntary outbursts of obscenities, accompanied by sudden, uncontrollable hand and facial ticks. To any distant observer unaware of the context, such a spectacle would surely pass for the genuine syndrome. Fortunately for me, the nearby track was unusually quiet on this holiday weekend.

Moving on then—equilibrium reestablished—to lost fish number two. It was a half hour later that I found him, emerging from the cover offered by turbulent waters to mooch around below my boots, no more than a rod length away! I’d been lurking around this section of river a while, adopting my best stealth, as I knew he was here somewhere. Again, this was another fish I’d seen before on my previous visit. Once my eyes had finished scouring the fifty metre long section of river, I’d climbed on top of one of the river’s numerous boulders, and had begun to think he was either hunkered down under a boulder, or had perhaps relocated. Interrupting these thoughts, the large trout sauntered out of the turbulent whitewater and into the all too glassy calm stuff just below me. Instinctively, I flicked out the flies, which created a cringe-inducing ripple as they entered the water just in front of him. He continued forward, shifting course slightly, and appeared to take one of the nymphs. Completely amazed he hadn’t seen me, I raised the rod gently—we were connected!

okuku7-2.4250fpsMid-battle, about where I hooked the guy!

It was a mellow battle at first. He skulked about in a rather monotonous, circular beat for several minutes in the turbulent water at the foot of a pour-over, before finally heading downstream. Things livened up quickly at this point, as he was fast approaching a majestic three metre high midstream boulder which dominated the centre of the river, splitting the thigh-deep flow in two. Minutes earlier—suspecting a downstream manoeuvre might eventuate—I’d been scrutinising this disconcerting feature, trying to plot a course of action. But it was too far away, and I knew it’d have to be left to a spur of the moment decision. He took the left channel, probably the worse of the two options—how surprising.

okuku9-10.01Meeting the Megalith!

Struggling to keep up, having to first negotiate a short but slippery crossing over green slime-covered rocks, I watched on in despair as he wrapped the line around the base of the midriver monster. As I rounded it and reclaimed direct contact with my opponent, it became apparent that he was wedged deep in the recession at the base of the immense rock. From this new perspective it was an even more concerning sight. This was no ordinary rock; it had the look of a stony-faced killer—of angler’s morales! Perhaps the river gods, having been feeling empathetic towards the plight of their resident fish, had forged this Megalith decades earlier with the foresight a day such as this may come. At it’s base lay it’s mouth—narrow yet broad, it’s immense darkness suggested substantial depth—spanning the entire breath of the boulder. A mouth, I wagered, which surely had a voracious appetite for fluorocarbon!

okuku11-1.17Get outta there! (I did warn you at the start the new camera perspective wasn’t pretty!)

While the line still possessed the vibrancy of a direct connection, I risked adding more pressure (and a bust off) rather than wait it out and hope, like I usually do. The risk was rewarded, and as I prised him from the depths of Megalith’s mouth in reverse, and his tail soon came into view. Once fully exposed, he dashed off to another large rock at river’s edge, and I rushed over to dominate the space in front of the stone-faced tippet assassin, hoping to deter any thoughts he may’ve been having of a return. His new recluse, however, still posed a threat. A swift current drove hard against this rock, concealing both fish and the geology beneath, and as he lurched about in the depths I did my best to angle line away from rock. Several minutes later, despite my efforts, the line pinged back in my face and he was lost. Clinging to “forlorn hope”—yes it was a bit of a hazardous mission—and suspecting where he might be, I charged in—net in hand—to do a bit of shameless, manic prospecting at the base of the boulder. It almost paid off, with him narrowly dodging the side of the net by mere centimetres as he fled his hide. Cue the ballad of the forsaken fisherman—you m*ther-f*cking, n*mph-s*cking, son-of-a-b*tch. I know, bit presumptuous of me to assume it was a jack.

okuku13-1.232Shameless prospecting post fish-loss, the length of grey just right of the net is the fish

Having tasted defeat, again, I attempted to console myself with a chocolate bar, but such was the bitterness of this defeat no amount of sugar could’ve masked over it. I pressed on upriver a while, saw one more fish—yes, I’d seen that one before too—and despite knowing vaguely where he’d be, still spooked him regardless. Around midday, fairly sure there were no more fish in the previously surveyed kilometres of river which lay ahead, I opted for a quick fish downstream of the car before heading home.

For some reason the banks here were teeming with bees. There were beehives further upstream, but for whatever reason they preferred it down here. I’ve got a lot of time for the bees, especially when bearing in mind Einstein’s prediction of us only lasting four years without them. Empathetic toward their plight in this precarious, pesticide-laden modern world, I went to lengths to avoid standing on them. Basically this meant I had to walk in the river—tactics not exactly conducive to good stalking! Short of the three fish lying in tough spots around willow lined stretches—all spooked—it was a waste of time. I had one amusing moment where I undertook a painstaking bush-bash through gorse to reach a better casting position, only to emerge from the scrub and spook a fish lying at river’s edge, which then bolted ahead and spooked his run-sharing comrade. Bugger!

011Bank littered with bees

Somehow—probably due to it still only being midafternoon—I got suckered into a futile kilometre-long recon downriver. It would’ve been forgivable if it wasn’t dead straight and clearly devoid of holding water, but ever-optimistic I pressed on. May as well have been fishing the Atakama—same number of fish! The perseverance did eventually bring me to a vast, sprawling pool with a near non-existent flow. Such a substantial body of water seemed curiously out of place on this river. Here, I fished a streamer a while, but it was tough to cover it all without wading in, as thanks to yet more willows, backcasting room was minimal. My efforts eventually brought about a brief burst of excitement, as a sizeable brown viciously accosted the tungsten cone-headed streamer, but a possibly slightly too eager strike yielded nothing.

013Upriver view, midpoint of the Little Atakama

015Downriver view

So, several thousand words later and I’m still fishless. But it’s okay, it wasn’t all for naught. Another long day out, many miles racked up, and a few memorable moments thrown in. I suppose that’s the good thing about the headcam. In the event of a fish loss, you’ve still captured some interesting footage. Now, before I forget, must find that missing camera hat!

Below is a short clip summarising the day’s grim events.

Orientation week is over!

Before we begin, let me apologise in advance for the very mediocre images. My modest point-and-shoot clearly didn’t bring it’s A game on this venture! (Nothing to do with the operator at all).

