Xmas humbug trip – The Christmas Spirit’s sinister assassination attempt on an anglers ego! pt2

Take your seats folks…. part two is about to commence (draws curtain back)

Next morning I woke earlier, and while making my way blurry-eyed to the river on a water collecting mission I heard the distinctive whistles of the much-loved Whio. It was a pleasant surprise and an uplifting way to begin the day, but to be honest I’d have pawned them both for a mediocre sized trout in an instant, had it been possible. I dashed back to the tent to grab the camera, took a few pics and just watched them feed and bask in the early morning sunshine for a while. Eventually they seemed to subtly hint it was time I had a wash.

271Whio subtly hinting that it’s time I had a wash

Breakfast was had in a lovely shaded spot beside the river, and was most enjoyable as I somehow went completely undetected by the resident sandfly hordes. As I sat, I noted that these were perfect angling conditions—blue skies, a gentle upstream breeze, cicada’s starting to fire up their choruses—except for the crucial missing ingredient. After breakfast was finished, I heeded the Whio’s hints and took a dip in the river. The stinging frigid water was intense and soon had me dashing back to the bank. Guess there was still a fair bit of snow melt chilling the river, perhaps this upper section was even too cold for the trout! It was a lovely feeling, being warmed by the sunshine after the bone-aching dip in the river. I was reinvigorated and ready to confront the Forest of Doom again. At least this time I would be familiar with it’s dastardly gauntlet.

278Breakfast spots don’t get much better than this one!

360The realisation that I’d just walked 27km only to discover a liquid desert. Btw the water was reaaaal cold up here (snow melt still occuring)

371Refreshed and reinvigorated for the journey back down-river

403Beautiful upper valley, and then the contrast that is me

396Ridiculous man, even more ridiculous pack!

410Nice looking water yet it appeared to be a liquid desert

With the belly full, caffeine rage temporarily placated, and a new sense of confidence that comes with travelling familiar ground, I made my way back down the valley. Sometimes I wonder which is harder mentally; to know what obstacles await, or the uncertainty of the unknown. With my shoddy memory I usually find myself in a murky middle-ground between the two, regardless of how many times I’ve visited an area.

In order to avoid the feeling that this immense hike had been in vain, I decided to do a little bit of filming for my videos which may appear here a few light-years from now. Such is my tardiness, that you may actually need to construct yourself a time machine if you wish to see them in this lifetime. Anyway, back to the filming—stay focused young Troutophile! The tedious nature of self-filming—having to set the camera up on a tree branch, walk back out of shot, then turn around and walk back into shot and past the camera—meant I was making this hike a lot longer than necessary! But as painstaking as things like this are, once you get home you’re always glad you did them, and always wish you’d done more.

As I neared the river again I heard a splash down below, and upon investigating was met with a curious sight. Two large brown trout facing off, it made for an intriguing spectacle. It went on for several minutes and I did my best to capture some of it on film, although it wasn’t easy given the amount of trees between us. At one point one of the browns torpedoed the other with such force the impact almost sent it entirely clear of the water. Eventually the spectacle was over, and I can only assume the hierarchy had been established and the turf war resolved, at least for the time being.

480The only sign of civilisation I’d seen in four days

493The Donnie-Darko-rabbit-wannabe tree that gave me a spooking late in the day

792Nature’s frownie face kind of summed up how the fishing had been going. I swear it was like this when I got here. I guess the forest floor is a bit like a Rorschach test. I saw a frownie face while other may have just seen two rocks and a bent stick

You may be wondering what happened with those fish—no luck, well skill—they’d taken up lies across the river and being too deep to cross were out of the reach of my mediocre casting. After a considerable hike I reached the campsite from a couple of nights ago, and began the now-automatic ritual of setting the tent, fossicking for firewood, and cooking a feed. A good feed it was too, deciding I needed a bit of pampering due to the significant chafage setting in. I estimated I’d eroded half my arse away in the four days I’d spent in this valley.

502Meaty dinner for one, in a ridiculously large pot!

517Hmm something is missing….

511Campfire beer-goggles, ahh that’s better!

562Luckily I spotted this little guy on the tent before packing it up

I’d spotted a fish in a run I’d checked out nearby while gather firewood the night before, so after breakfast and yet another pack up I ventured over to have a go at him. I found him soon enough, and he was feeding, but he was another fussy bastard. There was another fish just ahead of him, so I progressed on to him and made some more casts in vain. When I cast a tiny emerger he spooked erratically in multiple directions. I laughed. It was a ludicrous response to a fairly sensible fly. What a drama queen of a fish! There was no rhyme or reason to this river it seemed. I was way up in the middle of nowhere, and yet the fish were still immensely spooky, and not even that large.

