Afternoon trip up my local

A solitary mayfly dared to emerge from the relative safety of it’s watery abode, fluttering gracefully upwards toward the azure sky. It didn’t get far. Illuminated by the midday sun, it was an unmissable target for an opportunist predator. A hungry fantail swooped from it’s perch overlooking the river, and the hapless mayfly’s above-water life was abruptly curtailed.

This was the scene that greeted me as I entered the gorge of my local river. The unapologetic austerity that was the order of nature couldn’t have been illustrated any more concisely. It made me thankful to be human, and at the top of the food chain. For if I had been subjected to the laws of survival of the fittest I wouldn’t have lasted long, with the body still in a beat up state from the lengthly epic that was the first trip of the season. It was for this reason that I’d settled on a brief excursion to my local, a river I’d fished many times before.

The flow had subsided just enough to allow for a sufficient stretch of the gorge to be to navigated to make a day of it, well an afternoon to be precise. And what a beautiful afternoon it was, sunny and warm, with only the mildest of easterly breezes. And being a Friday, I knew it would require nothing short of a miracle for me to have the river to myself this early in the season. Sure enough, upon pulling into the car park I noticed another vehicle present with fishing paraphernalia inside. Ah well, pointless as it seemed fishing-wise I made my way up the gorge regardless, figuring it’d at least provide a bit of exercise.

Ten minutes into it and I’d already caught up to the owners of the vehicle. They were just having a lunch break fish, and after a brief chat they most kindly allowed me to proceed upriver, leaving them enough water for the short time they had to fish. A lucky break indeed! After a couple of dodgy river crossings I wasn’t confident I’d make it very far up, but it seemed to get easier as I progressed. Gorge fishing does often seem to be a case of “who dares wins”, well for the ones who don’t drown at least!

I’d done a bit of reconnaissance of the gorge a couple of weeks prior to the start of the season, and encountered a couple of fish, so as I neared the section of river where I’d spotted the first one my anticipation grew. And there he was, at the river’s edge, water lapping over his pale flank, dead. Guess it would have gone against etiquette to have counted this one. Still, I inspected his corpse, mostly to see if he was still in good enough nick that any readers of this blog might be fooled into thinking he was a still-live specimen, cleverly caught by the author. But alas, the absence of eyes meant I probably wouldn’t be fooling anyone, and so any thoughts of an opportunist grip ‘n’ grin were dismissed. Yes, these are the sort of vagabond antics us less masterful fishermen have to resort to when the going is tough, in an effort to gain a bit of angler cred. In seriousness though, it was obviously a pretty morale sapping find, particularly given how few fish this river holds. What had been a “long walk between fish” type river, was now an even longer walk between fish. The recently departed was a long specimen in poor condition, and bearing no obvious damage perhaps it was old age that accounted for his demise, or so I hoped.

I pressed on, ever hopeful. A couple of kilometres, and several perilous river crossings later and there it was, finally, a fish! Among the silty dust devils conjured by the discordant currents of the pool it was hard to be sure, but after witnessing a couple of deliberate sideways movements I was certain. A couple of nymphs were lobbed into the water ahead and left to drift. The indicator refused to dip. I tried again, same result. It was a tricky spot as I couldn’t sight the fish from the only practical casting position. And so, on the third occasion, I cast then dashed up to a higher position on the bank to watch. He swayed sideways again, and I struck. Success!

What happened next was rather odd. He thrashed about, turning the relative stillness of the pool into a boil of white water. Well that was a fairly common occurrence immediately after you hook a fish, but he never progressed from there. No bolting off to a hide, or diving for the bottom of the river. He just kept thrashing while the current slowly drifted him down the river. Once I had caught up to him it was a straightforward matter of placing the net in the water and waiting for him to drift into it. Upon removing the hook I discovered the reason for his inept resistance. The tailing nymph was nestled firmly in his tail, how apt! And with the length of tippet between the two nymphs being slightly shorter than the fish it must have greatly restricted his movement. Now if only I could master this method of hook up, the battles would be a far more protracted affair. But then again, what fun would that be.

005Not the largest of fish, but a pleasant looking one regardless.

