Stygian overnighter

The timing of this post was purely by chance, and I had a chuckle to myself as I realised. Given the nature of the title, the date—Friday the thirteenth—and my thirteenth post, to add to intrigue!

There he lurked—down below—a lengthy blur of grey, poised behind a large rock. Not me—a fish! This substantial, slate-coloured anomaly in the sprawling stretch of blue below was a reassuring sight, given that this river had a reputation for low fish stocks, and it markedly heightened my anticipation of what was to come! Before a cast was made however, a rod would be necessary! Another vehicle was already present when I pulled into the car park, and upon chatting with it’s occupant—a pleasant, elderly lady, whiling away the wait with a paperback—was informed her son was fishing the river. So this was the reason for my lack of kit; I was approaching the river for a chat, not for battle. I didn’t find him in the end, and to my surprise their sedan was nowhere to be seen by the time I got back to the car park. Guess he must’ve gone downstream.

Some half hour later, I returned to the spot where I’d encountered the slaty specimen. This time, sporting our angler’s coat of arms, ready to try my “luck”. In position, at the foot of the tall, erosion-scarred, bouldery bank, I switched on the head cam and began whipping the rod about in furious fashion. By now, it’d become something of a signature cast—this manic action—and I dreaded to think it was being committed to muscle memory. Due to the absence of a near-top guide on the rod—broken off during disassembling a while back—getting the first few metres of fly line out had become an angst-ridden chore. The tandem of nymphs plopped into the water a few metres ahead of the now more abstract, rather ghost-like grey figure. Enduring a wait of tension due to the leisurely flow which ran through his residence, he finally appeared to turn, and pursue the nymphs. When he pivoted a second time, the indicator promptly dipped, and I struck. A taut, lively line was the result, rapidly followed by the sensation dying as quick as it had begun. The headcam commentary comprised of a single word, succinct and sufficient: F..cksake!

I pressed on, eager to get upriver, out of reach of the curious calfs—adorable as they were— and their vast minefield of earthy ejectamenta, in search of a campsite with more potable water, and less precarious underfoot. Apart from my red-spotted fish fetish, I also have a blue-water river fetish, and this river was feeding it in spades. The runs were very easy on the eye—aquamarine in colour—but the pools were simply divine, gleaming like luxuriant sapphires in the midafternoon sun. Unfortunately, like the gemstone, they were all too scant, and it appeared a long walk was going to be had between them—oh, and the fish.

057Surprisingly tame

059Curious cuties

I soon approached an immense, fern-covered cliff. It was an impressive—yet rather imposing—sight, and a dominating feature over the river below. Of particular concern was a section with an intimidating cornice-like overhang, wielding a vast tonnage of sodden earth. Unsure of which path the track took, I chose to chance it on the river rather than pass underneath this behemoth. The crossing wasn’t too bad—waist-high and possessing a moderate flow—but any more and I’d have been potentially facing a swim. From here, I dumped the pack and pottered about for the next half hour, inspecting the river—finding the track. A couple of blue duck were soon heard, then located, perched on a rock midriver, and eventually a big orange triangle located, signalling the point where the track entered the forest. Another river crossing was necessary to reach it, but this one was relatively easier than the last.

074Colossal cornice

063Spot the Whio…?

In places, this track was a little more rugged in nature than what I’d encountered in the other legs of my angling marathon. Jagged rocks, so slippery they had you wondering whether the gods themselves had lubricated them specifically for their own amusement, only to watch on as this mug with a ridiculously overloaded pack—yep still doing that—attempted to negotiate them. These rocky sections punctuated long flat gravelly sections, which were something of a treat. Then there were the rather more treacherous sections, which overlooked some serious drops down to the river. In a serious downpour, I imagine it’d be a fairly sobering place to be! These sections usually had exposed, crumbling faces of rock above them, which only fed your concerns.

Early evening—fed up with walking, and with a thick, impenetrable mist descending into the valley—I settled on a campsite a short elevated scramble from the river. Most of the good campsites appeared to be on the other side of the river, but I banished any thought of trying to reach them, due to the perilous nature of the crossings. On my first visit to the river’s edge—saucepan in hand—collecting water for dinner, I noticed a fish. A good one indeed. After the ensuing scramble back up to camp, where I swapped my saucepan for a fly rod—it offered a slightly better chance of success!—I once again began to manically whip the air with my crippled rod. I’ve no idea how I’d been managing the occasional success with this technique, as even the sandflies seemed to spook by the time I’d finally got my casts away!

096Just upstream from camp, the encroaching mist beginning it’s descent

This fish was in an easy spot, several metres downstream of a riffle-come-rapid, residing on the still side of the verge where fast water met with slow. The first cast was sufficient, and after some metres drifting, the sight of the nymphs provoked a decisive swing sideways, with the indicator submerging in the process. A successful hook up ensued—to my immense relief—but this was just the easy part. I knew the only option was to really boss this guy, as there was only a short section of water downstream fit for dueling, before things got really craggy and all would certainly have been lost! It’s these scenarios when my 3x tippet really justifies itself, or my tow rope, as some purists refer to it!

He wasn’t an overly savvy strategist, this fellow, and a couple of minutes into it—or so it seemed—he hadn’t made any attempt to get downstream. I had him on the ropes—leader on the verge of entering the guides. This is the point where I usually need to be more decisive, more proactive, and on this occasion it was no different. I got a good look at him as he surfaced two metres away. A hefty fish, with a lovely clean appearance. His flank was toned a modest grey, in keeping with the river, and a sparse sprinkling of equally modest black spots. No rubies to behold here. Instead, intriguing black pearls. He floundered briefly on the surface, but upon sighting the net, submerged and bolted with the urgency of a submarine in dive mode, trying to evade a strafing from enemy aircraft. Downstream of me now, and about to hitch a ride on the tongue of current which would inevitably lead him down to unduelable water, I really upped the pressure—far more than I’d normally dare! The line—and rod—trembled under the extreme tension, as if they were struggling to cope with this immense surge of energy, but together we managed to haul him—our Stygian nemesis—into a calmer pocket behind a rock—just. But this victory was only temporary, and it wasn’t long before he attempted a repeat of the same manoeuvre, bolting back into the current, and soon after, the dreaded predictable occurred. The rod recoiled; the line pinged back in my face. Fish off! In-your-face alright….

Upon investigating the cause, suspecting a break at the knot was responsible, my eyes met with a rage-inducing sight… the hook on the top nymph had snapped! At this point, a completely mental tirade ensued, and only ended when I began to see stars and decided it’d be wise to calm down before the onset of some sort of medical emergency. To my credit, I still summoned enough inner calm to document the cause of failure on camera.