I moved up further—some good water around here—and was in the process of tying on an absurd mouse pattern, reasoning it was fitting for these fish, when a voice called out from behind me Gidday mate! How’s the fishing going? or something along those lines. Phew, lucky he called out before I made a fool of myself trying to cast this mouse, was my initial thought. I was also fortunate he didn’t catch me in a bout of trout-induced Tourette’s! Upon turning and walking over to him he gave me a sturdy handshake and wished me a Merry Christmas. Ahh true? Is it?! I bumbled. Ah the date on my camera is wrong, I said, in an attempt to redeem myself. We chatted away for a length of time while baking in the midday sun, before wishing each other the best of luck and pressing on in different directions.

I’d  forgotten to ask which stretches of the river he’d fished, but I took the time to pay a visit to a section where I’d spotted a couple of fish on my way up, just a couple of hundred metres downstream. I located one of them and he was another discerning feeder. Rejecting my go-to hare ‘n’ copper I resorted to tying on a pale caddis pupa, which I’d held off using due to the suspicion it was tied on a dodgy hook. In a miracle rivaling that of what Mary pulled off all those years ago on this exact same day, I hooked it! Needless to say, I was well stoked! The duel was an insipid affair, with the fish almost appearing glad to be caught. Well with it being Christmas, I could understand it may have been feeling a little suicidal. Upon scooping him into the net I could see the reason for the lack of resistance. This trout sported the build of a crack addict, and bore some substantial battle scars. Not the finest specimen I’ve caught, but one I was pretty excited about regardless. Any port in a storm and all that. Despite the tame fight the hook on my fly had snapped on it’s shank. The creative ways these rubbish hooks fail never fails to surprise me!

612Quick pic mid-battle

614The suicidal aidsy-looking specimen that had me rather jubilant

634Bloody photobombers, I’m still itching as I write this!

Progressing down the valley I ran into a couple of young hunters perched on quad bikes on the opposite bank of the river. We gesticulated at each other briefly as the roar of the river made conversing futile. The river looked borderline to cross here, and given my heavy pack I didn’t like the idea of going for a swim. I found a spot a little further up and managed to cross without any drama, but there was a large tree trunk lying in a shallow bar mid-river which prevented the hunters from doing the same. Approaching them the first thing I noticed was their fragrance. They smelt clean and fresh, and had me wondering how they’d manage to sneak up on a deer, but more importantly wondering what sort of polar-opposite odour my body was now emitting. After engaging in a bit of banter they attempted a crossing, and I resisted the urge to film it. With a run up the first one charged into the water and just made it across. The second guy wasn’t so fortunate, and got stuck before reaching the other side, but with the application of a bit of muscle power from his mate eventually made it out.

I soon made it back to the campsite of the first night, but this time I opted for the island. The ribbon of river between it and myself had now almost entirely dried up, it was a clear indication of just how much the river had dropped in the last few days. As I ate dinner beside the glow of the campfire Moreporks serenaded me with their soft lullabies and—in a stark contrast—the melancholy-tainted screeches of Keas soaring high above filled the air. It made for an interesting duet. Possibly the Keas had spied me and were hoping for a rubbery snack before retiring to the trees for the night. Despite it being a trout wasteland this valley was growing on me now, and I was beginning to feel quite at home here. I finished the bottle of cognac—only to lighten the load!—and turned in for the night.

646Campsite on my island sanctuary, out of reach of the rodents

704Wilsonnnn!!!! The clunk of porcelain was heard during the night. Guess he couldn’t bare the thought of enduring another campfire singalong

Due to the mysterious untimely demise of my mug, my morning coffee was drunk straight from the saucepan–the fabric of civilised behaviour was clearly wearing thin now. It was noon by the time I was all packed up and set off down the valley. I reasoned there was sufficient time for the hike out, a bit of a fish along the way, and a visit to the local store to resupply on food before it closed. Along my way down the track a cicada abruptly broke into song, piercing the quiet. It was the loudest one I’d ever heard, and perplexingly the sound didn’t get quieter as I moved along. I brushed around my ear, given the racket I assumed he must be around there somewhere, and the noise stopped temporarily before starting up again. Looking down , I spotted the cheeky hitchhiker.

718Cheeky little (LOUD) hitchhiker

Just a few kilometres from the carpark the track came to a clearing overlooking an enticing section of river. This could be my last chance, I thought. Sliding carefully down the eroded bank, I crept along the rocky riverbed inching my way up the run. I soon spied a dark figure nestled in close to the river’s edge, a fish perhaps? At that moment the wind ushered a cloud in front of the sun and it was as if the gods had flicked off a switch, plunging the illuminated water into darkness, rendering analysis of the shadowy figure impossible. I waited, and waited. Several minutes went by and I occupied myself with attempting a bit of zen meditation to steady the nerves. When the cloud finally unveiled the sun I was ready. First cast wasn’t the best, second cast was a little better, but still not in the zone. In my defence the wind was substantial now. Third cast was on the money, and the wispy woolly indicator dipped decisively. Fish on!

