I couldn’t breathe. I had choked on my sandwich. A piece of sourdough bread was stuck in my throat. To make it worse, I was in the middle of nowhere. Next to the Guy Fawkes River in the Guy Fawkes National Park in NSW. No phone reception and a five hour walk to the car. Of all the things that could go wrong fishing in the Australian bush, the one that was going to get me was a ham sandwich. A ham-freakin’-sandwich!
Stewart Dick and I had been planning to make the trip down from south-east Queensland to Ebor for some time. In April this year, I had a fantastic weekend fishing the Guy Fawkes River and a few streams near Ebor. Stewart was going to come on that trip, but he fell ill and couldn’t make it. In June, we again planned a trip to Ebor. But we failed to check the weather forecast. This would have told us of storms and torrential rain. We had one hour of very productive fishing in the rain, before the rivers flooded and the fish disappeared.
A month ago, I suggested to Stewart we try again on season opening. We hoped our third attempt at Ebor would be much kinder to us…
The surrounding area hadn’t had rain for a while, so the rivers were very low and hardly running. The trout had moved to the deepest pools and were quite easy to catch. On Saturday afternoon at about 2:30pm, the fish started rising everywhere and the dry fly fishing was excellent. However, for most of the weekend, the trout weren’t rising, and then lobbing a nymph or wet fly into a deep pool and retrieving it slowly was the most successful technique. Stewart did this on a small pool on the Guy Fawkes near the Ebor bridge and caught four in 30 minutes. The strike rate was great, but the fishing soon became a bit repetitive.
In search of running water and something different, we ventured downstream into the Guy Fawkes National Park. We thought the walk would be on a track, take about an hour or so and give us plenty of time to fish. But our map did not mark the trail accurately and what ensued was 3 hours of bush-bashing and climbing down very steep river beds. Stewart almost stood on a snake on the way and when we got to the river, there was a clear lack of fish.
Eating lunch by the side of the river, I then choked on my sandwich. I don’t know exactly why: could have been because I was hungry and eating fast, or because I was dehydrated and my throat was dry. Maybe it was because I was laughing and talking as I ate. Maybe it was just bad luck. Whatever the cause, before I even realised I was choking, I found myself unable to breath. I was desperately trying to squeeze some air through my throat but could only get an awful wheezing sound out. I looked at Stewart trying to tell him with my eyes that I was choking. Those next few seconds felt like minutes. He hit me on the back. That didn’t work. Still wheezing. He shouted at me, asking if I wanted him to give me the Heimlich maneuver. I indicated yes to him with a thumbs-up. Stewart squeezed my chest and out came the piece of bread lodged in my throat. My lungs expanded and I could breathe again. Stewart has been taking some time off from fishing to study medicine – and I’m very glad!
Struck by the seriousness of the whole situation, we set off back to the car. We only had about 500ml of drinking water and 3 hours of daylight. In an attempt to find an easier way up, we walked up one ridge, before realising it might not connect to where we needed to go. (In fact it would have.) We then slid all the way back down the side of the ridge and walked up the next one. Trying to clamber up shale-lined steep hillsides with hands and feet was incredibly difficult – each step up saw your foot slide halfway back down before making any progress. When we finally made it to the top of the hill a few hours later, every muscle in our bodies was aching and our mouths and throats were bone dry. After we drank the last of the water, still thirsty, we sat there eating the leftover spinach from lunch, as it was the only wet thing we had left. We estimate we climbed over a thousand vertical metres to get to that spot. I’ve done a lot of bushwalking and long-distance running, but never have I felt so physically and mentally drained as when we got to the top of that hill. We eventually made it back to the car as the sun was setting – 8 hours since we set off! Water and a couple of beers awaited us.
By fishing standards, we really made it difficult for ourselves. While we ended up doing the massive walk to try and find more exciting fishing, we could have stayed near Ebor and continued to catch fish. The Guy Fawkes was actually fishing really well as the local hatchery had put lots of male rainbows in it. These trout averaged 2-4lb, and provided great angling for all the anglers fishing that weekend. I could imagine the easy and very accessible fishing would have been particularly enjoyable for the many families camping in the area.
As we left for home the next morning, bruised and battered from the day before, some much-needed rain was falling which I hope has got the rivers flowing well again. Ebor can be a fantastic fishery and although we haven’t had the best of luck in our last couple of trips, I can’t wait to get back there soon.