During the period
from Christmas to Easter, the bookings come thick and fast.
This is the time when most people get a holiday. Each morning
a new client, a new piece of river and a new set of skills
to pass on, be it polarizing or size eighteen dry fly, everyone
has different needs.
David and I run
a guiding service on the Goulburn River at Thornton. As river
guides we are outfitters and suppliers as well as providing
a short circuit for visiting fly fishers so that they can
find out how to fish the river quickly, so that there valuable
leisure time is maximised. Part of this is the Drift Boat
service we offer. Inflateable's rigged with oar frames. Shortly
after Easter we found a day in the appointment book that was
vacant. The first one for months. I duly wrote in it, 'Guides
day off', as neither of us had had a real day off since Christmas.
enhances the delight of fly fishing and so it was with us.
As the day approached we thought of all the chores we had
neglected. The backlog of obligations that had been mounting
over the weeks and to divide our time into catch-up tasks
seemed a churlish waste of good fishing time.
say we take the raft below Alexandra for a change?..."
ya 'bout nine...."
I had studied
the maps and aerial photos and I knew of some connected backwaters
I wanted to explore. David must have been mining a similar
the cumbungi reeds and crack willow and like two explorers
seeking the source of the Nile, we made our way onto the river.
As the water became deeper we penetrated the final barrier
of growth, the nose of the raft pushed out into the Goulburn.
High and wide, fast and clear, the mighty Goulburn was at
peak summer flow. Opposite were the high banks and open pastures
of the lower Goulburn. Positioning the raft angled into the
current, I drew hard on the oars and felt the inflatable keel
lift and draw the boat into a rapid ferry glide across the
current. As we approached the opposite bank I stood up and
passed the oars to David.
first and Ill hold you in the current opposite this bank",
Out snaked the
line and the Knobby hopper landed with a plop. It sat there
motionless below the bank as the back eddy slowly filled a
belly in the line. 'Clock'!, the sound of the take was an
audible clunk of closing mouth in water. I set back on the
rod and it went into a full arc. A good fish burst out of
said David as it crashed around.
unhooked and released, I sat down to take over the oars.
I said smugly.
You have to squeeze
every drop out of a situation like this when you hook a great
fish on the first cast of the day. There is always a great
deal of argey-bargey and banter about who is catching fish
and who isn't, that goes on in the raft.
Once we were
in the back eddy off the main current we rowed up the river
towards a tangle of snags. The Polaroid's allow you to inspect
the bottom. Standing motionless in the front, David was scanning
the bottom ahead, when I caught a movement to my left. Drifting
off the weed bed and into the dark shadow was a huge rainbow
about eight or nine pounds. I saw his spots and a glint of
pink side as his pale green form melted out of sight. I told
David who repeatedly passed the fly through the shadow to
no avail. We made a vow to return to this spot again soon
and turned the boat into the fast glide to seek out the next
good hopper bank around the corner.
to catch several good fish. Then we became aware that this
was a phenomenal day. Every fish in the river seemed to be
up , including the leviathans. I have experienced days like
this before, but they are rare, and you are indeed lucky if
you happen to be there when it happens.
It must rely
on a conjunction of all the factors. Water temperature, insect
emergence or food supply, phases of the moon and tidal activity,
barometric pressure, rising or falling or stable water level,
who knows what the combination of factors are. I once read
about a Maori fishing table for New Zealand that had developed
from observation over the centuries. This linked cloud cover
and fine days to phases of the moon and lunar calendar. First
day of the full moon with cloudy sky, good fishing. Sloan's
solunar table from America and other tables from England all
claim to predict the activity of fish. The American tables
were devised during the Depression as a money making exercise
by someone trying to save his family from starvation. They
have been sold ever since and for a fee you purchase them
for your computer, suitably adjusted for all around the world.
They all miss the point. Fly fishers go fishing despite all
the direst warnings from the weather bureau or the least propitious
signs from the entrails of dissected chickens. They go because
they want to fly fish. Other anglers view fly fishers with
suspicion because of this. What weird rituals do they perform,
what drives them to go fishing when clearly the signs say
that it is pointless! When asked the eternal question, "When
is the best time to go fly fishing?" I reply, "Whenever
you can get away..."