Thanks to the nature-imposed wait prior to casting, I’d surveyed the surrounding geography, formed a battle plan, and knew what I had to do. As anticipated, it wasn’t long before he bolted downstream. I legged it along the narrow rock-strewn verge below the eroded undercut bank. Keeping pace with him was a real challenge and I began to fade as the current aided his getaway. I steered him out of the current and into the slower water and attempted to net him but he was still too fresh. The sight of the net sent him bolting downriver again through some mild rapids. This process repeated itself twice before we entered a long relatively featureless run. I breathed a sigh of relief until I looked over my shoulder downriver and saw a large submerged mess of branches not more than 10 metres away. Well this was it, I had to take a chance and be decisive. Moving in behind the fish a reached down got a grip of it’s tail and steered him into the net. Triumph! It may seem a bit of an unorthodox—even questionable—technique but it doesn’t run the risk of catching the top nymph on the net if the fish parries a netting attempt. Anyway, back to the moment of angling glory. It was a total of around 400 metres we’d traveled downriver to reach this point, and the lungs were really burning after this pursuit. It had me pondering whether—like the mountaineers do—it was time I started to carry oxygen on my fishing trips. I was really content with this fish, he was in terrific condition and had a lovely “clean” colouring. And more importantly, this triumph was just enough to thwart the unrelenting assassination attempt on this angler’s ego, which was the persistent theme of this trip.

761Finally a proper fish, and unlike the last guy he fought with real purpose

771Green caddis pupa doing the business!

783The battle was won waaaay down there past that distant bend

I prospected a few more likely bits of water, albeit in vain, and around 5pm turned my attention to getting back to the car and into town before the stores closed. I failed, and instead dejectedly had to settle on a couple of bananas for dinner. This is the price we trout bum’s have to pay sometimes, but we pay it gladly as our “soul food” is superior to most other people’s. Well it has to be said, this wasn’t the most successful venture into new water, but it had other non-angling rewards. It’s a hit and miss process this exploration business, with knowledge and lessons hard-earned. Still I won’t be discouraged, and already have a few more uncharted rivers—for me at least—lined up in the coming month, so keep an eye out for the reports that will eventually follow.

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Xmas humbug trip – The Christmas Spirit’s sinister assassination attempt on an angler’s ego! pt1

Blue river dreaming. That’s what got me here, to the banks of this “second tier” river. Well to be fair, the river does hold a reputation for big fish, just not very many of them, even by New Zealand standards. But it was more the stunning blue water that was the lure for me, and being a less sought after river I’d hoped to encounter less anglers! A nagging doubt crept into my mind though as I clocked up kilometres, rather than fish. Was this venture into new ground going to be a fruitless endeavour? I pondered. But back to the beginning, before I give too much away and you won’t even bother skimming through this post, which surely rivals the Old Testament in terms of length.

It was December 20, and I was determined to sneak in one last trip before the new year, and the waters inevitably become even more crowded. The Christmas Spirit—oh yes, he exists—had been busy though, doing it’s utmost to thwart my plans. Three rods broken in a ten day period was a pretty clear sign some sinister force was doing it’s utmost to prevent my escape of the city, and it’s Christmas cheer. But what it had failed to take into account were the actions of a benevolent soul from the local fishing forum, who countered these malevolent meddlings by offering me a spare rod for the trip. Cheers Jack! So anyway, after religiously checking the flows of the relevant rivers in the region daily for the last week, I decided it was finally time to go!

007Love the feel of these forest-hemmed highways

The weather pulled it’s usual bipolar antics as I headed over the pass, making the drive a bit more interesting. Several sporadic downpours of rain, a Barry White, Best of Bread, and Phil Collins CD later—yes we were doing it retro this time—I arrived at the river. It was a gorgeous morning, intensely blue skies were only interrupted by large fluffy cumulus clouds of a most vivid shade of white. As I loaded my pack until it was ludicrously overflowing with waders and boots and sandals and kitchen sinks, dairy cows made their way past in sombre dejected fashion, heading for the milking shed to deliver their milky payloads. Occasionally one would pause and eye me with an intense curiosity, as if I were the most fascinating thing they’d seen all week. Or perhaps I was mistaken, perhaps these were looks of disapproval aimed at the leather band that encircled my Akubra hat. With the pack loaded, a quick “breakfast”—emptying the car of all remaining perishable food, and putting it into my stomach till I neared the point of feeling sick—and a quick browse of the DOC track sign, I headed off across the vivid green farmland toward the river.