082&%$#& gear failure, undoubtedly the worst way to lose a fish! Note the steady hand despite the rage, Spartan stuff indeed!

085Smile for the camera! “Cheer up bud, it’s just a fish”, is what you would have told me if you fancied a brutalising!

Totally hollow, feeling as broken as the nymph, I scrambled back up to camp, deciding on a quick dinner and turning in for an night early—sulking we were! It wasn’t the sort of place for casual night time fishing anyway. Kea cackled from above, and Whio whistled from below, but I was in no mood to savour this rare duet on dusk. Throughout dinner I kept replaying it over and over in my mind. It plagued my thoughts the remainder of the night. Should I have gone for the netting? Played him softer and hoped for the best in the craggy river below? Attempted a beaching? This gear failure had made the experience an indelible one, forever etched in my mind—well the next few weeks at least!—and had me vowing to learn to tie my own, come winter. It’s not that I haven’t had hooks break before, it’s just it usually happens when I’m attempting to retrieve them from my clothing, pack strap, or boot lace, not on a solid fish!

Rain began to beat down on the tent around midnight, and continued for the entirety of this most Stygian night. At times, such was the intensity of the downpour, the racket of water hitting fly resembled that of a garden hose nozzle at full pressure, doing it’s utmost to pulverise the tent into submission. I woke up several times throughout the night to this, and was relieved to have situated the tent high above the river, well out of reach of the clutches of any torrent that might manifest overnight. As I lay in the tent, I dreaded to think what shade of brown it’d be flowing come morning.

Eyes open earlier than usual, the rain had all but ceased. Only the gentle pitter-patter of light spitting rain—and sandflies—against the fly remained. The events of the night before soon flashed back, in a similar way you tend to recall events after an overindulgent boozy night out. Keen to distance myself from—rather than dwell on—the haplessness of last night, I crawled outside to inspect the river. Given the immensity of the downpour, it wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated. Significantly discoloured—yes—with undoubtedly a far greater rate of flow, but there was no fearsome, fish-expelling, riverbed-scouring, torrent. Impossible to cross, but possibly fishable later, I concluded, attempting to remain upbeat as I set about cooking and consuming my usual Spartan breakfast, as the sandflies did theirs.

103Brown but not out, or so I hoped!

101Port in a storm—the flow was even a bit much for this guy! (Centre bottom)

127Early morning flashing, a good way to start the day!

224Guy on the right was obviously the boss, and droned on so much the others seemed to get fed up. Remind you of anyone…?

The sun made an appearance during breakfast, and burnt off the remaining low-lying cloud throughout the morning. During the next couple of hours the river’s clarity improved markedly; the brown colouring had by now completed it’s transition into that of an opaque emerald. I progressed a short way upriver to inspect a run where I’d spooked a fish the day before, prior to the unspeakable occurrence. I crept cautiously along the bank, but regardless I ventured too far. He seemed to have spotted me first and reacted by leisurely moving off upstream. With a fair amount of glare on the water it was one of those situations where it was hard to be certain of what happened, so I tried my luck regardless. Nymphs away, fish on! Not much of a fighter, considering the violent nature of the river, and he was in the net in short time. It was scant consolation really, given he was half the fish of yesterday’s, but I tried to be grateful. The tide has turned, I tried to convince myself.

142Scant consolation

163Sun appearing midmorning, signalling a change in fortune perhaps?

Progressing upstream, the river didn’t seem to hold much promise. It was rapidly metamorphosing into the domain of blue duck and boaters—kayakers that is—rather than trout water. It was a long walk between any semblance of desirable trout habitat. I could’ve fished it blind, and did do a little prospecting here and there—mostly to reduce the chances of one of those seemingly inevitable “oh you shoulda…” arising conversations when I got home.—but given the lack of fish in the few pieces of good water I saw, it just felt futile. I managed to hook two more small fish on my foray upriver—both lost in wild water—making it a total of five fish seen, five hooked. This one hundred percent hookup ratio on a river was something I’ve never accomplished before, and came as a surprise considering the rubbish nature of my angling abilities! It appeared that given the apparent lack of food available, these fish were wholeheartedly buying into the “beggars can’t be choosers” rationale.

172Perusing the Ponga’s plight—perched precarious in a position prone to peril. Gotta love alliteration!

185Such was the humidity here that even a swept away Ponga survives, roots completely exposed!

175Long walk between pools!









The scenic qualities of the valley and plentiful numbers of Whio roaming the river were ample compensation for the lack of fish, while the hiking itself was pleasant as the track was mostly flat, yet still diverse enough in nature to make it interesting. Throughout my trip I’ve found it quite thought-provoking to see how varied the beech forests are. A forest merely an hour up the road can be of a drastically different composition to the last. Guess it shows how varied this country is, and how many unique microclimates it possesses. Interestingly, despite the ruggedness of the terrain I found the bush-bashes in this valley to be an almost civilised affair with the forest having a more of an English vibe to it, and could’ve likely been undertaken with a cup of tea in hand—jolly good! The forest here has a distinctive openness to it, and contains shrubs that would look more at home in an English cottage-style garden. No idea why, perhaps one of the early european settlers planted it out with the idea of making it his own little trout stream…?

182Bush-bash, a relatively civilised affair here

DCIM101DRIFTDicey bit of track

DCIM101DRIFTLovely ambience to this bit of track

By midafternoon I’d made it back to camp, content with my exploration of the valley. After lunch and a pack up, there was just one thing left to do before exiting the valley. Actually two things: a quick bit of Weka thievery investigation, and far more appealing—a final visit to the section of river below camp, in the hope of a second round with the fish I’d been robbed of. And a robbery it was, with the air of a despicable Don King style rigging, possibly another antic pulled by the gods for their own amusement? Despite not seeing him, I made a couple of blind casts, and the indicator did dip on one of them, but as I struck all I felt was the faintest pluck—off what I’m not sure. A rock? The fish? Hopefully it was the former.

As I neared the carpark I revisited the spot where I’d laid eyes on the very first fish, but he too was nowhere to be seen. It had proved to be a relatively fruitless overnighter, but regardless it was one I will remember fondly. In fact I may even return again soon in the hope of having another shot at the two good fish that got away! Yep, suckered into a rematch via robbery, Don King would be ‘avin a laugh about that!


A fishing intermission

I paused for thought before writing this one, unsure of whether to amalgamate it into the report on the next leg of my trip or not. Then my mind wandered to the next conundrum—which category to include it in, or whether to make it a new post, or even a new page altogether! Okay, I didn’t go that far, but it is still a frightening aspect of this site for some of us, akin to entering a dark abyss from which we see no end in sight. Pretty sure I frittered away an entire winter in a forlorn attempt at establishing the entirety of the differences between a “post” and a “page”, and never cracked it! Anyways… here it is. A post with even less fishing action than usual, none in fact. Well apart from maybe a surfcaster I captured in the background of one of the photos, or was that actually a Chinese man clutching a tripod? Unsure. Enough babbling Troutophile! Here it is, my report about not doing any fishing at all.

