I should be about to head to the Snowy Mountains for a week, but for obvious reasons, that trip, planned for months, has been delayed at the last minute. This near miss has got me thinking about other missteps in 2020, so here are a few of them (in no particular order).

The chewy fish

I arrived at the Rubicon on a fine summer afternoon. It had been quite rainy over the preceding week, and as I hit the river at one of those shadowy willowy sections, it was hard to judge if the water was dirty, or fishably clear. Standing on a high bank, I plopped a ball of chewy into the river, hoping to track its descent for long enough to judge visibility. I was pleased I could still make out the marble-sized white dot nearly a metre down… but less pleased when a trout of about 2 pounds drifted out from the bank beneath me and casually ate the chewy blob!

Just before the clarity check!

Of course I flogged the spot desperately for several minutes with various nymphs and even a couple of dead-drifted Woolly Buggers, but I never saw the trout again.

The stick-pile fish

En route to a larger Eildon stream, JD and I pulled off the main road at an obvious turnout to quickly look at a creek for perhaps a fish later. However, when I saw the stream looked alright, I announced I’d, ‘Just have a quick cast.’ A few minutes later, a brown of about 12 inches (a nice fish for the creek) appeared under my Royal Wulff and casually sucked it in. I struck with certainty… and never even felt it. Disappointed, I took a couple of steps forward, approaching an insignificant submerged bundle of twigs and leaf litter lying on the gravel and sand stream bed between me and the missed rise. A brown of at least 4 pounds shot out of this sticky camouflage and up into the head of the pool, quickly becoming invisible again. It was by far the largest fish I’ve ever seen in this creek. All this within back-cast distance of the busy road behind me!

That’s the stick pile just to my left. I think the body language is, “Now what do I do?”

The Grampians ripper rainbow

As my recent editorial revealed, I’ve had my share of misses in the Grampians this last year, and here’s another one. On a solo trip, I walked down to the lake on a searingly-blue mid-spring day, amazed at the visibility into the clear water over a pale sand/ silt bottom. I’d no sooner had the thought, when a buck rainbow of close to five pounds came cruising lazily into view from my left. I barely had time to remove my chosen fly (a Scintilla Stick Caddis) from the bottom runner and flick it out, before the fish was almost at my feet. I held my breath as the trout excitedly hunted for the source of the plip, then dived victoriously for the bottom. With the fly surely eaten, I lifted equally victoriously… but nothing, not even a prick. In fact, the trout seemed only vaguely put out and swam off without panic. A following cast got only a half-hearted glance, before the fish angled into deeper water and vanished. I didn’t see another trout for 2 hours.

West coast three strikes

Max and I were having a tougher-than-normal winter on the bream, when we decided to try a nice little estuary on the Great Ocean Road which we hadn’t fished for a while. Max marched off towards the mouth to try and catch the first of the incoming seawater, while I started right where the track met the mud-and-reed lined middle estuary. Just as I made my first cast with an Olive Hammerhead, a voice behind me inquired, “Are ya fishin’ for trout are ya?” I turned to see an elderly gentleman, slightly stooped and perilously close to where my previous back-cast must have travelled.

“No actually, I’m trying for bream, or maybe an estuary perch.”

“What, with a fly?” he responded, obviously surprised.

So I explained that yes, the fly worked really well on estuary species. I could see he wasn’t convinced though – and I didn’t tell him my own confidence was a little low after a blank morning on a favourite estuary further down the coast.

He told me he was a retired commercial fisherman, and I liked that someone who had fished for a living – and no doubt a quite hard living – was still interested in water and fish. “My mate Bert caught a nice feed here on crab last week.” he informed me, and I couldn’t be sure if he was offering inspiration, or politely suggesting my technique was wrong.

The middle estuary.

In any case, mid tap-tap-tap retrieve, I felt a firm pull, and lifted into what was instantly revealed as a heavy fish. “Oooh”, said my silver-haired companion in surprise as my rod tip bent and bounced, “I think you’ve got a good one!” Trying to appear more nonchalant than I felt, I pulled the net off my vest, and after a few more lunges from the fish, drew the large chrome disc towards the mesh… only for it to come off about a foot from the rim.

“Bugger.” I muttered. “Oh dear, he’s gone is he?” offered my newfound commentator, evidently surprised once again.

On what has been an otherwise quiet day, you feel a miss all the more. And I admit it – I’d been hoping to impress my audience. With my fragile confidence further eroded, I nevertheless cast out again, forcing myself to let the Hammerhead sink down in the gentle outgoing current. I twitched and paused the fly almost on auto, and was amazed by another good pull. A second chance! I played the big bream more cautiously, absorbing its powerful runs with the rod tip. After a few minutes, it seemed to be ready.

“You got this one,” chuckled my spectator. I drew it towards the waiting net… and it came off.

I won’t draw the sorry tale out much longer, but two casts later, yep, you guessed it, yet another hook up, and yet another near-net loss.

The old man didn’t have anything more to say about this weird but ultimately ineffective flyfishing for bream caper. When I looked back a couple of casts later, he’d wandered off.

Isn’t it interesting? I can remember every detail of those misses, right down to the weather; even smells and sounds. Yet for many successes in 2020, the details are already blurring, and I know that were it not for my diary entries, in a few years, they’d be forgotten altogether. Maybe it really is true that the fish we don’t catch, help keep us coming back.