027Passing through pastures on a scorching summer day

The sun beat down on me, and sweat was already beginning to breach the band inside my faithful Akubra hat, and bead down my brow. The walk to the forest edge was deceptively long—the vast open dairy plains made it hard to judge distances—but my rabid angler enthusiasm was kicking in now and I bounced along with renewed energy. It was a relief to finally reach the forest, and the cool shade it’s canopy offered. I dumped the pack and indulged in a drink, and a brief survey of the river which now ran alongside the track. My eyes met with a disappointing and somewhat surprising sight. The river carried far more water than I’d envisaged, and it’s cloudy colour was cause for concern.

044Not ideal sight fishing conditions

After hiking my way along the track for some time it became apparent that there was something missing in this forest. It had taken me a while to notice it; the deathly quiet—where were the birds? Was this valley just not a popular spot for them, or had predators transformed this forest into an avian morgue? Now that I was aware of it, it became quite a depressing phenomenon. Usually when the hiking is tough I rely on the rhythmical birdsong to act as a sort of coxswain as I march through the forest, but today the only sound present was that of my own gasping. The track soon climbed markedly—curse it!—and became riddled with murky pools of rainwater. The river was far below now, out of reach. It began to dawn on me that this could be another of those frustrating HIKING/fishing trips, but I told myself it was too early to be entertaining such despairing thoughts!

740Fishy looking water, yet frustratingly out of reach

The track eventually led to a tussock flat, and being uncertain how far it was to the next one I decided to set up camp. I hadn’t much sleep the night before so I wasn’t up for a big day. The river was braided in this section, and I spotted an island covered in Manuka trees which had some lovely campsites, but being unsure of how quickly the river might rise, decided against it. As much as I like the movie Castaway, I held no desires to recreate a freshwater version of it, and there had already been enough tragic “Wilsonnnn!” moments this season. Another appeal of the island was that it was likely to offer sanctuary from the rodents. Strangely, the short section of track through the clearing was dotted with the corpses of several rats, it was unclear whether they had been trapped or killed by stoats. Once the tent was assembled I decided to skip dinner and just go straight to sleep, but still being light the sandflies that had invaded the tent really went to town on me. And so, reluctantly, I ventured back outside for a fish until sundown.

039Despite them being the enemy of our native birds, I still felt a bit of empathy for these little guys

Despite being exhausted, sleep was intermittent that night as I woke to frequent rustling sounds outside the tent. Come morning, I was relieved to see no rat hordes had gnawed through the tent to devour my food stocks at least–one of my concerns before the trip! The weather was terrific again today, and after a laxed breakfast and tent pack up I was on my way. The river still looked quite high so I kept walking up the valley hoping it would become smaller after I crossed some of the sizable sidestreams. There weren’t a lot of places where you could actually inspect the river, as the track weaved through beech forest most of the way, and was either high above the river or some distance from it.

063River access, but not for long, up we go again!

Eventually I came to a spot where the river was easily reached, and it was here that I saw my first live mouse—and trout. The fish was nestled in close to the river’s edge and feeding voraciously, and fortunately nowhere near as spooky as the mouse! He was rising to something. Hurriedly, I assembled and rigged the rod, and moved into position. Several casts later, and the only thing I’d hooked was the tree behind me—twice! He certainly wasn’t spooky at least, I noted as I scaled the inclined bank above the river to fight a tree branch and reclaim my flies, but it seemed he was a very discerning feeder. I tried everything—mayfly and caddis, nymphs and emergers of various sizes—yet no takes. Fifteen minutes later he finally stopped feeding, seemingly satisfied with his feasting on the aquatic buffet he settled in behind a rock. I made several more rather forlorn casts, then with all hope depleted I walked over to him just to check he wasn’t one of those “I know you’re there but I’m not even going to spook” type fish. He wasn’t, and promptly bolted across the river in alarmed fashion. A good sized fish indeed.

The track soon appeared to cross the river, which contradicted the route on the DOC sign I’d browsed earlier. As the river was still far too high to cross I had to undergo a painstaking bush-bash up and along some fairly steep terrain. The heavy cumbersome pack didn’t make it easy but after twenty minutes of hard slog I reached a clearing—home to a pleasant section of river which looked very fishy. Of equal importance, this stretch was placid enough that if I did hook anything I might stand half a chance of landing it. I spotted a couple of fish as I made my way up the run, but neither were feeding and I failed to interest either of them.

066The section that required a substantial bush-bash

067The residence of a couple of unobliging fish

According to DOC’s map there was meant to be a hut not far ahead, so I went for a bit of a wander over the vast tussock plain, and begrudgingly entered the maze of Matagouri that occupied it, hoping to find a way through. Experience had taught me such hopes were usually daftly optimistic, but in this rare instance luck was on my side. Savour it old boy! The hut was unoccupied, but considering there was no water supply I opted to set up camp back beside the river. The braided nature of the river may not have made for ideal trout habitat, but it was perfect driftwood habitat, so at least I had plenty of fuel for the campfire.

