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Jack Kos – The Weekend That Was (Part 1 of 2)

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…

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