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.


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