Shortly after, a huge specimen made his way down river, and at roughly 180 pounds he was by far the biggest of the day. However, considering he was perched in a kayak I made a judgement call that he was off limits. Although had he appeared ten minutes earlier, the lack of angling action would have seen me struggling to refrain from making a cast.

Just before reaching my turn around point I encountered a young bashful sheep that seemed rather unnerved by my presence. When I reached for the camera however, he seemed to take on a new far more extroverted persona, and promptly did an about turn, a couple of steps forward, and struck a pose.

020The shameless poser… hmm but is it Blue Steel or Magnum?

On my way back down the gorge I paused at a pool for a final blind cast, and moments later I sensed movement in my peripheral. Upon turning my head, I laid eyes on an incredibly disheveled sheep, with a tail so long it nearly reached the ground. It stood some twenty metres away, eyeing me intently, before beginning a series of bizarre manoeuvres. It seemed to be trying to engage with me in a game a sheep charades. Hmm okay then, the fishing is a bit slow, why not, I figured. The sheep bounced one way, swivelled, then bounced back the other. It repeated this several times. Hmm back and forth… casting? I thought. Then as if confirming the guess, it defecated. My casting is….. not the best. The sheep then progressed further with it’s gesticulations as if confirming I was again correct. Next up was a bizarre head wobble, and a bit of salivation. This is honestly how it went down, there was no need for artistic licence with this sheep. So basically what you’re trying to say is “hey your casting is crap retard“. Seemingly content that I’d gotten the gist of it the sheep concluded his game and pranced off back into the bush from whence he’d emerged, with a  Ba-a-a-a-a-a that I could have swore sounded more like a  Ha-a-a-a-a-a. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been ridiculed by animals, and I’m certain it won’t be the last. This gorge certainly seemed to draw in only the blackest of sheep, myself included.

By the time I made it back to the car I’d acquired around a kilogram handicap in each leg of my waders, in the form of river water, undoubtedly due to the significant holes that had worn through the inner leg section during the last trip. And so, while driving back home I made a mental note to remedy the situation ASAP, as enduring the dreaded crinkle-foot all season was a scenario far too grim to ponder.


Opening week 2014 – first trip of the season – pt2

The Tree of Bones. It was a bizarre spectacle alright.

At first it was the series of large branches skewered into the ground that caught my eye. But upon further inspection I noticed a large tree standing alone which had been entirely “skinned” of it’s bark, the upper half lopped off, and the rest sporadically covered in bones. The main trunk had an intricate arrangement of much smaller bones that were fashioned in such a way as to resemble a skull with horns. It was odd to say the least, and it was probably a blessing that I was lost as my circumstances afforded me no time to ponder whether drunken hunters were responsible for this demented creation, or whether the Blair witch had opted for a holiday in the backcountry of New Zealand. Although slightly unnerving, this dark yet novel bit of craftsmanship had instilled new hope that the hut may be nearby, although after a brief investigation it seemed not to be the case.

And so I backtracked down the river and exited this narrow valley, following the river until it reached the confluence of another slightly larger river. Ahh this must be the right river, I figured.

074The stand of beech behind which mountain mist was mistaken for chimney smoke

076 - CopyThe wrong valley.

It was now around seven o’clock, and with the light of day fading I made one last push for the hut, dreading the prospect of a depressing cook up in the driving rain. The river was lined with beech forest on both sides now, and after a short while I sighted an elevated clearing across the river. A short survey later and I’d found one of the seemingly endangered orange triangles, a partial success.

I followed the track another ten minutes and there was still no sign of the hut. It’s going to be a long walk to the next one if I’ve already passed it!, I thought. This kind of nagging doubt is the last thing you need at the end of a long day. The track inevitably recommenced it’s up ‘n’ down torment so without a second thought I bush-bashed back to the riverbed, in order to escape it’s malicious mind games, and scan the upper valley.

As I walked along a slender island of grass—which is something of an oasis for the feet among a sea of awkward rocks that comprise the riverbed—I vowed to myself to turn back when I reached the end of it. With literally five metres to spare I looked up and surveyed what lay ahead. Despite the fading light a pale angular shape protruding from the greenery in the distance caught my eye. A tell-tale sign of something man made, it was indeed the hut!! It was as if the gods had given me a most timely break.

129Shelter from the storm.

