For the first time in my academic career reading about fly fishing has proved useful. I came across this excerpt from whilst studying for my environmental law exam tomorrow:
‘Fishermen are probably more interested in equipment than are the devotees of an other leisure activity, and fishing books are full of endless discussion of flies, lines, rods and leaders. Yet that interest is not at all directed to technological advance leading to increased efficiency in catching fish. Indeed, in one respect, it has exactly the opposite purpose: it is designed to maintain and even to increase the difficulty of success. At the same time, intricacy for its own sake is not sought. The goal is to raise to a maximum the importance of the participant’s understanding, to play the game from the trout’s point of view, so as to draw, as Haig-Brown puts it, upon “imagination, curiosity, bold experiment and intense observation.”‘
In many ways I think it captures the ethos of fly fishing very well. We essentially voluntarily subscribe to an unwritten code of ethics that places restrictions on the techniques we can employ.
Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Part of me hates to admit it, but Jack is right. He did catch the same fish as I caught last year.
Honestly though, I am pleased the fish is alive and reasonably well. It looks like it has been involved in a mighty scrap during spawning season – it was only missing one part of its face last year, not two! It did well to live through the big flood in December.
Here is how it looked nearly one year ago.
In hindsight it was probably a pretty stupid idea going fishing the night after the All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup Final… I know I barely got any sleep, Matt got far less. He generously offered to cook me breakfast. I tell you, there aren’t many better smells to arrive at a house to than bacon and eggs. With the breakfast formalities underway it was time to hit the road. After a little while I had a sudden brainwave… Where the hell’s my vest? Upon realizing that my vest was still in Andrew’s car after Saturday I also noticed a certain someone’s study materials in the back of my car. Well I couldn’t go fishing in good conscience without dropping it off at her place first. After that it was a case of a very apologetic early wake up for Andrew, quickly grabbing my vest and finally getting on with the show.
We arrived to cold, windy conditions with the promising hint of sun peering over the peaks. A brief walk brought about our first encounter with our quarry. By this stage the wind was fair roaring, so I thought I’d be nice and let Matt have a go. The fish was feeding like mad, but try as we might we just couldn’t get a drag free presentation with the conflicting currents and the pervasive wind. Eventually the fish became aware, and took off. I encountered a fish feeding similarly just a few pools up, but my luck was barely any better. I managed to trick the fish into eating a small green caddis, however the hook pulled after almost no time.
Things carried on in this vein with Matt pricking a fish on the dry, and myself meeting with nothing but air after a big fish had taken my green caddis. After almost drowning myself attempting an ambitious river crossing to get at a fish (and spooking it in the process) I wasn’t feeling too positive about the day. This all changed when I spotted a smudge holding in fast water. Then the smudge rose. Cool. First presentation with my small parachute adams and the fish rose and scoffed it. I’ve never seen a brown trout tailwalking to quite the extent that this one did. When I eventually got it in I saw that the condition on the fish was absolutely outstanding.
It wasn’t a big fish, but you’d struggle to find many in better condition.
Barely 500metres further up the stream we encountered one of the best patches of pocket water fishing I’ve had in a long time.
Matt made it look easy by pulling this fish out on one of the first casts.
I then proceeded to fish at a fish that kept popping in and out of the current, and in and out of my visibility. Spotting two big fish rising one pocket over I crossed to fish at them. At this point I should note that I’d been having a rather problematic time with my pants. They just kept falling down. When I hit the right cast (not easy when the casting position dictates that you can only cast leader into a nor’wester) the fish rose without hesitation to my grey klinkhammer. Hammer time. What ensued was quite possibly one of the most comical experiences to have transpired on a river. As soon as I hooked the fish the swirling current at the base of the pocket had dragged my line down, tangling it with the fittings on my boots. At this point my pants decided to fall down. Proper down. Here I was with a big fish jumping madly on the surface, my line wrapped around my boots and my pants around the ankles. Matt said he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Personally I felt more like crying. Somehow with one hand I grabbed my pants and hoisted them up, then managed, despite my inflexibility, to lift my foot into the air and clear the line. All this whilst standing in waist deep fast flowing water. After that the rest was just a formality.