For the next few days I decided to call an intermission on my marathon angling adventure. I had batteries  in need of charging—both metaphorically and literally—memory cards to clear, and footage to be saved to my laptop and external hard drive. And on top of all that, it was a lovely wee town that proved hard to leave. The library was most convenient, and the beach was really something special. There’d recently been a driftwood art competition there, and the sculptures had remained. I spent the nights wandering the beach—beer in hand—admiring them, but for me it was the dramatic, and very changeable, cloud formations, and dazzling sunsets which were the main draw cards.



013Guess they didn’t get around to making the angler, but he’d obviously be furthest on the left!




Due to the far more public nature of this place than what I’d become accustomed to, and in the interests of discretion, my Wilson this time was of a live nature. Good company, he was, appearing every night on dusk and hopping inquisitively around me. However, on my last night there he betrayed me, glancing up at me one final time, before turning, and hopping off into the sunset with a couple of new-found buddies. Judas! I mean, Wilsonnnn! Don’t worry, it was dark and most people had vacated the beach so I’m fairly certain no one witnessed that.

050Wilson on his nightly visit

049Wilson about to turn Judas and leave me, prompting the inevitable Wilsonnnn! cry.

Wandering dejectedly back to the car, I encountered some hippies, who generously pulled up, and offered, a seat for me—a log—beside their impressive bonfire. Highly skilled in the art of bonfire, they obviously were. I didn’t doubt they’d had plenty of practise. I stayed a while, until the conversation became a little too “heavy”, which soon began to ruin my “vibe”. Thanking them for their hospitality, I split back to the car, and off to the nearest DOC campsite. They were nice, genuine people, but I was done fretting over the worries of the world.

My time at the campsite was also a pleasant experience, as it’s probably the nicest one I’ve visited. For some reason the sandfly and rat numbers are few, and a couple of families of Weka roam it’s perimeters, waiting for any opportune “YOINK!” moments that inevitably arise. Always makes for good comic value. This oasis from sandflies was also hard to move on from, and I ended up spending three nights here, having many interesting conversations with a few of the site’s transient population. Finally, I had to give myself a good slapping, and a stern reminder of what this trip was about! After all, the fine weather window wouldn’t last forever, and was in fact threatening to close! With that in mind, I departed this cherished place. With food stocks replenished, and a treasure trove of pleasant memories, I headed for the next destination.

An unexpected triumph

With food stocks replenished—okay I didn’t make it to a proper supermarket, but at least I avoided another painful On The Spot fleecing—I pressed on towards the next river, with the intention of a casual day trip this time. It was around 10pm now and I was beat, so I parked up, reclined the seat, and roughed it behind the wheel for the night. The bonus of this is that you seldom sleep in, ensuring you make it onto the water early!

Come morning, I traveled the several kilometres of gravel road which separated the river and I, before indulging in a gluttonous breakfast: coffee, porridge, and soup. I suspected the cooker wouldn’t be coming out again for some time, so I indulged like a camel, only difference was my hump was on the other side.

1009Ideal conditions, yet a strange mix of anticipation and dread was in the air

The sky was blue, the sandflies were sparse, and the farmer was friendly. Can’t ask for more than that! I crossed the paddock toward the river, not feeling too optimistic at all. The reason for the lack of confidence was that this was one of those lowland rivers where food was plentiful, and the trout fussy. It wasn’t anything to do with the humbling I endured the last trip!

First glance down from the bank I spied a solid black figure, a good fish. Back cast, forward cast, back cast, forward cast, back cast, forward c… PEOW!!! He was outta there speeding bullet style. Yep, that’s about right, I thought. This format repeated itself for the next hundred metres or so, all the way up the run. Yep, I’m a slow learner! Trout: 12 – Angler: Nil. The bank and river structure at this point became more accommodating, and I was able to get down to water level and approach the riffle upstream with a great deal more stealth.

1011The scene where the long walk of mass rejection occurred

From the chest-high grasses which I’d nestled in like a right troutophile, I watched them. Two trout swinging side to side feeding voraciously midriver, just a few metres apart. This water was far more forgiving; a shallow riffle, with a good rate of flow. I still wasn’t that confident mind you. Before entertaining the thought of a cast I did a bit of verge gardening, trampling enough grass around me that I had sufficient space to accommodate the line I needed to shoot. Perhaps this was the original motivation behind crop circles, a bit of casting practice in the corn field? No harm done until the advent of distance lines and double hauling right. Anyway, with that done, I fired away a couple of nymphs half a dozen metres upstream from the fish. No response. No surprise. After half an hour of this, the only plus side was that they were both still there, and my tan was slightly improved. Amazingly, in spite of all this riffle flogging another fish had even arrived, and three of them now worked the riffle. In moments like this you always wonder: Have they seen me? Do they know I’m here but continue feeding cos they KNOW I’m a rubbish angler and pose no threat? Well perhaps you don’t wonder that, but it’s certainly one of my popular musings while on the water.

1019Well-worn ogling spot

I persevered in this spot, which I was sure held my best hopes of success on this river. They continued to bob and weave my adequate, and rubbish, casts alike. Sometimes the nymphs—even flyline—sped by, over their heads, and still they continued to flash their little white mouths, cheeky little buggers! There was the occasional moment when—with my nymphs in their vicinity—they’d swing to the side and that little white flash would appear, and I’d strike, resulting in the flies speeding back towards me and either entangling in the long grasses or flying straight into me. Considering I was fishing indicatorless, there wasn’t really any avoiding this. I experimented with an array of combinations but finally it appeared to be a change of colour that turned the tide.

A solitary grey-brown tungsten nymph was apparently adequate for consumption. As soon as I’d set the hook, the fish made straight for me, spurring me into a frantic retreat from the river through the long grass, only ending when I tripped. Despite the gormless fall, somehow I’d maintained tension on the line. Composing myself, I set about retrieving the fly line as I manoeuvred back to the river. This fellow battled respectably for his size, but was brought to the net in quick fashion. Including the pound of rocks I scooped up while netting him, he weighed in at around 4lbs. Not a big fish, but the vivid red spots which he adorned were glorious!

