The day started as well as one could hope on a small tributary on the North Island of New Zealand. With my first cast into a likely pool tucked underneath the branches of an overhanging willow, my line landed softly on the surface and drifted perfectly along the outside current. Within seconds of the fly’s drift came a sudden slash on the surface and I had a decent fish on.
This would be a sign of things to come throughout the day. I followed the snaking stream up current from pool to perfect pool landing good sized trout around every turn. As I continued upstream, the small gorge became thick with native forest. Stands of mountain beech and rimu towered overhead with cabbage tree and kanuka filling every gap in between. The scene was so otherworldly I couldn’t keep my eyes from wandering past the river at times to take in the surroundings.
I spotted a feeding fish darting its way in and out of the current in a section of pocket water behind a submerged boulder and slinked into position. I landed the fly upstream and it eased its way towards the trout on the edge of the feeding line. The sizable grey smudge below the current glided towards the dry as it approached and attacked the surface with authority. I raised the rod to set the hook, readying myself for the ensuing clash, but it was not to be. In an instant the line sprung back towards me, and the fish was back in its original position, lurking the depths of the river after a heart stopping moment of its own. After a couple more fruitless casts, shaking my head in disbelief, it was time to move on.
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The next pool upstream looked particularly fishy. It was on a sharp bend in the creek against a wall of mudstone towering high above. The water was forced through a narrow chute on its way into the large pool, creating a surge of frothy whitewater and a perfect tight current against the vertical wall. There were large boulders dispersed throughout, creating eddies as the water forced its way through its inevitable course. Through the churning current, it was impossible to see if there were any fish residing in the cauldron, but it was the kind of pool that obviously demanded attention.
I crept up to the waters edge at the tail of the pool, stripping line from my reel. The line shot out through the air and the cicada pattern landed just above the point where the water began to froth. Before I could even think about mending any line, the fly was engulfed by a hefty torpedo, instantly airborne, its chrome pink and green sides shimmering as it hung in the air for what seemed like minutes. The 5wt rod bent like a horseshoe and the line moved through the water from one side of the pool to the other at speed, peeling more line off the reel. I grinned.
The fish rocketed out of the water again from right to left, thrashing its body through the air in detest of my hook, crashing back into the water as I tried to keep pace. It leapt again, almost as soon as it hit the water, this time heaving itself towards the back of the pool over a boulder and into the current. I howled with excitement. With my rod tip straining, I tried to guide the fish, but it showed no signs of tiring just yet. Another jump, this time skipping across the water like a stone then it tore off towards the back of the pool again. Then nothing. I furiously stripped line through the rod hoping it was shooting straight towards me but fearing the worst. I lost him!
No sooner did the words exit my mouth when the line tightened again, nearly tearing the rod out of my hands. The line zig-zagged the pool again, this time coming to a stop at the base of the mudstone wall. I could see the large shadow underwater, pausing to catch its breath as I cautiously moved closer, trying to catch my own while reeling line. Sensing my presence, the fish took off once again leaping high in the air once more above the whitewater, thrashing its body from side to side. This time, as it disappeared beneath the surface, the line fell limp once again and my worst fears had become a reality. I reeled in the empty line and exhaled.
It’s tough to say exactly how big he was. It was larger than usual for a creek this size; ten, maybe twelve pounds. To be honest, it didn’t really matter. It was the kind of experience you hope for with every fish you hook, especially on new water. Landing the fish is almost irrelevant when you have a duel like that. The adrenaline flows fast through your veins and time stands still. Afterwards, I didn’t mind if I’d hooked another fish for the rest of the day, I’d had a moment…a moment The Old Admiral gave me.