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Autumn in Fiordland. Or, two men and a boat. Part 2.
by Al Greig

In case you missed the adventure beginning, here it is again.



We had to go to the supermarket to stock up on provisions. This was going fine until we found out that it was Easter Weekend. Normally that'd be cool, of course, except that the part of the shop that sold the really essential provisions, ie the booze, was closed on Friday and Sunday, due, a notice proclaimed, to NZ's 'Prehistoric Licensing Laws'. Moose panicked. I was practically vibrating with distress. We checked with the staff. It was not a mistake, and our shared visions of celebrating successful days by getting loaded around the camp-fire at night evaporated as surely as the mist was lifting from the Lake. This was untenable. Two Scots going bush for five days without a drink? Salvation came in the form of Mark Excel, proprietor of Edgewater Excel, the Motel we were staying in, (spend a night, not a fortune!) who, upon hearing of our dreadful predicament, promptly furnished us with a case of Speight's beer. Top Bloke.

Doug picked us up from the motel at 10.30am. We stowed all our gear, and drove out to the slip. His boat is a 5.3 metre stabicraft, powered by a 90 horse Mercury. Doug instructed us carefully in its operation. There is also a 9hp auxiliary motor, VHF radio, flares, lifejackets, a lifebelt, and an echo sounder. We gave the appearance of having paid close and careful attention to everything he said, so he waved us off. Once on the plane, she'll do 30 to 35 mph at about 4,000rpm. We could go faster, but fuel consumption would go up drastically. It took us about an hour and a half to get to where we wanted to be, and a bit longer to find a beach to pitch the tent on. We had to stop for a bit first, just for a look around. What little wind there was died away, and the sun came out. It was an unbelievably beautiful place. It felt completely remote. The hills there are about 6,000 feet high, snow-capped, and from maybe 5,000 feet to the water's edge, they are smothered in forest so dense that you could call it jungle. And, just to cap it all, as we idled in toward the beach, a respectably hefty trout swam right past us. Fantastic.

this photo Al entilted 'bonny' - I suspect this may be a slight understatement - of course I've probably just screwed up the picture order.

We had to pitch the tent on the beach, because there was nowhere else to pitch it. I had a bad tent-on-beach experience a while back, mainly due to a gale force wind springing up in the wee small hours, so I reinforced the tent by dropping the biggest rocks I could find on the guy ropes. The wind had got up again, and was blowing directly out of the (snow-capped) hills and on to the beach. The sun was still up there, it was just that the clouds obscured it from view. At least we hadn't seen any sandflies…

We decided to scoot across the Lake to a stream Ian Murray told us about. He made us promise to keep its location a secret. It couldn't have been completely secret though, because another boat nearly put ashore beside us. Only when he saw the waders and rods did he move on, with a cheery parting gesture. Unfortunately he'd come close enough to spook a fish I'd spotted sipping duns where the stream entered the Lake, so we moved upstream into the woods. We'd only travelled fifty yards or so, but we'd entered another world. The forest was lushly verdant, the wind completely gone. Moss carpeted the ground and crept up tree trunks and branches, tree ferns twenty feet tall or more flung canopies the same width into the air, and through it all ran a stream so clear that it was difficult to gauge the depth of it. Our perception of distance and scale seemed to disappear, and the trout, when we saw them, didn't look so very big at all. There must have been ten of them in the pool Ian told us to fish.

Since this whole trip was for Moose's 40th birthday, I urged him to have first crack. Very big of me, I know. We had both spotted a rainbow in the tail of the pool, so that would be the first victim. The royal wulff landed first, followed by the hare and copper. The fish looked at the dry, then saw the nymph, and dropped back to inspect it. I think both of us probably stopped breathing just about then. It was so electrifying. Then the trout moved back upstream – it hadn't taken! Both of us resumed breathing. I think I whispered, “ Bollocks”, or something equally appropriate. Moose had begun to lift the rod and retrieve line, since his flies were about to be dragged downstream over the lip of the pool, when there was a movement almost at our feet. It was a fish, and it had taken hold of the nymph on the far side of a small rock at the outflow of the pool, in water six inches deep. Not long afterwards, a beautifully marked brown of three pounds was in the net. Moose was wearing a grin like a split watermelon, and I was whooping like a, well, like a guy who'd just witnessed something sublimely, and ridiculously lucky. Neither of us had a clue that the fish was there at all. I mean, why would it be, when it had a pool thirty yards long to swim about in? Lesson learned – always expect the unexpected, and try not to forget that you learned the lesson.