Hmm… they’re wising up! It was my third visit of the season to a particularly popular section of my local river, and on this occasion it appeared the difficulty level had been raised several notches. I’d already spooked several fish by the time nine o’clock rolled around. A couple even bolted dramatically as my indicatorless nymph rig plopped into water several metres upstream—bit uncalled for this early in the season! It was clear the buffoonery of “Orientation week” was over, and now it was time to knuckle down and study—for trout and angler alike—albeit for different purposes. It appeared many of the resident fish were exhibiting post-catch hangovers, and just as a newly-enrolled “freshie” pays the price the next morning for all that beginning of term overindulgence, they too, seemed to be paying the price for their carefree early-season rambunctious feasting. With fresh wounds inflicted to their body and psyche, they certainly had ample motivation to rectify their reckless behaviour, and begin scrutinising their food far more closely before consuming.

It appeared a clutch of anglers had collaborated to transform Nature’s silty riverside canvas into some sort of monochrome Jackson Pollock piece, utilising boot sole rather than brush. Boot-sized clusters of identical circles and hexagons spanned it’s entirety, leaving it possibly even busier than Jackson himself would’ve approved of. Despite the well-trodden path, I suppose it’s possible I may’ve been jumping the gun with this assessment of pressure-induced heightened alertness, as another factor could’ve played a part—the overcast conditions. This was the first cloudy day I’d fished this season, and I began to wonder if it was merely the absence of the angler’s ally which dazzles our foe, that was making things so difficult. Regardless, I reasoned I’d keep walking until the boot prints became fewer, and the sunshine (scheduled for the afternoon) arrived.

002A rather bleak outlook—the fishing outlook seemed equally as rosy

Although fishing the same water frequently can become a little tedious, it also has it’s fascinations. You get to learn where the fish are and aren’t, and it begs certain ponderings, such as why this riffle is always unoccupied and yet the previous one held two fish. On this third venture upriver, my mind by now had the location of the first dozen fish pinpointed. A couple of those had already been duped and caught, and having little interest in catching already conquered fish, I invested minimal time and effort in those spots. Far more concerned, I was, in bettering the fish who’d bettered me on the previous two visits—especially those who’d robbed me of a couple of four buck a piece, store-bought nymphs! Two such heists had been inflicted on me here already this season, and I failed to apprehend either of the bandits on this outing. I also failed, again, to fool the tricky riffle-dwelling duo, this time even triggering a spectacular domino-spook. A fish from the pool below (which I’d assumed to be a rock)—never again!— bolted up into the riffle, spurring the lower one of the duo to dash off, which then triggered his wingman just a few metres ahead to follow suit. I’m hoping that over the course of the season, I will gradually manage to erase all of these residents off the map. Metaphorically, of course!

Near midday, with the sun still failing to make an appearance, it was getting cold and miserable. The chilled easterly wind was especially felt, as I’d jumped from a rock into the river only to have my ankle roll as I landed. My leg instinctively crumpled, and I face-planted in the river. Would’ve made for interesting (though humiliating) headcam footage, but it wasn’t running at the time. So being rather soaked, the easterly was biting hard. Fortunately a six pounder was soon hooked and the ensuing duel served to warm me up. Not a bad fish at all, but being a couple of pounds lighter than what I was becoming accustomed to this season, it felt small. Funny phenomenon, that, the sliding scale of perception.

008Nice enough hen, despite me looking rather blase about it

When the sun eventually did come out—midafternoon now—it’s warming rays were gratefully received. It’s amazing how uplifting it can be to have the sun on your face, after hours of enduring the incessant austerity of a brisk easterly. I was now far upriver and boot prints, as anticipated, had lessened. Fish numbers here were still a little patchy, and being well beyond the border of my mental map now, I had little idea of where I may encounter them. In fact, this was the furthest I’d ever been upriver, and it refreshed the spirit a little to be entering, and roaming through, a new frontier. The gorge deepened up here, taking on canyon-like proportions. Craggy walls of fractured bronze rock towered above the river on both sides. Simply put, it was all a little more majestic than downriver, causing me to pause and marvel a while. It bore semblance to a miniature wild west canyon, but for the broad line of yellow graffitied high up across one of it’s walls, marring this masterpiece. Perhaps one of the gods was feeling mischievous when designing this landscape and had picked up his oversized can of dazzle paint? Or, more likely, was it simply just the formation of a billion broom flowers?

067Marred masterpiece

Ruminations aside, I pressed on, hoping for one legit fish for the day—oh yeah, I foul-hooked that six pounder in the pectoral fin. I suspect all these foul-hookings are down to the saturated state of my yarn. Perhaps if I talked less…. Or I could just buy some mucilin. Walking up a particularly fishless stretch I came across an epic entanglement—the submerged remnants of a rusted galv-wired fence, decorated in lush green willow leaves—which appearing to span nearly the entire width of the river. As I progressed up the pocket water above it, I was thankful there were no fish awaiting a hook up as this feature would certainly be a hit with them, and a guaranteed bust off!

Some fifteen minutes later, after a drink, a snack, and a change of nymphs—this instance called for heavy tungsten—I sat the pack down and approached a pool. A deep bottomless one; the equivalent of a trout mansion I suppose. Surely such a prime piece of trout real estate couldn’t be vacant! With the nymphs in place, the wispy white, insipid, ever-failing woolly indicator eventually began to sink, to which I responded with my routine strike-come-cast. Surprise, fish on! Line surged, down diagonally, toward the base of the opposing side of the pool. We battled here for some time until he saw fit to leave, bolting through the tailout, down a swift section, and into another significant pool. This intrusion was promptly met by the appearance of another equally large trout, which darted around him for some time. I suppose this interaction was initiated by intentions to either aid him or, more likely, to tell him to sod off. This pool’s occupant disappeared a while, before returning to hound the hooked fish again, this time in the shallows of the pool’s tail section. It even had the audacity (or tunnel vision perhaps) to park up at the river’s edge in front of him, seemingly oblivious to the presence of a camo-clad trout pesterer merely metres away. It sat there a good twenty seconds before finally darting off with a vicious scythe of it’s tail as I closed in, literally leaving my fish in the dust—or rather, a cloud of silt. An exciting spectacle to watch, and it was a shame that my action camera saw fit to have a “card error” at the commencement of this duel. I’d tried to remedy the situation, but it’s not easy to unscrew the back of the camera, remove the tight-fitting battery, put it back in, and screw the back on again, all while playing a fish!