At the time I had a slightly inkling that this may have been the same fish Andrew caught a year beforehand. Upon getting home and checking the spots it was confirmed.
My guess is that they were feeding on these fellows.
I won’t go into details with what happened in a big pool a little further up. Suffice to say I was left nearly in tears as a rather large fish flipped me the bird before popping the hook and lazing about in the shallows. I attempted an overly ambitious swipe with the net, but to no avail. I will be back.
The next pool up saw a rather bizarre experience. A fish sitting in a small alcove and popping out only occasionally into the current took a liking to my most successful creation over winter – the Deviant fly. Matt was fishing to it, and it took his fly not once…not twice…but seven times. I’ve never seen anything like this before. On the seventh the hook bit and a long hard fight ensued.
A great end to the day.
It was a long walk back, and a couple of very tired lads that made it back into Christchurch late in the evening.
What a weekend. After two weeks of flat-tack, nose in the books torture I knew I’d enjoy this weekend, but I think I underestimated just how much.
Saturday morning saw me get up after 3 hours sleep. Andrew and I were taking a special guest on a fishing trip into the backcountry. Being the Saturday of Labour weekend we figured a very early start was in order. It wasn’t. After a long drive during which certain members of the crew drifted in and out of consciousness we turned up to find no other cars in sight. Walking through bog at 7am is a really wonderful experience. Believe it or not, I’m not being sarcastic. After thrashing myself writing essay after essay getting into the backcountry was a relief. Life was very good.
Andrew kicked things off nicely by catching the first fish we saw. A couple of fly changes were all it took to see the tell tale roll as the fish took his nymph. After a start like this it’s easy to get complacent, to assume you’re in for a cracker day. It was tough. I missed a strike on the dry in a small pocket, and then missed a possible strike on a rather large fish holding in a deep side braid. The fish moved, the indicator went down, but somehow I’m still not convinced it took my fly.
We all got a little distracted watching a stonefly emerge from its shuck. For some reason you see a lot of adult mayflies in New Zealand, but relatively few adult stoneflies (despite the abundance of stonefly nymphs).
By this stage we were a little perturbed. We’d fished this stretch at almost exactly the same time last year, with dramatically differing results. What’s more, we’d seen about 10 times as many fish. The leading theory we came up with was that a party had thrashed the water the day before and the fish had not yet resumed normal feeding behaviour.
Nevertheless, Andrew persevered prospecting the fast water and was rewarded for his efforts.
Just upstream of this I spotted a fish holding in a small braid off the main flow where the current ran hard against the bank. Did it want my offerings? Hell no. I moved up and was about to initiate phase 2: attack phase. Just as I’d tied on something big, bad and heavy I spotted a movement in the current about three metres ahead of me. It was one of those fish with light sides and a green back. A fish that looked very solid in the water. Motioning to Liz to drop down I retied my original flies on and made a presentation to the right of the fish. It moved, inspected my dry and then refused it. One more I thought, this time to the left. No mistakes this time as the fish lifted and took the generic black dry from the surface. It was like striking into a freight train. Before you start wondering, it wasn’t massive. But Christ it was solid! I had my dry tied straight to 8lb tippet and I needed every ounce of it! As soon as it felt the bite of the hook it headed straight across the flow and under a rock. I just couldn’t move it. To be honest I thought it had broken me off and snagged me. I think Liz was sensing my concern, but she still laughed as I ploughed across the pool and attempted to use different angles to budge the fish. In the end I decided to play dirty. I grabbed the tippet and started tugging on it. Now this isn’t a ploy I’d typically use, but in this case it was necessary. I felt the telltale thud, thud, thud and knew that somewhere beneath this rock the fish was still attached. In an effort to drown me the fish, which I was quickly gaining a lot of respect for, bolted straight downstream causing me to pirouette gracelessly in the water; straight downstream, and under another rock. Thankfully this time it wasn’t so stubborn, and with a little more pressure I was able to swing it into the waiting net.
Now that’s what I call a fight. It was backcountry fishing at its best. Big, strong fish on dry flies.