DCIM101DRIFTFlamboyant red rubies adorn this discerning feeder

Having something of a fetish for these red-spotted fish, this fish really put the hook in me. All sorted again, I pressed on upriver, which consisted of more difficult run-come-glides. After another hour and nothing to show for my efforts I decided to try another section of the river, but not before revisiting the lucrative riffle. I returned to my station on the river bank; it was easy to find as there was a distinctive patch devoid of long grass. From here, I observed that one of the other two fish was still present, feeding vigorously. It took several casts to satisfy him but finally he took the nymph. Again, it was another single greyish tungsten nymph that did the business. Like the last fish, the battle wasn’t too immense, but was slightly more protracted than the last, with the fish getting downriver from me and down into the swift run. At 4lbs—no gravel this time—she was slightly larger than the last, but sadly lacked those magnificent red ruby-like spots.

DCIM101DRIFTNice fish, sadly sporting less flamboyant colouring

On my way to my next intended stop off I ran into a couple of elderly anglers, good chaps. We indulged in a bit of yarn swapping, before determining eachother’s angling intentions for the afternoon and heading on our way. It happened that they were going exactly where I’d planned to go, but that was okay, I could always fish downstream instead.

Ya get them on spinners bro! was the cry from behind me. Not long after reaching my new destination I’d heard a vehicle approach, eventually coming to a stop in the car park a stone’s throw from the river, but I was too busy flogging the trout-infested pool in front of me—dead-set on extracting more ruby-encrusted treasures—to investigate. Well if that was the case, I guess I’ve been doing alright with my nymphs! I reasoned. When, out of my peripheral, I spotted the entire family making for the river, rods and towels in hand, I knew it was time to give up. We had an enjoyable chat, good bloke he was, on a weekend escape from Greymouth. Who could blame him! On a river like this, you can’t really get upset at intrusions like that. With plenty of fish about, ample river access, and a couple on the board to boot, you have more than enough plan B’s.

1015Telltale sign we’re now fishing a lowland river

DCIM101DRIFTAnyone lost a wading stick? Oh wait, that’s not a wading stick

I continued my rabid pursuit of rubies upriver, despite the two elderly angler’s having headed there. Just a few hundred metres, I told myself. I reasoned they’d be well upstream by now, and I’d be fishing behind them so no harm done. It did feel a bit futile though, kind of like prospecting through someone elses tailings. Fifty metres upriver I spotted a fish, seemingly inactive, “doggo” as many call it. I assumed it’d already been caught by the other anglers, but couldn’t help try my luck regardless. He was a dark fish, lying in near-still water, so shallow it was barely deep enough to cover him. I tied on a blowfly pattern and crept in behind him, expecting him to spook any second. No more than five metres away I stopped, and made a cast.

The fly landed no more than a hand’s width away from him, directly ahead. No response. Waiting the agonising wait, for the fly to drift over the full length of his body and a way past him, I cast again. And again, and again. He must’ve begun to wonder if there was an exorcism going on upriver with the vast number of blowflies suddenly appearing! Finally—seventh cast I think it was—he raised his dark head, ever so subtly, and sucked in the fly. Seeing as I was casting directly over him, I was probably fortunate that the tippet hadn’t lined his nose, causing him to miss the fly. As I lifted the rod, and established a connection, he began to writhe in the shallows. He didn’t bolt, he just writhed sluggishly, pitifully. As I got my first side-on look at him I was surprised by his length, and initially thought he was a decent sized fish. I dashed towards him and bundled him into the net, before he got his bearings and put up sterner resistance, as often tends to happen. Upon inspecting him, I felt bad to have bothered him. He was an old fish, and at around 60cm long and weighing 3.5lbs, was well past his prime! I entertained the thought of knocking him on the head, but then, as if possessing telepathic abilities, he began to thrash and regain his fire. He was released, and I continued upriver feeling a little more upbeat about the old trout. Perhaps this near-death experience will help him discover a new zest for life.

DCIM101DRIFTThe old boy who regained his fire. Immensely skinny water, talk about fish reflecting his residence!

Around the next bend I ran into the two elderly anglers again. I crossed the river downstream a way so as not to disturb their water. Turns out it was dodgier than it looked, and I hopped haplessly while drifting diagonally downriver, making it to the other side just inches upstream from a large hole, scoured by an angry boil near the river’s edge. Feeling a bit sheepish as the guys had watched on with interest, I went over to see how they’d been getting on. The american guy and I chatted for a while, as the aussie fellow worked on a fish in the nearby pool. He told me this was his fifty-second year coming to New Zealand, and watching me crossing the river had given him flashbacks of his younger days fishing our rivers. It was an engrossing conversation we had, about rivers we’d fished, trout we’d conquered, or lost. After a half hour or so, the aussie gave up on the fish, and we concluded our chat. We wished eachother well, and went our separate ways—town for them, further north for me!

In summary, it was an unexpected triumph in the sort of water I don’t often fish, or do well in. And despite the modest size of trout caught it was a particularly sweet one, given that I’d made a vow before I headed off on this sprawling angling marathon, to fish more persistently than I usually do, and not move on too quickly when confronted with finicky fish. In the late afternoon sun, sporting a renewed confidence and slightly improved tan, I continued north, with only a vague idea of where I would fish next.

035 (2)Pondering the next move in a nice wee spot

My false El Dorado

I was really looking forward to this one. I’d been here once before on a late-season spur-of-the-moment day trip, but the arduous hike in meant I only made it to the river with sufficient time to make a few casts before darkness descended. That is the downside to exploring new territory, but I was better informed this time and more thoroughly prepared, well sort of.

There had been a long dry spell over most of the south island—even this part of it—and so the track was far less boggy than it had been on my previous foray up it. As a result the hike in was almost pleasant; no sinking knee-deep into a muddy abyss, or boots being robbed from your feet as you pull them out.

814Beautiful track, lush forest

824Water > Steel

Not long after the track met with the river I came to a section where it overlooked a gargantuan pool, probably around four metres in depth, perhaps more. It was no doubt home to some decent fish, but given the infestation of snags any thought of making a cast at them was ludicrous. A decent rainbow was spotted sitting deep in the middle of the pool, and another further up, nestled in beside a tree trunk that lay alongside the bank from which I was ogling them from. As a litmus test to determine how spooky these fish were, I broke off a large stick from a nearby tree and lobbed it in the water just upstream of the rainbow.

The current was minimal, and as the stick drifted downstream the rainbow—ever so slowly—rose deliberately, tilting it’s body as it neared the surface, finally shattering the glass-like surface to slurp in it’s woody prey, adorning a completely gormless expression throughout the entire manoeuvre. It returned back to it’s station; the stick didn’t come back up. I suppose, in it’s defence, it may have mistook the stick for a stick insect, but in all seriousness I was gobsmacked at what I’d just witnessed. Considering the track ran above this pool it was hard to fathom how this trout could remain so naive. At that moment I couldn’t help but wonder, had I discovered my angler’s El Dorado?

