Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It only takes one.

The best of us have been there, on a river, seen fish, seen fish caught, had fish eaten even, but at the end of the day still ache for that bend in the rod that just did not come. Sometimes you are afforded a shot at redemption, sometimes not. Here in NZ there is such a waterway that "got the better of me" not on one trip but two. Skunk me once, I can swallow that, skunk me again, and now it's personal. On this third trip, which had no set time frame, I told Katherine, we are going to stay here till we catch a fish. Period. She understood.

Day one was met with rain (the start of the rainiest stretch this time of year that our American/now Kiwi hosts have seen in their 9 years in NZ - about 3 straight weeks of rain, and it still ain't over).

It was a kick in the groin to find the river slightly swollen and the water colored up with glacial flour. A feeling came over me where I wanted to crawl out of that wet west coast of NZ and find a flight to somewhere dry, anywhere! Once the rain steadied we abandoned our initial plans of camping and made the hour hike back to our vehicle - car camping till that rain desists. "Fuck you rain" I thought over and over again. We arrived back at our car around 4, I could squeeze an hour in on a neighboring river if I got to it quick. The next river, although tannin stained and a bit higher than mean flows, looked ok. I worked my way from pool to pool blind casting, unable to spot fish in the dark water and under less that favorable light conditions. I came around the corner and saw something, a fish feeding in front of a rock. Perfect, just wait up in the bush and watch..."wait, where is he going," I say to myself as he peels around the rock and heads downstream. "Great", I was standing high in the bush in the rain with, what I perceived, zero chance of spooking this fish. I look down toward where he swam, hoping that he was just adjusting in the water, then I saw something that made me jump, was it a rise? A big rain drop? At this stage I can only question my eyes' ability to see through my foggy sunglasses. There, again, that looked like a rise for sure. Then came confirmation, 3 rises within 3 meters of each other! I now had to maneuvered myself into a fishable position, which included a 50 meter bushwhack and a river crossing, not ideal with a vanishing sun.

I finally prepared for a cast, fish still on the rise, golden. Now I am sure there are at least 4 fish on the active feed and this is a river where fish south of 4lbs are not as common as 6-7lb fish are. First cast, nothing, second cast, take! Hook set so quick and premature that I nearly fell on my ass and, of course, pulled the fly right out of the fish's mouth. Shit. Another cast, rise in front, rise behind, rise to the side, fly remained. Next cast, take, "wait a second" I think, then set! My heart sinks as I feel the fish's weight just moments before my 4x tippet parts at a bad knot and my line lands in a heap on top of me. With that, the light is now all but gone and I've got to navigate the bush back the car - 30 minute walk. Not my day or perhaps, just not my river. I return to the vehicle I call home with at least the satisfaction of getting a fish to eat, but alas none to net.

Day 2 - the day of wind. The rain took the day off and I found one fish that I was able to fish to for most of an hour during the calm morning. After getting a commitment to a weighted green stonefly (indicatorless), however, I sent her charging upstream following a quick head shake and a spit. In the afternoon the wind took the on the role of spoiler. I could spot the fish but had little to no chance at getting a cast into the stiff breeze; I would consider it a successful cast if my fly (fixed to an 18' leader) would land beyond my fly line. I regrouped with Katherine, who had taken the morning off to catch up on her book in the car, over a late lunch. The fishing day wraps up around 5:30 now, and with a couple hours left and still no luck, I decided to head down the same stretch where I'd had the evening hatch the evening before. A good decision, as it would turn out.

The pool came into view and although I hadn't seen a fish yet on my 1 km walk along the river to this spot, I could now count 7 rising fish. Hot damn! "All I want is one", I thought to myself, to be honest though, I think that I had begun talking to myself at this stage of desperation. Position acquired and light diminishing, I could only see fish when they rose. I knew there were multiple fish but didn't want to line and spook any who, could in turn spook a few of the others. Cast, nothing, cast, take? No, a rejection! Fish came up and at the last moment, mouth agape, turned and left it. "Eat you bastard!", I am most certainly expressing all of my thoughts to myself vocally now. Cast, take, but as I went for the set, the fish rolled and spit in an impressive surface disturbance. This commotion and put down 4 of the 7 fish, combined with the first that rejected, I now had two fish that would eat. Rise, cast, take, pause, set...TIGHT! I played her gingerly while other fish were still rising higher in the pool. After a game of tug of war, she tired and I was able to maneuver her into the shallows and beach her. I crumbled to the ground with relief. It only takes one of these majestic fish to make my trip. Beauty beauty!

I remember from my days on the soccer field that my high school coach once told me, it only takes one. He also said, keep on the pressure and you can open the flood gates, so we did just that. With the skunk off, it was game time.

Over the next couple days, I diversified my game and got fish with multiple techniques.




Topped off the trip with an ambitious little bugger feeding with the big boys, surprised he hasn't turned into lunch yet! It only takes one...


Keith said...

excellent read clark. looking forward to your return.

Jesse Lance Robbins said...


A great read and great photos! Congrats on all your fine captures! I can tell that your game has taken a leap. You will bring these skills back to the SR and other rivers and will look at them differently. Well done sir!

Freedom Beard is looking great as well.


Lucas "Horm" Young said...

That was the quintessential Kiwi experience all wrapped up into one! Awesome read, loved the suspense, and some solid hookups to top it off. Looks like you're managing alright down there... Say hello to Rick, Lynn, Oliver and Boo Boo for me!

Clark Winchell said...

It's been quite the trip, Lucas. Huge thanks to you and Jesse for steering me in the right direction and introducing me to some awesome people!