6.24am and Linda peeks through our bedroom door. “Are you awake?” she asks, 4 minutes into my allotted 10 minutes of ‘snooze’ time. She said she couldn’t sleep through the night because she was worried I’d flake out on my commitment to a days fly fishing up at Lake Brunner. I don’t blame her. No snow or filo pastry can claim to be as flaky as me and Milo. But there’s something about letting stranger’s down that seems a less viable option than letting your friends down – a confusing irony.
The previous evening we’d driven up the West Coast, just past Greymouth, to a wine tasting event. The house was stunning. A panoramic view of the West Coast in all it’s glory. Among the champagne tasting, melee of tasty dishes, and ‘tripping with Charles Manson’ stories, I was introduced to a lady called Jude. Super friendly with bright, interested eyes, Jude was spark into fishing, I was told. It turns out Jude’s main love is fly fishing, and in homage to perfect timing, she was heading out for a days fly fishing the next day. BOOM. It was to be my introduction to fly fishing.
After an hours drive north from Hokitika, I pitched up at Moana garage at 8am to meet my new fishing buddies.. Jude and John were first to arrive. John owned the boat and the secrets to the lake (as well as some memorably wise comments throughout the day). Tim & Katherine were the other half of the group, about my age from Canterbury. We loaded up the boat and set out across the lake under the heavy, whitish grey cloud.
The boat motored to a spot near a river mouth, before John turned off the engine and punted us stealthily over the glassy water in search of Brown Trout.
“These are the real-life X-Ray specs”, Jude told me, talking about the polaroids she had leant me for the day. She wasn’t lying. I could see them all naked. It helped with seeing the fish too. To be honest, they weren’t particularly hard to miss as they are forever leaping out of the water, and the water they call home is serenely clear.
The fly fishing rod we were using was made up of 5 pieces, not so much longer than a spinning rod at about 8 or 9ft. A much more delicate instrument, it is made to bend one way only, so it requires a gentler approach to setting up than with spinning or surfcasting. The reel has about 12ft of clear line at the end called the Trace or Leader, which leads into the Flyline, a coloured and stronger line which leads down onto the reel.
A unique difference fly fishing has with other techniques is the need to constantly have the whole of the Trace line and at least 2-3ft of flyline available to cast with. Through experience I came to understand the importance of always knowing where your line is. Essentially you have 15ft of fine fishing line with 2 tiny hooks flailing around on a boat just snug for 5 people… The flyline should never feed back through the first ferrule onto the rod, as its thickness means its a real ball-ache to work free again.
Already a far more refined setup, the way in which fly fisherman hook the fish is brain surgery compared with your average salt dog spinning for Kahawai. It seemed to me that an intimate knowledge of your fishes diet and eating habits were quintessential to your success as a fly fisherman. Brown Trout for example – 80% of their diet consists of nymph. An immature version of many flies, the nymph lives under water for around 2 years before enjoying wings for a single day to breed, before it ceases to exist. So there are two sources of temptation on our Trace line, a dry fly which is rubbed with silicon in order to float, and a weighted nymph, which is the more likely to tempt the trout.
So the stage is now set and ready for the ballet to commence, and not far off the elegance of ballet is casting with a fly rod…
Firstly, you need to make sure you have some line in your left hand, pulled from the reel, to allow lengthening of your cast. You then need to whip the Trace line and 2-3ft of Flyline into the air behind you, carefully not piercing anyone’s ears as you go. Moving your casting arm forward and backward, you need to create the loops as seen in the picture.
I was told to methodically cast forward and backward between 10 and 2. The picture below is a better reference. When you have the length of line you require and have sighted the spot you wish to cast to, let the line roll over the forward loop and hit the water, then bring your rod to about 4ft above the water.
Once you have eyed up your beautiful trout, peacefully resting in the water, aim to land the fly within 2ft of the fish. The first cast is essential, as it is dead easy to spook these fish. The highlight of my day was the second Trout Tim caught. Apart from it being a beautiful fish, the cast and strike seemed so perfect. It all happened in about 5 seconds! The nymph must have landed so close to the trout it just went for it immediately and Tim had the fish on his line.
Playing the fish once you have hooked it was much more awkward than I thought it would be. Less brawn and persistence, more delicate and consistent. You raise the rod upright in order to constantly keep a tense line. You should only reel line in if there is slack to reel in, otherwise if the fish fights let it swim and allow it line to swim with. As long as there is the right amount of tension in the line. A nifty little trick was to pull the trout’s head out of the water and tip it towards the net. Apparently Brown Trout have a reputation for being lazy and easy to play. I can understand that, although they didn’t exactly jump into the net. To keep the line tense in such a small boat was like playing musical chairs on ketamine, wherever you moved to the fish would bugger off into the most awkward place under the boat.
Jude and the crew stick to a catch and release policy that I think pays the fish the respect they deserve, and adds to the mythical feeling of the creatures you are momentarily catching. This bugger on the left however was not up for Tim’s kisses and ended up with a touch of concussion after jumping free head first onto the floor of the boat.
It’s a real special thing, people’s love for their passions and their surroundings. Jude had such a respect for the fish, and Tim spoke about his love for the fishing as a backdrop to a good old yarn-spinning. I dig that. It’s a great environment for conversations to take as long as they need.
Throughout the day we fished the banks of the lake, river mouths entering the lake and we even took a trip up one of the rivers to park the boat and wade upstream. During this little off-the-lake mini excursion I couldn’t resist the see through waters. Mere seconds it took me to strip down to my undies and wade tentatively into the brisk water.
Much wisdom has come from fishing fanatics, and today was no different. The whole crew were full of memorable little nuggets, but John was brimming with wisdom bombs.
“There are two things can make you happy in this life, something to do, and someone to love. It’s all you need.”
Fucking too right John. The open simplicity of the West Coaster shining through bright and clear, illuminating the good things it’s sometimes all-too easy to forget.
One last thank you to Jude for my introduction to fly fishing, and an awesome day out. Cheers Jude. Long may the world be filled with lovely people like you, willing to share what you really love with complete strangers.