We negotiated around five hundred metres of river together, with me failing to capitalise on a couple of opportunities to net him, before he finally hunkered down against the foot of a rock in pocket water—near spent. Surveying my surroundings, I noticed it behind me—the dreaded willow-leaf clad fence! Sickening sight it was, as I knew I had to get him now, or never. I tried tailing him twice, and both times the sensation of my hand meeting his flesh caused him to bolt slightly forward before stopping again. Then, finally, he turned leftwards into the current, which caught him and thrust him towards the sprawling snag. To my immense surprise—somehow—he glided over the only low part of it. Being too fatigued by this stage, he either didn’t notice it, or lacked the energy to take advantage of it. After this, it was the simple matter of running some shallow pocket water and pulling him over to the side, and into the net!

058Sprawling snag!

034Benevolent snag-shy fish—thanks buddy!

It can be hard on the body, this fly fishing business. With the duel having taken me half a kilometre back downriver, and with my pack still being at the hook up spot, I had to walk the best part of a kilometre to retrieve it and get back to where I had netted the fish. On top of that, I still had about seven kilometres of riverbed to get down before the day was out—if only I had packraft money!

On the way back, while walking down a long glide, I witnessed a mayfly hatch of epic proportions. Something of a rarity for this river. Well perhaps it’s not that rare, but it’s rare that I ever get to see them, as I suspect they usually occur sometime after I’ve left the river. Despite all the bug activity, I still failed to see a single trout rise. It’s the thing this river seems most lacking in, dry fly opportunities. No idea why, perhaps these trout are just a bunch of impure bogan nymphers, and shun the purism of the dry. Regardless, a fulfilling day it’d been, dry fly or not. A couple of reasonable fish racked up, some new exploration, no gear damaged. And unlike last time, no poacher-ambushing cop lying in wait for me on the way out!

079A glance back while heading out, just before the hatch

Lady luck—her “cycle” was nigh

Lady luck—the fickle mistress. As anglers, we’re at the mercy of her bi-polar swings more than most. I suspect the majority of us have had enough bizarre riverside experiences to banish any doubts over her existence, and those of us who have been fishing long enough have likely observed that luck tends to come in cycles. We do our best to prepare, to take all cautionary measures in an attempt to ensure success, but at day’s end things often come down to chance. Will he dash downriver or up? Have I just tied on a dud fly? Does that unethical guide feel like dropping in on my river today? Sure, I hear what you’re thinking. Ramblings about “luck” can also be mere loser-talk from the guy who was too tight (skint) to buy “superior” flies, or the guy who doesn’t know how to tie a proper knot—guilty as charged!—but I’ve stopped masking over my deficiencies with lies. It’s all in the past.

Anyway, getting back to Lady Luck. I’ve come to learn that in order to have a happy day’s angling in her presence—albeit overbearing at times—we must get through the four stages those self-help groups preach. Denial, anger, fear, acceptance. “I can’t believe he wouldn’t eat my fly. Are you too good for my fly?! Maybe all my flies are rubbish? Oh well, I’m at the river now, just enjoy the day”. Or something along those lines. Basically we must acknowledge, and be grateful for, her spells of benevolence while we’re blessed with them, and prepare and ready ourselves for her impending malevolence.

My season, to date, had been going swimmingly. I was enjoying an unprecedented bumper spell of Ms Luck’s benevolence, with my previous two outings seeing me bag a couple of terrific fish, in quite unlikely scenarios. And today, it appeared, everything was again falling into place. First to the river; sandflies slow to muster as I dithered in the car park adorning all the usual angling paraphernalia; a first fish on the board no more than a hundred metres from the car. My victim even performed some nice acrobatics for the action camera. Good fortune such as this was enough to make me suspicious—fearful even—of the inevitably impending bad luck front. I knew it was only a matter of time before the mercury in the fortune barometer dropped like a stone.

029Unfamiliar light in this photo—I don’t usually rack up a victory this early in the day!

When I heard a distant mechanical drone growing louder, followed by the sight of a helicopter pass by overhead I assumed this was the turning point. It seemed ludicrous—this metallic backcountry bird must be lost!—as no one flies into this place. But despite that, I couldn’t shake the suspicion I’d been jumped. An audacious helicopter jumping certainly would’ve been an apt way to shatter my prolific run of good luck. As I fished on up the river, extremely low, swift-moving cloud entered the valley, concealing much of the clear blue sky. It was a peculiar weather phenomenon, and had me wondering whether this was the gods way of letting me know the game was up.

But no, to my disbelief line soon again went tight, as I hooked up on a solid brown. Initially I thought him to be a half-decent fish as I glanced his upper half briefly break the surface, but as he continued to tear line from spool my estimation of him rose several notches. He was like the trout version of Sun Tzu, this guy, waging total war on me. He defied my previously held approximations of brown trout and their battle capacities, as he steamed ahead on run after run after run—a couple of which came close to achieving his endgame of bust-off-via-gorge-wall. Tiring in the trenches—or rather the waist-deep water—I maintained my Spartan reserve, bent rod angled low to water’s surface, hoping to distance fluorocarbon from rock—Nature’s ever-present long-range release tool.

Each time he dived for his crevice sanctuary—submerging the full length of the leader—he forced my hand into applying a little more pressure than I’d normally dare. As I eventually pried him from the deep and into the confines of the black nylon corral, it appeared Lady Luck was still feeling philanthropic! He was a sleek, athletic specimen. A stunning, sheeny scale veneer concealed eight pounds of muscle.

044Possibly my favourite fish of the season, so far….

Meandering up the gorge I sighted the occasional fish, but failed to get much interest. It was amazing just how close you could get to them (casting multiple times from a side-on position when circumstances called for it) without them bolting off. Their feeding habits, sadly, were far less obliging.

Having had my offerings shunned by a decent fish, I spied a youngster sauntering up into the pool. It’s flank was covered in ostentatious aqua-chrome, and she was finning about with a little too much swagger for my liking—young un’s and their bloody “SWAG!”. Well, it was time to tone down that exuberance of youth. She’d likely never met a troutophile before, and well, that curious colouring begged closer inspection. To my ego’s relief it was a straightforward process. Nymphs in, fish on, admirable fight, in the net. Diminutive specimen aside, she was in decent condition, and sported a dazzling blue hue, and some interesting oversized spots. Perhaps she’ll grow into them! If she does keep this condition and colouring she’ll certainly be one to keep an eye out for in a few seasons time. Though by that time wisdom will likely ensure she tones down such flamboyance, opting for longevity over eye-catching, flashy bling.

