There are no early indicators that something extraordinary is in the wind, no clues to set the blood pumping. But it happens - fishing to dream about.
It started out inauspiciously enough. I had a week's work to do in the Taupo area (central North Island, New Zealand), and the reports on the Hinemaiaia River indicated that it was very low and clear - not the best news for a fisherman, but good news if that fisherman had work to do.
I arrived down at Hatepe (the village at the mouth of the Hinemaiaia River) late Sunday evening, and did not even bother inspecting the river.
My son Eddie was still at the cottage when I arrived and he was raving about the fishing he had over the previous two days, and the two fish he was taking home were evidence that there had been good fish in the river.
It was the "had been" that confirmed for me that I could not expect much. How many times have we fishermen heard the old "you should have been here yesterday"?
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So I set about preparing for the day's work for next morning. In the morning I set off for work in deep ignorance of what was lurking under the surface of the river.
I finished my labours by early afternoon, and headed back to Hatepe with the idea of wandering up the lower part of the river, to see if I could get in a cast or two to a fish or three. In the pools right down near the lake my Polaroid's revealed pretty much of what I suspected they would reveal - a good deal of nothing.
But as I made my way upstream towards the road-bridge, I started to see little pods of fish five or six fish - holding in the pools that are unfishable.
Those who know the Hinemaiaia will know that fishing there, even in the good pools, is difficult. If the tree limbs above and around you don't grab your fly, the blackberries will. And that is just above the water. Below the water is a veritable minefield of snags. Pure Tiger territory. Still, it is a prime reason for the river being relatively angler free, even in prime fishing times.
Finally I reached the pools that were more easily fished and was totally overawed by what I saw.
Twenty or thirty fish in plain view, just holding there, barely moving.
Good fish too, some very good fish indeed, many over 4kg(8lbs).
Occasionally a Jack or two racing about trying to establish dominance broke the tranquility of the scene, but for most of the time the fish just lurked there, quietly finning away, holding station. All the hens waiting for rain to put more water in the river, before moving on.
I had bought a nymphing set-up with me, loaded with a couple of Glo-Bugs (flies that imitate trout roe (eggs)), and I put the rig to work. I cast and cast - cast after fruitless cast. I got some of the casts right.
The Glo-Bugs would sink well above the fish, and dead-drift right amongst the fish, who with total disdain moved a few inches to the right or left to let the flies drift past, unsullied.
Then I would screw up a cast - a sure bet when you least want it to happen and the line would splash down over the fish, and off they would race to the hidden places in the pools that only fish know.
My frustration was intense. Oh for a sinking line! The sinking line back at the cottage - a cottage too far a walk to go back a fetch it, and get back to the pools before dark.
My frustration ensured a sleepless night. A night filled with fish yet uncaught, and the dread that surely the fish would move by tomorrow.
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I endured my work the next day, and could only get back to Hatepe for an hour and half's worth of time on the river. But this time armed with a wet line and using the tactic of walking the down river swinging the fly through the pools, what an hour and a half!
The fish were still there, numberless fish. I have fished the Hinemaiaia as much as anyone, and a great deal more than most over the last twenty or so years, and never have I seen so many fish in the river at one time.
I hooked fish after fish, most escaped. Many streaked off down the river and simply pulled the hook out. Others took the fly and bolted upstream far too fast for me to wind or strip in the loose line and so the fish flicked away as the line went slack.
Eventually of course I remembered my own advice and did not attempt to strip in the loose line as the fish bolted towards me, but using the downstream bow in the line itself and the river's current to hold the line taunt I managed to get the line on the reel and land a fish or two.
Great fish - fit and fat.
As I got my technique back into some sort of working order I managed to land and release more fish. Darkness finally forced me from the river, and I wandered back to the cottage with a pair of lovely hens, one over seven pounds, and the other just under. The flesh was the colour of red brick - wonderful fish.
The next late afternoon was more of the same, same number of fish in the river, about the same number hooked, lost, and landed. Magical fishing.
That evening a lady friend flew into Taupo unexpectedly, but very welcome. It gave me a chance to try out a recipe I had been given by a friend of mine who lives in Bangkok, where fish cooking is an art form.
I filleted the trout leaving the skin and scales on, and then removed the bones with long-nose pliers. I slashed the skin round the edges of the fillet to stop them curling. Then I heated a fry pan to a medium heat. Into the fry pan I spread a thick layer of salt, so the pan was covered in salt. Over this I ground a very liberal sprinkling of pepper. The fillet was then laid skin side down onto the salt and pepper.
That is right, no oil, butter or fat!
I watched the fillet carefully and once I saw the flesh cooking up through the thick end, I placed the fillet, still in the pan, under the pre-heated grille. On the journey from hob to grille I placed a dab or two of butter on top of the fillet, a squeeze or two of lemon, and some more ground pepper. I let it grill for a minute or two.
It was the first time I had tried the recipe and it is quite simply the best trout recipe I have ever tasted, full stop, end of story. (I later confirmed it works wonderfully well for oily fish such as kahawai and kingfish.) The flesh flakes off the skin, and has a wonderful texture. Definitively delicious.
Lady Friend agreed, so much so I had to do a repeat performance (with the fish) the next evening.
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The next day, Thursday, the fish were still there. And, for an hour or so, so were we.
But Friday produced some real magic. In the afternoon as Lady Friend and I walked along the river bank to the pool I wanted to start my downstream meander with the wet fly, we turned a corner and there in the river in front of us were 50 or more trout. It looked like a pool in Rainbow Springs (a fish sanctuary and tourist trap) in Rotorua.
I blurted out something like "For goodness sake, look at all those lovely trout," that being a fairly loose translation, to be met by the reply, "yeah, we are fishing to them," from two unseen anglers behind a screen of blackberries. Lady Friend and I watched this amazing spectacle for a few minutes before moving upstream to test our luck.
Well we tried, hooking six fish and losing six. The fish were just too big, too tough and too smart in the snag ridden river bottom.
But that was not the end of the amazing sights.
Just before we had to quit the river to make the drive back to Auckland a big Keruru (wood pigeon) landed in the branches of a tree, not too far off directly above us. Then to our utter astonishment the pigeon dropped down onto a thin branch of a Five Finger tree that over-hung the river.
The bird was only three or four rod lengths in front of us. Then it carefully sidled down the branch that began to bend down to the water. The bird kept sidling until it was close enough to dip its beak down into the water to take a drink. Pure delight. One of the sights that make fishing much more than just a line-in-the-water experience for me.
A truly memorable week of fishing. A week that really came out of nothing with no expectation of anything remarkable. The drive back to Auckland that night was hard. Maybe the fish would still be there tomorrow and I would not but then maybe not. That is another part of the mystery of fishing that keeps me coming back.
Got an issue with me killing a couple of trout to eat? Read this.
Article written by Tony Bishop
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