Fork In The Road

A Fork in the road. Seems like an apt place to start as this is what defines this trip. We were returning from a failed weekend foray up a new valley. Well the term “failed” may’ve been a bit harsh. Mate, Ollie, had done okay with a nice 6.5lber, and we’d drunk ample beer—even some whiskey—caught up with a few old mates and had a quality time. But my “skunking” gouged a matte finish into what should’ve been a glossy trip, as I’d had high hopes of racking up untold numbers of easy ‘Bows. Anyway, decision time was fast approaching, and I mulled over whether to commit to another roll of the die or just end the bad run already. Left—home, and this trip would never have happened. Right—a more uncertain path. One which held more allure and potential for glory, more pain and gain in abundance. Or maybe just the former. Pain was okay, as long as it came with a few trout conquests— the fisherman’s anaesthetic.

To put the decision into context, two days before the start of the season my car decided to top itself. It was a despicable blow, about as classy as punching a heavily pregnant woman in the gut. And the consequence was the same, as the sucker punch threatened to see angling plans miscarry only days before their due date. Then as if by miracle, my angling wingman, Ollie, lessened the devastation somewhat by inviting me on a three day trip away to new waters up north. Inevitably, later on that day in the quiet of the night, it reared it’s head—the inner angling magpie. Calculating distances, dollars available, calories needed, room to pack them. In a bid to extract maximum potential from the opportunity, inner magpie reasoned that if I jumped out of the car at a certain point on the way back I could then spend a few days at another river on my early-season to-do list, before hitchhiking back. It was an ambitious plan, and inner magpie was always delusionally optimistic, but given the circumstances I prepared and packed for it as best I could, in hopes I’d still be feeling up for it when the time came.

As we headed for home, coursing the highway which snaked through rolling cow-country, a trademark Coast downpour abruptly accosted the car. It’s viciousness left my convictions a little shaken. Johnny fed the flames, as he quipped “Could just go home bro, and be warm and comfortable”, to which I curtly replied “Nah, I’m going!” The response was intended as much for me as it was for him, with the aim of dispelling any seeds of doubt from my mind before they could germinate and down roots. We stopped for a quick fish just a few kilometres away from my proposed bail out point, only to experience another attempted-mugging at the hands of the felonious Coast weather—same target again, my angling resolve. This time the assailant was a biting southerly, it’s teeth penetrated deep into warm flesh tenderised by hours spent inside a toasty-warm vehicle, further stress-testing the steeliness of my angling faith’s foundation. Home was looking good at this point but I knew I’d regret it as I sat hunched at the laptop, beer in hand, and let’s be honest—probably still forlornly monitoring river flows like a mug! The arrival of dusk drew a cessation to an uneventful fishing session and as we navigated a Matagouri maze, carward bound, the one-liner on the back of Johnnie’s shirt caught my eye—“Feed Your Soul”. That was it, sign enough. I was going.

It was probably just as well, as the sole moment of action for me up until this point was a mad rush through a swampy maze of giant tussocks, frantically seeking out a more environmentally-responsible site to take an urgent dump. It would’ve made for a rather gritty confession to be sure, but it’s not the sort of niche I am looking to delve deep into with this blog: angler scat and related content! I guess it’d been my penance for scoffing an entire $4 “specialty” bread while we waited to be picked up from the jetty. Knowing now what it’s specialty was, safe to say I will be consuming it a bit more responsibly from now!

I sat down on the dirt, cracked open one of the provisions Mikey had kindly donated me, and watched the red tail lights disappear around the bend in the gravel road. Panic gripped me momentarily—had I got everything from the car?—but then the mind-mellowing effects of the beer freed me. Being a booze lightweight these days, the alcohol raised morale significantly, to the point where I considered making my way up the track in the dark. Coinciding with this boost in morale, the skies cleared and the resident frogs had just begun to break into song, no doubt with the intent of egging me on—“Go on young Troutophile, take heed your quest”—pretty sure that was the gist of their chorus. But I knew that beer and frog anthems alone wouldn’t be enough to sustain me long enough to carry me where I needed to go, so instead the tent was pitched on tough ground and I got some much-needed shuteye. The frogs gave up soon after, surrendering the airwaves to the quiet of the night.