It was indeed a most humble abode. An empty rectangular void hinted that a fireplace had once existed here. Hmm that would have been most convenient, I grumbled. Old silver insulation paper dangled from the ceiling in places, and was propped up in others in ramshackle fashion with small branches procured from the trees outside. But despite all that I was grateful for the ample shelter it offered. The absence of a fire was indeed missed as the night grew colder, but there is something oddly warming about the flicker of a candle and the scent of molten wax on a cold night. Warming for the soul at least.

Once hydrated and cooled sufficiently, dinner was wolfed down in thoroughly ungracious fashion, and a little red wine was administered to dull the aches and pains, and soothe the mind after a long testing day. I was tempted to finish the bottle but I kept some in reserve in case tomorrow was to have more devilry in store. As I stretched out on the bunk bed, I listened to the unrelenting rain pummel the tin roof of the hut, wondering what state the river would be in come daybreak. Hopefully tomorrow would be an easier day, I thought. Though from experience I dared not assume it!

I awoke the next morning to blissful silence. The rain had stopped. It was still oddly dim though, and cold, I noted from the comfort of my bunk bed. A brief bout of hail harshly rattled against the roof and windows before subsiding. Around nine o’clock I gingerly made my way over to the window. White and grey were the dominant colours to fill my vision. Had I turned colour blind overnight? I pondered. No, the weather was just rubbish, I reassured myself.

Snow coated the forest canopy on the opposite side of the valley, almost to the valley floor. And frosty dust devils of snow magically appeared and danced above the treetops before dissolving equally as fast as they had been conjured. The storm had transformed this valley into an enchanting winter wonderland. It was indeed a feast for the eyes, yet not exactly suitable for fishing, and in all honesty I was glad. This was my pass to a guilt-free, no regrets, sleep in.

126Not a bad view while having breakfast.

Collecting water was a grim and perilous affair. I slipped and skidded my way down the inclined track to the river, and the fingers reddened and numbed in the time it took to fill a bottle. The water was still nice and clear at least, apart from the occasional opaque undissolved snowflake drifting past. I could think of many occasions in mid summer I’d dreamed of accessing ice in the backcountry, but on this day I had no such desire for it.

The sun failed to penetrate the grey that day, and only the faintest of glows could occasionally be made out from behind the thick veil of grey. Between intermittent snowsqualls I ventured outside to work on the construction of a snowtrout. Vast amounts of tea were consumed in order to attempt to add a bit of colour to it, but it never looked quite right. It was an enjoyable yet surreal day, and with the valley being completely enveloped in thick mist, gave a real sense of solitude.

The only other notable event of the day was the invasion of the hut by a marauding Robin. Most aptly named, as they are renowned for their unashamed thievery, and so I was not too keen on the idea of sharing the hut with him. I ushered my untrustworthy guest to the window, from which he made his exit accompanied by an ungracious thunk, as he ricocheted off the window pane back into the cold, thankfully appearing unscathed.

125The only fish of the day.

The next morning—day four of my trip—it was still bleak outside, and freezing, and snowing. The river was surprisingly still clear though, so there was still hope. As I cooked breakfast I detected the barely audible sound of dull thuds. A brief wave of despair washed over me. Anglers arriving already?! It was only after lifting the lid of my pot that my fears, or paranoid, were allayed. It was just the muffled  popping of my porridge simmering.

(Gazing longingly out the window) My only wish, to catch a fish… we catches them we does. (Twitches head) But we mustn’t, Master forbids us. It’s too cold to fish… *cough* Gollum, Gollum *cough*. Yeah it was safe to say cabin fever was starting to set in now….

Yesterday’s weather-imposed day of rest had me rejuvenated, and chomping at the bit to hit the river. Around ten o’clock a ray of light pierced the grey and persevered long enough to get a foothold and begin burning it away, and eventually banish it from the valley altogether. The upper valley—now illuminated—was a most glorious sight. And like a Phoenix rising from the ashes I felt reborn, refreshed, and ready to fish!

133The illuminated upper valley.

These were lovely conditions to fish in, especially for a guy who’s prone to overheating when starting out for the day. There was a crisp brisk breeze, which kept the usual early morning glasses fogging issue at bay, while at the same time the sunlight provided ample warmth.