This is the only
way that you will be there when it happens. If it happens
to you five times in a lifetime you have been blessed. After
five you had better start watching yourself for the end is
This was such
a day because the next fish turned out to be well over three
and a half. He was rising in a reverse current under a big
red gum. I positioned the raft and did a couple of holding
strokes as David cast in his direction. He rose again, further
down the bubble line. This fish was a cruiser, an omni feeder,
taking anything edible as he mooched along.
hopper was sitting up nicely when he rose about a metre away,
but clearly headed in the right direction. 'Slurp', down it
went and up came David's rod with a buck as the hook went
home. Under the raft he went and wild panic ensued. A bent
rod pointing over the side while a jumping fish clears the
water on the other. Shortly after he was subdued, photographed
and released and then it started. I had retired prematurely
after my first fish and now David had a bigger one, more fish
and better fish to boot. My earlier gloating was rearing up
to bite me. As compensation I get as big a buzz when someone
else lands a beauty assisted by me, as if I had caught it
myself but this thought remained private.
Soon the fishing
dropped off and long drifts elicited no response, no risers
were apparent. We glanced at the watch, it was surely lunch
time. "Four-thirty" said David as we munched on
a chocolate bar. We had not noticed the time, the concentration
had been so intense.
A bit of rest
and refreshment and we were into it again with renewed vigour
but the best had gone. Those few hours have passed into memory
but the day had not quite finished with us yet.
We had entered
a long slack section of river that was very deep and slow.
Overhanging ti-tree from steep hillsides made for black bottomless
holes with slow drifts circulating, marked by flecks of tiny
Lazily we drifted
past these corners searching with the Knobby hopper, making
it plonk as it landed or bouncing it off a tussock to
get it hard under the bank.
We saw the dimple
rise together and David shot a long line across to the bay.
A dimple followed and it seemed an eternity before he drew
the rod up to a full arc. All hell broke loose as I scrambled
for the camera. Under and out the other side he went, around
the boat from front to back and then the acrobatics started.
Coming from deep down he cart wheeled out of the water going
end over end before crashing back into the deep and scorching
the line through the water to repeat the jump four times,
In danger of
passing out from holding my breath while firing the camera
in his direction, I passed David the unfolded net. David was
probably hyperventilating from the adrenalin rush as he netted
him out while he still had some vigour. We try to do this
so that they don't become completely exhausted and require
reviving before release. A rapid set of photos followed before
the hook was extracted and the net lowered into the water.
A few moments later a kick from his tail propelled him out
of the net into the depths. We were shaking.
The run home
to the car pick up point gave us time to reflect on the day.
This last fish was in the vicinity of six pounds. Beautifully
proportioned, an obvious young fish that was rapid grown to
achieve a noble size. The large brown spots patterned his
whole flank and under his shoulder. The best photo of the
jumping fish shows an out of focus fish going out of
frame about a metre out of the water. My reflexes weren't
quick enough to contend with the speed. But I do know that
David treasures a shot of himself holding a magnificent brown,
and the smile on his face says it all.
We had experienced
a fantastic day and we know that it will be unlikely to be
repeated for some time to come. It has since proven so, several
returns have failed to produce such amazing results. Never
the less the fishing has been good and if it was easy all
the time we wouldn't bother. It is this contrast that
keeps us going. everyone has blank days now and then and these
are rewarded when we encounter a day when, rare as they are,
it seems you can do no wrong. The fish glide up to your first
offering and swallow it as though it is the last feed they
will ever have. An endless procession of fish of all sizes
are up and feeding and apart from messing up it up yourself,
the opportunities are there for the taking. On blank days
you will find me with glazed eyes gazing into the distance
on a raft and a river somewhere in my imagination. This compensates
for fishless days.
Such was the
guides day off. Tomorrow we had to front up and do it all
again. Ah well, I suppose someone has to do it. Thank god
we get a day off now and then.