886One gormless rainbow

It was enough to sucker me into entertaining the idea of having a go, making a cast. As I only had one leader I opted to replace it with a long section of strong mono, as losing my only tapered leader on a snag would’ve spelled disaster. Perusing the dry fly box I opted for a large beetle, but who was I kidding, a piece of tree bark with a hook would have sufficed!

Surveying the snags, and taking a breath in an attempt to summon my Spartan reserve, I readied myself to make the cast. SPLASH! That wasn’t the beetle hitting the water, the noise had come from further down the pool. Scanning the water, my eyes met with a peculiar sight; a weird grey ghostly figure dashing around the bottom of the pool in frenetic fashion, in pursuit of the other large trout I mentioned earlier. It took me a few seconds to register what it was: a blue Heron. Talk about fowl timing! Well I’m no expert, it may have been a Heron, or a Shag. When I enquired about the difference between the two—a couple of years ago in Whataroa—I seemed to offend the lady at the White Heron tour shop there. After that I’d given up trying to differentiate between the two. Sensitive people, those birders! Anyway, it’s ambitious, yet bungled fishing exploits shagged mine too. The rainbow by the bank was now a great deal more edgy and had shifted to an even more diabolical position. I attempted a cast regardless, but it wasn’t coming up for the beetle.

DCIM101DRIFTJuggernaut snag!

DCIM101DRIFTMore snaggy, impossible to fish water

As I progressed up the valley the track deteriorated, becoming narrower and more muddy; the forest thicker and more jungle-like in nature. Insects chirped vigorously, the humidity intensified, and the lush green foliage took advantage of every available space. Copious amounts of strange mosses covered, and dangled, from the limbs of trees, giving the appearance they had adorned one of those ghillie suits some hunters wear. Startled wood pigeons wooshed narrowly overhead with surprising frequency, such numbers of them I’d never encountered before. This place had a prehistoric, ancient, feel to it, and it didn’t take much imagination to envisage coming face to face with a dinosaur at any moment, or at least witnessing a Pterodactyl soaring in the sky overhead . This remoteness, this warp back in time, is what I had been yearning the last couple of weeks, as I slothed about in a mass-tourism hot spot, eating Fergburgers, getting softer.

937Ancient forest, where Pterodactyls could quite possibly still lurk…?

The river itself was of a curious make-up—rather bipolar in nature—consisting of either immense boulder-strewn sections, or glassy near-still water. There was very little in between these two extremes. Such was the ruggedness of some of the bouldery sections, it left you scratching your head at how any trout could possibly navigate them to get upriver. It seemed absurd, but somehow they’d managed. One thing was certain, it’d be an astounding, yet terrifying, sight to see one of these sections in full flood. And then there was the other side of the paradox—the deep endless pools. On a still, foggy morning it’d be easy to imagine a waka full of primitive, flax-clad Maori drifting down them, emerging out of the mist. Spine-tingling stuff indeed! Really memorable spots they are.

878Bi-polar river: Jekyll

DCIM101DRIFTBi-polar river: Hyde

The track passed through several clearings and eventually I began to wonder if I’d missed the hut. I’d been going at quite a speed due to the dry conditions, and reasoned I should’ve reached it by now. Finally–feeling rather worn out, and at the end of what appeared to be the final clearing and last potential campsite for some time—I decided I’d done enough hiking for the day. It was an idyllic spot, just beside a long glide section of river, an ideal piece of water for harbouring an evening rise! Firewood was plentiful, and to top it off three Whio were patrolling the river nearby! I dumped my pack and headed off upriver to get a couple on the board before dinner—trout I mean!

In my eagerness to get upriver—given my confidence that the fishing would be dead easy—I didn’t even bother to change back to my tapered leader, and so I had to make do with trying to cast the mono monstrosity. It was a nightmare to be honest, but going by what I’d witnessed earlier with the daft rainbow, I figured I should be able to get away with fifty false casts before getting the fly to where it needed to be. I spooked several fish in a long, wide, difficult glide, with toe-toe lining the bank behind me, and filling the space where my back cast needed to be. I was just after a couple of easy fish so I shot up to the next pool and immediately spotted a fish feeding away. Feeling immensely confident—well verging on cocky—I plonked a big terrestrial down just ahead of the fish. He spooked! It came as something of a shock. Progressing upstream I spooked another in a shallow run-come-glide, and another. Wow, okay, humble pie was being provided in abundance, and I wondered if dinner would be necessary at all! At around eight o’cock, with daylight fading and the river appearing to begin a steep ascent, I turned back to set up camp. Along the way I discovered the hut. It was merely 200m from my campsite, and now I understood the reason for these clued up fish.

954Serene glassy water just upstream from the campsite

903The end of trout water, and the turn around point of my first recce

My back began to ache badly as I gathered firewood. Doubled over and hobbling around the riverbed in the moonlight, I imagined I probably resembled some sort of odd Tolkien creature to anyone unfortunate enough to be witnessing the scene from afar. I’d felt a twang in my back while loading up my pack just before setting off, but progressed anyway hoping it’d come right. Backs are funny things, you never quite know how fast they will recover. After dinner and a couple of nightcaps I remained by the fire a while, pondering what lay ahead the next few days. As I retired to the tent and began the painful process of unfurling my contorted spine, which—like a substandard leader with bad memory—seemed determined to remain hunched, distant Whio whistles flared up, and continued to sound off intermittently throughout the night. I wondered whether they were sounding the alarm about something, but hoped it was merely casual chatter.

923Flotilla of Whio just up from the campsite

The next morning I was relieved to find my back had made quite a recovery. After the usual breakfast of coffee and porridge I headed downriver to begin the day’s fishing, but not before a frantic search for my tapered leader. It had fallen out of my pack at some point during the evening, and I was most relieved to find it laying on the ground not far from the tent. It was a rather sombre morning; the sky was a uniform grey with no hint sunlight piercing through. The river composition here was mostly long slow glides with the odd pool thrown into the mix. There were plenty of fish about, particularly in the glides, but they were really tough to dupe.

Occasionally I’d find a fish that was on patrol, and in the end I had to resort to casting behind one of these and laying an ambush, kind of like stillwater tactics. One of these fish spotted one of my nymphs lying on the riverbed and tilted it’s entire body almost horizontal in an attempt to extract the nymph off the gravel bed, but when I struck, the hook seemed to faintly graze it’s mouth before flying back towards me and re-entering the water between us with a plop. Oddly the fish didn’t even really spook. It was tough water to fish indeed, but given the success of the night before, it had me drooling at the prospect of fishing the evening rise here, with this particular glide being occupied by at least half a dozen fish, and not a snag in sight. Something of a rare occurrence here!

