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10/02/03 - The Zone

Action and the first fish of the trip, note the cool camo look (Guy)“I'm in the Zone, Tom, stand back now”
“Is this far enough?”
“No, way back: I'm going in”

Aquapac is a unique, patented range of 100% waterproof cases for all your personal electronics, communications equipment and valuables.” – sounds good.

The Backcountry

Where trout average just under 7lbs you don't kiss and tell, especially when it's free. Instead you just kiss. Some people have misunderstood me, I don't block out the names of New Zealand rivers for the sake of guides, I do it because I believe it's the right thing to do – for the fish. And I certainly don't wish to popularise flyfishing, because for me flyfishing is about one thing more than any other: solitude.

The fact that you can still go anywhere on this earth, fish a river which is free (let's face it: 100 NZ dollars for a yearly rod licence is free), freedom camp beneath the stars, lighting real fires as you travel, without seeing another soul, or footprint even, and catch 5 to 10 pound trout, in a place full of awe inspiring beauty, I find really quite amazing and something far too precious to lose. Thankfully there are other places like this, and I'm eternally grateful that we still have this legacy.

Tom's first fish of the trip, caught while jigging from the top of a log jamI really don't care one iota for politics, religion, patriotism, consumerism or any other superficial distraction. All that matters, I think, is that somehow we manage to keep places like this free from development and pathetic regulations. And I mean that we don't turn it into Disneyland either. And I don't believe that these places exist because governments are enlightened – these places only exist where nature is at its most harsh. That it stays this way is up to us.

If you're looking for something more special than the average waterproof bag, you've found the right place.” – just waterproof would be enough for me actually.

Stake out

Tom and I camped and fished a nameless remote backcountry river for five days. The forecast wasn't good, but we thought we'd chance it. A bad spell of weather can be dicey; one time up the West Coast I cleverly managed to get myself stuck in one place for 8 days, and I still haven't learned any sense.

I said: “Tom, I'm on fire, this could be one hell of a trip.”
“Does this mean you may actually catch something this time?”
“Stand back now; I'm dangerous.”

The camp fire, and drying rackWhen flyfishing, this is how events normally transpire. A fish is spotted:

“There's one!”
“Nice fish – go for it.”
“No, no, kind sir – you're up.”
“I couldn't possibly, you fine upstanding gentleman with a flyrod. It would be an honour to watch you catch the beast.”
“The honour would be mine I am sure. Look, I insist dear chap, I even have the camera ready to film you in splendid action.”
“Really, I've already caught large and numerous fishes in my lifetime; I really want to see you catch this one, old chap. Now be a good boy and go to it.”
“Are you quite sure?”
“Absolutely positive, just don't fuck it up.”

Fresh at the start of a new dayWhen you're in The Zone, it goes slightly different:

“There's one!”
“Nice fish – go for it.”
“Right, stand back: I'm going in.”

The log

It was Tom who thought we should carry the log back to camp. It was no small log either; indeed “fallen tree” would be a far more appropriate description. It would take two of us using all our strength to accomplish the feat. Quite why he thought we should return with it to camp, when all around camp there were other logs, of far more manageable proportions, logs that would burn and keep us warm for ages, and not just sit there looking at us for the next five days, logs that we wouldn't have to carry very far at all, and certainly not the half kilometre that was now required of us, and that wouldn't tire us out, or twist Tom's knee in the process, he couldn't say exactly. Indeed the task was a Herculean one, and perhaps because of this fact alone, we felt that it was something that we should do, indeed it was possibly why we had come here in the first place, to carry this damn tree back to camp.

Tom admires this log and decides that he must take it back to campTom said (panting): “You see that's what makes us unique; you wouldn't get other people carrying logs back to camp in the dark like this. They simply wouldn't see the humour.”
Me (breathlessly): “It's a crazy fucked up world, Tom, that's for sure.”
Tom (wheezing): “Maybe we should get some more after this one – argh my knee.”

The Aquaclip is the key to all Aquapacs. An amazing little clamp which hermetically seals the case with a simple twist of a lever.” – I wonder if they tested it in the wet?


When you're in the Zone, you're possessed by the devil and become an out-and-out fish catcher. You simply can't help yourself; you're insatiable. You run from pool to pool, bounding across rocks and fallen trees. To see a fish is to catch one. It's carnage. Everything happens: you see, you cast, you conquer. Nothing will stop you in your quest. You know no fear. The impossible becomes possible, and the possible: certain. You love every minute, there's no time for lunch or dinner, in fact you hardly know where you are, so complete is the focus – it's the all there is. You have become a finely tuned animal, teetering on the brink of perfection.

A meeting of sortsIt was a short swim

Given half a chance I was off; Tom would only have to say that he was going to work the fish for a bit, and that he would catch me up, and that would be it; I'd be round the corner, over the next pool and away, driven ever onwards by the need to catch more and more fish. It was heady stuff.

I carefully inserted the cameras into the Aquapac case and sealed the case with a simple twist of the lever, whether it was hermetically sealed I couldn't say for sure, not knowing what that was, but I would find out shortly.

The Swim

Healthy bush eating, Sexyloops-styleJust because the water's icy cold snowmelt didn't mean dick, I could see fish everywhere and having to swim across the river only went to increase the stakes. Who wants life to be rational when it can be an adventure?

I don't wish to offend the manufacturers but Aquapac, put quite simply, are crap. I don't care that they've been awarded a “Millennium Product Status” – both my digital cameras took a ducking, and only one survived the ordeal. Later Tom said: “Stick it by the fire, the heat will help dry it out and before you know it you'll be snapping away again, like a beaver.”

Tom's so full of grand ideas and that the heat from the fire melted the lens cover I don't hold against him, it's not his fault he's an imbecile and should never have been let outdoors.

