I had called in on David to discuss his radio advertising on Newstalk ZB, it was a normal workday, a Wednesday in fact, and a beautiful sunny, crisp one at that.
We both spend much of our time indoors with work, David with his rest home, and me with clients and their marketing needs. The river looked beautiful, so David got his dog from the van and we went for a short wander as we talked business.
I have lived in Christchurch for most of my adult life and have fished most of Canterbury's high and low-country rivers. But never the Avon. I have driven beside it daily, run around it often, crossed it by car a multitude of times… but never thought to fish it by fly, for trout.
We had only gone 20 metres when the big hen drifted quietly away from the bank into deeper water. Disturbed, but not startled she settled into a holding pattern an easy 10 metres away. The business talk dried up as we both laughed and discussed the distances we each drive to go for a fish, and here right across the road from David's work was a fine trout that any angler would be proud to land.
Into my truck and off to another appointment I jokingly suggested I would return tomorrow for another riverside meeting, but this time I would be packing a rod instead of a pen.
True to my word, but pushed for time, the next day found me standing in the parking lot at the rest-home setting up the Sage. The look of surprise and mirth on David's face as he came out the door to greet me told me he wasn't sure if I had been kidding or not the day prior.
Like a couple of schoolkids bunking class we grabbed the chance of a few precious minutes out. With only 40 minutes until my next appointment I quickly tied off my favourite stonefly pattern to 5-pound tippet, and over the road we went.
We dropped downstream about 150 metres from where we had seen the fish the day before. I always like to approach a fish from well behind it so as not to spook it. We looked a sight I can tell you! A pair of men dressed for business but sporting Polaroids and caps with a rod in hand. We drew more than a casual glance from passing motorists as we inched slowly up the bank.
We spooked a fish of 5-6 pounds within moments of starting, then in the next minute saw a decent fish just a few metres up. A couple of false casts to peel off some line and... Ker plop! The hen swooned over and sucked in the nymph, her mouth flashing white and then closing on the delicate morsel. Up went the rod-tip and BANG… it was all on! The hen exploded out of the water once, twice, three times. David on my shoulder shouted encouragement as he snapped off a few Kodak shots that I shall treasure for some time to come.
The hen had a bit of a run, but with so much weed in the Avon around “Kerr's Reach” I decided to work her in to the edge as quickly as I could. Oh no, I thought as she dove in to the deep weed bed at my feet 5 metres off the bank. I could see myself getting my feet wet! Sure enough in no time at all she was buried under a mass of green weed that she ran the line under and got caught up in. I tried unsuccessfully to get her to move for a few minutes, and then lady luck smiled on us!
Down the river came Guy (although at that point we didn't know his name). Guy is a rower, I believe the correct term is perhaps “sculler”, as he rows a one-man scull.
We yelled out to get his attention; we really did make quite a racket about it, shouting that we needed help to free a fish in the weed. By this time we also had the company of a couple of passers-by who watched on, intrigued by all the fuss and goings on. Guy, busy rowing, cast a look back over his shoulder to see what all the noise was about… and promptly upturned his scull in the middle of the river!!
Ahem, I draw your attention to photo one.
Being the cause of his misfortune I attempted to stifle my laugh… and David just kept on snapping off those Kodak's!
Well, there was no sense getting my good work gear wet now was there! Particularly not if there was already someone drenched to the skin. Poor Guy was all shades of blue as he hit the bank. He really did remarkably well to swim and push his upturned scull to the shore. A true gentleman, he covered almost twice the distance he had to, by swimming to our shore instead of the closer other shore.
Now came the best sale I made that day! Somehow, between David and I, we managed to convince Guy that he should get back in the water (bear in mind we had a –3degree frost that morning!) and attempt to free our fish for us. Would you? (It was about 8 degrees at the time.) I think not. Blimey, the cheek! We tip him out of his boat…. and now send him in to the river up to his neck to free our fish!
I must say at this point that there is “no way” I would have entered the water myself on even the hottest day, having heard stories of eels as thick as my thigh in this reach of the river. (Ooops I don't believe we mentioned that to Guy?!) So, here we see in this photo Guy up to his neck in weed and freezing water, as he nets my fish!
I don't know that I can really lay claim to catching this fish actually, I reckon its probably Guy's fish… but being as he hasn't a fishing licence we won't mention it to Fish and Game!
The poor fellow could hardly believe his ears. This next shot was taken just as I said to David, “Quick, get a shot or two before I let her go”. He had gone to all that trouble for a fish we were going to release…. He just could not believe it. Hey, but don't be too hard on me. Guy gets a story he can tell his Grandkids about, plus a slab of his favourite flavoured beer from me for being such a great sport! (And possibly a case of pneumonia).
Moments after Guy had departed David hooked in to a lovely 4-pound fish a few metres up from the last! The exact same thing happened. Bang. Splash. Jump. Run. Into the weed … stuck!
We flagged down a lady kayaker this time that attempted to free this fish to no avail. My only regret is I had run out of film by the time David stripped down to underwear and waded out into the weed to free the struggling hen!
What a day! I must say this really will be a day, a fish, and an experience to remember for years to come.
The Avon holds a large number of good fish I've since learned. The whitebait season is almost upon us and the trout come up after them I'm told. So, the next time you get a little stir-crazy at work, grab your rod and have a wee look at that river that I had overlooked all these years. It's definitely worth a stroll. Particularly across the road from The Avonside Rest home, at Kerr's Reach.
Oh, but do me a favour… don't yell out to the guys rowing.