I ate dinner as the last light of the evening receded back behind the mountains. The quiet of the evening was only pierced for the briefest of moments, as a forest giant across the valley toppled with a groan then a crash, as it met with the forest floor. I sipped on cognac as the fire crackled away, the occasional woody explosion sent an ember flying, and rouge wafts of smoke did their best to sting my eyes. But to it’s credit, the faint breeze was mostly benevolent and gently ushered the smoke away and up the valley. It was a pleasant balmy summer’s night, one which had me relishing the prospect of several more summer campout’s this season. I reflected on a what had been a testing and fruitless day, the golden liquid provided ample solace and I told myself tomorrow would be better.

098Prime driftwood habitat, trout—not so much!

104Drowning my sorrows rather than toasting victory

Upon unzipping the tent I was greeted with another immense blue sky and sunlight so dazzling it had me retreating back into the tent for my sunglasses. Due to the tent being in the shade I’d managed to indulge in a slothful sleep-in, rather than being driven outside by the heat. And I would’ve slept longer had it not been for the faint sound of voices I’d heard as people made their way along the track not far from my tent. I tried to leg it up the track after them, blurry-eyed and in no mood for such exertions, with my legs still aching from yesterday’s efforts. I abandoned the pursuit after fifty metres, figuring it was a hopeless endeavour as I wasn’t even certain which way they went. I reasoned if they were fishing I’d run into them soon enough anyway. After breakfast and a pack up I was on my way again. The river was now a single channel and looked a bit more promising, though still turbulent and swift in most places, and still too deep to cross.

179Nature in the raw

At one point while walking along the track the sound of rushing water quietened, piquing my curiosity, and so I bush-bashed through the narrow strip of forest to get to the river, suspecting there may be some flat fishable water. Of course I had to emerge at the river’s edge right beside a good sized fish! It didn’t have any adverse reaction to my gormless intrusion so I backed away into the foliage and reemerged further down-river to make a cast. It was a clumsy effort—the line landing too close to the fish—sending it bolting off into the blue. The problem was the chances were so sparse that I never really had a chance to get warmed up and into the zone. The only other thing of note before the track again diverged from the river and began a cruel ascent, were a squadron—I don’t know the proper word but I like this one—of geese attempting to make it’s way up-river. Made for quite interesting viewing while I paused for breath.

182Missed opportunity

183The view down-stream, not much margin for error had a hook-up and duel ensued

192A pretty serious side-stream, wouldn’t like to be around when this one is in flood!

456A closer shot of the sidestream minus my mug tainting it’s beauty

It was about now that the track began to inflict some serious torture upon me. It subjected me to some downright sadistic ups and downs, and to make things more depressing it was heading far away from the river. I hadn’t seen another soul for two days now, so I felt free to indulge myself in any tourette’s-style outbursts I might feel coming on in circumstances like these. These were the perks of venturing up an unpopular part of a not-too-popular river, no one was around to bear witness to such ravings. It was also nice to be able to take my time, and not have that sense of urgency and dread when you wake up, knowing you have only until about 8am to stake your claim before the heli-fishers arrive. That sort of thing can really detract from the enjoyment of a trip. Well there were no choppers here, and it was now abundantly clear why!

218A much needed timeout on the most comfiest log in the backcountry!

Eventually the forest canopy began to thin and it became lighter, and I became aware that I was on the verge of summiting this mountain, my Everest! It was at this moment—when pausing for breath—I was visited by my first Robin. Quite an uplifting thing when you have walked nearly 27km and seen next to no bird life. I’m not that big on birds, but the bold and curious Robin endears itself to everyone doesn’t it? It didn’t hang around too long though, perhaps I looked too beat up to be capable of rousing any grubs or bugs, or whatever it is they eat.

After a half hour of downhill slipping and skidding, I finally broke free of the clutches of the forest of doom and staggered into a lovely clearing. ‘Twas the upper valley—small, intimate, inviting—a most welcome change! A well deserved lie down was had before going through the process of selecting a campsite. I am prone to suffering from a bit of Goldilocks Syndrome when it comes to selecting campsites—too much river noise, too little firewood, too far to get water etc etc etc.

424Summiting my Everest, note to self: fishermen have no business being on summits!

232Upper river, starting to look more fishable now, yet no fish!

Once the tent was up I went up-river for a bit of a recce before dark, spurred on by the now-smaller river. The excitement didn’t last long, as I walked by more and more turbulent water. I perused any flat water intensely, yet no fish were found. Finally I reached a rather dodgy looking three wire bridge which looked like a real challenge to cross, given the size and weight of my pack. Quite a leap would’ve been necessary just to get up on the thing, and so after much internal deliberation I decided this was to mark the turnaround point. Attempting to remain positive, I reasoned the river should be much lower and clearer in the lower section by now, allowing more of it to be fished and maybe even crossed, so I planned to give it proper attention on my way back down the valley.