I woke to find the early-season prankster, Jack Frost, had been busy in the night—stiffening my boots, but not before contorting their tops into an awkward shape that wouldn’t accommodate my feet. Tent fly, too, fell victim to Mr Frost’s fiddlings, and sported a substantial veneer of ice. A place renowned for wind had instead been still, and Frost had taken full advantage.

There was no denying it; the hike in was brutal. It’s a worrying sign when, just a solitary kilometre into it, the pack was already feeling heavy! It helped a little once I reached the shade of the forest but even then I continued to rest every five or ten minutes, especially on the rolling sections. It was reminiscent of that famous Churchill speech—We shall rest in the sun, we shall rest in the shade, we shall rest on the rock, we shall rest on the log. We shall always surrender, but only the battle, and never the war! As the hike went on the tide turned more in my favour against the dogged foe, Fatigue. It’s a curious thing, how the body gets accustomed to a beasting and finds a way to overcome it.

img_4154Eyeing the devil(s) on my back

wordpressquadrestpics4Serial-rester looking exhausted and concerned—what the #@^& have I gotten myself into!

Roughly halfway to my base for the coming days, I paused for yet more rest on a grassy flat overlooking the river. It was here that I met Atsushi, a keen young man from Japan. A pair of dazzling red shorts betrayed his stealth as he made his way down the riverbed. We chatted a while as he cooked a feed of pasta and downed a Speight’s he’d foraged from a hut, discussing fly rigs and terminal tackle. He showed me an au naturale indicator he fashioned from wood; you’d struggle to find anything more innocuous in appearance! A commotion coming from the river below commandeered our attention and drew us down to investigate. It was Ben, a fellow I’d met at the start of the day, being towed about the river by one of it’s hungrier residents. After watching a while I scurried down the bank to provide the same net-and-photo assistance I did the last time I came into close contact with a trout. It’s a bit of a blow to the ego to have the last two fish on my camera’s memory card both have been caught by someone else! As Ben released the well-conditioned brown, it plotted an exit course straight through the legs of a kneeling Atsushi as he documented the release via a bit of underwater filming. “Nutmegged” by a large New Zealand brown, not a bad story to take home.

img_4285Atsushi’s industrious wooden indicator rig

Recharged by the rest, I pressed on for the hut. As afternoon wore on to late afternoon thoughts of a quick fish crept in, only to be banished by the sound of a chopper flaring up further up the valley, and I drew the assumption that this stretch, too, had been had for the day. I consoled myself with thoughts that it was probably for the best as I’d get to the hut plenty before dark now, and to be honest I wasn’t even sure I was physically up to tearing off after a big brown anyway! The chopper incident did eat away at me a little though, as I wondered if I’d manage to get a day to myself or not.

The forecast for the coming week was grim: norwesters and rain with a chance of snow. Initially daunting, but I’d begun to warm to it though as I reminisced about the trip I’d had here a couple of seasons ago where it’d snowed and rained for days, ensuring I had the top of the valley to myself. That was the obvious plus side to stormy weather, and for me it outweighed the downside. I didn’t mind enduring rain, wind, and tough spotting conditions if it meant I’d have a little more solitude. It also meant I could stay longer without the likelihood of offending anyone, and fish more leisurely. It’s definitely a preference of mine to fish shorter, more intense sessions, rather than slug out a twelve hour day and frantically try to cover as much water as possible before the choppers descend and someone else nabs it. So the plan was to make the most of any weather breaks, and target different 2-3km sections of the river over the next four to five days.

img_4459Obligatory selfie—I’m trying to cut down

img_4621Finally earned my backcountry epaulettes. No ceremony and pomp, just took my pack off and there they were!

Surprisingly the hut already had a couple of occupants. Good blokes, both of them. And with us all being there for different reasons—hiking, hunting, fishing—neither posed a threat to the other’s most coveted resource. Come morning, the hiker was off early, which proved handy to rouse me from my slumbers. The hunter was due to fly out so we said our goodbyes as I set off out the door to finally get some flies wet!

