The curious case of rainbows wise beyond their years

Fish on!! I was merely 50m into this river and already onto my first fish. This was going to be an easy, fun trip, and the perfect opportunity to learn the ropes with my newly acquired action camera, or so I thought. Considering he was just a wee fellow he really fought like a demon, and had soon reinstated my respect for the fighting qualities these fish possess, which goes some way to make up for their intellectual shortcomings. However when he was finally brought to the net I saw the real reason for his extra vigour; I’d hooked him in the tail. That bit of luck was certainly not to be the prevailing theme of this trip!

862On the board quick-smart, if you can count a foul-hooking!

The next kilometre or so was far less action-packed, with not a single fish sighted, let alone hooked. That wasn’t too disheartening as the water was plain and featureless, and I’d heard the better water was upriver anyway. The valley soon widened and I took the time to survey a promising piece of water—a glide of around a hundred metres in length. This was to be the only time in the entire trip that I would sight a brown trout. He was obviously a well schooled fish, and promptly crossed the entire width of the river in response to my first cast. Not far up the glide another fish rose to take something off the surface. Somehow I’d managed to lose sight of him and despite much effort I failed to locate him again, with the afternoon glare impeding my efforts.

866Nice bit of water

I pressed on up the track, uncertain of when the next opening in the valley may be. I was keen to locate a good campsite, get a feed, and be all set for any evening rise that might eventuate. The track soon rose and intermittently overlooked a rugged, beautiful gorge. I bush-bashed down to the river whenever I spotted a section of river that looked to have potential, yet every time I found a well-beaten path etched in the sandy verge of the river. Some of these spots even had several pairs of footprints, it was indeed a spirit-dampening and concerning sight! If even these hard-t0-get-to spots were well-visited then I dreaded to imagine how heavily the supposed good water had been fished! My only consoling thought was that it hadn’t rained for around a week so the footprints may be a few days old.

873Rugged, scenic gorge

876A well-visited spot!

Throughout the remainder of the afternoon I spotted the occasional medium-sized rainbow, most of which spooked or weren’t feeding. I did manage to hook a few, all of which were lost as a result of either the hook pulling, or a knot freakishly breaking. Actually I did catch one, but with him weighing around a pound—being optimistic—he doesn’t really count!

As I was approaching the second widening of the valley which was to be my campsite, I spied a fish down below in the gorge. He was in a challenging position, sitting just in front of a large boulder in the middle of the river. The water here was far too deep to allow any access into the river, and so in the event of a hook-up I planned to strike hard and boss him over to my side of the boulder, or bust him off in the process. Positioning myself nearly side-on to the fish, I made my cast. The cicada plopped into the pool a couple of metres ahead of him, and his response was instant. He rose decisively—a good two metres—to take the fly, and as I struck and maintained significant force he was launched—to my horror—no less than three metres into the air. We were almost eye to eye momentarily as he flew past me, before his downward trajectory sent him plummeting into a large boulder, which he met with a cringe-inducing SLAP! To make matters worse, on impact with the boulder the hook freed so I couldn’t even put him out of his misery. I’ve never seen a fish that size—around 3 or 4 pounds—get launched into the air in such a manner. I guess it was the combination of him dashing to the surface and my overzealous strike which resulted in him maintaining his momentum and just keep flying upwards.  Still, I felt guilty as it was my selfishness of wanting another fish—correction, a fish!—before the day was over that had resulted in his brutal ordeal.

133New bit of head gear, looking like a right trout-voyeur now!

541The unfortunate flying-fish

After ascending back up to the track I proceeded to the clearing and set about choosing an adequate campsite that fulfilled my Goldilocks requirements: not too far from the river, not too much river noise, ample shelter, and close enough to a spot where a fire could be set. The only downside to this location was that it lacked ideal water for an evening rise. Firewood was also scarce in the vicinity of the campsite, with the exception of an uprooted tree from which plenty was able to be harvested.

119Making use of the fallen

Next morning I awoke to the blare of a chopper passing overhead. Scantily dressed, I lurched out of the tent and waved my fly rod tubes in their direction, in the hope of alerting them of my angling intentions. To my surprise the chopper doubled back and came to land not far from my tent. A tanned, young man—he sported long blonde locks that gleamed impressively in the early-morning sunshine—strode across the field in my direction. Good morning! he said, in a thick Scottish accent. Meanwhile I was still hurriedly dressing myself in a forlorn attempt to look half respectable. He was a local guide and had planned to fish the river, but being a decent bloke he departed and left me to it, but not before parting with a bit of wisdom on which sections of the river I should pay particular attention to. Definitely one of the good guys, that fellow.