932The occasional pool which punctuated the glassy glides

936Tough water to fool a fish in

951More glassy water

A steady drizzle set in around noon, which graduated into a substantial downpour. With spirits and body thoroughly dampened now, I beat a hasty retreat back to the tent, where—thoroughly dejected—I engaged in a shameful lolly bender in an attempt to console myself. As I chomped away furiously, I began to suspect that this was in fact my false El Dorado. It’d promised so much, but instead, cast after cast met with paranoia-ridden browns—some of them so neurotic I could’ve believed they’d just returned from a stint at the Arkham Asylum!

Late afternoon, when the rain eventually cleared, and the lollies ran out—curse it, why’d I shared them with that Chinese family I met at the camping ground!—I ventured upriver, fishing the same stretch I’d explored the day before. This time I ignored the spooky fish in the toe-toe-lined glide, and made straight for the pool just above it to have another go at it’s resident, which I’d also given a good spooking. Cast made, same result.

Pressing on, I spotted a fish sitting in the pool just below where the river metamorphosed into a boulder-strewn beast. I made a cast and immediately the indicator dipped, and a successful hook-up ensued. It was a tricky battle. Firstly there was a large slippery boulder to get down, and then there was another larger boulder between myself and the fish which I had to graze the fly line over it’s entire length in order to negotiate it. Apart from that, the fight wasn’t too spectacular, and when I eventually got him into the net I saw why. Skin and bones!

966Looks like someone is in dire need of a mouse plague, quick-smart!

Feeling relieved to be finally on the board, I made my way back to camp, but along the way it occurred to me that I should start paying more attention to the nook and cranny, out-of-the-way spots that many may overlook. This was instantly rewarded—well almost—as I spied a fish over the far side of the river positioned in an awkward spot. He was on the other side of the main tongue of current, positioned behind a rock. The flow of the water he was residing in was minimal, in stark contrast to the swift tongue of current which separated us. I knew the ingredient for success here was a cast I didn’t possess in my arsenal—not good enough! Regardless, I had a go, attempted an aerial mend and hoped for the best. This is the moment when we anglers enter a sort of zen mode, things slow down, all external awareness vanishes. It’s just him and us. Bit like in those point-of-view style video games, when the player goes into some sort of frenzy mode in a combat scene and the screen changes into a vignette-style, tunnel-visioned, blur.

To my surprise the cast was right on the money. There was ample slack in the leader; the drift was perfect! Even more amazingly, he zigged to the side and took my fly just before drag was due to kick in! He was far more lively than the last, this guy, tearing line from the spool and accelerating upriver like a drag racer that had just activated their nitrous boost. I narrowly avoided getting into backing, making it to the shore just in time, from where it was possible to high-tail it after him and narrow the distance between us, and reclaim my fly line. As I did so, I noticed the connection appeared further down the fish’s body than usual, and I concluded he must’ve been foul hooked. As he paused to compose himself behind a rock, I closed in from behind and at that moment the hook pulled, something of a rare occurrence for a foul-hooking. He didn’t even seem to realise, and being the angler of loose morals that I am, I attempted an opportune netting—hey times were tough!—but he bolted just as I was closing in on him. The words of my childhood hero and lifelong role model were left ringing in my ears, “Drat, drat, and double drat!” (cue Muttley snigger). He was certainly a larger, darker, and better conditioned fish than the last—not hard though!

DCIM101DRIFTTaking a break

With the campfire well-stoked, and dinner nearly cooked—rice with a bit of butter chicken sauce, doing it in style!—I went down to the river for a quick wash, only to spot intermittent dimples appearing on the surface of the water. Evening rise! Rather inconsiderate timing, but it was a no-brainer, dinner was postponed and the rod was rigged up. I opted for a brown Klinkhammer I’d bought off trade a few years back, despite being a little concerned about the integrity of it’s hook. As I positioned myself for a cast and the eyes adjusted to the fading light, I noticed the presence of two Whio, perched on a log in the middle of the river. Concerned they might cause a commotion I quickly fired away a cast, then another, which provoked another dimple to appear on the now metallic-looking surface. I struck, and to my delight it was met with stern resistance.

The Whio, as if on cue, plopped into the water and broke into a whistling duet. Apart from the Whio’s log, it was a relatively snag-free bit of river, and so after a couple of spirited runs the trout then made for the Whio. He tore off past, then around them, seemingly trying to use them as a snag, but as the line made contact they legged it out of there quick-smart. He soon tired and was secured in the net. At 5.5lbs he was the best fish of the trip so far, so it was a shame that my camera which possesses a flash lacked adequate battery power to manage a timered photo. Such was my desperation to gain evidence of victory that I even tried a couple of shots with the action cam aided by the illumination of a torch, but the results were rather rubbish, so I won’t bother posting them. Anyway, it was a satisfying end to a long trying day, and the rather lacklustre dinner of rice and butter chicken sauce was now seasoned with a trout victory, which made it a little more enjoyable.

Next morning, with food low, I made the decision to head back down the valley. I’d stay for one more day, but I dreaded the thought of a long walk from the top of the valley back to the car on an empty stomach, so I opted to walk half way out today. It was a glorious morning: vivid blue skies, cicadas in full song, and a light breeze ensuring things didn’t get too unpleasant. Squadrons of wood pigeons flew sorties across the valley at regular intervals, some flying so closely overhead that you could hear the wind rasping through the feathers on their wings. And the odd Kea cackled occasionally from high in the beech forest canopy, possibly gloating about their latest heist of rubber. My boots—having been in their death throes for some time—had finally fallen apart late in the day yesterday. I pondered giving them a riverside burial—having their corpses plucked over by a ravenous Kea was a fate they didn’t deserve—but decided against it just in case my backup pair fell apart even worse!

DCIM101DRIFTSole mates well past their prime

DCIM101DRIFTCampsite of the last couple of days

DCIM101DRIFTBlue skies, a welcomed change from the depressing grey of the day before

All packed up, there was just one last thing I had to do before heading back down the valley—pay a final visit to that nearby pool upstream. Seems every trip there is always one fish that really gets under my skin, and this was the residence of such a fish. I’d been bettered by him the last two days, in no uncertain terms, but I just had to try one last time regardless. Given the fine weather and obvious cicada activity I opted for a large foam beetle pattern—kind of passed for a cicada too I suppose—and lobbed it a metre or so upstream from him. Without hesitation he rose and took it. I waited the agonising wait—for him to turn downward—before striking. Hook up, a jump, some mediocre resistance, and I had him! Most satisfying, Dark Destroyer he was not! Moments after my victory, a stunning, solitary yellow mayfly fluttered upward into the sky. Gotta wonder about stuff like that, was it the gods acknowledging a job well done? Incidentally, if anyone knows the proper name of that particular mayfly I’d love to know it, and the reason I only ever see one of them. Must be a lonesome life for that guy!