The sun was obliging but the wind, famed for it’s petulance in these parts, was already beginning to act up. Surprisingly, the first hook up promptly arrived. It was sort of like that 6am knock on the door from an over-eager courier, catching me still a little half asleep. An unweighted pheasant tail nymph elicited a subtle take from a decent-looking brown just under the surface and the battle was on. He fought well, considering…. Considering what? Well check out his underside in the pic and you’ll see. I didn’t even notice it was a wound until after the pic was taken and I was in the process of removing the hook. Initially I’d mistaken it for a mouse half out it’s backside—yes I kind of take pride in not knowing the exact location of a trout’s anus! Regardless, it was a testament to the hardiness of these fish that this guy was still swimming around with such a substantial gash.

img_4312Trout hernia?

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Not long after that, I decided it was time to cash in all my accumulated backcountry miles for a prize. None of those trivial trinkets that other programmes push thanks, I will have that several-pound chunk of fleshy magnificence over there! Same fly as before claimed my prize, which had swung near a metre to take it. He then steamed off on a solid run, causing my malfunctioning reel to overspin and line to birdsnest, which then locked up the reel. Bugger! A desperate yank on the culprit—a stray loop of line on the wrong side of the spool—freed up the spool again just in time. Minutes later I had him in the net, but as I lifted the handle to weigh him frame parted from handle and splashed into the water. Frantic hands saved the day, and I still managed to get my grip ‘n’ grin. Bloody glad I wasn’t deprived of that as he was a beauty, definitely my favourite fish of the trip. The handle’s catastrophic failure was my fault to be fair, the legacy of me getting a bit Dr Frankenstein and combining sections of two different nets.

img_4404Top-shelf prize, courtesy of the backcountry rewards system

By midafternoon the norwester was in full force. Gusts bellowed down the valley, turning the whitecaps of distant riffles into a blurry haze as it robbed them of their surface. More than content with a couple of victories, I headed back to the hut for a celebratory brew and to carry out repairs on the net. It was oddly satisfying to discover the venetian cord—my half-arse substitute for paracord—I’d brought along contained a core of minicord inside which slid out, and was the perfect diameter for repairing the significant tear in the net. Deep down I always knew all those years of watching Man Vs Wild would one day pay off! A few wraps of tape around the handle and it was good to go another round.

img_4528Getting a little OCD with the repairs

Wednesday, I awoke to rain rattling against the hut’s corrugated iron roof. If I’m honest it was a welcomed sound, as I needed the rest. It may sound odd but I felt a sense of relief that I didn’t need to spring out of bed and stake my claim on the river before the drone of the dreaded Hamner Harpie re-entered the valley. And they say fly fishing is a relaxing pastime! Once up, I pottered about the hut a fair bit that day waiting for a weather window. Eating porridge and sipping on brews, feeling appreciative of the hunter’s left-behinds: a brand spanking new candle and a quarter canister of stove gas. They may’ve been small items but this far from civilisation their worth increased ten-fold. The candle would prove especially handy as I had little faith in my budget comes-free-with-licence head lamp.

img_5177Seeking a bit of inspiration from the desolation outside

When I did eventually go out—so much for the weather window, it was still pissing down—I looked up to see clouds coming from southeast cross paths with others coming from southwest. Not sure I’ve ever seen that before, but it looked unsettling. Changeable was an understatement and the day had everything. Cloud, rain, sun, with wind being the only constant. A little side braid near where I collected drinking water from, dry the day before, now supported a 20cm deep flow. It served me well as a quick and convenient gauge to the ever-fluctuating flows of the river.

My fishing session of the day was a brief one as I had a couple of intense duels that utterly drained me, and also rattled me a bit to be honest, both literally and metaphorically. The first saw my degenerate reel get birdsnested again, plus I took a solid fall on the rocks while somehow avoiding breaking my rod or losing the fish. When I caught up to him he was in the midst of a make-or-break investment, throwing all his remaining energy in one final boost to reach the other braid on the far side, in a bid to exit the aquatic highway via a shallow off-ramp. This bit of river, crossable before the rain, had now transformed into an intimidating thigh-deep torrent, prohibiting any sane thoughts of crossing it. But when he taunted me from the safety of the far braid, exposing his hefty flank as he drifted over the shallow inner bend of the off-ramp braid, all sanity was lost.