The camping here was hard work. The dead trees were mostly soggy and rotting, the toetoe’s had already been plundered, and the rocks for my fire had to be transported from the riverbed. And the one rock I did find nearby had ancient looking rubbish under it! Not a good omen I reasoned, and in a strange way these little things reassured me that turning around was the right move. It’s one of the hard things about going on a trip alone, you’re the one making all the calls, and there’s no one else around to bounce ideas off. Doesn’t help when you’re naturally indecisive either!

236Call this a bridge?! This was to decide the turn-around point

To be continued, intermission time folks (pulls curtain)…. 

Roughing it round Reefton

Okay so I named a place…. well given the dearth of anglers there I figured the owner of the local tackle store could do with a few more customers. Terrific bloke he was, even after I proclaimed I was skint! At first he threatened to set the dog on me, but it was more interested in pursuing a passerby—clutching an icecream—down the street. With the edgy start out of the way we spent near a half hour hunched over the monitor displaying Google Earth. I thanked him profusely for parting with some invaluable insights and vowed to return in a few weeks with money to burn. Note to self, they also stocked CD rods, a brand I’ve been pondering on investing in for some time.

Anyways, backing it up a few days, I’d just finished my last trip but on a spur of the moment decision the short detour to Reefton proved irresistible, given the glorious weather. Approaching the town in darkness a freak shower beat down hard on the windshield, and twenty seconds later it abruptly stopped as fast as it had began. Erratic seems to be an understatement when it comes to New Zealand weather! The mysterious nature of this downpour had me briefly pondering whether I’d actually been on the receiving end of an inappropriately placed farm irrigator and there hadn’t been any rain at all. I parked up at the DOC campsite in the area and feeling too rundown to cook, settled on a couple of bananas for dinner, which thankfully hadn’t turned black while sitting in the boot of my car for the last week. These are the sacrifices we make as troutbums—bananas for dinner—but on the plus side our “soul food” is superior to most other people’s.

Day broke, and I gingerly staggered out of the car. The first night sleeping in the car is always the worst; why didn’t I get that van organised last winter! Breakfast was had at a sloth’s pace, before venturing into town to resupply on food and other essentials. For a small town it was an impressive store, with several aisles crammed full with the essentials, and more. I even spied a Criminal Profiling kit in one of the aisles—tempting—but what this place really needed was a Wily Brown Trout Profiling kit! Desperate tourist anglers would likely pay top dollar for such a thing. I informed the member of staff, and they did their best to stifle a look of scared bewilderment, but failed. Basket(case) loaded, I was satisfied I had enough calories to see me through the next few days. It was a busy little town at this time of year, yet strangely I hadn’t spotted anyone camo-clad yet.

984Reefton, strangely no camo in sight

I was rather indecisive with the forming of the day’s angling plans, and evaluated my options over lunch in the park. With my body pleading for mercy—despite it’s calls usually falling on deaf ears—I wasn’t up for anything big. Finally a decision was made and I opted for a brief fish on the main river in the area, not far out of town. With zero fish seen, it wasn’t a memorable fishing session at all, until the most bizarre event I’ve ever experienced on the river occurred.

Standing mid-river I suddenly heard a high pitched noise seemingly some distance behind me. I ignored it initially, figuring it was one of those annoying species of birds that make a big song and dance when you enter their territory. But the noise persisted and grew louder, then much to my alarm I realised it sounded more like the squealing of a pig! It’s times like this you regret having seen the movie Deliverance! At least I’d heard no banjos, although I’d seen an unnerving amount of pickup trucks in the area. Anyway, I spun around and my eyes met with a dark figure splashing it’s way through the water, headed right for me! It was already a third of the way from the bank, quite a distance considering this was a wide section of river. Despite being close it still took me a while to register what it was—a jet black piglet! I shooed him away, pleading with him Go back piggy, swim for your life! I yelled,  dreading the prospect of having to go for a swim and perform lifeguard duty had he ventured into the main tongue of current. Thankfully he didn’t seem anywhere near as attracted to the front of me as he had been to the back of me and turned, beating a hasty retreat to the bank as fast as his little piglet legs could paddle, bounded across the stony bank, then legged it into the bushes. Well few trout-duels could trump that in terms of a memorable experience, so after having an unsuccessful look for the endearing piglet I decided to move on to another river.

