One of my favorite lines from the Flintstones was when tough times hit Bedrock. Barney and Betty were down on their luck. Fred & Barney were comparing their suppers of late and Fred was complaining about warmed-over left-overs that Wilma was serving. Barney tried to make light of it all and shot back “You’re lucky, Fred. We have no warmed-over left-overs left over to warm-over”. Classic ‘stones, man.
I was reminded of that line as we left for this year’s trip to New Zealand. I knew from previous mouse years on the S Island that while the thrust of big fish is during the mouse year (ie: last year), the next year ain’t no slouch. Same waters, slightly smaller, much uglier fish coming off the year of feeding. I also learned to not say anything about it given how much attention we got last year from saying anything about mouse year fish but once. Yes, these left over Mouse Year fish – or Mouse-Overs if you will – I knew those fish would be there for the taking. Not that I’d take a Mouse-Over fish over a hot 4 or 5lb fish in a small stream, under the willows, but when you arrive to severe drought that has emptied the tiny tribs we love of water and fish, you’re left to go explore some new water that has water.
And there we were.
We stood across the river and got up on the bank. Across from us, on the inside, was a stunning fish. Healthy, freely feeding to beat hell, and about 9 pounds. Up, down, all round. Beautiful. We planned our approach to get to it, which required a nipple-deep crossing at the tailout just above some serious Class 4 white water for 400m below. As we scanned for the best crossing, our eyes were drawn to two dark smudges holding on the softest tailout edge across from us. “Mouse-Overs!” I called out. Last year’s mousey fish don’t all lose weight all at once. If you put on 120 extra pounds (proportionally) you don’t lose it all in a month. Niether do these fish. And there, sitting there like the lazy, slothenly, fat bastards they are, were two Mouse-Over monsters doing what they do: nothing.
But that doesn’t preclude casting to them and with a triple-tungsten-bead-head-nymph set up, Amelia launched the boulders onto the water just above the biggest fish. SMACK! These fish still didn’t care what we did and spot on to how it went last year, we simply had to get the flies in front of their faces and eventually you’d get a take. But on this, Amelia’s first cast, this fish actually moved 2 feet to eat. Fish On! The fight was great and luckily it went upstream instead of down. It raced upstream, right through the one fish in the run that was a healthy stud – I watched it scream away downstream as Amelia’s fish raced up. We ran up and down the bank and finally got Amelia’s 11 1/2 pound male to hand. It was fun to fight but the method and beauty were kind of lacking. 😉
To prove my point about Mouse-fish and Mouse-Overs, we walked the bank back to the tri-pod (yes, Amelia’s fish is on video) and re-composed ourselves. And we looked out to where her fish had been and looked for the second dark smudge – as expected it hadn’t moved despite all the commotion. Not fully enthused, it was my turn. I took AJ’s rod and set up and chugged the tungsten out. Ten casts later I had a take – I felt it but missed. 25 casts later, I felt it again. 50 casts after that I hooked up, solid. What I hadn’t seen was the original stud had returned to feeding 15m upstream. Sadly, my Mouse-Over raced up and through it before popping off. We never saw the original, hot, healthy fish that we wanted to have a go at again.
It’s funny how it goes: you don’t know if the fish you don’t want will spook upstream before you cast or walk past it, so you methodically have to work the run and the fish upstream in order to have a chance at the fish you do want. But in doing so you likely screw yourself out of the fish you do want anyway as you hook up the fish that you don’t. And this was prime example of exactly that. It was fun, but certainly not fulfilling. It’s a weird feeling to have, but when you know what you know of the fish that you know, you can spot the differences and the reasons for the differences, and your mind has a different gear for those things. Writing this 2 months later we’d both trade the 11 1/2 pound fish for the smaller, the value of engagements are simply that much different. But there again, were we really discounting the fish that came to hand? No. But if you know what I’m talking about, you know the difference.