It was a season or two ago now, we had been up high country Canterbury for a three day trip. The fishing had been excellent the first day with lots of hook ups and a fair number of fish being landed and returned to the crystal clear waters. We had decided early on that this trip would be “catch and release only”. After a big walk and lots of sun I was ready for a hot cuppa and my dinner!
I rummaged around in the supply box to dig out the brew and got a bit of a start as 2 mice jumped out of the box and hopped away! I hadn't struck mice on a riverbank in the daylight before....in fact, I couldn't even be sure id seen a mouse on a river at all. As dusk fell the ground around us came alive. There were mice everywhere!
As we sat and finished our meal, true night came on and our furry friends became bolder by the minute, scuttling around our feet, hopping up onto the cooker and frypan... and generally getting into EVERYTHING! At one point we counted no fewer than 15 mice in open view.... with lots of rustling in the nearby undergrowth, we were only seeing the tip of the iceberg. The comment was made that this could bode well for the fishery given that some of these mice may fall into the water!
The rest of our trip was beaut, good numbers of fish.....and lots of campfire company in the evening!
It was 3 weeks later I set forth, a drizzly Saturday morning with my thermos of hot coffee pushing back the fatigue of a late night. An old friend with a penchant for pan fried trout had hinted hopefully for a feed, so with a grin and a promise to fulfil I set forth to have a flick and while away a day in my favourite pursuit.
The river was on a fresh. Slight colour in the water made the spotting tricky. The drizzle had settled in and was doing its utmost to become full fledged rain. I'd been at it for 2 hours and covered a lot of water with no success when I saw the hen swinging boldly side to side in mid channel. A short fish, she looked around 3lbs in the water; a good pan-size my eye told me!
The fish was really on the move, darting back and forth, up and down, side to side.... she knew that river was coming up and this might be her last easily visible meal for a day or 4!
With the silt and colour, and the river gaining bulk and velocity by the minute I opted for a rather large hare's ear and a couple of split shot to get down to the depth at which the hen was feeding. I also lengthened my terminal tackle, adding another 3 foot of tippet to give me about 2 flyrod lengths of light gear to the business end of my presentation.
I put the nymph in the water about 10 feet in front of her and about 18 inches to one side. At the time I wasn't in the habit of using an indicator and liked to place my fly to the side where I could “see” a take. I needn't have worried too much about the presentation as she swung onto the nymph first cast. I leaned into the strike and the hook bit home.
Man did she give me a run for my money!!! This fish was small but feisty as hell, and ran me a merry chase up the bank and down again.
“When will she tire?" I asked myself as she continued to play me!!? Several minutes later I had her landed , quickly dispatched.. and ready to clean. The thing that surprised me was her girth, this was without doubt the fattest fish I had seen! When I opened her up the reason was only too apparent... mice... lots of them! I placed the mice on a rock in the order they came out of her gullet (the most digested being the farthest down her tract.)
Swallowed whole they have a few more calories than a nymph I guess! Indeed, this was the continuance of the mice plague I had seen on that “other river" weeks earlier.
My understanding is the mice flourish like this about every 5-7 years and their prolific numbers are due to the Beach Trees seeding. Perhaps I was being “spun a yarn” (as a fisherman I confess to revelling in a good story, and if there is an element of incredulity to some aspect of the tale then my imagination /gullibility tends to accept the presented as fact!).... But anyway, as I was saying , I'm told the mice eat the seeds of the Beach Tree, get a little drunk, or tiddly as the seeds ferment in their bellies, and... plop out of the tree... and into the water!
The pictured hen, in my estimate, for her length would usually weigh somewhere around the 3 lb mark... this fish weighed 5 lbs!!
As I said earlier, it was a season or two ago now and I trust the farmers will forgive me and understand when I say I can't wait for the next mouse explosion on our high country rivers!