After that the day somewhat petered out. I had a couple of glances from a fish sitting in the shallows. Then a bit of bush bashing, not one but two unplanned swims, and a very deep and dodgy river crossing brought us to the only pool on this stretch that we saw fish in. That said, it held four of them. I managed to stuff up three of them and Andrew fluffed the fourth. A solid fish feeding at the back of the line up happily engulfed my stonefly, but no resistance was felt on the strike. The second fish spooked first cast after the antics that unfolded below it. The third took my colubriscus without hesitation. Some frightening pressure was required to keep it in the pool. A swim through rapids entailed if it got out, and I wasn’t going to let that happen.
Just as it was nearing the bank the hook popped (it became a theme for this weekend – more on that later). If you look at the trajectory of my line you’ll get an idea of the amount of pressure I had on that fish. A couple of new decorations in the tree.
Andrew spotted a fish feeding in a small pocket further up, and after a couple of fly changes procured a strike. Sadly he too met nothing but air.
We bashed our way further up, looked in all the likely spots and finally finished things with a wee river crossing…
One member of the party decided to cross a little further upstream.
I wasn’t laughing…honest.
That night I went to probably the strangest party of my life. It was like entering a cult. Suffice to say I didn’t stay for very long. Sleep came easy and uninterrupted.
That’s all for now. I’ll chuck the second instalment up in a few days…
I had some unfinished business with a certain place on the side of Lake Tarawera. Two weeks ago I fished it quickly prior to an engagement party, needless to say I didn’t fare too well in the given hour. After hearing a few current reports of well conditioned fish being pulled out I was well and truly fevered.
The plan was quickly hatched with a mate and we set off through the rain to Rotorua. A quick stop at Hunting and Fishing to get Jeremy a new licence and some more info had us talking more smack than ever. The handbrake had barely engaged and I was out of the car. Waders on, jacket on, rods were assembled double time and so began a damn good fishing session.
Looking down on the spot it was super fishy. Overcast skies, patchy rain, getting dark shortly… Fly fishing porn some might say. I waded out near the drop off and stripped line from my reel. The first cast was ironed out and once the next one found its mark I relaxed into the zone. Tap, tap, WHACK! What, too soon! I was almost caught out as a silver pig belly flopped back into a hole in the water. This thing was determined to give me a hiding and in an instant the line came tight on the reel. A right scrap ensued and after a few attempts the Rainbow was coming over the lip.
It looked nice and juicy so decided that I’d keep one for the smoker. Fish from some of these Rotorua lakes have the best flesh and this was no exception. My new found habit of dropping fish when having photos taken was proven three times, thankfully over the grass this time. Part of the reason I’m smiling is due to the laughter.
Next up was Jeremy. We were yarning away and next thing his face lights up as the rod bucks down. This wasn’t the biggest fish but once again in bloody good nick, it fought well and gave him the run around near the weeds. Some quick snaps and it swam off, slightly confused.
By now the light had begun to change and while tucking into some sammies Jeremys rod tip goes again. Without hesitation he got to work and shortly later the tip sprang back up, fish gone. I think you can see the pain on his face in this photo.
On darkness my rig was changed to a floating line and small lumo doll fly. By this stage the lake had turned to glass and we were trying our best not to stir it up too much. It must have paid off because next thing I feel a very gentle knock, then nothing. Weed? Ten seconds later the knock is back followed by a familiar tug and we’re hooked up. This fish felt good but had limited fighting ability, it was walked to the bank and when the lights went on I realised why, obesity problems. This thing was the best conditioned fish I’d seen in a while. Unfortunately it had hoovered the fly deep and the demands from friends saw it knocked on the head also.
After a little more trying we decided to call it a night, content with all the events of the evening. Now I just need to sort some gear out for this weekends snapper mission in the Firth. Fingers are crossed they behave, my flyrod will be there for the ride.
The crusade continues.
In case anybody out there is wondering whether Jack is still alive… just so you know, he is. He’s pretty busy at the moment studying and writing essays etc.. That’s why you haven’t heard from him too much lately. However, he did manage to find enough time to come fishing yesterday!
After approximately four hours sleep I woke to the shrill sound of my cell phone alarm, I did my best to make sure I had everything I needed for the day before collecting Jack from around the road. For some reason he wasn’t at his place, he’d texted me an address for where I could find him the night before.
