Feeding the Fish on my Birthday

birthdayfish_7Some birthdays come and go, while others leave you grinning from ear to ear. This is a my birthday tale. Take a guess what kind it was?

It had been a rough go for fishing for most of our day. Cold, bone numbing water to wet wade through with very few fish showing themselves, let alone feeding. 3 doggo trout spooked out from under logs along shore. Not something we’ve experienced much of in NZ, but it can happen. Sighting a few gorgeous birds and being immersed in the beautiful beech forest was a plus on the day for sure, but our hopes for hooking a trout were weakening by the minute.

After 4 hours we decided to abandon plan A /river #1 to revive our frozen bodies and head back to the van for some lunch. Since there were still a few decent hours left in the day and plenty of other fishable water close by, we switched gears and came up with plan B and drove to our next spot. As the day would have it, we arrived there to find an angler’s vehicle parked. Bugga!

Ok, plan C it is. Serge decided that we should go for a few good fish he knew lived in one stretch of the river, so off we went. With perpetual glare on the water and persistent wind lines it was tough. The first 2  fish we found were resting in the edge water literally 10″ off dry rock and despite our best drifts, they wanted nothing to do with our flies. Soon after we crossed the river to where the sighting improved dramatically and holding in the middle of the run was a large fish. Dave launched his double heavy nymph rig at it and had a take, but the fish took coming at him and it never stuck.

birthdayfish_2The day was quickly coming to an end and there it was – the last likely looking water to have a go. A long, deep pool, with classic flow, depth and current breaks. And to go with the sexy looking water was a gorgeous looking brown trout – healthy looking with a beautiful balance of green and yellow tones. It had all the time in the world to surf its way up, about and around, feeding at will using all the real estate in the pool. It was my turn and so I gladly stepped up to have a go. With every clear window that opened in the water, I could tell it was no slouch of a fish for size , but at that point I didn’t much care about size.  I was more intent on just getting good casts to increase my odds of getting a take. Serge and Dave stood beside me, taking in the visuals of the fish moving about and offering up all the fishing tips that so naturally fall off their tongues. Unbeknownst to me,  they were also making quiet hand signals behind my back that I was casting to a monster!

Fly change after fly change, I kept feeding the fish. And therein lies the pattern and lesson I’ve learned over and over in my years of fishing – if the fish is active, keep casting as you simply do not know its rhythm nor what it’s looking at nor which direction at any given moment. We’d seen the fish take on top twice, but fed unabashedly sub surface. Though I was fishing a  dry/ dropper set up, it was the nymphs we kept changing up, along with the length of our dropper tippet. I cast the same dry the entire time. When fishing deeper pools, the exact depth the fish is holding at can be difficult to judge, so experimentation with flies and fly depth is imperative. With each good drift the fish took long hard looks at my nymphs (or at least that’s what it appeared to be doing). On a number of casts, our eyes were glued to the dry fly  waiting for it to stall or budge. So many, “here it comes…oh, oh,… wait, wait….oh man, just eat it already!” , followed by my trusty advisers…..”just keep feeding the fish”  and I’d keep on casting. I wasn’t much counting, but it had to be close to 10 fly changes, along with a few naked nymph set ups with a worm and I hadn’t gotten a take in literally 90 minutes!

birthdayfish_1Then it came,  a cast no different than many of the ones prior, but this time instead of only slightly rising in the water column, it kept coming up and up. Its mouth opened wide and sucked in my dry fly! “Are you kidding me, he took the bloody dry fly ?” I belted out with elation as I set the hook. Then the fight was on and we all knew we were in for a ride. It started out quite hopeful as together the fish and I went upstream towards the slower back eddy at the head of the pool in hopes of getting a quick net job, but the moment we got close, the fish bolted across the pool for the main current.

The intensity in the air was palpable. We all desperately wanted to keep the fish from running down into the white water rapids below us, thus forcing us all to cross another set of rapids in order to fight the fish. My 2 attempts to keep the brown in the pool eventually failed and we had no choice but to go all in with the fight. I can still hear the words ringing in my head,  ” keep your rod high, let it run, hand off the reel, go go go!” Arm in arm and rod in the other Dave bounced me across the fast water to the bank where I needed to be.

200 yards downstream I was still fighting the fish. I even had a moment in the middle of the river where the fish held on the bottom and wouldn’t budge until myself and Serge got a rod length below it, causing it to run to the opposite shore. All the while Dave was on the camera and offering up the best advice he had for the situation.

It dawned on me during the fight how incredibly powerful this fish was, turning its head in the current was next to impossible.

birthdayfish_3After crossing the river again, I finally got the fish into the shallows applying constant, slow, sideways pressure. Serge was there with the net. Speaking of pressure, we all really wanted the moment to end well, and I knew my friend Serge had his heart pounding in his chest. With my eyes bugging out of my head, I watched as Serge scooped from behind the fish.  Quickly seeing it wasn’t going to fit the net that easily,  he gave it a little extra help with his hands.

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Wow, wow, wow! There it was –  all 11 pounds of it in our hands! Sure, I had been the one to hook and fight the fish, but we had truly done it as a team. Thank God for my fishing buddies as I didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of landing the fish on my own without likely going for a swim in +8 C temps. Ecstatic? You better believe it!

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