An unexpected triumph

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

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

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

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

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

1011The scene where the long walk of mass rejection occurred

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

1019Well-worn ogling spot

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

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

DCIM101DRIFTFlamboyant red rubies adorn this discerning feeder

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

DCIM101DRIFTNice fish, sadly sporting less flamboyant colouring

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

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

1015Telltale sign we’re now fishing a lowland river

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

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

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

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

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

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

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