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.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bribruceproductions
    Feb 17, 2015 @ 09:29:53

    Check out author Todd Bruce’s new release “Nine Passes” Fly Fishing through the Past and Present of the High Sierra”–seems like you might enjoy it!




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