I'm physically drained, battered and bruised. Backcountry fishing is harder than running a half marathon every day. And I should know; I used to run a half marathon every day. Scrambling, climbing, wading, boulder-hopping, pulling yourself up embankments, fighting it out with thorn bushes... a rock gives way and the fall knocks the wind out of you. Your hands are bleeding and there's the constant annoyance of sandflies....
Moving upriver fast, reading the water, on the lookout for good holding lies - and there aren't many here, not in the headwaters - constantly on edge lest a fish knows better. Scanning the good lies fast, slowing when one screams "fish", but for the last two miles there's been absolutely nothing.
And then suddenly, rounding a bend, there is good water and on the edge of the current materialises a big bulldog brown trout, finning.
Everything is autopilot, the going in low and fast, unhooking the fly as you travel, stripping line off the reel and then... your delivery. The brain's already worked out the currents, where to place the fly, where to place the line. There is no conscious thought only the "DON'T FUCK UP, DON'T FUCK UP" scream in the recess of your mind. Without this there is no edge: too easy and there is no edge. One cast to get it right, there are no second shots.
The cast is delivered. Now follows that indescribable moment as you watch the fish as the fly drifts toward him, closer, closer, he's seen it! His prey! He moves upon it, rising up through the current and opens his enormous gob and inhales the fly.
"DON'T FUCK UP, DON'T FUCK UP". Pause, WATCH THE FISH and... STRIKE!
The fish erupts from the water, twists, turns and takes off, rolling around rocks, trying to free the fly on boulders, submerged branches, anything. But you're on the chase, leaping into the cold water, not feeling it, trying to keep nothing between you and your fish.
Net in mouth you think you have the opportunity for a quick landing, closing in on the fish, CHRIST! it's bigger than you thought, well over eight pounds, he has length, does he have the girth for a double?
Closer to the fish now, he turns, sees you and is off like a rocket, upstream between boulders and then... oh no, what's happened? He's not fighting anymore. It's just gone solid.
You work your way upstream following your line, and he's in a hole! You try pulling him. That doesn't work. So you give him slack. No go. You try bouncing the rod, changing angles. Nothing. So you poke him with the rod tip a few times. He doesn't like this, and he's back out and on the run.
You're careful now because you know the leader's been damaged. Round rocks, upstream, downstream. Now he's close to the net and... Ping.
Good river this one. A few big fish. Landed a small 4lb fish on the way in. I'll be back. And the best thing about it? No son-of-a-bitch yelling and whooping to let you know he's caught a fish. This is New Zealand.