136Introducing Ms Aqua-Chrome

148Those spots!—guess you had to be there….

When I finally did arrive at a (proper) fish more keen on their food—one in the midst of a feeding frenzy on the opposite side of an uncrossable section of river—I succumbed to some fairly frenzied excitement. It was one of those rare circumstances where you just knew that hooking them was a formality (almost)—something of a rarity on this river. Fearing detection, I hastily slung a few crude casts upriver of him, but the rushing current caused drag to swiftly set in. Eventually—around the seventh cast perhaps—possibly thanks to some line mending of dubious quality, the fish turned downriver mid-sway. With my waterlogged indicator rendered untrustworthy, I was unsure what’d happened but struck regardless. For a moment line was taut, fish flapped at surface in the strong current, before line once again fell slack and fish bolted down and across to my side of the river.

To my immense surprise the just-hooked fish came to a stop merely a half dozen metres downriver of me. Hopes eternal, I flicked out my nymphs and allowed them to drift down to him. With flies arriving first, the indicator was again redundant. There wasn’t really any noticeable sign that he took the nymphs but I struck regardless, and upon lifting the rod—to my amazement—I’d re established the connection! Moments later, however—just like my old Telecom dial-up—the connection was lost, again. The culprit, a failed leader-to-tippet knot, and fish was on his way for a second, and final, time. A solid fish lost twice in a matter of minutes! I suppose it was the kindest sort of knot break, offering the consolation that even if I had of set the hook better the first time, the knot would’ve failed anyway. Still, it was a little concerning. Lady Luck’s mood, it appeared, was darkening. Or was this loser-talk, should I have just retied my knots more often….

107Gorge-ous day

119 - CopyWPPromising pool

The next fish I found was a good one, but another tricky one. He was prancing about his home gobbling up god knows what. The only thing I was certain of was that it wasn’t my nymphs. I invested a half hour on this fellow, and left feeling rather humbled. It was now late afternoon, and concerns about dwindling daylight and a long walk back began to enter my mind. Turn around? But not before exploring what lies beyond the next bend! The thoughts of a shameless trout junkie.

A quarter hour later I sighted another fish—a goodie. Late afternoon glare did it’s best to thwart me, but I achieved a hook up. This guy fought valiantly, reminiscent of the second fish of the day, with the exception of the most gormless, comical jump I’ve ever witnessed. Despite turning to flee—well maintain line tension—as he swam toward me, I still managed to catch it on the action camera. It was like some sort of airborne spent spinner rise, quite an intimidating thing when it’s directed right at you! After a lengthy duel through pools, runs, and riffles. he finally tired and I got ’em. A rather odd thing had happened while pursuing him down a knee-deep run, I almost trod on another fish! Unfortunately the memory card in the action camera had maxed out by then, so I missed capturing it. Oh well, lessons hard learned!

229Just before it all turned to sh#t

Now then, you’ve probably been wondering about Lady Luck, and when she’s going to strike me down. Well your patience is about to be rewarded! (Be honest, you only read this far with the hopes of reveling in my woundings!). On the way back downriver, with daylight dwindling, legs thoroughly spent, and moving more recklessly than is wise, the toe of my boot met with the exposed half of a rock fixed in the riverbed mid-stride. I kept moving forward a while but increasingly lost balance. Okay, I know what you’re going to say. Luck?! Try learning how to walk dipshit! Well, fatigue and hurry-induced recklessness leave you prone to these sort of things. In normal circumstances, with legs that weren’t ghosts of their former selves I would’ve probably succeeded in running it out. But try as they did—six or seven paces, ever-increasing in speed—they couldn’t restore equilibrium. I suspect their attempts actually made it worse, as this caused me to meet riverbed with greater speed.

Upon picking myself up, the first thing I checked was my reel. Well the clicker no longer worked, but the rest seemed fine. Looking up I noticed the rod seemed a little shorter. Huh, the end section must’ve come off on impact, was my initial thought. But no, it was busted. It wasn’t just any old break either, it’d managed a double fracture! Ah well, bright side was I wouldn’t get suckered into wasting the precious remaining daylight on fish.

With Lady Luck now clearly “on the rag”, I made a concerted effort to negotiate the mineral minefield which lay between myself and my getaway vehicle. Eventually, as rock-paranoia gradually dissipated, I allowed myself the slight distraction of reflecting on the day’s events—whilst keeping a close eye on those mineral booby traps! I was in a state of ambivalence about this day. I’d caught a couple of cracking fish, yet also finished off an already amputee rod. As I pulled out onto the road it was clear I wasn’t quite out of Lady Luck’s reach, as she had one last trick up her sleeve—a police car laying in wait. But I dodged that one, with no further damage inflicted.

On the drive home, engrossed in contemplation of the day’s events, I began to wonder. Perhaps the day’s dark turn wasn’t a product of Ms Luck’s manipulations after all, and rather, a swift serving of karma dished up for my fiddling with the underage (yet lovely) Ms Aqua Chrome. Being something of a superstitious man, this thought had me scribing a mental note to self—leave the little ones alone! Well, at least till a couple of my carbon fibre cripples complete their convalescence.

Quote

Into the wilds of my backyard!

Four hours sleep; I was feeling a little rough. Fortunately the adrenaline soon began to course through my veins and mask the effects of any sleep deprivation, as I sped toward the river—skies lightening—praying I’d get there before anyone else. Large trucks, it appeared, had caught wind of my plans, and did their utmost to thwart them, as they lurched out from every approaching intersection to occupy the road ahead and proceed to navigate it at snail’s pace. The river I’d decided on was one I was yet to catch a fish on. I’d been there twice before on brief visits and only sighted a couple of fish—both large and difficult. I’d made it a goal of mine to catch a fish there before the season was out, and early season seemed like the best chance to get it done, before the predicted “El Nino” fries the poor buggers.

As I headed up the river, the sun emerged from behind the crest of the hill to my rear, saturating the valley with light, but more importantly, illuminating the water. Just as well, as knowing the fish would be few and far between, I needed all the help I could get. But as I rounded the bend, the river was once again shrouded in shadow. For much of the morning I fished in the shaded confines of the narrow little gorge. Half an hour into it I finally spotted my first fish, but it was too late—I was too close. He was off before a cast was even fired. Another half hour of leg work saw me arrive at my next fish. Problem was, I didn’t know it. A solitary blind cast resulted in a blur of grey bolting the entire length of the run—some thirty metres—and disappearing into the distant pocket water. (Gulp). This is going to be tough!