I walked almost a kilometre before sighting my first fish. He had chosen his residence carefully—a diabolical lie hemmed with tree branches on either side—and clearly felt confident of his safety as he sauntered out from the bank, as if to say go on you mug, make a cast. I didn’t. He was only a little fellow, and not worthy of losing a couple of expensive store bought nymphs.

139The diabolical lie.

Another significant walk saw me at a promising pool, which was similar in structure to the pool from which I’d procured my last fish, although much smaller in size. I sat on a rock slightly back from the water, to assemble a fresh rig. One of the bad habits I’d vowed to eliminate this season was winging it with old knots. My half numb fingers fumbled with futility in the cold, but eventually I completed it. A nervous cast was made. The tungsten nymph, devoid of any stealth, met the water with a plop several metres up from the fish. It was a similar scenario to the last fish. A subtle dip of the indicator, and a hopeful strike. Fish on!

He powered his way up out of the pool, and into the turbulence of the shallow channel above. It was tempting to try and net him now, but he was still fresh and unpredictable. I was led to rue this decision as the fish made his way back down to the pool and parked up under what appeared to be a rocky overhang at the bottom of the green abyss. Well okay, “abyss” might have been overstating things, but it was unnaturally deep relative to the rest of this section of river. A few stones were lobbed into the water, in hope of spooking him out, but he wasn’t having it. Eventually he was prised out and down to the shallow tail of the pool, and into the net.

Despite having a more modest physique than the last fish he still tipped the scales equally, or rather stretched the spring-scales of the net to the same degree. He was significantly darker in colouring though, more regular in shape, and bore a couple of odd dark blemishes on his flank which seem to be something of a signature of the fish in this river.

143A dark specimen hauled from the deep. We catches them we does…”

I continued up the valley, only really pausing at the pools now. The valley was becoming extremely narrow, and the carpeting of snow thicker. It was an odd sensation, stalking the bank of the river amid the crumpling sound of fresh powder underfoot.

Another sight most foreign to an angler who usually doesn’t venture out until November were the squadron of Keas which darted across the sky. They appeared to have spotted me on their sortie over the valley and began circling high above, perhaps hoping for my demise so that they could pillage my pack of any rubbery delights it may hold. The thievish antics of Robins pale into insignificance when compared to the downright criminal audacity these guys are capable of. They serenade you with their melancholy caws while making off with half your roof rack! It makes you wonder whether this unique sound was the end result of some clever evolutionary process designed to endear you to them, or at least placate your rage, while they relieve you of any rubberised items you may have. And so I kept a wary eye on my possessions as I stopped to have a rest on an island of tussocks that lay in the middle of the two babbling brooks which comprised the uppermost river.

This was the furthest I would go. It seemed absurd that any large fish would reside any further upstream. Maybe the odd one was present, but I’d decided I was satisfied with my exploration of the valley.

212.jpgFresh powder.

188The author doing his bit to taint a majestic vista.

191Looking back down the upper valley.

206One of the babbling brooks.

228A rare endangered track marker.

I stopped in at the hut to retrieve my pack, and say my goodbyes to the snowtrout—now a spent snowtrout decomposing in the midday sun—before making my way down-river. It was a long walk out, and as it was now midafternoon I aimed to make it half way out before setting up camp, which left a relatively short hike to the car the next day.

After choosing a camp site on the tussock flats beside an appealing section of river, I had a quick fish before dinner. A couple were spooked, before a feisty five-pounder was landed. Not the biggest of the trip but it certainly fought the most valiantly of the lot. No photo was taken as the camera battery was well and truly gone by now. I was most fortunate in this regard. With lens fogging issues and battery life curtailed due to the cold, it was something of a miracle that I had managed to get photos of my best two fish, and relatively decent shots of the scenery as well.

I ate dinner under a clear sky bearing a large moon, it’s surprising how light it is in such conditions. My eyes surveyed the valley as I ate, and one particular thing caught my eye—the beaten state of the forest peripherals. It appears to be a unique feature of this area. The dead beech stood out in stark contrast to their lush live peers, their pale skeletons radiate in the moonlight, and stand as a testament to the brutal harshness of this valley. Upon concluding my internal ramblings, and with the belly now appeased, I retired to the tent cocooned myself in my queen sized duvet for another well earned sleep.

259The final camp out.

