Creasy's Column for Reel Life November 2017

  • 24/11/2017

By Hugh Creasyfishjump19

There’s a high bank on the Turnbull River, where an angler can look down on a slow-moving backwater where big fish lie. It’s a view that invites temptation. There are places where you can clamber down the clay bank to good casting spots, and with a steeple cast, or a side cast, get your fly to a fish. Getting the fish to take the fly is another matter. They are big fish, and well educated. Nothing seems to attract them. I offer no solution. In all the times I have passed them, with various fishing companions, I have never seen one caught. Further upriver, just short of the dam, there are fish that will take a fly. They are smaller, but they fight in that feisty manner of West Coast browns, and on light gear they are quite capable of stripping a full arbour of line and backing.

On a memorable occasion I had a big fish straighten a hook after 20 minutes of dogged resistance. I was using a tippet strength in double figures. Downstream, whitebaiters are packing up and sobering up. There are memorable celebrations when the season starts and they can last for the duration. When they are gone a peace descends on the village of Okuru, a peace that lasts until the tourist invasion begins and jetboats ply the rivers and the Arawata, the Turnbull and the Okuru become a noisy playground.

But there is peace to be found, where only the whine of mosquitoes and the hum of sandflies form a musical background to the chuckle of stream and river. Up river on the Arawata the morning chorus of tuis and blackbirds is disturbed by a crackling boom as ice melts in the mountains. The river stays cloudy with snow melt for most of the summer. But there are places, just a little off the beaten track, where a push through a waste-deep pool in the shade of tree-fuschia and fern you will come across a glade where deer prints and weka sign scatter the ground. And a backwater glistens in filtered sunlight that catches the sapphire-glint of a damsel darting, searching for a mate to carry a parcel of eggs to the water. And if you keep still you will see bullies and freshly-coloured inunga competing for space on the margins.

Mankind seems to have only a tenuous hold on this wildest of landscapes. The Southern Alps loom, snow-capped to the west and it is but a short journey to the sea. Rivers run fast and furious, dragging shingle and forest detritus to the coast. It is a frenetic and dramatic landscape and the discovery of a near-still pool, away from the rush of river tempts one to linger. There may be a trout or two in the pool, but their presence becomes of secondary importance.

The scene is restful and the frantic rock-hopping of angling on the main river is brought to a halt. Lassitude takes over, and a handy log makes a resting place where contemplation and introspection become primary movers. It would be easy to fall asleep.

damselink2Above the pool hang ripe berries of tree fuschia, and it takes only an outstretched arm to pick a few. They taste sweet and delicious. In the pool bullies chase invisible invertebrates. They hunt with short, jerky movements, never going far from their tiny territories. The damsel has found a mate and the pair circle the pool, flashing glimpses of sapphire blue in and out of the sunlight, joined in a mating flight that will soon end when eggs will pierce the surface tension of the water and fall to the mud.

There are deer prints in the pool’s margin, fresh, sharp and deep. The animals would have been tempted by the fuschia berries and the tree was stripped nearly bare. I could see in my mind’s eye the trail they made – the darkness of their passage though the bush. They could be resting nearby. If I stayed still for long enough I might see their return, though my scent would probably keep them at bay.

Enough of daydreams. We came to fish and that is what I must do. So it is on my feet, and with sturdy wading staff in one hand and rod in the other I make my way back to the rush of the river – on to the next pool, searching for movement, the flash of gill or tail that marks a target. Soon enough it comes – a trout feeding and it takes the fly with willing strength and I strike with a force born of adrenalin-pumped emotion. The fish is caught and soon released and I march on for another, and another, and so it goes on.      

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