017

The next fish—probably a couple of kilometres from the starting point now—was a funny one. Lurking in a backwater, facing a boulder. I cast an array of flies against the boulder wall—dries, nymphs, a streamer—plopping them all down in front of him, prompting no reaction at all. Eventually, in languid fashion, he skulked off into a crevice and never reappeared. By now, my inner fire was reduced to embers, but I reminded myself that this was what I had expected—few, tough fish. But fish aside, this place was certainly living up to the impressions formed on my previous visits. It definitely had that desirable “wilderness” feel. But for the broom and gorse, which lined much of the length of both banks, you could almost imagine yourself being in some distant West Coast headwater tributary.

146

The next fish I came across was lying deep, in the final third of a rather turbulent pool. This one appeared very getable, and I was feeling confident about my chances. The first few casts brought no response. Concerned I wasn’t getting down deep enough, I switched to a double tungsten nymph rig. Nothing. Added splitshot. Nothing! I spent nearly an hour on this fish, and things deteriorated pretty badly during the latter half of the session. A boulder, dislodged during my river edge roaming, even managed to come to rest on top of my nymphs, rendering them irretrievable. Never lost flies that way before! Somehow, I also lost my quarry of flies that had been sitting on the rock beside me. Then, to really put the patience to the sword, newly tied knots began failing for inexplicable reasons. In the end, the fish did the merciful thing and disappeared.

After a long fishless walk through ever-steepening pocket water, I spied some placid water ahead. A promising sight, until the dazzling garments of a couple of picnickers—stone skimming picnickers unfortunately!—caught my eye. They were in the midst of honing their skills on what had probably previously been a trout-occupied pool. Oh well, it was the weekend, probably to be expected. I stopped and had a chat to them—a father and his two young boys—before progressing on upriver. A mere twenty metres onwards, I paused, spying a long length of tan in the emerald green—a trout! My first cast snagged on a rock at the end of it’s drift, just a couple of metres behind the fish. Sneaking downriver and into the water some ten metres behind him, I scaled a boulder midriver, and from this new angle, succeeded in freeing the flies. From here, I cast again. It soon became apparent that this was a better position to present my flies from, as on the second drift the wispy wool indicator dived decisively. Fish was on!

okuku9lbhookupBit of battle photography

His initial move was to swim right for me, and having just slipped off the boulder I was panicking that he was about to pull the highly dreaded “nutmeg” manoeuvre. But after seeing my legs he turned again, and cruised casually upriver. I felt it was only a matter of time before I lost this fish, as prior to casting I’d noticed one of my connection knots wasn’t seated properly, with a mini loop jutting out from it. I hadn’t bothered to fix it as by this point I’d lost the belief that I would succeed in getting any of these trout to take. On top of the dubious knot, this river was hellish for playing fish. Deep unnavigable pocket water punctuated by immense boulders seemed to spell inevitable bust-offs. In my mind I was wondering if I could manage to take the impending fish loss in a manner suitable for the presence of small children. Interrupting these thoughts, he manoeuvred again, pirouetting downriver this time, and surprisingly taking the turnoff into a sedate backwater—I began to believe again.

okuku9lbbackwater2Wrong turn bud

He feigned fatigue—the charlatan brown’s favourite guise—and each time I presented the net he summoned new energy reserves and bolted. By now the onlooking children were getting restless, and out of the corner of my eye I spied one of them—clutching a sling shot! Dear god, this mightn’t end well at all! I thought. What have you got there, young man? I queried him, in a concerned tone. He took the hint, and no slingshot was fired during this trout duel. Whew! My adversary began to tire proper now, and I committed to a successful netting. At just shy of a trophy, this was a pretty satisfactory first fish for a new river! The kids came over and had a look, but I reckon I was the most excited one out of all of us. It was undoubtedly the most surreal trout-duel I’ve had to date, clearing lines not only of boulders, but small children as well!

okuku9lb1netCheckmate!

075Passion of the trout—looks like this guy’s been through the wringer! (It was like that when I found it)

IMG_4120 (1)3The benefit of company—a different perspective

IMG_4118 - Copy (2)3Spreading the “fever”

It’d been a crazy last hour, seeing my fortunes (and emotions) span the entire gamut. From losing nymphs and breaking knots at the cursed residence of the last trout, to having absolutely everything fall into place perfectly with this one. If the picnickers hadn’t spooked this fish up into the faster water (I suspect that’s what had happened); if I hadn’t snagged on a rock, forcing me to adopt a new casting position; if the fish hadn’t taken a wrong turn and spent precious dueling energy roaming the backwater, I would never have bagged this fish. To find this guy, and still catch him despite the line between us sporting a dodgy knot—such fortune doesn’t visit me often! And all of this playing out in front of an audience to boot! Usually the opposite occurs when witnesses are around—my nymphs find trees rather than trout! Needless to say, my mind had endured a spell of severe lability over the last hour, but it rode out the mental maelstrom, and was amply placated with a 4,000,000 mg dose of brown trout!

I was tempted to call it a day at this point, knowing the searing afterglow of victory would comfortably see me back to the car. But no, it was only three o’clock, and angling aside, I still wanted to explore this place further. I plodded casually upstream for another two hours, and failed to sight another fish. I don’t know if it’s the same for others, but some of that angling intensity—mandatory for success in these kind of places—always seems to fade away after catching a really satisfying fish, as I allow myself the indulgent distraction of reliving the moment in my mind.

174King of the castle! I have a trout, I have a trout! (In “Borat” tone of course)

As the afternoon turned into early evening and the sun receded behind the beech-clad surrounds, the river again fell into shadow. The honks from a couple of geese—alarmed by my appearance—were ushered to my ear by the gentle downstream breeze, carried distortion-free over obliging, flat water. The idyllic scene had me making a mental note to self… “bring tent and cooker next time”, as this was a serene spot prime for a camp out. Aquatabs would also need to be added to the note, to remedy any nasty bacterial legacy of the geese—perhaps that’s why they’re called “waterfowl”. But for now, I was happy not to have an overnight-sized pack, as I had a substantial hike back to the car to undertake before the day was out.

157Just one more bend man! (Sign of an addict)

Curiously curved, ampitheatre-like canopy of beech. Perfect venue for the birds to behold angling greatness, but it’d already occurred

139Yet another delightful (albeit fishless) pool

166Divine serenity!

