Opening day outing—with a mate for once!

Promises and vows of exercise regimes and regimented gear preparedness, all broken. This is something of a recurring theme for me every winter. Blame it on the weather, I do. Miserable, short, bleak days do little to inspire me to focus on, and invest time in, fly fishing related activities. This time it was no different. In fact, new unprecedented levels of shambolicness had been attained—levels not achievable if I’d done nothing at all. Bagged up wet waders stewing in plastic bag, grubby clothes from the last trip of the previous season, and various other derelict angling paraphernalia littered all four corners of my room, ensuring I was well in deficit before the season even began. The main excuse for all this was the time-consuming, thoroughly engrossing, pastime of working on a few book ideas; ample distraction from everyday mundane chores I would’ve otherwise been doing. Hence, as October 1 neared I felt a state of panic creeping in. It all felt a bit like Butters (South Park) alter ego, Professor Chaos, had paid me a visit, as I unzipped a pocket of my fishing vest to discover twenty-odd flies entwined in a colossal fluorocarbon bird’s nest. Needless to say, the other fifty-seven pockets were in equal disarray. Nevertheless, I knew deep down that Professor Chaos wasn’t responsible for all of this, and that I only had myself to blame.

With my fitness having steadily deteriorated over the course of winter, as is always the case, I promised to go easy on myself for the first excursion of the season. Traumatic memories of lugging a monstrous pack (filled with a queen size duvet) all the way up some distant valley were still too fresh in my mind! And so, rather than enduring another grueling multi-day quest, I opted for a relaxed day trip on a local river with recently reacquainted mate, Ollie. I’d felt compelled to track him down near the end of last season, after receiving a tip off that he, too, was a brother of the angle. Needless to say, Wilson, my ever-faithful fishing companion last season, would have to sit this one out, as I suspect he would’ve been something of an awkward third wheel in the presence of another human. I knew he wouldn’t take kindly to this treachery, however, as he was champing at the bit to get back out there.

When the day arrived, the stars had aligned and everything appeared perfect. Right up until we rounded one of the numerous bends in the gravel road, and we sighted them. Two red dots. The tail lights of a vehicle several hundred metres in the distance. After we’d both unleashed a volley of obscenities at the distant car, we attempted to reason it’s occupant mightn’t be an angler. But given the day, who were we kidding. I suppose we could’ve attempted some Colin McRae-style vehicular antics and tried to overtake him, but considering the road had a substantial drop off, it probably wasn’t worth the risk.

Some ten minutes later, we pulled into the carpark. As we approached the other vehicle, a cylindrical metal tube leaning against the door confirmed our fears. You’re not by any chance a fanatical downstream wet fly specialist are you? I queried, ever optimistic, as the upstream section was far more desirable. He laughed, not even bothering–nor needing to–reply the question. He was a nice bloke, and after an amicable chat we wished eachother luck and headed off in opposite directions.

The riverbed wielded a respect-commanding flow; it’s water sported a subtle silty haze. The dark skies soon began to lighten, revealing swift moving clouds, hinting the promised norwester may soon be upon us. But in the shelter of the gorge, all was calm for now. Birds began to sound off, and the noise of the river soon worked it’s magic, drowning out all those trivial bothersome thoughts we have when we’re not fishing. I’d missed this; it’d been too long. With the worries of the world banished by the white noise of the river, I—or rather, we—turned our minds toward the fish. But first, there was the small matter of finding one.

12116038_10154279041437738_922334937_o Me, walkin’. Courtesy of a bit of clandestine photography by Ollie

It was no easy task, finding our first potential victim. The lack of sunshine, the slightly discoloured water, the fact that this was a “long walk between fish” kind of river; all of these things provided ample excuses for failing to locate them. And that was okay, as I had a mate, for once, so those long walks were accompanied by strange and unusual—but always entertaining—conversations. As we progressed downstream—perusing the pools, ever hopeful—river crossings were necessary, and frequent. Given the healthy flow, some of these were a stern test for lethargic, early season legs, just out of hibernation. On one particular crossing—I was the guinea pig—I succumbed to serial stumbles in the waist-deep water, as my well-worn wading boots, with their racing-slick treads, met with slippery, ginger boulders. What is it with those Gingers, always so hostile! My crossing, performed with the elegance of a legless drunk ousted at closing time, spurred the sound of laughter from behind. But seconds later I got to repay the favour, and indulged in a good laugh as waderless Ollie fared little better with his attempt.

When we did stumble onto the fish, the old adages proved to be lies. These fish were not starving; they were not desperate. They were discerning diners, and unfortunately I was no Michelin chef. Rather a pub cook, with crude servings of Tungsten Pheasant Tail, or Hare’s Ear, being my limitations. This generic menu did little to whet their appetite, and they certainly had no time for the chef’s special—the Dog’s Breakfast. Ollie, however, being far more studious (and prone to a bit of rock fondling) had much more refined fare.