DCIM101DRIFTApproaching the residence of my trip nemesis

DCIM101DRIFTA rare occasion: I actually conquered one of my trip nemeses

Around an hour into my hike down-valley I undertook a bush-bash of epic proportions, hoping to emerge at a section of river I hadn’t yet fished. At the end of this 300m detour I was surprised to be met with familiar water. I hadn’t realised I’d come down this far the day before, and so the painstaking bush-bash was for naught. A machete would’ve really made the going easier, as vines seemed intent on not letting you out of their clutches alive. Mind you, in the wrong hands—mine—a machete would be a recipe for a quick chopper ride back to civilisation—A&E.

Not far from where I set up my new campsite I located another of these simple wood-devouring fish—got this one on tape!—but this time it was a brown. I made a mental note of his position and planned to pay him a visit later in the afternoon. The new campsite was truly awesome. It overlooked a long curved still section of river which was home to several fish, and considering it even had a beach with proper sand I couldn’t resist making a Wilson to have a bit of banter with later on in the night. It had been a while since my last conversation.

On the completion of essential chores, I ventured upriver. It was a snaggy section of flat water teaming with fish, well by New Zealand standards. I managed to dupe the first, again the oversize beetle worked it’s magic, but I struck too soon and the hook failed to set. I spooked every other fish I encountered, I wasn’t surprised. It was really tough as the only casting positions were high above the water, making a stealthy cast impossible. On my way back to camp I stopped in at where I remembered the wood-eating brown to be—he was purposely saved for last. Problem was, he was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he’d gone off to find a sawmill buffet. Oh well, it was snags galore here and I would’ve lost him anyway, I told myself, no doubt audibly by now.

Before settling down to another miserable meal of rice and butter chicken sauce, I had a go on one of the smaller fish patrolling the large pool below the campsite. He seemed to be feeding off the bottom, but lazily I just lobbed the beetle at him, which he ignored. I tied on a long piece of tippet and a heavy tungsten nymph. The result was instant—he bolted to the surface and took the beetle! Typical! Despite being a short fish, this guy was in great condition, he had the build of a real brawler. I had no choice but to try to restrain him, as he made for the snags. SNAP! Off he went, with my tungsten nymph and towing a little wispy indicator, reminiscent of a certain buoy scene in the movie Jaws. Bugger it, I muttered, I didn’t have many of those left.

969Calmness on dusk, downriver of my campsite

DCIM101DRIFTGreat camping spot with plentiful firewood, much to Wilson’s relief

All packed up by mid-morning, and with a vast cache of warm oats stowed in the belly to sustain me for the day, I was back off down the track. The plan was to fish a few spots I’d passed days earlier on my way up the valley, before getting back to the car and high-tailing it to the nearest PROPER supermarket before they closed. I’d had enough of this On The Spot robbery nonsense!

The first pool I stopped off at had a reasonable sized fish erratically moving around in it’s depths. I tried a couple of nymphs, then a cicada, and finally a ridiculous mouse pattern, but nothing would make him rise. I made some blind casts into another good looking pool but they yielded nothing. The next pool I tried—not sure you can even call it a pool—was far shallower, and due to the surrounding foliage it was difficult to fire a long enough cast away. The first attempt saw me having to do a spell of fly foraging in the branch of a beech tree. The next attempt went better, except for the tangle in the excess line I’d stripped from the reel. While I was addressing that, I noticed a rise in my peripheral vision, in the vicinity of my fly! This tangle had been a blessing, and aided me getting my strike timing right, as by the time I struck the fish had turned sufficiently and was hooked good and proper. Like the others, he fought okay, but nothing exceptional. I guess this mediocre fighting trait is a result of the lack of current in the river. His black spots and dark colouring were rather impressive, and well matched his dingy residence.

DCIM101DRIFTImpressive black spots on this fellow

Continuing on, I prospected a couple more pools but no rewards were reaped. As it was now midafternoon I decided to call it a day, and power-walked back to the car, but not before a couple of oncoming hikers caught me having a “Wilson” moment—that was unfortunate, given that Wilson wasn’t even there. As the clouds closed in, drizzle began to fall, and sandflies swarmed, I was glad to be exiting this false El Dorado. It may not have turned out to be the valley of untold treasures just there for the taking, but despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in this prehistoric wilderness, and hope to visit it again in the not-too-distant future.

The curious case of rainbows wise beyond their years

Fish on!! I was merely 50m into this river and already onto my first fish. This was going to be an easy, fun trip, and the perfect opportunity to learn the ropes with my newly acquired action camera, or so I thought. Considering he was just a wee fellow he really fought like a demon, and had soon reinstated my respect for the fighting qualities these fish possess, which goes some way to make up for their intellectual shortcomings. However when he was finally brought to the net I saw the real reason for his extra vigour; I’d hooked him in the tail. That bit of luck was certainly not to be the prevailing theme of this trip!

862On the board quick-smart, if you can count a foul-hooking!

The next kilometre or so was far less action-packed, with not a single fish sighted, let alone hooked. That wasn’t too disheartening as the water was plain and featureless, and I’d heard the better water was upriver anyway. The valley soon widened and I took the time to survey a promising piece of water—a glide of around a hundred metres in length. This was to be the only time in the entire trip that I would sight a brown trout. He was obviously a well schooled fish, and promptly crossed the entire width of the river in response to my first cast. Not far up the glide another fish rose to take something off the surface. Somehow I’d managed to lose sight of him and despite much effort I failed to locate him again, with the afternoon glare impeding my efforts.

866Nice bit of water

I pressed on up the track, uncertain of when the next opening in the valley may be. I was keen to locate a good campsite, get a feed, and be all set for any evening rise that might eventuate. The track soon rose and intermittently overlooked a rugged, beautiful gorge. I bush-bashed down to the river whenever I spotted a section of river that looked to have potential, yet every time I found a well-beaten path etched in the sandy verge of the river. Some of these spots even had several pairs of footprints, it was indeed a spirit-dampening and concerning sight! If even these hard-t0-get-to spots were well-visited then I dreaded to imagine how heavily the supposed good water had been fished! My only consoling thought was that it hadn’t rained for around a week so the footprints may be a few days old.

873Rugged, scenic gorge

876A well-visited spot!

Throughout the remainder of the afternoon I spotted the occasional medium-sized rainbow, most of which spooked or weren’t feeding. I did manage to hook a few, all of which were lost as a result of either the hook pulling, or a knot freakishly breaking. Actually I did catch one, but with him weighing around a pound—being optimistic—he doesn’t really count!

