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

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