“Poets talk about “spots of time,” but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment. No one can tell what a spot of time is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone.”
A quote from Norman Maclean from his book ” A river runs through it”. These words haunt me. I carry them with me every day I spend on the river.
My being is shaped by a single moment; it is eternally etched into my memory banks. Locked away, but constantly close to the surface contauting my thoughts and actions.
My moment occurred 15 years ago. At the time I didn’t even realise that it was a moment. It is only now, 15 years on that I now know that my moment was working away tirelessly in the background. It carefully manipulated me back to the river time after time. Like a drug that binds itself to your soul. A never-ending search to recapture the feelings, smells and visions I had experienced all those years ago.
I began irradiating brown trout from the rivers around the town of Westport on a spinning rod when I was 8 years old. By the time I was 12 I had become very proficient at pulling trout of the local rivers. A teacher at my school who happened to live 5 houses along the road from our family house asked if I was interested in learning fly fishing. I began the lengthy task of accumulating my pocket money so I could purchase the necessary fly rod. After some time I had the funds required for the transaction to take place. My first fly rod was amazing. A 9-foot fibreglass “Kilwell riverfly” in 7 weight. I promptly took the rod to the teacher’s house for him to pass judgement on. There was a look of distain plastered all over his face when he told me that a 7 weight was going to be too heavy for the fishing we would do. However he said we could proceed with the lessons with it anyway. After a few weeks of casting practice I was invited to fish with him and his 10-year-old son at the Inangahua River on a February morning. This was my first fly-fishing trip and boy was it exciting. Within minutes my teacher had hooked into a feisty 3lb fish. This was the first trout I had ever seen released. I could not believe it! What was the point?
By mid-morning it was my turn. I was placed behind a fish that I was told was 7lb. I cast the line towards the dark shape sitting on the bottom of the run. The line landed in a pile on top of the fish. It in turn decided that it did not like having its morning tea interrupted in that manor and swam to the other side of the river. My instructor told me that this was in fact a terrible cast and that I was not ready for such advanced trout extracting techniques yet.
I never went fly fishing with the school teacher again. In subsequent weeks I broke my inappropriately heavy “riverfly” in the spokes of my pushbike wheel. I returned to spinning and I was happy, the trout were not. When I was 18 I had mobility in the form of a car. I was able to fish further a field than was previously possible. This meant that I needed to do some research into other fishing locations. The library proved useful and had many books on the subject of trout fishing. All sources pointed me towards river “x”. Every book I read, talked in detail about river “x” and its huge trout. It was an hour’s drive from home so I decided that this would be my new river.
My first trip to the river was amazing. It was one of those classic West Coast rivers, honey coloured water and enshrouded by native beech forest. It was simply the most beautiful place I had ever cast my black and gold toby. I found fish everywhere, big fish too. I strode the riverbed confidently. I expected these fish would easily succumb to my fishing swagger. However cast after cast these trout would lazily turn towards my offering and follow it for a short distance and then just as lazily return to their position on the bottom of the pool. At then end of a fruitless day I contemplated what I could do to ensure success on the next visit.
I went back to the books I had read about river “X”. Maybe I needed to learn about these Hare ‘n’ coppers and Pheasant tails. At this stage in my life I had graduated from pocket money and was now working in a real job. Saving for a new fly rod was not a problem this time around so I walked into the local sports store and brought a Daiwa 6 weight fly rod along with a reel and line.
It was now 1999 and a mouse plague was underway. The mice were gorging themselves on the seeds from the beech trees and in turn the trout were feeding on the abundance of mice that were undertaking the big swim to the other side of the river. The trout in river “X” were simply huge. Over that summer I was a regular Saturday visitor to the river. I knew every trout and every rock in every pool that summer. I harassed those fish to within an inch of their lives. 11 consecutive Saturdays I made the trip to the river. 11 consecutive Saturdays I returned home without capturing a fish. My swagger had well and truly disappeared. In the beginning my casting was my biggest hindrance. With midweek lawn practice i got to the stage where my casting became functional. I was able to straighten a leader more often than not and I was hitting some of the targets I was meant to hit with the fly. My lack of casting skill was compounded by my dismal selection of flies in my box. I had 7 flies all of which were inappropriate for the river, time of year and time of day.
It was late January and the days were long and hot. I was undertaking my 12th Saturday trip to the river. The day began just as the previous 11 had; the fish in the first pool ignored my fly and swam off under the same rock on the other side of the river it had gone to every week since early October. I was determined that today was going to be different. Little did I know that this day would change the rest of my life forever. As the day warmed the cicadas in the trees began to chirp and in turn the fantails began to chase the weak flying insects all over the valley. By after lunch the sound of the chirping in the trees was deafening. I got to thinking that these clumsy fliers must end up on the surface of the river and most probably inside the ravenous trout. I proceeded to tie a cicada like fly to the end of my tippet.
The next run I came to held a trout I had come to know over the season. He spent most of his time feeding at the head of the run on my side of the river. I had found that it was a beginner friendly piece of water to fish with a lack of fly eating trees and a hassle free drift. Today as with every other day the trout was in attendance. He looked big today. He was sitting high in the water column and was eating vigorously. I walked up to the usual spot that I made the cast from and picked up the line and began my ritualistic false casting. The cast felt awkward with the large cicada fly on the end but I managed to get it out there eventually. It hit the water with a splashy plop. My first thought was that I had hit the water too hard and I had spooked the fish. The fly danced its way along in harmony with the current towards the huge black shape. As it passed overhead there was no reaction from the fish. Within the next second the fish turned violently and took off downstream. I lost sight of the fish and feared the worst. I could see his usual bolt-hole so I turned my focus to it in the hope that I would get one last glimpse of the big fish before he went in. Out of the corner of my eye there was a movement near my fly. It had drifted another 5 meters past the position where the fish had been sitting. Slowly but deliberately a massive set of jaws emerged from the water and engulfed my fly. The fish disappeared below the water and instinctively I pulled the line tight. For the first time there was resistance and life at the other end. I could see the huge bulk of fish on the bottom thrashing its head from side to side. These head-shakes transferred through the line making the tip of the rod buck wildly. The fish then did the predictable thing and swam strongly towards its rock. It sensed freedom and accelerated with purpose. I felt I needed to do something to prevent this so I pulled hard away from the direction the fish was going. At first I felt the fish relent but a second bust from the fish, much stronger than the first ripped line out from through my hands. I clamped down harder and then nothing. Nothing came in the form of a limp fly line. The fish was gone.
My fishing ended at that run. The fish had taken my only cicada fly. It was a long walk back that day. A real spot in time had occurred and even though I did not know it at the time the cogs were beginning to steer me towards recreating that moment. Time has done nothing to lessen the effects of that moment. It still drives me to explore new places, try new flies and catch better fish. This was the moment that cemented fly-fishing as part of my being and drove me to become a fly fishing guide.
Guiding gives me the opportunity to witness others experience their moment. It is a great feeling knowing that you will be forever part of somebody’s fishing memory.
Fly-fishing is a passion that we all enjoy. As long as we have our memory and an able body we will return to the river to recreate that special moment.