Five fish I’ll never forget. No matter ho hard I try.
This entry differs from what the other boys have done recently. I’ll put my top five together later on, but for now this is all about five of the most memorable fish I didn’t catch.
My apologies for the lack of images… but I guess you’ll understand why.
This happened the season before last. I was fishing the Canterbury High Country alone in the heat of summer and the Cicadas were in full swing. I’d caught one fish and lost another already that day on a Cicada pattern, and I had the feeling I was a good chance at catching anything I fished to that day.
I approached a run where I’d seen a pretty big fish a few weeks earlier, and my excitement level lifted. As I made my way to the top of the run I was buzzing with nervous energy, and there it was. I spotted a solid looking fish sitting in the prime spot.
I had to drop slightly to get into a good casting position, which meant I could no longer see the fish. I sent the cicada into the strike zone and hoped for the best. I didn’t need to wait long… the water erupted as the big brown slashed at the fly and I don’t even think I needed to strike, the fish had probably set the hook itself. A strong fight took place from there and I could tell the fish was a good one. It had plenty of length, and was strong and determined.
I got it in really close and was prepering to net it when it rolled on top and I saw its true size for the first and only time. It took off and the line pinged. My tippet hardly ever snaps, but it did on this occasion. I stood there and swore at the heavens for quite some time, until I was eventually able to pull myself back together and carry on for the day.
This is going back a few years. I think it was the start of the 2003-2004 season. The location isn’t too far away from where number 5 took place.
I had fished upstream all day and was on my way out, walking along the side of the river as I went whenever possible. As I came to a certain pool with a small creek pouring in I spied a fish sitting under the feed line. It looked like a pretty nice fish, and it wasn’t there a few hours earlier. I crept into position and started casting to the fish for what seemed like forever. It stayed where it was more or less, drifting slightly but never moving far. After god knows how many casts my indicator dipped under and I struck. I was most surprised when the line went tight and the mighty fish exploded from the water.
My surprise turned into heartbreak when the fish landed on my tippet. In one moment it was all over. I headed for the car thinking about what might have been.
This happened near the end of the 2002 – 2003 season, not long after I had shifted to Christchurch from Nelson.
I’d returned to Nelson for the wedding of some very good friends. While I was there for a few days I thought I should head out for a bit of fishing, I had some unfinished business that needed taking care of at a river nearby.
I’d fished the river a few times, and been alerted to a very nice looking fish which was resident in one of the pools by one of my mates who worked in the area. The trouble was that there was a fallen tree sharing the pool with the fish, keeping it safe. As time passed by, the tree swung closer and closer to the bank… until eventually it was out of the way enough that a chance at catching the fish became possible.
That day I’d caught four great fish on Cicadas. You couldn’t miss, they were moving a mile for them. I decided to drive up the road to the tree pool, and have a go at the big boy. Nervously I peeked over the edge of the bank trying to see where he was, but the light was poor and the water was covered with glare. I was a bit dejected at not being able to see the fish, but I went down to the water anyway.
I worked my way through the pool methodically, and into the fast water at the top. I’d never seen the fish holding this high up, but I fished it anyway. My indicator stopped, and when I struck I was fast into a fish. THE fish!
I worked hard to gain control, and just when I thought I had the advantage the fish leapt high out of the water and I watched in slow motion as my nymph tracked towards me through the air. The fish was free. After all of my previous unsuccessful attempts at capturing it, on this day I had come oh so close, yet I had failed again. This was to be the last time I would try to catch this fish, unfortunately the opportunity never again presented itself.
This is really going back a long time. I was 14 years old, and I hadn’t been fly fishing all that long. I was with my best mate Sam, and we were fishing our favourite river. He’d just caught his biggest ever trout, which was in the vicinity of 7 pounds, and in fact I would confidently say it was the biggest trout either of us had ever laid our young eyes on.
