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The Last, Last Cast

The day drew to a close. A deadline loomed. Not the usual,"I’ll be home about then", deadline, oh no, much more serious than that. This was the guests for dinner, "and don't you dare be late again" restriction. An unbreakable deadline.

The day had been slow. I fished Te Rae spit at Kuratau on Lake Taupo (North Island, NZ). Most fish that jumped on the line jumped off. The few that did not, deserved to grow to a size where in a year or two they might least put a small bend in the rod. So now it was down to finite timing. Given a fair wind, light traffic, and no traffic cops, there must be time for just one more cast before the 40-minute drive home.

Out flew the cast. Nothing. Surely there is time for just one more – the definite last. Out went this final cast and just as surely, nothing. Time for the absolute last, no nonsense final, end, finish, finito and absolutely last cast. Nothing, nil, zilch.

I could be a wee bit late surely? Probably expected. Besides, to arrive on time might set a dangerous precedent. Out fired the very last definite 'one for the road' cast. Nothing. Then out of the corner of the eye, wasn't that a swirl on the water? Faint hope pushed a strong case for just one more. Out it went, and back it came, unmolested.

OK, deep breath, small prayer and time for the ultimate, ' the lucky last.’ Out it went, back it came. The lucky last, unlucky.

The rest went pretty much to plan, for those who are late.

I turned the car onto the main road, and into a long stream of crawling traffic. This day someone decreed that all the cattle trucks in this country would be on this road at the same time. Finally clear of the cattle trucks, the freight trucks took over.

Probably by no coincidence a caravan driven by the dirty digit of destiny threw a wheel right at the tight turn near Waipehi. Traffic backed up for miles.

On arrival I expected a cool reception, but I was wrong. ' Cool’ was far too mild a word. I met a cold dinner, colder stares, frigid tone of voice, and the icy-clear unstated promise of more frost when the guests left. I was not wrong. All my excuses about the traffic, this time factual, meant nothing. Crawling into the fridge to get warm seemed a very viable option.

The danger of the last cast is not confined to straining relationships.

My lad Eddie, and I, spent a fruitless day sitting in the aluminium dinghy chasing yellowtail kingfish. The huge berley trail we constructed was working well, but off the coast of Chile. The only fish we saw that day was our bait.

Yellowtail Kingfish

It was time to go. Way past time given the results of the day. I set about cleaning up the boat, ready to leave.

Still in his pre-teens, Ed had not yet learned the futility of fishing for fish where fish are not. He decided to cast out one more bait, a snapper bait, ' just in case’, while we cleaned up. Carefully he rigged a pilchard and cast it a short distance from the boat. The bait hit the water, and Ed reached out to drop the rod in the holder.

We both saw it at the same time. A big kingi shot out from under the boat, grabbed the pillie, and departed at high speed. Ed, off balance, and with pillie-coated slippery hands, had no chance. The rod slid from his hands, bounced once on the side of the boat, and disappeared. Definitely the last cast.

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The trouble with the last cast is that the timing of the
cast is not always at the end of a fishing trip.

The last cast can arrive with no warning. As the good book nearly said, the first shall be last.

For 40 minutes I bounced out to Takatu Point, from Sandspit, an hour and a bit north of Auckland, and anchored up. I set up the berley, and rigged up. I cast out the bait, and just as the bait hit the water, a steep boat wake hit the 'tinny' (Kiwi speak for 12 foot aluminium dinghy). The boat lurched, I reached out for the side to hold on, dropped the rod, and over the side it went.

When the swearing stopped I reached for my second rod. The second rod I always carry. Where was it? It could not have gone over the side, could it? Even my declining powers of observation could soon work out that that if you cannot see a rod in a tinny, there are not too many places for it to hide.

The gloom of my long slow trip back to Sandspit did not lift by finding my second rod right where I left it, still in the back of the car.

If it is true that the first can be the last, then it can also be true that first last cast may not be the final cast.