As I was approaching the second widening of the valley which was to be my campsite, I spied a fish down below in the gorge. He was in a challenging position, sitting just in front of a large boulder in the middle of the river. The water here was far too deep to allow any access into the river, and so in the event of a hook-up I planned to strike hard and boss him over to my side of the boulder, or bust him off in the process. Positioning myself nearly side-on to the fish, I made my cast. The cicada plopped into the pool a couple of metres ahead of him, and his response was instant. He rose decisively—a good two metres—to take the fly, and as I struck and maintained significant force he was launched—to my horror—no less than three metres into the air. We were almost eye to eye momentarily as he flew past me, before his downward trajectory sent him plummeting into a large boulder, which he met with a cringe-inducing SLAP! To make matters worse, on impact with the boulder the hook freed so I couldn’t even put him out of his misery. I’ve never seen a fish that size—around 3 or 4 pounds—get launched into the air in such a manner. I guess it was the combination of him dashing to the surface and my overzealous strike which resulted in him maintaining his momentum and just keep flying upwards.  Still, I felt guilty as it was my selfishness of wanting another fish—correction, a fish!—before the day was over that had resulted in his brutal ordeal.

133New bit of head gear, looking like a right trout-voyeur now!

541The unfortunate flying-fish

After ascending back up to the track I proceeded to the clearing and set about choosing an adequate campsite that fulfilled my Goldilocks requirements: not too far from the river, not too much river noise, ample shelter, and close enough to a spot where a fire could be set. The only downside to this location was that it lacked ideal water for an evening rise. Firewood was also scarce in the vicinity of the campsite, with the exception of an uprooted tree from which plenty was able to be harvested.

119Making use of the fallen

Next morning I awoke to the blare of a chopper passing overhead. Scantily dressed, I lurched out of the tent and waved my fly rod tubes in their direction, in the hope of alerting them of my angling intentions. To my surprise the chopper doubled back and came to land not far from my tent. A tanned, young man—he sported long blonde locks that gleamed impressively in the early-morning sunshine—strode across the field in my direction. Good morning! he said, in a thick Scottish accent. Meanwhile I was still hurriedly dressing myself in a forlorn attempt to look half respectable. He was a local guide and had planned to fish the river, but being a decent bloke he departed and left me to it, but not before parting with a bit of wisdom on which sections of the river I should pay particular attention to. Definitely one of the good guys, that fellow.

The river now wound it’s way through large tussock flats, making the going much easier. The occasional fish was spotted but the theme of yesterday repeated itself. The first spooked, the second I did manage to hook, but the knot failed and the fish made off with a couple of my nymphs. The third, well I don’t even know what happened there. The leader-to-tippet knot just above the indicator somehow broke, and it felt like the fish somehow wrapped it around a rock when there was no substantial rock in sight. The only consolation was that these weren’t overly impressive fish I was losing. By the time the day was over I’d lost four or five fish and caught a couple of midgets.

638Dejection after rejection

Being something of a superstitious man, I began to ponder if my new acquisition—the action cam on my head—was in fact cursed. The moment I had turned it on and made a cast I promptly caught the smallest fish of my life! And not long after that, I turned the camera on mid-battle with another larger specimen and instantaneously the hook flew back towards my face! One thing was certain—there would be no shortage of outtakes by the time this trip was over! The only thing that pours cold water on this curse theory is that the camera’s previous owner is a gun angler and does very well for himself. It’s likely you’ve probably seen some of his angling footage on Youtube.

I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring as far as I could upriver. There was some nice looking water but it appeared devoid of fish. Ever hopeful, I made a few blind casts here and there, but they were all in vain. Eventually my journey upriver was halted when I encountered a bouldery blockade across the entire width of the river. It was an interesting, yet slightly foreboding sight. Enormous boulders littered the surrounding area, banishing any thoughts of a bush-bash up the gorge. It just wasn’t worth the risk and effort, given the lack of fish.

187A promising pool, yet no substantial occupants

235Nature’s blockade

225The turn-around point

That night, sprawled in front of the glowing embers of the fire, I pondered the small rainbows I’d caught. It was unusual to see such small fish sharing the same habitat as the larger ones. I began to wonder if this strange phenomena was a result of the slip that occurred further up the valley several years ago. Perhaps it resulted in the smaller fish losing their old habitat and they were now having to coexist with the larger fish. Whatever the case, I was certain that the reason for the unusually spooky and uncooperative larger fish was that they were being caught and released from a far earlier age than would normally be the case, and so by the time they got to three or four pounds they were well wise beyond their years!

619Majestic boulders, fish—not so much!

Nine o’clock the next morning, and the drone of a helicopter once again became audible. I didn’t get up this time, and it didn’t stop either. Fair enough, I reasoned, I’d had my go on this river. I drifted off back to sleep, and was woken a couple more times on the hour by the metallic bird which served me well as an alarm clock—even had a snooze mode!—as I’d forgotten mine. It was a pleasant morning and I indulged in a relaxed breakfast before packing up and heading out of the valley, stopping in at the promising glide where I’d seen the solitary brown, and another rising fish a couple of days earlier. The precise events are a little hazy now, as this trip had been so mediocre that I hadn’t even bothered to keep a journal, as it was one I wasn’t keen to remember too vividly, for obvious reasons! Anyway, I remember having three encounters with this brown—the Dark Destroyer as I began to call him—and each time he shunned me. Incidentally, before I forget, on my way back down the gorge I spotted a fish that appeared identical to the hapless “flying fish” in the same spot—in front of the mid-river boulder—so perhaps he survived after all! I can only hope. Anyway, back on topic.

The Dark Destroyer, he was the destroyer of angling egos. No doubt many had paid him a visit this season—he was very easy to spot—and undoubtedly very few had left his residence feeling happier than when they arrived! He only looked five pounds, but considering the fish in this river I would have regarded him as a trophy. After being shunned by him a third time I was preparing to leave the river but spied a rise further up the glide. I managed a hook-up after several casts, but after an intense and fiery, albeit brief duel, the predictable happened. Do I even need to say it—hook pulled. One thing of interest, this trout actually bolted over to the Dark Destroyer mid-battle, perhaps with the intention of consulting him for some tactical advice. Dark Destroyer, however, was well unimpressed by this intrusion, and aggressively ushered him out of his residence.

645Exiting the valley via the fishless wasteland that comprised the lower reaches

There can be no deluding myself, it was a really disappointing trip! The only thing gained from this one was a new-found respect for these rainbows, which turned out to be tougher to deceive than the larger browns I’d caught at the start of the season. And while the valley was immensely scenic, I certainly won’t be hurrying back any time soon! I will leave it to the heli-anglers and their pleasant Scottish guide.