When we arrived at an aesthetic backwater, we lurked an unusually long time. Not unlike a couple of seedy Johns, looking for a hook-up. Stalking it’s edges, maintaining our resilient hopes. In denial even, about this green liquid trout-desert which met our eyes. The trout we had seen—and failed to fool—were acting funny. They weren’t feeding on station. Instead, they opted to roam about in no particular pattern. And so, with this in mind, we opted to wait and watch, hoping for one of these nomadic fish to pass through this watery wasteland. And when one did—finally— we were ready. Waiting in ambush, like a couple of wild west bandits. It was another bizarre fish, wandering aimlessly. A random solitary rise, and then nothing. Ollie cast out a nymph and allowed it to settle on the silty bottom. I perched myself up in a tree which overlooked the backwater; the only vantage point which offered a decent window into the green abyss. When the fish again came into view, it was headed in the direction of Ollie’s nymph. Mid-tree, concealed in foliage, I narrated the fish’s movements with the frenzied excitement of a TAB Trackside commentator. I was oblivious to Ollie and what he was doing by this stage, purely focused on the trout, succumbing to a bout of tunnel vision. It’s turned! I yelled, only to look up and see Ollie—rod bent—connected to it! Discovering he’d been fooled, the fish went into a spasmodic rage of twists and turns, their obligatory response to being pierced by steel.

Net in hand, feeling the pressure, I waited for the moment to bag our—okay, his— first fish. As it neared and we got a better look at the specimen, that pressure only grew, as this was a cracking fish. I refrained from the first netting opportunity. Partly for fear I’d cock it up, and partly because he was still too fresh. The fish then bolted for a recess under a large slab of submerged rock. Rock I knew to be razor sharp, as a couple of seasons back I’d lost a fish in this same backwater as it performed a similar manoeuvre, grating a foot long section of my leader, before gaining it’s freedom. Thankfully however, no deja vu was had today, and this fish was only offered it’s freedom by Ollie’s hand. When he eventually neared again, I summoned the courage for a netting which proved successful. Whew! Upon weighing him, we were surprised to see the spring scales pulled down sufficiently to reveal the 7lb marking, and a little extra. Fortunately I didn’t know prior to netting (or I’d have made a hash of it), but this fish was a new best for Ollie. The winter had clearly been kind to this fish, as it had managed to maintain it’s fine muscular condition. I was kind of envious, as the same couldn’t be said for me!

12124343_10154279041357738_1948012490_oThe closest I got to a trout all day

12085038_10154279041507738_1790191232_oOllie, with a new PB!

12124529_10154279041517738_1282722200_oCurious wound

Shortly after Ollie caught his 7lb’er, a little sliver of grey wriggled it’s way into the pool a stone’s throw from the backwater. We’d seen this fish before, but I wasn’t really interested as it wasn’t a “proper” fish. But with desperation now creeping in—any hole’s a goal (sorry, probably an inappropriate metaphor)—I made a cast at it, assuming it’d be a formality. But no, this little fellow went to work on my ego, as cast after cast, he ducked and dodged my offerings, to devour a natural.  The little Einstein seemed to be having a good time of it too, thoroughly unconcerned with the damage he was inflicting on my angling morale. At one point—about the twenty-seventh cast—he even made a point of opening his mouth wide in exaggerated fashion right next to my fly. A move no doubt spawned from sinister intentions of triggering a bit of false hope, and a dud strike. Malevolent creatures, those trout! Twenty minutes later I admitted defeat, realising his juvenile, pea-sized trout brain, with all it’s smarts, was vastly superior to mine.

We pressed on, further downstream, pulling off a few more daring crossings, spying a few more random roaming fish. All uncooperative. Somewhere around our turning point—just after Ollie took an involuntary swim, I think (yes, I laughed)—we witnessed a stoat swim the river, pull off a monster jump, and scale a seemingly unascendable cliff at impressive speed. Hatred aside, it’s pretty awesome the athleticism these things exhibit, and it’s no wonder our native birds don’t stand a chance against them!

The walk back upstream was tough, and the unrelenting current soon sapped the remaining strength from our legs. Ollie spotted one last fish—my final chance to get on the board—but we were uncomfortably close to it. Too close. It was but a couple of metres from the bank, and we were side-on to it. Not daring to take the time to tie on a more sensible nymph, I cast out the double tungsten critter I had on the end of my line. After about the fifth cast, the nymph somehow got stuck behind a rock right at river’s edge. This left me with the agonising predicament, with only one real choice. I had to move in order to free the nymph. Needless to say, the fish promptly legged it (or rather, finned it) outta there. It was a shame because he was a sizable fish, with a dazzling copper flank. Next time perhaps….

There was still a little time for me to ogle an array of rocks that I was certain were trout. Sign of an addict I suppose. With the desperation now not just flaring, but raging, and my trout cravings unsated, it must’ve been my mind’s coping mechanism—transforming rock to fish. As we neared our starting point, late afternoon sunlight, with it’s rich golden hue, beamed down from it’s angular trajectory, flooding the gorge with light. Insipid, flat colours were instantly bestowed with vivid lushness, as if the gods were in the process of ramping up the colours of their raw format files. It was a pleasant way to end the day, emerging from the light-deprived confines of the craggy gorge walls, out into the warmth of an obliging sun. I may not have caught a fish, but this was probably the most fulfilling “skunking” I will ever “suffer”. Witnessing, and playing a small part in, a mate catching a new best fish (and first fish on a new river) definitely provided ample consolation.

Now for the small matter of placating the scorned, left behind, Wilson!