Hindsight, especially in our case, is so clear. Actually, foresight was really clear but since genius loves company, there we were.
There were no heavily spiked branches of blackberries, gorse, nor matagouri like our last “ya, this is awesome” sarcasm -filled 100m jaunt from a NZ river last winter. No, this was scales of perspective changing like the hour hand on a clock. Which is the point of this tale.
The day was rather incredible. The low, cold, clear water giving way to some incredible sight-fishing for rainbows and browns. The visuals were great. We were on the water about 10 am and the bright sun simply had the trout glowing. It was New Zealand-esque as it comes. The afternoon got hot and we ran out of banks to spot from at about 4 and we hunkered down, hoping that the calm, hot, clear-sky day would lead to one of those evenings. I couldn’t help but think that can of Coke in the fridge was going to taste good once we got back to the camper.
At about 7pm we were making a slow walk back. We’d come several Km and good fishing or not we’d have to work back. We decided to follow the river route back instead of cutting over the high country route. There was a trough along the edge of a riffle that had a change of depth, lower speed, and that perfect amount of overhead chop to simply scream “FISH HERE”. We didn’t fish it on the way down as we wanted to touch a run well downstream. But as I walked up to it, Amelia far side of the river and Brian high on the hillside, it was obvious the day was changing.
“Hola!” Brian called out, his excitement about to go off the charts as he watched the gold begin to erupt in the trough. He was good enough to take the next 20 minutes out of his fishing to spot for me. There, before me, 5 nice browns began to feed. I landed 3, lost one on the fight, and slid the fly out of the last one’s jaw as it took, just feeling a slight prick weight as I set. 100% on takes, 60 on grip & grins. Not one that I was too shattered to lose. It was great. Just plain fun, playing catch with some nice gold.
Brian had a couple of runs well upstream in mind. We arranged that he’d come meet us at the campsite the next morning if we didn’t catch up to him. Kind of telling that, there was no chance we were going to catch up. None. The caddis were coming and the next run upstream Amelia & I landed 5 rainbows and browns. We kept moving upstream picking up fish. The next high bank we thought we were running out of light. 9pm and the fish were lined up. I was blessed with the prime subtle seams and played a rather effective game of pitch & catch with 7 or 8 really nice trout. AJ hooked up with the trout of the day. Darkness loomed, though the caddis kept coming. We worked the run and stuck what was presenting.
Our excitement was high. We could still see on the pewter water. We knew a run just upstream that we’d sight-fished earlier in the day, the sliding riffle coming to the bank and the fish nosed into the trough coming off it. The bank was only about 15 feet above the river. We knew the features well, having looked at the run for the 90 minutes we’d sight-fished it. And we arrived back at that run under the stars of a moonless, dark sky.
But the trout were popping. Hard. By the time the last riser was heard, the last one to hand, it was incredibly dark, after 11pm. It was a great evening of double headers and wonderful trout. It was also time to head home. Up the bank we headed to the hay field to follow the fence line home. Enter this article’s title.
As it turned out, we didn’t have our headlamps, something we discovered as we followed the barbed-wire through the field to where we thought the gate was to get down to the river to follow it home. It wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Hmmm. We snuck under the fence and walked a bit. There was no trail that we could see, though by that point it would have to be lit up like runways at JFK to find it. We wandered about that side of the fence, not able to find the trail. We slid back under the fence, thinking we’d just follow it home. We came to a corner gully where the fence went up a hill. We considered following this unknown fenceline. No. We turned around and walked the fence back. It was now dark enough that we followed the idea of a fence. There was only enough light that from 18″ I could make sure we didn’t skewer ourselves on barbed-wire.
We got back down the 2km of fenceline to where we thought we’d finished our day. We weren’t sure tho as it looked like the river was 60 feet below us. Boy that rapid sounded big and loud in pitch dark!
We decided to walk a little further back down valley to get our bearings. We came into the trees we thought we recognized. And walked a little further until it was obvious that we’d come to the next hillside and cliff we’d spotted trout from a little further downstream. Walking somewhat aimlessly in a hay field was reassuring because we knew exactly where we were, but it was getting a little much that we couldn’t find a way to get to where we knew we were. But we had to determine exactly where we were so that we could walk down the 15 foot cliff instead of tumbling a 90 footer.
It was funny-as but a little concerning that we might have to sleep out in this field, given how close to our camper we were. Given how black the field and sky were, we walked arms-out to ensure that fenceline didn’t get us and made our way and found the sort-of general area. If it was daylight it would have looked absolutely stupid to watch the two of us gingerly sideslope down a soft slope of gravel, but here we were unsure if the river was 10 or 90 feet below.
And in about 10 steps our feet were wet.
It was 12:20 and we’d spent over an hour walking aimlessly, somewhat lost in a hay field.
Our reward was now right in front of us. Walk a pitch-black river’s edge for 2.5 km in the dark. Every few minutes we simply reminded ourselves to keep it slow and feel our steps: taking an extra 15 minutes to get back without rolling an ankle or twisting a knee would save fishing for the rest of the season.
All considered, we made good time, arriving back at the camper at 1:39am. That ice cold can of Coke I’d been thinking about for 10 hours was most excellent. I just hadn’t counted on it being 10 hrs later.