Fish pornThe swim produced a couple of six-pound rainbows. I miscalculated – I was expecting doubles. It's like that when you're possessed. However I cleverly concealed the fact that the fish weren't bigger than the rest of the stream, and told Tom that I thought there was at least one double lurking on the other side, and that we should return to the same spot the next day and both swim across the river. Tom wasn't so sure, said that the couple of times he'd had to wade out to his waist was more than enough and that although he didn't really want children, he still hadn't completely made up his mind on the matter, and that it would be foolhardy to risk everything over a couple of fish and apart from which, complete immersion may leave him permanently damaged in the head.

I told him not to worry, and that it might actually do him some good.

Early morning company

There's something about sandflies that isn't quite right. I saved one from a certain drowning by wine, not a particularly fearsome demise it is true, only to discover that all it wanted to do was bite my finger. Sandflies are bastards. I don't know how they managed it, but they also discovered that they could climb through the impossibly small gap between the tent zippers, and having discovered this fact they then proceeded to mount a coordinated early morning invasion.

Lying in the tent in the morning, with a few dozen of the smartest creatures on the inside, listening to the gentle drum of the others trying to get in, which sounds very much like rain incidentally, and I've been fooled by it in that way before, you visualise your emergence: it's dramatic – an explosion of energy as you leap through the tent in one courageous movement, picking up clothes and insect repellent on your journey.

The second swim, you can tell I've raced triathlonsThat you trip across your trousers on the way out and then stumble around the ground searching for the repellent in a mad sandfly-induced hand-waving-about-the-head frenzy, watched on calmly by Tom who's sitting in his tent tying flies, only goes further to exasperate matters.

I suppose that one has to be philosophical about these things, and remember that sandflies help keep the wilderness wild; that you can only stand so much of them before even the 8lb trout become insignificant.

Tom's rod tip

On the last day but one Tom lost his rod tip. He wasn't sure how it had happened precisely, but in trying to catch up with me, he had somehow managed to lose the top section of his rod, and then spent the next four and a half hours looking for it. I had been wondering what had happened to him, in between fish, in an absent sort of way.

So a mission was born: The Search for the Missing Rod Tip. The proposed task was to find two and a quarter feet of brown Sage rod tip, in dense bush, and without first standing on it. Tom said it was quite impossible, that he had already tried looking for over four and a half hours and he knew exactly where he lost it. I said that if he knew exactly where he lost it then he would have found it. Tom said I was an arse.

Tom ponders life and whether he really needs his rod tip after allWe went to the place and began the search. I searched up and down, thinking that maybe it was hooked up in the branches and that Tom had been so busy looking at his feet that he had missed it. The bush was quite dense, but I was optimistic.

It was some of the finest backcountry fishing I have experienced. On Tuesday we landed 15 fish between us, all weighing between 5 and 9 lbs.

Beneath a small bush I discovered the tip, but instead of telling Tom right away, I decided to tuck it down my shirt instead, and continue along with the search. I caught up with Tom who was now desperately searching the riverbanks. I said: “Tom, try in the water, there's a bit of a ledge out there, you'll have to wade out a bit, probably up to your waist, I think that's where you'll find it.”

Tom however decided that he'd rather wrestle with a twenty-pound eel – that's the problem with some people, no dedication to the cause.

It costs nothing, which is as it should be; rivers, fish, this planet is for everyone.

Bigger fish and a beer

On day five Tom said he was fed up with catching small fish – in the meantime he'd redefined the word small to mean anything less than nine pounds – and he'd like now to catch some bigger fish – you know fish of over nine pounds and preferably over ten, and have a beer of course. In fact, thinking about it, all he really wanted was a beer. I had to agree with Tom for once – every so often he does make sense – and a beer did sound like an excellent plan, although several beers would be a better one. So we decided to abandon camp, and in our haste to do so, Tom managed to leave my sleeping bag behind.

Wet wading is such fun, I can't think why they invented wadersWhen you're in the Zone nothing else matters.

When Sexyloops has run its' course, I think I'll disappear and return to this life; I know of none better.

I used to have a girlfriend who believed that you only lose things when you don't need them anymore. And that when you need something it comes along. Which is quite a beautiful vision, however the nights here are 8 degrees and I'm sleeping in my clothes again. You can turn anything around, just by changing your point of view, but you can't make it warmer, not without matches.

The problem with the Zone is that you become kamikaze. On the way out we saw a nice 6lb brown sipping small duns right beneath our bank.

“Paul! A fish!”
“Stand back – I'm going in”

I think it's time for a beerIt wasn't exactly a graceful leap, but it was a leap none-the-less, that I landed on the bank and not in the river, I think surprised Tom quite a bit, I know it surprised me, but I hid it well – that's what it means to be a professional; you learn how to make your mistakes look like they were intended and skilful – and I immediately launched the humpy straight into the branches behind me. The Zone is a high stakes, on the edge, over the edge place to be… it's just that sometimes you also look a bit stupid.

This week: Saltfly continues. The Fly is back. The Flow gets the Hedged Bet approach. There will be a movie, of sorts. I may be about to unleash a new series. Sean's in action. And I'm going to talk to Tom Rowland about casting over 120 feet with a five weight, because he consistently can and I consistently can't. But I'm also going fishing – I have to run with this thing as long as it lasts… which may not be very long at all of course.

From Sean:

'Look at me!' I am without house or city, property or slave. I sleep on the ground. I have no wife, no children, no official home, but only the earth and sky and my bit of a cloak. And what do I lack? Am I not without distress or fear? Am I not free?' - Epictetus

Seems like I'm right back where I was ten years ago – strange how life works. At least now I know I was right, and I'm not getting sucked down that path again. Only you can be in control of your happiness, so why hook up?


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