A cold grey winters day,
one of those days where the south-westerly wind buffets
the car and your expectations as you get that first
glimpse of the lake through the rhythmically beating
I had the lake all to myself,
sensible people were all home warm and dry. I contemplated
this sitting in the car watching the white caps careering
across the lake. The showers eased but the wind persisted,
at times like these leaving the warm shelter of the
car to rug up and rig up is a process best not rushed.
That essential ingredient, anglers optimism, can
be a tenuous flame, easily extinguished by sudden exposure
to chilled south winds.
The rugging up was fast,
the rigging slow. It pays to take the time, opportunities
can be few and the fish large in this lake. A rushed
knot with cold fingers can be a recipe for a disaster
of epic proportions. The fly, a Tom Jones by loose description,
is my favourite nondescript workhorse, looking like
nothing in particular but suggestive of many of the
creatures frequenting the weedy margins.
I headed along the windward
shore, less comfortable for casting, but working on
the theory that the wave action stirs up the weed beds
dislodging food for prowling fish. That's the theory
anyway, 11m not sure what the fish think of it but it
works for me. Having waded out into the waves scanning
for fish the theory started looking pretty thin, 'less
comfortable for casting" being code for hard testing
Sight fishing on this lake
is hard even under ideal conditions, probably because
the trout don't need to move about much for food. Blind
searching isn't my favourite form of fishing and after
an hour or so I slipped into autopilot just moving along
quietly casting to gaps and edges. A few pelicans were
out fishing, surfing down the wind along the outer edge
of the weed bed. It's always reassuring to see that
the pro's are out, exercising that typical anglers optimism
that thrives on signs and portents.
My mind started to wander,
considering the things I could or should have been doing,
most of which involved proximity to warmth and shelter.
The mechanism by which fish sense these mental lapses
is beyond me, but the uncanny way that they choose just
those moments to appear makes you wonder. The slow twitching
retrieve came to a sudden solid stop, a reflex lift,
still in automatic out to lunch mode. Everything jumped
back into focus as the line went screaming off toward
the centre of the lake.
This was the largest and
strongest fish I'd ever tangled with and the fight that
followed was mostly on the fish's terms. After a couple
more searing runs and some desperate moments around
the weed beds the struggle started to turn my way. No
net, weed everywhere and a serious fish, the "don't
panic stay calm" only marginally effective when
I got my first good look at the fish. Dark backed, broad
and deep, all gold, olive and big.
How big? Somewhere between
5 or 6 Kilos would be my estimate, comfortable double
figures in the old scale, but I'll never know for sure.
For just as suddenly and inexplicably as it started
it was over. The line went limp, a couple of desperately
hopeful strips, and up came the fly with a tiny sliver
of white flesh decorating the barb. I sat back on a
rock massaging my wrist and forearm grinning like an
idiot and yelling WHAT A FISH to the cruising pelicans.
After the adrenalin subsided I began to wonder just
how big the fish was, wishing that 11d been able to
land it. But what if I had? After a few more half-hearted
casts I continued to ponder this as I walked back to
The recollection of an
earlier conversation came back to haunt me. It went
something along the lines of fishing for pleasure and
not to prove anything by mounting carcasses on the wall
to prop up my ego. The discussion of fishing ethics
in a comfortable bar with a few single malts under the
belt can get a bit pompous. It's healthy, if a little
discomforting, when reality jumps up and deflates the
rhetoric every now and then. You see no matter how hard
I tried to kid myself I knew that, had I landed that
fish, I wouldn't have been able to resist the temptation
of bringing home the evidence. One of those thorny moral
dilemmas that crop up from time to time to nag at you
in quieter moments.
Another lake on a less
than perfect day, and after an hour of fruitless searching
anticipation starts to wane and with it that vital concentration.
That's when it happened, from the dim dark corridors
of memory, that fish cruised up over the edge of awareness.
With renewed intent I fished on, a few more casts to
the edge of the drop-off, that gap in the weeds, and
always lurking just one more cast away that fish.
With hindsight I now realise
how lucky I was not to land that fish. My mythical fish,
that monster that we all believe lurks in some secret
lair wherever we fish. You see I've met mine, given
it form and substance and learnt from it an invaluable
lesson. I now realise that's what trophies truly are,
lessons and moments to be hung in the halls of memory.
If we should meet again,
that fish and I, I know that the outcome would be the
same regardless of which of us prevailed. I've resolved
the dilemma, adding a camera to my essential gear, in
recognition of that all to human frailty.