It was obvious he was spent and right there for the taking. The sight was the angler’s equivalent of a siren’s song, irresistible and willing me into peril. I paused for a final nauseating glance downriver, hoping to spot some reassurance should the worst-case scenario play out—“current’s not that bad, water’s not that cold, should get washed to the bank at the tailout”—only to find none of those reassurances applicable to this scene! In this brutally cold water, the sort of cold that causes muscles to mutiny as it robs them of their strength and sense, I knew my estimations of my swimming abilities were grossly optimistic and had never before been put to the test in such conditions. With the growing urgency of the situation displacing reason I went for him, pursuing him with the same devotion a mother would if it were her baby being swept away. The rocks, grippy and accommodating, were the siren’s saboteur and angler’s saviour, for without them I’d surely have been swimming. Or drowning.

When I got him in the net I was surprised at how solid this fish was. The photo doesn’t really do him justice.

img_4644Stubby stocky brawler who tried his utmost to get me “swimming with the fishes”

img_4686Main flow to the right, and shallow offramp left

The second fish was more physically than mentally taxing. He, too, crossed the river and led me down the opposite bank, forcing a run down knee-deep water over the disconcerting slipperiness of sizable ginger rocks. A treacherous sight for an angler wearing smooth-soled wading boots with a sprinkling of irrelevant silver dots—the relics of now-redundant stud screws—on each. Downstream the river deepened prohibitively, and from the elevated banks rose a succession of unaccommodating saplings of some sort, lined up by height in ascending order. I legged it behind the three of them with the rod only clearing the last one by mere centimetres. I was losing the race, and with his getaway now being abetted by the powerful current, he began tearing backing from spool. Ah well, I figured at least the backing wasn’t as prone to birdsnesting as the line was, I hoped! It was ridiculous how much line and backing was devoured by the insatiable torrent, and it boggled the mind how the fish stayed on. They were both gradually reclaimed when he entered a more sedate tailout of the run and I closed in—very slowly, cos I was already done! It was only here that I came to the realisation the connection was to fin rather than mouth. Bugger.

I sometimes post pics of foul-hooked fish, but when I think about it a little more the grip ‘n’ grin could be interpreted as a sort of conquest photo I suppose, which makes it a bit inappropriate. So I will take the high road, for once, and in an effort to live more nobly will abstain from shamelessly parading my unfooled foe.

img_4760Uncatchable big bow

img_4805River rising, bleak late afternoon

Jarred and physically knackered I was happy to call it a day, and put an end to the chance fear of another high-flows duel. I was glad these fish were not yet in their prime nor on their “A” game, as I wouldn’t have stood a chance against them the way the river was now. For me, the worst thing about fishing swollen rivers is I don’t trust myself to make the right judgement in the heat of the moment, when the mind is fogged by trout fever. It’s sort of like asking a drug addict in their darkest hour of cold turkey not to irresponsibly pursue that free stash that’s just out of reach—probably not going to happen. Obviously drowning is the worst fear, but a close second are the questions and regrets that gnaw away at you after a fish loss—“What if I’d done this or that?” ” How big was he?” “Did I just lose a trophy?”

I lit and kept the fire well stoked that night, as another downpour pummeled the hut. Utilising one of the hut’s basic chairs, I sat in the glow of the fire a while sipping red wine. Watching steam rise off sodden garments in the half-light of the hut, indulging in a bit of contemplation before retiring to the bunk.

Thursday offered probably the longest and best weather window to date. The morning was settled and sunny, and in order to do it justice I put in a longer shift and explored the furthest section upriver. The first hook up of the day involved an “edger” up to bugger all. Again, an unweighted pheasant tail did the business, flung just past him into the barely moving current. He responded with a subtle sway and no obvious opening of his gob. An uncertain lift of the rod tip literally five seconds delayed still got a hook up. He was a large athletic looking fish but possibly still in “lover” rather than “fighter” mode, and offered a poor weak resistance for such a specimen.

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Next fish was a bit of a surprise. I’d spotted what I thought to be a “baby” trout in the context of this river. The abstract sliver of grey only looked about a foot long, but as the indicator dipped—I struck—and he went airborne, that foot doubled. It wasn’t the flamboyant leap of an Ali-esque showboater fish, but rather the understated controlled surfacing of a bruiser intent on letting me know, “Oi mate, I am the real deal, not a tiddler, best show the appropriate level of respect”. And I did, immediately. I’d caught a fish in this pool a couple of seasons ago, and this one was pulling the exact same manoeuvres as that one had, causing me to wonder if it was my old friend.

