Back at the boat we flooded the engine trying to start it. We left it a while, and then we flooded it again, just for good measure. We turned it over, and over, and over, with choke, without choke, but it just wouldn't start. Still, being the mechanical geniuses that we are, we got the nine-horse reserve motor going, and headed off home, into a freshening wind and a darkening sky. I reckon we could've swum back faster. By the time we got back, damp and shivering an hour and three quarters later, it was fully dark, and the beach was a barely visible strip of grey. Both of us knew we'd been lucky to find it at all.
At times like that, you'll thank your lucky stars that you have laid your camp out properly, that you can have a fire going in under five minutes, and hot food in your belly ten minutes later. But you'll be even happier if you've brought lots of beer with you.
We slept like babies last night. Well, I did. Moose slept like a migrating herd of wildebeest, several elephants with sinus problems, and a flight of B52's getting airborne during an earthquake.
It must have been too cold, too wet, or too windy before. Moose had warned me about them, of course, and I had been constantly vigilant, but I had only seen a few of them since our arrival. This was different. This time they wanted blood. The first one got me on the neck, the second on my right arm, and others were trying to get into my ears and up my nose. I tried beating them off, but it was hopeless. There were too many of them.
Sandflies. Little bastards.
It seems that sandflies are not early risers. Most of the time we'd be up and about by seven a.m., lighting the fire and so on. We'd have a blissful hour or so to ourselves before they arrived, and then there would be a mad dash to get the bug repellent out of whatever hidey-hole we'd left it in the day before. Of course, the amount of time it takes to locate your bug spray is directly proportional to the number of bugs that are trying to eat you. This is a useful formula, because it lets you know in advance just how bad things are going to get. If you can't find your bug spray the instant the first sandfly sinks its ravenous little mouthparts into your vulnerable flesh, then you'd be as well jumping into the Lake, because by the time you do find your bug spray, it's already too late.
They like tents too. Especially if you take great care to seal the tent up properly, and minimise the time that the entrance is left open. I think they see it as a challenge, and have in fact evolved the ability to teleport themselves through tent fabric. Mosquitoes can do it as well. They like to get you while you are sleeping, and relish the demented thrashing that happens dead of night, just after their victims have been by a high-pitched buzzing noise right next to their lugholes.
We tried fishing the two burns we'd fished on the first two days. The first was very quiet. The pool that had been so full of trout recently was now empty, and some leader material was hanging from a bush. In the face of this disappointment, Moose had a brainstorm that involved trying to find a small lake in the hills. According to the map, it was quite close. Indeed, it may have been quite close, but after two hours of slogging uphill and down dale in hot sunshine, we had to admit defeat. The bush was so thick that the only way we were going to find that lake was by falling in to it.
We weren't the only boat on the lake that weekend – it was Easter and other anglers had given the streams a good going over too. Before leaving the second burn, and just as the light was going, I had a rush of blood to the head and tied on a Woolly Bugger. It was a sort of brownish claret colour, about two inches long, and had bead-chain eyes. It looked horrendous. You just never know though, do you? I think that's why I lost the fish. I wasn't taking the Woolly Bugger seriously enough. I was just enjoying the twilight, fishing down and across and thinking about stuff, as you do, when the biggest brown trout I have ever seen hit me like an express train, waved its enormous spade of a tail at me, took me on to the backing, and then threw the hook. I hadn't been paying attention at all. Always be serious about the Woolly Bugger. Don't fool around with it.
Our last morning. The Lake was like a millpond. Breaking camp, we loaded the boat and idled past a couple of burn mouths with sinking line and lure trolled behind the boat. The echo sounder was showing a few fish on the drop off. Stopping at the mouth of the burn with the swing bridge, we fished for a while. Moose waded out a bit and got amongst some feeding trout. He was smashed by one on his third cast. I fished very hard in the pool where the river ran in, but with no success.
Later, off the mouth of another burn further south, we saw some rainbows cruising the drop-off about twenty feet down, and without exception they were all very big fish. If you stood there all day, with a Hi-D line, and a booby on the end, you'd no doubt hook one of them sooner or later.
We fished that burn mouth for a while. I took a couple of shots of Moose wading deep, out on the edge of the alluvial fan, hoping for the big one, but it didn't happen. We hadn't landed a fish in three days, and it was time to leave.
So we didn't do very well, really. At least, if you measure the success of a trip in terms of numbers of fish caught then we didn't do very well. But all the fish we did catch were unforgettable, never mind the ones we lost. Anyway, we went for the whole wilderness experience, and that's what we got. I had made some interesting discoveries as well. For instance, I discovered that wearing the same clothes for five days in a row is just fine, although I don't know if I'd recommend it around other people who aren't on a backcountry fishing trip. And you absolutely cannot live without toothpaste. Or beer. Or toilet paper.
I had such a great time that I'm going to do it all again. And with my wife.
Al GreigP.S. We stayed in the area for a few more days and caught loads more fish – fifty four of them – not that anybody was counting, or anything crass like that.
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.