Season Lag

I have this condition I think of as Season Lag, where it takes me a little while after the trout stream season opens to actually drag myself away from the lakes. This year, the condition was exacerbated locally by wintery conditions which dragged on well into September. Who wants to make that auspicious first cast of the new stream season in freezing rain and gales? Not me.

But finally, late last week the wind dropped, the sun came out and spending some time on a nearby stream seemed like a nice idea, rather than a point to prove. It wasn’t exactly balmy, but I imagined that some small rainforest creeks a couple of hours away might be beginning to settle. And maybe the break in the gloom would encourage a few bugs to take their first tentative flights and offer a chance at dry fly?

A perfect edge on a perfect riffle.

Well, it all played out as perhaps an early season stream session should: still a far cry from the frantic action I’ll hope for in late spring and summer, but with enough happening not to feel as if I was just going through the motions. The creek levels were quite comfortable; the water almost clear with a tinge of early season milkiness. Even so, the initial hundred metres on the first stream drew a blank and the usual doubts about location, timing and technique (small Royal Wulff with small bead-head nymph dropper) crept in.

Then, against a perfect edge on a perfect riffle, the Wulff dipped and it wasn’t the bottom or a stick, but a lively 11 inch brown. You might think that after a winter spent catching trout twice that length, I’d be complacent. No way. I played that little brownie like a trophy, and I may have even exhaled with relief when I got it safely in the net. Can you believe, next cast three metres up along the same edge, the Wulff disappeared again and I had another.

First stream fish of 2019/20. Good to have in the net!

Any thoughts of a frenzy were hushed as a very nice pool and the run above produced nothing. Still, I wasn’t complaining, and it was truly a delight to be wandering up flowing water, hemmed in by tree-ferns and 50m blue gums and mountain ash. Sunshine found its way to the stream here and there; enough to encourage a few fat grey duns and stonefly to dance in the spotlight. Then, midway up the next pool, right where a boulder had left a little swirling hole behind it, the Wulff itself was gone in a gentle rise. To my surprise (or possibly because of it) I paused before striking, and I soon had the first dry fly stream trout of the new season in my hands.

And even one on the dry!

A few pools later and I came to an awkward log jam that hadn’t been there last season. I contemplated climbing over or around it – the fishing had picked up a bit as the sunlight climbed up the steep slopes overhead in the late afternoon. But then I thought of another small stream nearby that it would be interesting to visit, so I turned around and walked through the clear understorey back to the car.

This next stream was vaguely disappointing to begin with and after about half an hour without a take (and no rises observed that I couldn’t be sure weren’t galaxias) I started to wonder. Nothing makes you fish more carelessly than questioning the presence of trout, and I had to fight the urge to mentally give up on the fishing – which of course is self-fulfilling. Luckily, on one small but deep pocket in amongst some boulders, I took the trouble to stay low on approach, and then manage the Wulff/ nymph drift as realistically as possible. The Wulff went down, the rod went up, and I had a 9 inch brownie. Proof of life! I was as delighted with that little trout as any I’ve caught over the last few months. Isn’t flyfishing great like that?

Sunlight running out.

By now, even the highest ridges towering over the stream were in shadow, so I climbed out to walk back down the track for one final look at a significant pool near the car. It had been lifeless on arrival, but now, in the half light, I thought I could make out the silver crease of rings where the faint bubble-line dispersed into dark water. I listened hard, and could just make out the soft ‘clip’ sound that could only belong to a trout. I took off the nymph and cast the Wulff by itself into the black, barely sure of where it landed, let alone where it drifted next. Using a combination of imagination and intuition, I stared at the pool… saw another ring… and lifted. There was a powerful thump thump on the line, then nothing. The hook had pulled.

Oddly, I didn’t feel disappointed, just relieved that there are still some good fish present in that creek for the coming season, as well as the littlies. The next fine, mild day when the calendar permits, I’ll be back.