He powered his way up a steep skinny braid at the head of the pool. Weaving between rocks, wearing himself out, no place to go. Observing his naive battle tactics, I actually felt a degree of pity for him as he purposefully waged his offensive of futility, defiantly exhibiting hope when the circumstances called for none. At the same time as feeling pity, I also quietly envied that resilient hope he exhibited in the face of dire circumstance. It seems like an odd paradox, to feel both at the same time.

When I netted him it looked to be the same fish, albeit one pound heavier. His looks had improved slightly and I figured the rest of him had somehow grown into that monstrous shoulder he had when we last met, though when I got home and scrutinised the pics of the two fish I realised they were actually different fish.

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Midafternoon, I reached my turnaround point, and the last fish to the net of the trip. “Darktrout” lay in wait—fish version of the “Darkman” character in the 80’s Liam Neeson movie of the same name. No hen trout want to dig him a redd but he lives on, solely to terrorise any angler misfortunate enough to hook him. “Gimme the f..ing mayfly nymph!” he demanded. I was foolish enough to oblige. Despite appearances, this fish actually fed the ego a little, as he did exactly what I’d anticipated. I took the net off in advance and was all ready to rush him, anticipating he’d writhe rather than run. And by netting them quick, tired legs dodge a fight, not that poor old “Darktrout” looked up to much sparring anyway.

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Some good fish were spooked on the way back, I was just too worn out to concentrate and give each opportunity sufficient due care. For me, that’s another reason why I prefer to keep fishing sessions short. To maintain intensity, fish more clinically, and do justice to the opportunities the river offers you. The weather closed in quickly and thick drizzle made certain I was soaked before reaching the hut. Much appreciated, Weather.

img_5127What in tarn-ation, look at that weather

img_5126Doomy looking tributary

On Friday the weather trumped it’s efforts of the day before, and degenerated into indescribable horrendousness—for me at least. But for another it was weather which conjured his avian El Dorado, bringing a bird’s equivalent of alluvial gold to the surface: giant worms. Within hours the track was literally paved with them.

While gazing out the window at nothing in particular, the hopping-diving motion of an eager young prospector-come-hunter caught my eye. A thrush, he was. He hopped and dived, then repeated, plucking a six inch long worm from the grasses on both occasions. He stopped, looked up. Our eyes locked for a moment. “Good hunting, aye?” Well that’s what I imagined he was saying. I gave him a slight nod back, “F..ckin aye”. Moments later a cacophony broke out on the roof above. As I imagined the hunter regurgitated it’s prey to it’s young, it left me wishing we too could take in this river with it’s magnificent fish, and feed it to the youngsters exhibiting a wilderness deficiency, in hopes of feeding their malnourished inner hunter-gatherer. And just like the bird had done, they’d probably need to have it shoved down their necks too.

That particular musing ended as I approached the river on a water gathering mission and laid eyes on the flow gauge braid, which was now teeming with worms. It was the same variety of worm as the ones which littered the area outside the hut. Sadly not at all similar to the skinny little red ones crowned with gold beads in my seldom used “others” fly box. Worms are yet another shameless void in my fly fishing knowledge. I’ve no idea whether these ones were washed in or naturally choose to enter the water, and more importantly whether the trout would be keen on them. Back at the hut I looked around for anything the right shade of pink. The faded frayed fabric at the top of my boots was about right, but did any of my streamers possess a hook suitable enough and could it be repurposed? Short answer, no. I reasoned the worm would be so long the chances of the fish eating the bit with the hook on it were slim to none.