With the amount of sleep I’d had it was necessary to add a large dose of caffeine to the bill when the car was filled at the gas station. It hit the spot, and we were on the way.
We weren’t too sure where we’d stop. It would more or less come down to how windy it was in any given place. As it turned out, we found somewhere early on which wasn’t too bad. We stopped there and agreed that we would fish a short stretch, and if the wind came up as we expected it to then we would bail out and find somewhere more sheltered. This place is top secret, it is unlikely anybody reading this will recognise it and because I’ve been sworn to secrecy I can’t disclose the location. If someday you are fortunate enough to discover this place, then you are very lucky indeed!
The run we intended to fish first had another good looking piece of water beneath it, so we walked down to it and before too long Jack found a fish. Even better – he invited me to fish for it.
His rod was set up more appropriately than mine for the situation, so I took it across the river with me for the task at hand.
The first nymph I tried didn’t work. I can’t even remember what it was now, but I think it was too light and not getting deep enough. I changed to a green caddis with a black tungsten bead and it took first cast. The fish gave a good account of itself before being landed without any problems. It was a pretty good start to the day.
After that we crossed the river and climbed the bank. Straight away Jack saw another fish. This time it was his turn to get across and pretty soon after that he was connected to the fish. It was slightly smaller, but that didn’t matter. We were going great guns so far.
Another victim for the green caddis
It was pretty keen to leave when given a chance at freedom. What about that look on Jack’s face?
We continued on upstream after that and saw a few more fish. For some reason we stopped catching them though. We were pretty good at putting them off their breakfast though. We didn’t fail at that.
The last run we came to is one which I have a vivid memory of. It’s not a happy memory either. Jack went along one side while I was on the other. Just as I was nearly at the top of the run I hooked into a fish. I looked across to see Jack wandering into the distance with his back to me so I called him back. He crossed over to me near the bottom of the run where I netted the fish. It was a solid fish, but it didn’t make up for what happened there last season.
The wind was nearly howling by now, so we took off in search of somewhere more sheltered. Fortune was with us again, because we didn’t have to go far.
Along the way Jack discovered this one finning away and tricked it into eating a Coloboriscus imitation.
We found a few fish in our new spot, but not many. At least we could see what was there though and we didn’t need to worry about battling the elements.
After some failure, Jack spotted a fish in a pool as we crossed at the tail. It was good work on his part, because there was a lot of glare on the water and it was a tough one to see. He was seeing them much better than me on this day that’s for sure – I’ll use the excuse that I was tired.
Anyway, the pool has some sentimentality attached to it so it was my fish to catch. I pitched the green caddis up and I saw the fish lift in the water. When I set the hook and it was all on. The fish dove deep and went along a rock ledge on the far side, I had to really lean into it to lift it from the bottom. After a couple of good minutes the fish tired enough for me to secure it and I was a very happy man.
It was quite overcast by now. The forecast rain wasn’t far away and there were thousands of sandflies attempting to dine out on the exposed skin of my arms and Jacks legs. We went upstream further towards where we suspected there would be more fish. Just as we were walking along and engaged in one of our many riverside discussions I noticed a fish surfing the pressure wave in front of a rock near the tail of a small run. I performed the appropriate stop, drop, and roll while directing Jack to follow my lead.
I looked over my shoulder from on the ground and saw him walking a wide arc back downstream. He wasn’t wasting any time to get into position for this one.
There were two main obstacles to catching this fish.
- Although it was feeding very actively, there was a consoderable drop directly below its lie and it was going to be hard work to gat a good drift
- There was a tree in the water right next to the fish, it would go in there for sure if given half a chance
With the latter pouint in mind, I offered the best advice I could of “If it takes, rip its head off” from my seated position on the bank opposite the fish. My advice did not go unnoticed, Jack managed to get the required drift and set the hook. He did a great job of clearing the fish from close to the tree as soon as he hooked it and after that he was home and hosed. The fish gave a good fight but there was nowhere for it to go once it was clear of the obstuction.
That was all for the day. We retreated to the car and headed for home. Not bad for a Monday.