No more than a few hundred metres upstream from where Sam caught his fish from was a mighty pool. It was long, wide, and had plenty of depth in all the right places. It had a nice rapid entering in at the head and a solid rock bottom on the far side providing plenty of stablility.
As we neared the top we spotted a line up of about half a dozen fish, all suspended high in the water column and feeding away nicely. To this day I doubt I have ever seen another situation as perfect as this. I cast my basic rig consisting of a Hare and Copper nymph with wool indicator above the top fish, the biggest of them all. It didn’t hesitate to come across to my nymph and took it with all the confidence of the much smaller fish I was so used to catching. I responded to the indicator dipping with a solid lift of my Daiwa fly rod , and the line tightened.
This fish didn’t treact like the fish I was used to catching, infact I have never experienced the same reaction from a hooked fish in all the years that have passed since. This fish did not splash, or panic. It calmly swam across the river, slowly but surely taking line with it as it went, and took up a position on the bottom. I stood there next to Sam on the side of the river in absolute bewilderment, I had no idea what to do. Several minutes passed, the fish shook its head from time to time, and eventually my line snapped.
Even though I had minimal experience with fish of any size at that point in my life, I knew I had just been attached to something special. With all the years gone past since then, I realise even more now just how special that fish was. If I was to hook that same fish again today I would be in a far better position to land it than what I was back then, but it was incredibly powerful, and nothing is certain. One thing I can say for sure is that fish is lucky it got away, for if I had landed it as a 14 year old boy, there is no doubt I would have taken it home with me to mount on the wall.
This one sits in a similar ball park to number two. It was a bit of a toss up for which sat where in the grand scheme of things… but I decided this one could take the top spot.
It was December 2009. A couple of days after Christmas. I had arranged to take my mate Paul from Timaru and his Dad with me for a day on the water. The fish were in top condition that season, and I knew that where we were going we would have a decent shot at a good fish. It had rained a bit and the water was running a bit high, with enough colour for it to work in our favour.
The day started with a hiss and a roar when Paul caught his first ever fish on a fly. At 8 pounds it wasn’t one to be scoffed at… I made sure I let him know how many years it took for me to catch one that big.
Soon after I briefly hooked and lost one which was about the same size as what Paul landed. A short distance upstream I spotted another fish sitting near our edge which Paul insisted I fish to. I fished at this one for quite some time, and every so often I saw it clearly through a window in the water, it was a big fish.
Many, many casts, and about seven fly changes later I got a result. I set the hook into a very angry fish. It took off at warp factor 6 across the swollen river and angled upstream, taking all my fly line and a good part of my backing with it. I couldn’t do a whole lot to start with, but eventually I gained some back and my fly line came closer to where it needed to be.
This is where it really turned pear shaped. I watched my backing knot as it neared the tip top of my rod, and as the two made contact, time slowed down as I witnessed the knot disintegrate with my own eyes. The trailing fly line flailed off into the current, still attached to my big angry fish. I stoood on the riverbank swearing while Paul and his dad watched in disbelief, before I dropped everything and tore off into the current searching for the trailing line in desperation and anger.
I didn’t find the end of my line, which meant I didn’t get my fish. It put somewhat of a dampener on my day. This is the one which takes the cake.
All of these fish have caused me to lose sleep at some point, but if I’m completely honest I’d have to say I probably wouldn’t change any of them given the chance. Thats a big call I know, but it wouldn’t be the same if we landed them all, would it?
A while back I devised a plan to convince Matt into a weekend of fishing in the Central North Island, that was the easy part. I was overdue a good concentrated dose of fly chucking so we schemed, planned, googled, schemed some more and had plans A to F sussed. What I didn’t plan for was contracting a cold in the lead up. Being a good Kiwi lad I told myself I could beat it, no way was it going to get in the way of a good trip.