I woke around mid-morning feeling pretty run down, and glad to be on my way out. The need to turn over every half hour to avoid my side freezing up certainly didn’t make for a productive night’s sleep! In spite of that, after breakfast was consumed I went for a brief fish before departing, as I had unfinished business with a couple of uncooperative fish I’d encountered the night before. They again proved elusive however, and it was destined to be the first day I would be skunked this season. Not the best note to end the trip on, but I guess it had to happen sooner or later.

The remaining hike out was arduous, more mentally than physically. At times like this the prospect of cold beer and a foot long Subway enter the mind, and provide the incentive for a quick march back to the car. I started doing calculations to see if I could make it back to civilisation in time, before the shops close. The spooky Subway worker—sorry “sandwich artist—had to be taken into account. When it was nearing closing time, if a stealthy approach was not made she had a tendency to lock the door and spook off to her hide out back, seemingly more alert than any backcountry brown.

Interrupting these rigorous calculations was a realisation I still had one last Moro bar stashed away in the pack somewhere. The prospect of another maddening game of pack Tetris was not enough of a deterrent and I dropped the pack to the ground and began rummaging through it. Much to my disbelief, in spite of a thorough examination of it’s contents, no confectionery was found. It was indeed a blow to morale, and had me wondering if the Keas had somehow pulled off a daring caper. And as I write this two weeks later, I’m intrigued to know if I’ll find it in some dark recess of the pack when I finally get around to emptying it. That will probably have to wait until the morning of my next trip though!

It had been a trip with a little of everything. Extreme weather, decent fish, few anglers, a torturous walk, and even a Tree of Bones! I couldn’t really have asked for more. On exiting the valley I paused and looked back one last time, and a sense of gratitude came over me as I gazed upon this river of silver, that yielded memories of gold.

256River of silver.


Opening week 2014 – first trip of the season – pt1

So, I decided to fish opening day for once. Two choices, a day trip on a local river, or a multi day trip away. Not too confident about the state of my fitness, and unsettled by the complete disarray of my fishing gear, I was a little hesitant to choose the latter. But when I checked the forecast I couldn’t resist it. So after a frantic run around buying the essentials, well most of them, I was ready to head off. And with a foot long Subway and a coffee in the belly, I headed out of town. Arriving at the start of the track later than expected, as usual, I decided to have a bit of a sleep in the car before starting out. With a bit of red wine administered to sedate the preseason nerves, I managed to procure a few hours shut eye.

I headed up the track at first light, expecting the worst, a picket fence of anglers lining the river. Oh well, I would be there a few days, no worries, I thought. I reached the first hut by mid-morning, and there were a few lads about. After catching my breath, we had a bit of a chat and I managed to sort out a bit of river for myself. The river was low and clear for this time of year, and as I sat on a rock readying my gear for battle, the birds chirped merrily in the early morning sunshine. And a cool breeze kissed my sweat-soaked brow, transforming the liquid into a salty grit. As my fumbling fingers struggled to assemble a double nymph rig, it became abundantly clear to me that they were in the grips of a bout of knot tying dementia. It had been too long.

I stalked the river bank, perusing the pocket water in search of fish. Not many pools here, this will really put my spotting abilities to the test, I thought. I saw a couple, which promptly spooked, or rather just seemed to morph into the riverbed never to be seen again. Finally I came to a decent bit of water which, at a stretch, could almost be described as a pool. A blind cast later and I had my first hook up. It felt like a decent fish, and put up a lengthly fight, leading me across the river numerous times. Already heavily fatigued from the hike in, my legs soon turned to jelly. I came close to stumbling backwards over a boulder mid-river on the final crossing, before my adversary’s endurance finally waivered. He rose to the surface and I drifted him over, and into, the net. A confidence building start!

021First of the season.

After a bit more walking and blind casting, one of my nymphs was fortunate enough to happen upon another fish. At first glance it appeared a fairly average specimen, rather short in length, but when it went airborne I was struck by it’s immense girth. At the same instant my appreciation of the fish lifted, the knot failed and the fat fellow disappeared back into the depths with my unweighted nymph. Oh well, can’t win ’em all I suppose, I reasoned.