The river now wound it’s way through large tussock flats, making the going much easier. The occasional fish was spotted but the theme of yesterday repeated itself. The first spooked, the second I did manage to hook, but the knot failed and the fish made off with a couple of my nymphs. The third, well I don’t even know what happened there. The leader-to-tippet knot just above the indicator somehow broke, and it felt like the fish somehow wrapped it around a rock when there was no substantial rock in sight. The only consolation was that these weren’t overly impressive fish I was losing. By the time the day was over I’d lost four or five fish and caught a couple of midgets.

638Dejection after rejection

Being something of a superstitious man, I began to ponder if my new acquisition—the action cam on my head—was in fact cursed. The moment I had turned it on and made a cast I promptly caught the smallest fish of my life! And not long after that, I turned the camera on mid-battle with another larger specimen and instantaneously the hook flew back towards my face! One thing was certain—there would be no shortage of outtakes by the time this trip was over! The only thing that pours cold water on this curse theory is that the camera’s previous owner is a gun angler and does very well for himself. It’s likely you’ve probably seen some of his angling footage on Youtube.

I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring as far as I could upriver. There was some nice looking water but it appeared devoid of fish. Ever hopeful, I made a few blind casts here and there, but they were all in vain. Eventually my journey upriver was halted when I encountered a bouldery blockade across the entire width of the river. It was an interesting, yet slightly foreboding sight. Enormous boulders littered the surrounding area, banishing any thoughts of a bush-bash up the gorge. It just wasn’t worth the risk and effort, given the lack of fish.

187A promising pool, yet no substantial occupants

235Nature’s blockade

225The turn-around point

That night, sprawled in front of the glowing embers of the fire, I pondered the small rainbows I’d caught. It was unusual to see such small fish sharing the same habitat as the larger ones. I began to wonder if this strange phenomena was a result of the slip that occurred further up the valley several years ago. Perhaps it resulted in the smaller fish losing their old habitat and they were now having to coexist with the larger fish. Whatever the case, I was certain that the reason for the unusually spooky and uncooperative larger fish was that they were being caught and released from a far earlier age than would normally be the case, and so by the time they got to three or four pounds they were well wise beyond their years!

619Majestic boulders, fish—not so much!

Nine o’clock the next morning, and the drone of a helicopter once again became audible. I didn’t get up this time, and it didn’t stop either. Fair enough, I reasoned, I’d had my go on this river. I drifted off back to sleep, and was woken a couple more times on the hour by the metallic bird which served me well as an alarm clock—even had a snooze mode!—as I’d forgotten mine. It was a pleasant morning and I indulged in a relaxed breakfast before packing up and heading out of the valley, stopping in at the promising glide where I’d seen the solitary brown, and another rising fish a couple of days earlier. The precise events are a little hazy now, as this trip had been so mediocre that I hadn’t even bothered to keep a journal, as it was one I wasn’t keen to remember too vividly, for obvious reasons! Anyway, I remember having three encounters with this brown—the Dark Destroyer as I began to call him—and each time he shunned me. Incidentally, before I forget, on my way back down the gorge I spotted a fish that appeared identical to the hapless “flying fish” in the same spot—in front of the mid-river boulder—so perhaps he survived after all! I can only hope. Anyway, back on topic.

The Dark Destroyer, he was the destroyer of angling egos. No doubt many had paid him a visit this season—he was very easy to spot—and undoubtedly very few had left his residence feeling happier than when they arrived! He only looked five pounds, but considering the fish in this river I would have regarded him as a trophy. After being shunned by him a third time I was preparing to leave the river but spied a rise further up the glide. I managed a hook-up after several casts, but after an intense and fiery, albeit brief duel, the predictable happened. Do I even need to say it—hook pulled. One thing of interest, this trout actually bolted over to the Dark Destroyer mid-battle, perhaps with the intention of consulting him for some tactical advice. Dark Destroyer, however, was well unimpressed by this intrusion, and aggressively ushered him out of his residence.

645Exiting the valley via the fishless wasteland that comprised the lower reaches

There can be no deluding myself, it was a really disappointing trip! The only thing gained from this one was a new-found respect for these rainbows, which turned out to be tougher to deceive than the larger browns I’d caught at the start of the season. And while the valley was immensely scenic, I certainly won’t be hurrying back any time soon! I will leave it to the heli-anglers and their pleasant Scottish guide.