We pulled into Taupo on Friday night and did the prerequisite shop – I still don’t know where the bread rolls ended up! We set up camp at the Old mans house and tweaked our final arrangements over some Pilseners. Seriously, how many times can one tie a new leader and fuss over gear? An early start had us on our way with a quick stop for a healthy pie in Turangi. With that on board we carried on driving.The river of choice was looking very inviting from the road so we quickly set up for the walk over some farmland to access the lower reaches.Or so we thought…Having hunted around for an hour to find the supposed “there’s a way down but it’s a bit hard to find” track, we gave up and headed to another point we thought would be achievable. Hallelujah, it was just as Mr Google suggested, a little bit easier than the last spot. I was pretty happy about finally hitting the stoney riverbed.A quick scoff and assembly of our gear and we were ready for the fish of our dreams. This water was seriously lush. Soon we came to a great looking pool that had to hold something, something big and hungry. For a second I forgot I wasn’t feeling too flash. Not a touch, nothing to spot or even spook. We had planned for a low fish count so carried on.The water was super clear and cold, I found that out when I took a dunking while crossing a hairy piece of water above some rapids. Thankfully my foot found a hold and I managed to get back upright before going deeper into the pool. A word of note – if it’s dodgy buddy up, make sure your jacket is over your waders and closures are pulled tight. Wear a wading belt at all times, you can’t put it on in the rapids. If you get fully swept off your feet keep calm and drift feet first, bum down. You’ll eventually wash into calmer waters without snagging a foot on anything. Hopefully you’ll never have to put this into practice.
I wasn’t surprised when I dropped again. This time distracted by some noisy Whio. Damn, this was going to be a long slippery walk. And it was, this river was living up to its name. Devoid of any fish we pushed upriver and had lunch. We reassessed and made the decision to high tail it out, fishing any hotspots along the way.
We blanked, oh well, it happens sometimes. It was an ambitious plan B after all. The scenery did make up for it though. A quick fish in a new river just before dark had the same result! We checked into the backpackers and dried out while my voice impersonated Barry White.
The next day dawned frosty and brisk. It was nice to eat porridge and gear up beside a still burning fire place. The next port of call was Matts pick. The scramble in was according to him “easier than yesterday”. Thankfully it was. Again we found some stunning water that cried out for trout. We’re going back early season. Take a look at what’s on offer below.Soon enough we made the call to exit and go find some fish. I had a beat that produced fish in the past so we began the drive home in order to stop there. Plan E.
Finally after all that walking and scenic imbibing I looked up river to see Matts rod being worked by a cranky brown. Oh yes, by this time I had lost my voice and only managed a little yelp of joy as I ran up river. Some quick net work had the fish in the bag.We partied right there on the riverbank.This opened the floodgates and we soon found rhythm. I spotted a good looking brown in the shallows feeding happily until my size 16 Hare and Copper variant glanced its lip. What came out of the water looked fair decent and in prime condition. After dropping the fish I discovered Matt had sabotaged me and left my net downstream. Upon my return he’d picked up a stunning Searunner.
We pushed up, pricking fish and landing a few others along the way. Even spotting a few more in the murky water. I was having a tough time making the fish stick to my flies and saw another brown thrash the surface as the hook pulled free. This was put down to my lack of voice, there was no way I could yell STRIKE! inside my head.After we made it to our designated limit we raced back down the track to the truck. With 2 hours of light left we knew there was a good section of the Whanganui on the way home that would finish the trip off in style.There certainly were fish in here and we had a blast taking Rainbows from their usual haunts. Any old fly seemed to be doing the trick but one in particular for Matt had him converted. The takes were hard and fast, even I managed to bank a lovely model for the camera.With that monkey off my back we called it a day. The drive home in the dark was a tease knowing that we were crossing bridge after bridge of fine water. There’s always next time.
This weekend I hope to charge the Waitahanui, an old favourite. Nothing beats Birthday fishing.
Best be going to sleep. V is good for the drive home but terrible when it’s 1.30am and you have work at 6.30. Have a great fishy weekend.
Ps. The dog burley is great. Didn’t see it until the fish was landed, must have put out a mean trail. The horiness of that alone and the amount of cops we saw are the best clues as to where we were.