Satisfied to have banished the possibility of an opening day skunk I made my way back to the hut, attempting to reach the track via a shortcut through the bush instead of returning back via the river, which actually turned out to be a longcut of extreme torment! The dense population of little beech saplings offered little room to manoeuvre and gave no quarter. They whipped my face and body with no remorse, as if trying to banish me from their home. I cursed them to hell, and indulged in a spell of self pity before surrendering, and falling back to the relative comfort of a swamp. After composing myself, I waged another foray into the impenetrable beech forest a little further up the valley, faring only slightly better this time. But I persevered, and after ten minutes of hell I was rewarded, as I broke free of the clutches of the claustrophobic forest, and stumbled out into the relatively luxurious spaciousness of the track.

After a short rest at the hut, and a bit of a chat with it’s occupants I headed off further up the valley. It was now late afternoon, so after a few more kilometres hiking I decided to set up camp on a tussock flat which had a rather dramatic backdrop of majestic beech. I had one of the most satisfying cups of coffee I’ve ever tasted that night, and a more than adequate dehydrated meal. The ground was hard, and it was sufficiently cold that the fly of the tent was already icing up, but it didn’t matter. Just lying down was an immense relief after spending so many rigorous hours on my feet. Now back to that bit at the start, about “buying the essentials, well most of them”. I had lacked the necessary funds to buy a sleeping bag, and so a queen sized duvet had to suffice. What kind of mug goes into the bush armed with a duvet you might ask? A keen mug that refused to be thwarted by such trivialities, is the answer!

031Campsite of the first night.

When I awoke the next morning it took some time to will my aching body off the floor of the tent. The anglers be coming, get your sorry ass up!, I commanded. Other-angler paranoia is indeed a useful tool in such circumstances. Too decrepit to eat on the move as I usually do in order to evade the swarms of vampirical bugs, I accepted my fate, and begrudgingly consumed a breakfast of coffee and oats, seasoned with sandflies. It was my penance for not completing breakfast before first light. Unlike regular vampires, these miniature winged airborne ones seemed to prefer the daylight. During this testing first meal of the day I’d committed the ultimate rookie error, I’d forgotten to zip the tent.

045Tent invasion!!

After a brief, yet gruelling, up-and-down hike overlooking a short gorge I emerged into the next valley, only to be greeted with the one sight we dread most above all others. Two anglers, just starting their day up the river.

I made my way over to have a chat with them, but they were lining up a fish so I waved, stood back, and watched. These guys obviously fish together a lot, as one sat calmly on the river edge completely unperturbed as the other began casting, sending the fly zinging merely centimetres above his head several times. Pretty soon they’d connected with the fish, and after a swift skilful battle their quarry was corralled in the net, to the amusing cries of ohh it’s just a baby! From where I was standing it looked no less than five pounds. These guys must be doing alright, I thought.

I went over and had a natter with them, and was informed to my delight that they were the only guys in this part of the valley, and they were headed out that day so I would have the top of the river all to myself. They were both great blokes, and clearly better anglers than myself, as they’d been doing very well in the short time they were there. After an enjoyable chat I was on my way again. For some inexplicable reason, this is when I began Forrest Gumping it. I’d agreed with the guys that I’d leave them a few kilometres of river to fish, but I didn’t stop there. I kept going, and going. Perhaps I was succumbing to another bout of other-angler paranoia.

About five kilometres later I stopped at a creek to refill my water. The wind was really picking up now. It pummelled my pack, knocking it to the ground, and almost sent me flying into the stream. Abruptly the blare of a chopper filled the air, and as I looked up I saw the craft dash overhead, barely clearing the forest canopy as it made it’s way up the valley in erratic fashion, swaying back and forth as the wind toyed with it. The chopper disappeared behind beech trees in the distance and the noise died down for a time, before it passed over again minutes later on it’s exit of the valley.

The racket dissipated, and the howl of the wind dominated the valley once again. It was at this point, for the first time in the trip, a feeling of real solitude came over me. I started to wonder if the reason I had the entire upper valley to myself had something to do with this impending storm. This grey menace, accompanied by it’s tireless sherpa, the Canterbury nor’wester, was descending the mountains into the valley at great speed.

066Into the storm.

Rehydrated and water stores replenished, I continued my way along the track which now ran alongside an unscalable cliff, before leading straight into the river. Hmm this was odd, I thought. Just as well the river was low, so it was of no hindrance to me at least.