Left ruing the lack of worm pattern, he was, when he headed out later on. “Find trouble right at his door, will a man who does not plan long ahead”, I mumbled to the fish down below. A bit of a Confucian-Yoda blend summed it up nicely, as I endured brutal conditions trying to tempt an unspookable fish in it’s backwater sanctuary. It was casually patrolling the shallow water just deep enough to cover it, as heavy rain churned the surface. Half an hour of forlorn flogging later my numbing fingers informed me it was time to call it a day and retire to the hut for a soup, coffee, or both. If I had committed to fashioning the worm pattern—planned long ahead—who knows? A trout, rather than trouble, may’ve been at my door. Definitely would’ve been an ideal place to test it out!

img_5272Mother Nature conserving the colours with this greyscale vista

Sitting in the hut longer than usual, it was hard to avoid the temptation to binge-eat my remaining rations. The cold and idleness compounded the temptation. But to be honest, being out on the water didn’t eliminate the possibility of a binge-eat either as it was often one of the methods I used to console myself after a painful fish loss, so I guess the rations were at risk either way! The coming dark drew an end to a miserable day where it had rained for it’s entirety, minus the thirty minutes of sun which had been the bait to lure me out. That was okay, however, as I’d mistakenly believed it to be Friday the 13th due to the incorrect date being displayed on my camera, so being a superstitious man I’d been reluctant to do much adventuring on this day anyway. As I turned in for the night I hoped the din on the roof would cease and blue skies would greet me come morning, as the thought of hitching in the rain was grim indeed. At least during the hike out I would be moving and warm, and in the relative shelter of the forest for much of it.

Come morning, hopes would soon be answered. Blue sky didn’t meet my eye initially—it was all white—but the mist soon cleared to reveal it, and the fresh dusting of “pow” which capped the panoramic mountain vista. It was tough to leave, as this was far and away the best weather of the trip. But surely, I reasoned, other anglers would arrive today and it was only fair to leave them the water—barring any rematch offered with backwater fish, of course! On top of that, I aimed to get back to the road early enough to ensure a ride home before day’s end.

img_5328Frosted peaks

img_5321Sunlight about to hit the valley

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As I made a quick detour up the track to get a snapshot of a particularly pleasant mountain vista before leaving, I heard a faint mechical drone, barely detectable over the noise of the river. Puzzled, I looked up and scanned the far side of the river. There was mist rising up in an unusual linear formation, the ground from whence it came was a grassy plateau concealed by Matagouri. It was odd, the mist appeared in the same manner dust rises after a vehicle has sped down a gravel road, but I was fairly sure there wasn’t a road here. On the way back from the photographical reconnaissance my nagging curiosity won out and I went to investigate. Soon enough the question had an answer, in the form of a white plane! Nice bit of kit it was, sporting a decal that was a surefire way to test any passenger’s confidence! I spotted the pilot, Rob, on my way down the valley and made the slight detour over for a bit of a chat. Nice bloke, he was, and what an epic way to get to the river. Chopper rides are for plebes!

img_5466Not the most confidence-inspiring word to have on the side of your airplane

img_5486Summery conditions

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I indulged myself at the same halfway rest stop on the way out. Changing out of waders, having a feed, rehydrating. It was here that I met Marcus and his missus—sorry I’m a shocker with names, just in case Marcus’s missus reads this! We indulged in the usual angler banter, and I quizzed them on whether the fish in my pics did in fact look embarrassed (to be caught by me) as someone a while back had claimed—a consensus was not found—before returning to the pressing task of the day, legging it back to the road. The muddy track had the same adhesive qualities as ice on my soleless boots, ie. none! It made the going far slower and it began to dawn on me I’d be lucky to get home that night. Slowly I came to terms with the grim reality that plans of beer-drinking and football-watching would be replaced by porridge-eating and tent-sleeping.

Late in the day, at a point hopefully vague enough not to seal his execution, my eye strayed across the mystical figure of Herne in the distance, shrouded by dusk. He stood there a while eyeing me intently. I can only assume the forest guardian was weighing me up, deciding whether I was fit to pass through his estate. Of course with ten days fishing under my belt by now I was delirious enough that it may’ve not been Herne at all, and merely an emboldened deer.

img_5515-copyhearneCheers for granting me safe passage Herne, would’ve been a long detour otherwise!

