Orientation week is over!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

067Marred masterpiece

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

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

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

058Sprawling snag!

034Benevolent snag-shy fish—thanks buddy!

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

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

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


Lady luck—her “cycle” was nigh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

136Introducing Ms Aqua-Chrome

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

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

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

107Gorge-ous day

119 - CopyWPPromising pool

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

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

229Just before it all turned to sh#t

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

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

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

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


Into the wilds of my backyard!

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

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


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


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

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

okuku9lbhookupBit of battle photography

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

okuku9lbbackwater2Wrong turn bud

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

139Yet another delightful (albeit fishless) pool

166Divine serenity!

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

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

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

212The final treat of the day….

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

The home invasion

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

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

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

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

022Some pretty serious pectoral fin damage!

044Solid Jack—first of the season!

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

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

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

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

Mortally wounded spawner

155Spent spawner seeing out his final few hours

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

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

254Slight breeze….

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

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