This section of river was more intimate and pleasant—the water adorned a deeper shade of blue—so I took the time to subject it to scrutiny. Immediately I noticed a myriad of footprints embedded in the silty verge of the river, jumbled in erratic fashion. Signs of a recent trout duel perhaps. These must belong to the passenger of the chopper, I reasoned. A stones throw from the prints was a substantial shadow, nestled in close to the bank. I made a cast, knowing it was most likely in vain. Nothing. Then another, and another. No response. Even with my now apparent Mr Magoo spotting capabilities I knew it to be a fish. A fish that had doubtlessly already provided it’s share of sport for the day. I walked closer to it, and it dashed off up and across the river at high speed, it’s tail cutting through the water in a powerful scything motion. The footprints didn’t appear to follow the river for very long, and to my joy, had petered out before the next pool.

It was a substantial bit of water, several metres deep with two channels feeding into it, and surely home to at least one decent specimen. I scanned the pool as I made my way up it, the leaden skies devolving my spotting capabilities even further. Despite that, a sizeable dark shape near the head of the pool was singled out, and a cast made. The indicator, a long way from the tungsten nymph below, dipped slightly in a rather vague manner. I struck regardless, ever the optimist, and just as well. The result was a solid hook up!

The fly line peeled off the reel at top speed, and was towed off up one of the channels at the head of the pool. I struggled to keep pace, scrambling over the heavily inclined rock strewn bank. I paused briefly to compose myself before crossing the channel which, although narrow, still wielded enough power to command respect. Meanwhile, my foe was still progressing upstream and now making his way back across to the other side of the channel. This exchanging of riverside positions went on for some time before he made a more decisive manoeuvre and tore off back downstream, aided by the powerful current, and into the pool again. After a frantic scramble back after him I worked him downstream to where it became shallower, and he rose to the surface revealing his hefty flank. Instinctively I made a clumsy thrust forward with the net but he parried it—cheeky sod!—with a muscular sideways jerk of his head.

I was getting concerned now, it had been too long. This duel will end in failure. I don’t get to catch these kinds of fish. The hook will surely pull free at any moment, I told myself. I was already planning how I would console myself after the seemingly inevitable loss of such an impressive specimen. Oh well, I still have two thirds of a bottle of wine with which to drown my sorrows, I figured. I tried to banish these defeatist thoughts, and focus on the task at hand. We were both tiring now, and becoming reckless. My foe tacked across river again on what must surely have been his final act of resistance. I followed hastily, as the ice cold water lapped against the top of my waders, threatening to flood them. He seemed resigned to his fate now, parked up behind a rock at the river’s edge. Upon bundling him into the net I let fly a whoop of jubilation. The fish was a new best for me, and I suspected it would prove a tough one to better. It was a much needed shot in the arm, to sustain me for the rest of the day.

064A new best.

It was now late afternoon, so I was content just to make it to the hut, cook a feed, and lax for the remainder of the evening. If only it was to be that straightforward. I’d been walking for some time when I started to wonder whether I had passed the hut. Several hours ago I’d passed a sign that claimed it was one hour to the hut, however when you’re fisher-hiking, covering distances tends to take at least four times as long!

I’d lost contact with the track ever since I’d crossed the river. Surely it couldn’t be up there, I thought, looking across the river at a sizeable cliff. And well, if it was I wanted no part of it. I’d had enough of all it’s up-and-down nonsense, and seemingly sporadic orange triangular markers. And so I kept following the river, after all how lost could I get.

I spotted smoke rising intermittently into the air behind a stand of beech far away from the river. This must be chimney smoke from the hut, I reasoned. There was no way anything else could have been burning in this weather, and so I moved towards the smoke. I crossed a large tussock covered plateau and met with the river again, which was now notably smaller in volume. I travelled up it a way and there was no hint of a track, nor sign of a hut. Still I continued. The rain was heavier now, and the valley was becoming uncomfortably narrow. The thought of camping here made me uneasy, as if the rain kept up the river would surely rise, potentially leaving me stranded, or with a horrific bush-bash at least. Regardless, I persevered up the valley a few more minutes just to be certain the track didn’t go up this way, and it was here that I encountered a rather unsettling sight….

To be continued…