After a sleep-deprived night, induced in equal parts by full moon and bitter cold, much of Sunday morning was spent in a sort of fatigue-induced stupor. My hopes of hitching had withered and died under a unforgiving sun, so instead I pinned new hopes of getting home on the offer from Marcus, whom was due back later that day. I retreated back to the relative sanctuary of the tent, where sheltered from wind and sun, I lay on my back with my boot-covered feet still protruding out of the tent, and allowed my mind to roam as aimlessly as the sandflies crawling about the ceiling of the tent. It was here, while consuming the dregs of my ration bag’s contents and dreaming of my post-trip junk food binge, warm bath and other such luxuries, my thoughts turned to the explorer pioneers and the consequent realisation soon followed—Explorer Douglas I was not!

It was humbling to think that for those guys—Haast, Buller, Douglas etc—the frontier was their home, whereas for the modern outdoorsman we have the comforting thought of knowing it’s only a matter of enduring a few days of spartan existence before returning to the creature comforts of home when we’re spent. It’s hard to comprehend how for them hardship was the norm, and unfathomable how they could sustain it for months on end. But I suppose this is just the perspective of a man whose inner hunter-gatherer has been born assimilated into a modern age, and further diluted by 36 years of living in a different time.

Just as I was beginning to wonder if I’d somehow missed them, Marcus and his missus (sorry again, names!) arrived back midafternoon. When he first glanced me he did a double take, probably shocked at my ineptitude at hitching. During the time I packed up the tent and whatnot, Marcus and his missus had metamorphosed from weary trampers into freshened up civilians primed for a day out. Sitting in the rear cab, the motive for the metamorphose became clear; we were stopping off for beer and pool—hard life being a hitchhiker! It was an opportunity to revive a bit of the snooker-playing glory from my misspent youth, but barring a self-proclaimed solitary top-notch tin-arsed canon shot, I offered weak opposition. A 1-1 draw was salvaged and provided motive for a rematch some other day. Marcus was just fortunate it wasn’t a snooker table, or I could’ve unleashed the devastating 187 break! Dreams are fortunately free!

untitledwordpressstevenhendrybestoneOur form may be near identical, but to be honest that’s actually Stephen Hendry—I’m dreaming again

It always feels like I’m in a daze when I get back, still somehow cocooned away somewhat from the abrasive mayhem of this modern-day grind. This time especially so. Being fortunate enough to get dropped off right at my door, as opposed to the nearest town on the main route 12km away, probably fueled any dream sensations I was experiencing. Maybe it was just the immense fatigue, but possibly I was still a little under the influence of Mother Nature’s mind-mellowing substances. Put simply, it had been an awesome trip. Put a little more intricately and spiritually, it had been a banquet for the soul. Thinking back to Johnny’s influential t-shirt slogan, “Feed Your Soul”, well I’d achieved more than that. This trip had devolved into a shameless gluttonous degustation of “soul foods”, with an overindulgence the ancient Romans would’ve been proud of. It was a trip where trout mistook my flies for those of better anglers; a trip which provided just the right mix of company and solitude. And in spite of the wretched forecast, the weather and river collaborated to offer up brief spells of opportunity.

Sometimes it’s not just the weather and the fish that make the trip, but also the people you run into. They’re like the seasoning on the “soul food”, just the right amount and they will add to the experience. Sure you want some solitude, but more often than not the people you meet who share the fire, the respect and passion for the outdoors, are second to none. They’re as varied and diverse as the spots and colouring of the quarry we pursue. The odd bastard might play unfair, just as the occasional trout spits fly, but such instances are the exception rather than the norm. Ben on day one, Atsushi the Japanese angling nomad, Rob the pilot, Vaughan the hunter spin-fisher, Marcus and his missus, the gas-lending hiker (pretty crap of me that his is the only name I cannot recall, barring Marcus’ missus!)…. I’d struggle to meet such a diverse bunch of good buggers in a year of my regular day-to-day grind.

This “backcountry brotherhood”, for want of a better term, appear to exhibit a kind of generosity born out of poverty. Perhaps it’s a consequence of us all being forced into a more spartan existence when in the bush, the experience enables us to better empathise with others in need. More willing to give essentials to a stranger than we would be to give our excesses to a needy stranger in everyday life. It seems like a paradox, but I believe it holds some truth.

And on that note, with all relevant and irrelevant internal ramblings aired, I think it’s time to draw a close to what has been a somewhat protracted session in the angler’s confessional.

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