To my eyes Lake Otamangakau is not the most beautiful place on the planet even in kind weather. It is a definitely dreary place, surrounded in the main by tussock and low scrub. In bad weather it is distinctly less than lovely. But the fish, that is the draw. Big fish. Hard to catch, but caught, what a reward.

This day the weather was plain awful. A freezing breeze blew a cold wet-mist into every nook and corner of the lake, and through every pore and seam of my wet-weather gear. The lake was grey and sullen. Nothing stirred, no birds, no fish, and no other anglers. Any horror movie maker would love this scene.

For four hours I had slogged around the edge of the lake, casting to the merest hint of fish, to no avail. I could not even catch the weed.

Cold, damp, thoroughly disillusioned, and with an appointment looming back at a motel, I started to trudge back to the car. As I walked round the lake edge I spotted a tiny ripple some 50 metres along the beach. Just another methane bubble I grumbled as I trudged along. As I neared the area where I saw the ripple, another small ring waved across the surface.

"Just one cast, absolutely just one" I promised myself, in fierce determination to fulfill this vow.

Out went the nymph, and it settled under the small indicator. I waited, gave the line a twitch, and waited, twitched and waited. I was just about to reel in, and may in fact have begun to do so, when the indicator did not bob under the water, it slowly slid under, hardly making a ripple.

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"Caught in the damn weed," I muttered to me – the only person listening.

I pulled up on the rod, and something pulled back hard, and fast. The fish fought deep and strong, but eventually I slid up the bank a beautiful hen that might have given 4kg (8lb) a distinct nudge.

As I released the fish I noticed many more ripples in the area. All over the area.

"Better have one more last cast" I said to my now very enthusiastic audience of me.

In the next half hour or so I landed two more trout, and hooked more, on a succession of last casts, until as suddenly as it livened up, the water returned to its sullen unmoving former self.

Now a much more happy chappy I strolled back to the car. As I neared it, the mist parted and the sun came out. As the sun turned the lake from surly to sparkling, the water in front of my parked car erupted in a frenzy of rises. Feeding fish everywhere.

"Just one more, I cannot leave this", I argued to my non-argumentative self.

Out went the nymph, and back it came, again and again. Out went new nymphs, followed by dry flies, and back they came, repeatedly. Dry fly and nymph combinations hit the water, followed by smelt flies – all spurned. Last cast after last cast tempted no fish, yet fish were feeding everywhere.

"OK, this is it, the very last cast", I promised myself, and out it went. I twitched it back a long way. There were just one or two metres of fly-line out from the tip, when the water heaved and rolled as a very big fish pricked by the hook heaved half out of the water, and then raced back towards the deep. The line slashed off the water around my feet, and out through the guides. My excitement knew no bounds, right up until the moment the line came up tight, very tight. Too tight. The leader cracked wickedly in the early evening quiet. Crushed, I lifted my foot up from where it firmly anchored one of the loose loops of line. (Yes, again damn-it, yet again!) That cast now definitely my last.

Ban Last Casts

Ban last casts I say. They are a pox and a blot. The despotism of deadlines should not extend to anglers. Hasn't it been decreed that every hour we spend fishing is added to our allotted life span? To cut back on fishing time is to cut back on life itself.

Too often I heard over the counter of the tackle shop I owned a complaint from a customer that they were doing too little fishing because they didn’t have enough time. Arrant rubbish of course. We all get exactly the same amount of time. The same 24 hours, all day, every day.

It is the priorities we set ourselves that get in the way. Silly inconsequential priorities like jobs, mortgages, families, ad nausea. To restrict ourselves further by tight deadlines, and frantic last casts, is foolish.

Besides every last cast is actually a first cast. The first cast and first chance to catch the next fish. The next time you anguish about whether to make that last cast, forget it – the anguish that is – and cast away. The next fish caught on a last cast will not be the first.

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