Moose! The photogenic one.

We made a fire on the beach that evening. It was quite windy, and no matter where we sat, we got smoke in our eyes. Still, it was the best smoked/barbecued steak I have ever eaten, by a long long way, and the Speight's was nectar, after we'd cooled it in our own private campsite stream.


Bloody awful night in the tent. It was very stormy for a long time. A lot of wind and rain. I was worried about the tent, despite putting boulders on the guy ropes. It was also freezing cold, enough to wake us both up shivering several times. All of our body heat was sucked down into the gritty sand underneath the groundsheet. Both of us ruefully remembered being in Sportsworld, and looking at the insulated sleeping mats. We were going to buy one each. Why the fuck we didn't is anybody's guess.

The four hour breakfast.

We got up at 6.45am, and checked around the site for any damage. Things just needed tightening up a little. We moved the firepit up to the treeline, and behind some Manuka bushes, then rigged up the tarp as a windbreak, and got the fire going. Hot coffee and one of those rehydrated meal deals – breakfast in a bag. It had mashed potato, scrambled egg, bacon, and a separate packet of (not chilli) beans. It was tricky pouring boiling water out of the billycan into the little bean bag. You have to understand that we were cold and hungry, so when the bean bag slumped over and dumped the beans and boiling water all over the gravel, it was not a good thing. Beans and grit don't go so well together. The rest of it was pretty good though. By the time we were ready to go fishing it was 10.30am. I still don't understand that – at home I'm ready to leave the house 45 minutes after I wake up, and that's to go to work, somewhere I am ambivalent about attending. So how come we manage to take nearly four hours to get ready to go fishing, when we have spent a lot of money, and travelled a long way to be here? It's a mystery almost as impenetrable as whiplash theory.

We walked along the shore for about twenty minutes to get to that day's venue. This burn entered the lake by way of an estuarial pool about sixty five yards long, and that's where I saw a trout. I'd approached across a broad shingle bank, keeping low and trying to be stealthy, when I saw it take a morsel off the surface, and then drop back downstream. I had to follow it down quickly to stay in touch, until it stopped and took up position six feet off the shingle. I was twenty yards away, and there was a strong wind on my right shoulder. I had to side cast to be in with a chance, and only my leader would land on the stream. The first two range-finding casts hit me on the back of the head, but I got the line out just fine. I watched the fish move sideways, and then the royal wulff slid underwater. He'd taken the nymph. Time passed very slowly. It was still very windy, but I couldn't hear the wind. I couldn't feel the gravel under my knees, nor the rain on my face. My whole existence was a blurred shape turning downstream in a wind-whipped crystal clear stream 12,000 miles away from home. I don't even remember raising the rod and tightening into him, but I must have, because suddenly I was back on earth, and running down the beach after him, yelling to Moose to get his camera out, and his net ready. I was full to the brim of the terror that I might not get to see that fish, as if it was the only fish in the world, and wouldn't get to hold it for that couple of precious seconds before release. But release it I did. It was a three pound Brown, not as buttercup yellow as the one Moose caught the day before, but more silvery, and less heavily spotted. Fish are peculiar things in the memory – they are fluid, like their element. People say they can remember every inch of a particular fish, but I can't. Even now, looking at a photo of it, I know I didn't have long enough to absorb all the magnificence of it, before I had to let it go. There is no such thing as enough time to marvel at a trout.

Al Greig

To be continued...

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.


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