We walked upstream, spying into the pools as we went. Moose spotted a fish and hooked it. I couldn't believe the time it took him to subdue it. I was shouting, “ Come on, give it some welly!”, as it tore off across the pool again. Moose was looking witheringly at me, and making excuses like, “ I can't do anything with it, it's too strong!”, to which my reply was,” But it's only a two pounder!”. It's the clear water thing again. If objects in the rear view mirror may appear smaller than they really are, then clear water makes NZ trout appear smaller than they really are. Or something like that. Anyway, it turned out to be a four pound rainbow, so I had to apologise. Further upstream I saw another rainbow, but this time the problems of scale I'd been having seemed to work the other way, because it looked huge. Moose agreed though, so it must have been huge after all. But we'll never really know how huge it was, because at the very moment it turned sideways and downstream to engulf my nymph, I had an involuntary right arm spasm that caused me to actually pull the fly away from the fish. I think it must have been a glimpse of the next, higher level of flyfishing that I've read about somewhere in Sexyloops. I think that part of me was ready to evolve, and that part of me recognised that there was no need to physically catch that trout. Pretty soon, if Paul is right, I won't even need a rod, I'll just imagine it all, and that'll be it. I will have attained one-ness. Yeah, right.
We saw a ten pound brown trout fifteen minutes later, but couldn't get near it. I had another fish in the pool where Moose caught his, and then another one back down at the mouth of the burn. I think Moose might have had one as well. And then he too experienced a higher level of consciousness, as he pulled his dry right out of the big white mouth of a rising rainbow. By then it was all too much, and I collapsed onto the gravel in a fit of laughter, pointing at Moose and yelling, “ Did you see that? Did you see that?”. What a day!
Another freezing night in the tent. When we got up it was still pretty windy, and there was snow on the hills down to maybe 3000 feet. We'd both been sleeping in the same clothes that we wore during the day. For me, that meant thermal leggings, lightweight trousers, two thermal tops, two fleece tops, breathable waders, a waterproof camo top, and a beanie hat, except that I took the waders and camo jacket off at night, in case Moose thought he was sleeping with some kind of fetishist. All that should have meant that we leapt out of our sleeping bags, ate breakfast and hit the water with the speed of a Special Forces team. Naahh! We still took ages to get going. Breakfast takes on a special significance when you know that you are going to be out there doing manly backcountry stuff all day, so it takes time to get it right, and the first coffee was so good it'd be a shame not to have another one, right? And after the second coffee hits your insides, you are going to have to spend some time on your own, in the woods…
We got the engine fired up and headed off to another burn. After scrambling up it for an hour or so, we hadn't seen, never mind spooked, a single trout, so we gave up and motored down to a burn that Moose fished on his first visit here ten years ago. He lost a good fish in it back then, so he was all fired up. We travelled quickly up through the first 1/2 mile or so, stopping infrequently to look for fish. The stream was braided, its course broad, and strewn with rocks and pebbles. We did see one good fish, but it refused what I offered it. Moose had a throw too, since it was still rising, but it still wasn't interested, so we left it alone. If I'd been at home I'd have pondered for a while, looked through the fly boxes, and then really tried hard, but when confronted with a new river the tendency is to race on upstream looking for new opportunities. It is a desire that will not go unfulfilled, and is a kind of addiction, but for me a great part of the pleasure in fishing is simply to experience more flowing water. I cannot envisage a time when I will not be utterly consumed by the idea that there might be somewhere even more alluring around the next bend. It means I catch less fish.
Off we went, like men possessed. The river was running through a gorge section, so we crossed it by way of a swing bridge, and ploughed on through the forest. There was no track, so progress was slow. Moss carpeted everything, and what looked like a nice solid tree trunk, lying flat on the forest floor like a convenient walkway, and pointing invitingly upstream, was more often than not rotten through, invariably at its point of greatest distance from the ground, causing bodily contortions that would not have looked out of place in a gymnastics competition. And they don't have to cope with a fly rod and waders in those, do they? If it wasn't rotten tree trunks it was concealed holes, or ferns, or bogs, or just really dense undergrowth. Upstream we eventually found the pool in which Moose lost the lunker ten years ago, so he had to have a go at it again. I was conscious that I was probably watching some kind of catharsis. The light was perfect for a photo', and a bluff of bedrock provided the ideal vantage point for me on the true left of the pool. I watched him work out line, and then drop his nymphs into the white water at the throat. He had to lift the rod and retrieve quickly to stay in touch, and then he was into a trout. It shot off upstream, line hissing off of the reel in the time-honoured fashion. I had the camera ready, and was looking forward to witnessing what was sure to be a fantastic battle from my raised viewpoint, when the look on Moose's face said it all. The fish had made straight for some hidden obstacle deep in the pool, and the fun was over. He could scarcely believe it. Ten years ago a fish did exactly the same thing to him, in the same pool. I have learned that sometimes, silence is the best policy.
We had to leave the river again and clamber through yet more forest before we got to another fishable bit of water. All the while I could hear Moose muttering away about the odds of the same thing happening twice, in the same pool, ten years apart blah blah blah…On and on we stumbled, until we had to stop for a breather because we were so completely knackered. A while after that, I lost the plot, except I didn't know I'd lost it until I realised I was standing on top of a huge boulder mid stream, with the sun on my back casting a long shadow, throwing as long a line as I could toward the tail of the pool, with my leader and flies tied into a hitherto undiscovered kind of knot. I remember telling myself that it was useless, that I should get off of the boulder, tie on a new leader, and find a new pool, but frankly, I couldn't be bothered. Maybe it was dehydration, or heat exhaustion. I called to Moose that the light would be going soon, and that we should head back to the boat. After all, we had all of that effing jungle to negotiate again. We crossed the river and, unaccountably, found a track, which led us all the way downstream, past the swing bridge, to the river mouth. We must have missed it by a few feet. It only took us forty minutes to walk back.
Will Moose catch a lunker? Will Al discover the ancient Maori tombs? How many bushmen does it take to build a swing bridge? All these questions and more! in next week's final instalment of Two men and a bush.
As well as being a fine upstanding gentleman, Al Greig also happens to be the first person in history to be taught the double haul, in a pub, by Paul, whilst drunk (Al, not Paul - Paul doesn't drink). In true Sexyloops' synchronicity Al, Moose and Paul just sort of bumped into each other in Te Anau. Al lives in Bonny Scotland where he says he doesn't need the double haul. Moose is the photogenic one.