The walk back was mellow, with the ambience of the valley mirroring my mood—placid and peaceful. Native birdsong filled the warm, still evening air, as they sounding off before turning in for the night. Suddenly, from mere metres away, a dog’s bark shattered the serenity. Good thing I hadn’t brought Wilson along, as the dog’s arrival was promptly followed by his hunter master’s. It’s always an awkward thing when there’s human witnesses to our conversations.

Arriving back at the car with ample daylight remaining, there was still sufficient time to marvel a significant mayfly hatch before departing. Time still, even, for one last lesson to be learnt (or rather reminded of) for the day—do not remove polyprop leggings before getting home! The resident sandflies ensured I won’t soon forget this rookie’s error, as they went to town on my legs, inflicted a bloodbath even Ratko Mladic—el Monstro himself—would’ve be proud of. And just like the UN, my hands offered little intervention as they were preoccupied with navigating the rough, gravel road. Strewn with deep pot-holes, it was reminiscent of a pock-marked landscape on the receiving end of a strafing from a squadron of NATO jets.

Driving home, Mother Nature gave me one last treat—a lavish sunset vista of pink, grey, and black. Stopping roadside and emerging from the car to take a photo, newly-born lambs bleated and sprang for the sanctuary of their mother’s side in thoroughly adorable, uncoordinated fashion. It was a scene reminiscent of the old New Zealand; the time before dairy.

212The final treat of the day….

Resuming the journey home, I indulged in slightly melancholy musings over the price of “progress”, and just how much has been sacrificed for this dairy boom. Drought, debt, a narrow-minded, short-sighted environmentally-hostile government…. And then my mind snapped to more pressing concerns—the vacant state of my beer fridge’s interior! Foot a little more on the gas, before the shops close.

The home invasion

“Gusty norwesters” were the forecast for the day. Under normal circumstances, such a forecast would serve as ample deterrent from hatching angling plans. But these were not normal times. I was carless—well, sharing a car—which meant I was keen to make the most of any angling opportunity that presented itself. According to Accuweather—pretty reliable site—I could expect winds of up to 45kph. Just as well then that I had my trusty sawed-off 4 weight! (The only functioning rod in the stable of cripples). Stepping outside to pack the car in the predawn dark, I was both surprised and concerned at just how balmy and muggy it was—catalyst for the dreaded Norwester. There was no point in denying it, the forecast was bang on; this was the calm before the storm. The stand of Eucalypts nearby also knew it, and they were trembling. No doubt fearing the beat down they would receive later in the day, when the gales started up proper. As I dashed the highway for the river, a brooding vista of snow-capped mountains and leaden clouds spanned the horizon to the fore, and an ever-broadening, advancing line of orange crept up from the horizon to the rear, preceding the Sun’s arrival.

It was early morning, and Jack Trout and his missus were beginning their day with a hearty breakfast of the usual—bugs. Sun was shining, caddisfly were hatching; all was well in their expansive aquatic residence. Or so they thought. Little did they know, a serial trout predator—just escaped from a life-sentence block down the road—was making his way up the liquid highway. Approaching their residence, closing in. From the vantage point offered by a high gravel bank he spotted the contented couple. His restless eyeballs, concealed behind a pair of dark-lens Smith Optics, leered down upon them whenever the ever-changing windows of the Trout’s residence permitted. Occasionally, overcome with trout-fever, these optical shields would fog, temporarily thwarting his ogling. Thoroughly oblivious to his presence, they were, with their minds still clouded by post-spawning lust.

When Jack swung casually to devour another bug, the predator acted—surprise mutha…! Okay, to be honest we were probably both as surprised as eachother. I’d lost sight of him, and was merely preparing for another cast as I’d assumed the indicator had drowned again, until I felt an ever-increasing resistance on the end of the line upon raising the rod. Anyway, back to the Trout’s and their plight. As Jack bolted around his home, trying to recall the location of his panic room, his missus followed. Probably to question him on whether his life insurance policy was up-to-date. After a five minute long inquisition from his woman he’d had enough. He turned, dashing downriver—vacating his home—speeding through it’s tailout entrance, cutting through neighbour Dave’s more modest residence, then down some inhospitable rapids. He’d succeeded in slightly widening the gap, but the predator—now indulging in a bit of heavy breathing—was still in pursuit. He finned-it a good four hundred metres before he was spent, and hastily bundled into the predator’s net. Once the predator had attained his photographic trophies, he was set free—dumped at the edge of the liquid highway—no doubt only to suffer a similar fate again in coming weeks, or days. But for today, at least, his most pressing concern was making it home in time for dinner, or he’d no doubt have to endure more pestering from Mrs Trout. Tough life being a fish.

008Home invasion in progress. “Luv, I know you’re busy, but are you sure you updated the policy?”

022Some pretty serious pectoral fin damage!

044Solid Jack—first of the season!

Moving on to a slightly more normal recollection of the remaining days events…. On the board with a rather decent fish, I pressed on upriver with a spring in my step, and the lyrics to Ice T’s “Home Invasion” ringing in my ears (yep, I had some pretty ghetto music tastes in my youth!). It was tough to know how to approach the day, given the scheduled apocalyptic winds. I fished fast, with the aim of picking off the easy fish (if there were any), determined to cover a lot of distance before the winds blew me back down the gorge. Surprisingly, I was onto my second fish soon enough, with a double tungsten nymph rig doing the business. This set up also had the bonus of maintaining momentum better in the wind. This fish’s fighting style was in complete contrast to the last. Rather than deliberate, calculated runs, this one wriggled and spun about daftly—well it was a woman I suppose—putting on a strange visual spectacle of flickering white and grey, unable to summon the composure to flee anywhere but where the current guided it. Without too much exertion number two was on the board.

124Confused, inept fighter (no, for once I’m not referring to the angler!)

Pressing on, I reverted back to my usual self—the serial spooker—alarming the next few fish, which all sat in much shallower riffles rather than pools. The wind was really toying with my casts now, and on several occasions my cast out nymphs completely failed to find the water. Instead, landing several metres wide of the river’s edge. With all this casting at riverbank, I wasn’t really surprised when, promptly after hooking my next fish, the tippet failed at the knot. Pity, because the perpetrator was a long fish, and the fiery run it undertook post-hook up hinted it was probably a decent one.

