Philip reflects on when the story is lost in translation.
“Hi boys, how was your day?” It was Mum calling, and Mark and I were on the night drive home from a day in the Grampians. With headlights illuminating the guardrails, forest, and hopefully any kangaroos, I glanced at Mark, looking for inspiration. But his wry smile said it all – how would we explain?
Some of my immediate family and many friends are flyfishers, or at least they’ve flyfished enough to understand it. However, outside this bubble, I get that for at least some of those dear to me, flyfishing is like a foreign language. “That looks delicious!” they’ll write helpfully when I post a pic of an about-to-be-released fish, or congratulate my patience for persevering in a near blizzard (when in fact the duns were actually going berserk, and the last thing I needed was patience!).
Our wonderful Mum is definitely in the latter category. Since Mark and I were kids, she could never have been in any doubt that we loved fishing, and in particular flyfishing. But bless her, I’m equally sure she’s never really understood the nuances of it. A common story shared by Mark and me from our younger days, was promising to arrive for a family dinner after the evening rise, and stressing how that meant we wouldn’t be in until after dark. Inevitably, the phone would ring just before sunset, with Mum asking where we were?
So, how would we explain to Mum an incredible day, but one where that word was qualified in so many ways?
The November day began bright and calm – good for spotting, but maybe not so good for trout activity on a lake: November is starting to get late in the year for the Grampians under a cloudless overhead sun.
Still, as soon as we got on the water mid-morning, we found a few insects, and a few trout rising for them – although most were sporadic ‘oncers’; fish which were difficult to track. By lunchtime, Mark had lost a big rainbow whose rise he covered with a BMS (the occasional fish was also smelting), while I had somehow only pricked a nice fish which confidently ate my Claret Carrot.
There was a bit of early afternoon doldrums with flat, glary water and the sun feeling much hotter than the actual 25C temperature as it snuck under our hats. Trout still rose in patches though, keeping us hunting and working. I think we missed another couple each.
By mid-afternoon, things really started to ramp up. Gum beetles, midge, ants and caddis, were joined on the water by termites. The day totally lacked the humidity or thunderstorms we usually associate with termites, but it didn’t matter. Ever-increasing numbers made suicidal flights out over the lake, and as they fell, the rises increased.
By about 6pm, Mark and I had missed yet more trout; not slashes from stockies, but big, gulping rises from decent fish. You name a way to miss a chance and we found it: strikes too slow or fast, bent hooks, ‘pig-tail’ knot failures, even clean break-offs. This was starting to get ridiculous, and to make matters worse, as the termites fell like snow, it seemed as if the sheer food supply would soon overwhelm any chance of the trout finding, let alone eating, our flies. There was literally a termite every few centimetres, spread across hundreds of hectares of lake. I’ve never seen anything like it.
And yet somehow, the trout kept rising; not just dozens now, but hundreds. No fish could hope to eat every termite, but some clearly tried, bow-waving along just under the surface so that from a distance, we mistook them for rakali or platypus. And incredibly, a near-perfect presentation with a Claret Carrot sometimes got a rise. Finally, just as the shadow from a high mountain reached us, I covered a good trout, it rose, and I was actually on! After an even tenser tussle than usual, Mark slid the net under a big brown, Carrot firmly buried in its lower jaw. The relief was enormous – after a day of stuffed-up chances and sheer bad luck, we had one.
With the curse broken, surely now we could collect a trout tally befitting of such an extraordinary rise. But no. Despite Mark bringing a cracking rainbow almost to the net, it was ultimately lost. And so our luck – or lack of it – continued, until finally (mercifully?) as the very last colour drained from the lake shore and it was too dark to change a fly, the trout either filled up or the termites sunk, and the rises stopped.
As we drove along the darkened Western Highway, all this raced through my mind as I grappled, like an overwhelmed translator, to answer Mum’s question: how was our day? “We’ve had a great day thanks Mum.”
“Oh good,” she replied, “Did you catch many.”
“Well… only one actually,” I stumbled, “But it was a big one.”
“Oh right,” said Mum, sounding non-committal.
“We had lots of action though, and there were stacks of rises…” I trailed off as I realised I was talking gibberish to a non-flyfisher. Evidently, the bottom line for Mum was that her sons, fishing collectively for about 20 hours, had actually caught only one fish. I shrugged silently to Mark, and turned the conversation to Mum’s expert subject: the latest family news.