It looked promising—lovely green pools punctuated with stunning white granite boulders—so you can imagine my disappointment and bewilderment when pool after pool I failed to spot any fish. It’s hard to understand what the reason was. If you’ve read many of my posts you’ll know by now I’m a rubbish spotter so you’ve probably chalked it down to that, BUT that wasn’t it. Possibly someone had fished the river earlier in the day but I didn’t even see any uncooperative fish. I persevered up-river for around two kilometres before daylight began to fade and I begrudgingly turned around. I’d been wearing my amber sunglasses and due to their brightening effect hadn’t realised how dark it had become. I legged it back down-river pretty fast as I was torchless, finding it more effective to boulder hop given the terrain. It was a concentration-intensive and rather precarious way to cover ground, and with the occasional boulder rolling as I briefly touched down on it, was a miracle I didn’t come to grief. It certainly was tough going, and my already dodgy ankle wouldn’t take kindly to this sort of abuse come the morning.

832My dodgy ankle shuddered at the sight of these boulders

838Small pools devoid of fish littered this river

The sound of tearing velcro woke me in the night as my swelling ankle busted out of it’s velcro sandal restraint. Oh dear, I dreaded the thought of laying eyes on my mutated “cankle” in the morning. And yes, when morning arrived so did the agony. Cooking breakfast was a mission. People eyed me with suspicion when I staggered off to the bog, and considering the time of year, probably assumed I was drunk. This new wounding cast serious doubt on any more fishing plans. I took it easy that morning, loitering about the DOC campsite, and chatted with a Dutch couple who were gold fossicking in the river that ran behind the campsite. They told me about their narrow escape in the 2011 floods, when a sudden surge of water—around a metre high—raged down the river. I’d heard about these floods before and wondered how the rivers had recovered since then, and whether they were at all responsible for the absence of fish in the river I’d visited yesterday.

Around midday, with the “cankle” warmed up I ventured out of town to another river, telling myself it’d just be a short recce, and maybe a fish or two if I was lucky. A couple of hundred metre bush-bash was undertaken to reach the river, which was fast-tracked by walking down a small creek. With it’s high steep banks and narrow structure I felt a bit like a prize fighter making their way down the tunnel to the ring, cue Rocky’s Eye Of The Tiger! Dead saplings were brushed aside and toppled with the lightest prod from a finger, making you feel like a giant, only to be brought back down to earth seconds later when you were restrained by a surprisingly thin—yet unbreakable— vine.

962Approaching the river

848My cankle didn’t like the look of this business, deja vu

Unlike yesterday’s outing I spotted fish fairly regularly, only problem was they were in glassy pools and spooky as hell. After half a dozen instances like this I began to realise I needed to find fish in faster water if I was to stand a chance. Eventually I spotted the first fish to reside in a run. I cast a couple of times with no joy, then after changing nymphs and preparing to cast again the top half of a large tree near the river decided it was time to spontaneously divorce from it’s lower half! My first thought was Seriously? Did that really just happen?! Considering there was no wind at all, Mother Nature was clearly ‘avin a laugh! Needless to say after turning my eyes back to the river the fish was nowhere to be seen.

853One of the difficult glassy pools, the residence of a couple of spooky fish

849The spot where nature took the mickey, and thwarted my best chance so far

Shortly after, I had another chance. Spying this fish only as I was side on to him and no more than five metres away, I dared not move back but instead flicked out a cast with the least amount of movement possible. On the second cast he took one of the nymphs, and several minutes later he was secured in the net. Although not large, he was a special one for me. It was the first fish I’d caught in this river, but more importantly he was the first proper fish I’d caught with one of my late uncle’s creations. His flies were tied more sparsely than my store bought nymphs—no doubt his cat would’ve been pleased about that as it was a main source of material—and seemed to be more effective.

861Thanks for the flies uncle, unlike your nephew you clearly knew what you were doing

I pressed on with renewed confidence, but the river became less promising. Less pools, shallower runs, and fewer fish. I spent a lot of time on one good fish in an awkward pool. This one was feeding with reckless abandon, but the current was awkward and kept drifting the nymphs away from him before they could get down deep enough. Finally I dared move across the river and cast over him which got the nymphs in place, but now he stopped feeding and so I gave up and pressed on up-river.

At around 7pm I turned back, in order to get back to the car before dark. I came across a fish in a run actively feeding. I must have spent twenty minutes casting a smorgasbord of nymphs at this guy, and he dodged and weaved them all. Makes you wonder how you don’t manage to foul hook these sort of fish eventually. Fed up, I tied on a dopey size 8 stonefly nymph—same response. Next cast I pinched the fly line allowing the flies to swing across in front of him, wondering how far he’d spook as my flies sped past him. To my disbelief he pivoted, bolted two full metres across after them, and took the large tungsten nymph. I guess if I wanted to create the illusion that I knew what I was doing I’d have claimed to have adopted the Leisenring Lift technique, which I have to admit was highly dubious of when I first read of it. Anyway, whatever this manoeuvre I pulled was, I will add it to my last resort arsenal for finicky fish!