As I waded up a deep, calm section of river, I glanced down and my eyes met with a fish-like shape. Initially I assumed it to be one of those mineral imposters that are ever-abundant in the rivers we fish, but this one begged further scrutiny. Turns out it was a fish, a rather lifeless one albeit. Assuming it dead, I scooped it into the net for a closer analysis. As I did, it came to life! I placed it back down in slightly shallower water which was more accommodating to the eyes. This was one beat up fish! Long, narrow, pale gashes littered it’s head and front third, and it’s coal-like colour further accentuated these horrific wounds. By the looks of it, the rigours of spawning had been immense for this guy. He’d done his duties, and if it wouldn’t have freaked him the hell out, I may’ve been tempted to give him a much-deserved pat on the head. But his end was certainly near, so I left him alone, to see out his final few hours in the peace of the placid water at the foot of the undercut bank.

Mortally wounded spawner

155Spent spawner seeing out his final few hours

222The first rainbow I’ve ever seen on this river

Now mid-afternoon, the gales were starting to reach biblical proportions. Ferocious gusts would rip water from the river’s surface, transform it to mist, then blast it thirty metres into the air where it would vortex briefly before dissipating. Rocks, dislodged from the gorge walls, also began to bombard the pools below. When I came to a deep, swift section of river that would’ve required a long shuffle against the foot of the gorge wall to negotiate, I decided these were all sufficient hints that it was time to call it a day!

254Slight breeze….

The wind was at least at my back on the walk back downriver, which spared my face from Nature’s unwanted sandblasting services. Each stride doubled it’s usual length, as Nature’s invisible hand took it’s grip, and forcefully escorted me out of the gorge with the force of an impatient, surly nightclub bouncer. Defiant, I paused at the Trout’s residence one last time to have a go at Jack’s missus, but a wind gust promptly picked up a scoop of fine gravel and sand from behind, and unleashed it over the entire span of the pool. The pool’s surface, in turn, bubbled and foamed rabidly as if it’d been hit by a freak hail storm. Well, I reasoned this dramatic disturbance, coupled with the fact she must’ve assumed she was now a widower, was probably enough to put Mrs Trout off her food. So I continued on, back to the car.

Arriving back at my starting point—thoroughly tired—with a couple of conquests and nothing destroyed or damaged, it’d been a most satisfactory day. And while I’ve been far more restricted in my angling-induced roamings this season than last, the couple of excursions I have had so far have been surprisingly enriching. Sufficiently rewarding, even, that my mind was distracted from it’s usual post-fishing thoughts of cold beer (quite a feat). Instead, it was busy hatching plots and schemes about my next venture up some other backyard river, as I headed back down the highway—dodging fallen tree limbs—homeward bound.

Opening day outing—with a mate for once!

Promises and vows of exercise regimes and regimented gear preparedness, all broken. This is something of a recurring theme for me every winter. Blame it on the weather, I do. Miserable, short, bleak days do little to inspire me to focus on, and invest time in, fly fishing related activities. This time it was no different. In fact, new unprecedented levels of shambolicness had been attained—levels not achievable if I’d done nothing at all. Bagged up wet waders stewing in plastic bag, grubby clothes from the last trip of the previous season, and various other derelict angling paraphernalia littered all four corners of my room, ensuring I was well in deficit before the season even began. The main excuse for all this was the time-consuming, thoroughly engrossing, pastime of working on a few book ideas; ample distraction from everyday mundane chores I would’ve otherwise been doing. Hence, as October 1 neared I felt a state of panic creeping in. It all felt a bit like Butters (South Park) alter ego, Professor Chaos, had paid me a visit, as I unzipped a pocket of my fishing vest to discover twenty-odd flies entwined in a colossal fluorocarbon bird’s nest. Needless to say, the other fifty-seven pockets were in equal disarray. Nevertheless, I knew deep down that Professor Chaos wasn’t responsible for all of this, and that I only had myself to blame.

With my fitness having steadily deteriorated over the course of winter, as is always the case, I promised to go easy on myself for the first excursion of the season. Traumatic memories of lugging a monstrous pack (filled with a queen size duvet) all the way up some distant valley were still too fresh in my mind! And so, rather than enduring another grueling multi-day quest, I opted for a relaxed day trip on a local river with recently reacquainted mate, Ollie. I’d felt compelled to track him down near the end of last season, after receiving a tip off that he, too, was a brother of the angle. Needless to say, Wilson, my ever-faithful fishing companion last season, would have to sit this one out, as I suspect he would’ve been something of an awkward third wheel in the presence of another human. I knew he wouldn’t take kindly to this treachery, however, as he was champing at the bit to get back out there.

When the day arrived, the stars had aligned and everything appeared perfect. Right up until we rounded one of the numerous bends in the gravel road, and we sighted them. Two red dots. The tail lights of a vehicle several hundred metres in the distance. After we’d both unleashed a volley of obscenities at the distant car, we attempted to reason it’s occupant mightn’t be an angler. But given the day, who were we kidding. I suppose we could’ve attempted some Colin McRae-style vehicular antics and tried to overtake him, but considering the road had a substantial drop off, it probably wasn’t worth the risk.

Some ten minutes later, we pulled into the carpark. As we approached the other vehicle, a cylindrical metal tube leaning against the door confirmed our fears. You’re not by any chance a fanatical downstream wet fly specialist are you? I queried, ever optimistic, as the upstream section was far more desirable. He laughed, not even bothering–nor needing to–reply the question. He was a nice bloke, and after an amicable chat we wished eachother luck and headed off in opposite directions.

The riverbed wielded a respect-commanding flow; it’s water sported a subtle silty haze. The dark skies soon began to lighten, revealing swift moving clouds, hinting the promised norwester may soon be upon us. But in the shelter of the gorge, all was calm for now. Birds began to sound off, and the noise of the river soon worked it’s magic, drowning out all those trivial bothersome thoughts we have when we’re not fishing. I’d missed this; it’d been too long. With the worries of the world banished by the white noise of the river, I—or rather, we—turned our minds toward the fish. But first, there was the small matter of finding one.

12116038_10154279041437738_922334937_o Me, walkin’. Courtesy of a bit of clandestine photography by Ollie

It was no easy task, finding our first potential victim. The lack of sunshine, the slightly discoloured water, the fact that this was a “long walk between fish” kind of river; all of these things provided ample excuses for failing to locate them. And that was okay, as I had a mate, for once, so those long walks were accompanied by strange and unusual—but always entertaining—conversations. As we progressed downstream—perusing the pools, ever hopeful—river crossings were necessary, and frequent. Given the healthy flow, some of these were a stern test for lethargic, early season legs, just out of hibernation. On one particular crossing—I was the guinea pig—I succumbed to serial stumbles in the waist-deep water, as my well-worn wading boots, with their racing-slick treads, met with slippery, ginger boulders. What is it with those Gingers, always so hostile! My crossing, performed with the elegance of a legless drunk ousted at closing time, spurred the sound of laughter from behind. But seconds later I got to repay the favour, and indulged in a good laugh as waderless Ollie fared little better with his attempt.

When we did stumble onto the fish, the old adages proved to be lies. These fish were not starving; they were not desperate. They were discerning diners, and unfortunately I was no Michelin chef. Rather a pub cook, with crude servings of Tungsten Pheasant Tail, or Hare’s Ear, being my limitations. This generic menu did little to whet their appetite, and they certainly had no time for the chef’s special—the Dog’s Breakfast. Ollie, however, being far more studious (and prone to a bit of rock fondling) had much more refined fare.

When we arrived at an aesthetic backwater, we lurked an unusually long time. Not unlike a couple of seedy Johns, looking for a hook-up. Stalking it’s edges, maintaining our resilient hopes. In denial even, about this green liquid trout-desert which met our eyes. The trout we had seen—and failed to fool—were acting funny. They weren’t feeding on station. Instead, they opted to roam about in no particular pattern. And so, with this in mind, we opted to wait and watch, hoping for one of these nomadic fish to pass through this watery wasteland. And when one did—finally— we were ready. Waiting in ambush, like a couple of wild west bandits. It was another bizarre fish, wandering aimlessly. A random solitary rise, and then nothing. Ollie cast out a nymph and allowed it to settle on the silty bottom. I perched myself up in a tree which overlooked the backwater; the only vantage point which offered a decent window into the green abyss. When the fish again came into view, it was headed in the direction of Ollie’s nymph. Mid-tree, concealed in foliage, I narrated the fish’s movements with the frenzied excitement of a TAB Trackside commentator. I was oblivious to Ollie and what he was doing by this stage, purely focused on the trout, succumbing to a bout of tunnel vision. It’s turned! I yelled, only to look up and see Ollie—rod bent—connected to it! Discovering he’d been fooled, the fish went into a spasmodic rage of twists and turns, their obligatory response to being pierced by steel.

Net in hand, feeling the pressure, I waited for the moment to bag our—okay, his— first fish. As it neared and we got a better look at the specimen, that pressure only grew, as this was a cracking fish. I refrained from the first netting opportunity. Partly for fear I’d cock it up, and partly because he was still too fresh. The fish then bolted for a recess under a large slab of submerged rock. Rock I knew to be razor sharp, as a couple of seasons back I’d lost a fish in this same backwater as it performed a similar manoeuvre, grating a foot long section of my leader, before gaining it’s freedom. Thankfully however, no deja vu was had today, and this fish was only offered it’s freedom by Ollie’s hand. When he eventually neared again, I summoned the courage for a netting which proved successful. Whew! Upon weighing him, we were surprised to see the spring scales pulled down sufficiently to reveal the 7lb marking, and a little extra. Fortunately I didn’t know prior to netting (or I’d have made a hash of it), but this fish was a new best for Ollie. The winter had clearly been kind to this fish, as it had managed to maintain it’s fine muscular condition. I was kind of envious, as the same couldn’t be said for me!

12124343_10154279041357738_1948012490_oThe closest I got to a trout all day

12085038_10154279041507738_1790191232_oOllie, with a new PB!

12124529_10154279041517738_1282722200_oCurious wound

Shortly after Ollie caught his 7lb’er, a little sliver of grey wriggled it’s way into the pool a stone’s throw from the backwater. We’d seen this fish before, but I wasn’t really interested as it wasn’t a “proper” fish. But with desperation now creeping in—any hole’s a goal (sorry, probably an inappropriate metaphor)—I made a cast at it, assuming it’d be a formality. But no, this little fellow went to work on my ego, as cast after cast, he ducked and dodged my offerings, to devour a natural.  The little Einstein seemed to be having a good time of it too, thoroughly unconcerned with the damage he was inflicting on my angling morale. At one point—about the twenty-seventh cast—he even made a point of opening his mouth wide in exaggerated fashion right next to my fly. A move no doubt spawned from sinister intentions of triggering a bit of false hope, and a dud strike. Malevolent creatures, those trout! Twenty minutes later I admitted defeat, realising his juvenile, pea-sized trout brain, with all it’s smarts, was vastly superior to mine.

We pressed on, further downstream, pulling off a few more daring crossings, spying a few more random roaming fish. All uncooperative. Somewhere around our turning point—just after Ollie took an involuntary swim, I think (yes, I laughed)—we witnessed a stoat swim the river, pull off a monster jump, and scale a seemingly unascendable cliff at impressive speed. Hatred aside, it’s pretty awesome the athleticism these things exhibit, and it’s no wonder our native birds don’t stand a chance against them!

The walk back upstream was tough, and the unrelenting current soon sapped the remaining strength from our legs. Ollie spotted one last fish—my final chance to get on the board—but we were uncomfortably close to it. Too close. It was but a couple of metres from the bank, and we were side-on to it. Not daring to take the time to tie on a more sensible nymph, I cast out the double tungsten critter I had on the end of my line. After about the fifth cast, the nymph somehow got stuck behind a rock right at river’s edge. This left me with the agonising predicament, with only one real choice. I had to move in order to free the nymph. Needless to say, the fish promptly legged it (or rather, finned it) outta there. It was a shame because he was a sizable fish, with a dazzling copper flank. Next time perhaps….

There was still a little time for me to ogle an array of rocks that I was certain were trout. Sign of an addict I suppose. With the desperation now not just flaring, but raging, and my trout cravings unsated, it must’ve been my mind’s coping mechanism—transforming rock to fish. As we neared our starting point, late afternoon sunlight, with it’s rich golden hue, beamed down from it’s angular trajectory, flooding the gorge with light. Insipid, flat colours were instantly bestowed with vivid lushness, as if the gods were in the process of ramping up the colours of their raw format files. It was a pleasant way to end the day, emerging from the light-deprived confines of the craggy gorge walls, out into the warmth of an obliging sun. I may not have caught a fish, but this was probably the most fulfilling “skunking” I will ever “suffer”. Witnessing, and playing a small part in, a mate catching a new best fish (and first fish on a new river) definitely provided ample consolation.

Now for the small matter of placating the scorned, left behind, Wilson!

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