921Dead drift? No thanks, I’ll take the one going a thousand miles an hour!

884Rugged beauty, mercurial weather—West Coast in a nutshell

890The long walk back down-river

900My cankle was suffering a bout of severe depression now!

While driving back to the DOC campsite in the darkness a harsh rattling sound against the windscreen—similar to hail—became audible. It was perplexing as nothing appeared to be hitting the windscreen. It wasn’t until the headlights of an oncoming car beamed over the crest in the road ahead—illuminating a blizzard of insects— that I became aware of what it was. A Caddis hatch of epic proportions! In the last twenty seconds I’d probably wiped out more Caddis flies than a trout would in it’s entire lifetime. Feeling guilty I drove a little slower, not that it probably made any difference, but it appeased my guilt at least. I entertained the thought of stopping at the river briefly, before reasoning that this sort of hatch is a recipe for angler frustration.

Next morning, not only was the ankle in agony, but I had the worst case of chafage ever. I won’t go into too much detail but it felt as if with each step both legs were rubbing against sandpaper, and we’re talking P40 grade, not the fine stuff! There was no denying it now, the body couldn’t endure any more of this sort of beasting. And with the trip now about in it’s tenth day I opted to head home, but not without stopping in on one last river along the way of course! Acting on a tip from the Reefton Sports Centre owner—thanks buddy!— I pulled into the car park beside the upper section of this large river and hurriedly adorned my gear, in the company of a cloud of sandflies. I opted for waders this time, in the hope of not incurring the wrath of the chafage!

Pretty quickly I came across my first fish. He was a large specimen and in a tough position across the far side of the river. With no room for a back cast, and being a glassy glide, entering the water wasn’t an option. I opted to move on in search of easier prey, and maybe have a go at him on the way back. It was a fair walk to the next fish, which was smaller and busily patrolling the shallow pool. I set a couple of failed ambushes before the gods intervened and rained on any potential parade. After several BOOM’s of thunder I decided it was best to sit my rod down and wait it out, although the driving rain had pummeled the flat water into a sea of dimples anyway, rendering spotting impossible. Several minutes later I realised I still had two metal rod tubes poking skywards from my backpack—moron. Once the gods relented I located the fish again and had a couple more casts in vain.

991West coast sized raindrops!

Heading back down-river I got spooked by a large black object wiggling it’s way out from the bank, which I’d spooked. Initially I though it was an eel, due to it’s darkness and odd motion but no, it was a pretty large trout. It seemed to take a while for it to register what exactly this intrusion was, as it paused beside me, but after several seconds it figured it out and bolted off. Pity because it was a sizable fish, and if I’d been more thorough on my way up-river I may have had a shot at it. Next time.

Now I turned my attention back to the fish I’d walked past earlier. Last chance of the trip, and would make for a memorable end. He was now sitting in a more favourable position, closer to my side of the river. I was readying my rig when I spotted a couple of guys fishing their way up-river. I felt a bit guilty that I hadn’t left a note in the car stating my fishing intentions, so I went over and had a chat to them. They weren’t far into their angling road trip and hadn’t caught or seen a fish yet. Well I figured I’d do the right thing and let them have a crack at the fish—mostly so they wouldn’t witness my casting abominations—but in the time it took one of them to ready a tandem nymph set up the river went from lightly tanin-stained to chocolate brown and the opportunity was gone. We both made a couple of casts regardless; I chucked on my orange beadhead streamer, but even that was barely visible.

986From this…

1009 To this, in just a few minutes

Back in the car and heading home, I was destined for one last treat. Possibly the gods were making amends for their earlier actions, in putting on this lovely display. I pulled over and snapped away with the camera for a while, and passersby looked at me oddly as they sped past in their vehicles, and I returned the look. It’s hard to believe people don’t take the time to enjoy such a spectacle, especially as they were most likely on holiday! The chafage banished any thoughts of a pedestrian detour in search of the much needed pots of gold, a shame because given the demise of my hiking boots on this trip it was sorely needed!

1029A pot of gold to fund my next trip? If only!

1058Double rainbow!

1071Lovely pre-sunset summer sky

And so that marks the end of what was my longest trip yet. Relatively uneventful fishing-wise, and yet I still managed to bang out a novel. For some—perhaps most—it may be much ado about nothing, but for me it was another memorable trip with a few things learnt—mostly the hard way!—and a few new experiences. I guess this is the price you pay for venturing into new valleys—something I vowed would be the trademark of this season—it’s a fairly hit and miss process. And while the body heals I will be busy plotting and scheming my next expedition into the wilderness, and other new territories no doubt! So stay tuned and take note, as this hapless angler shows you how not to do it!