Not for the first time this Snowys trip, Steve was a speck in the distance. He couldn’t know that I’d just caught my third good fish on the Murrumbidgee Brown Nymph, while I couldn’t be sure if it was a trout on a hopper that was keeping his rod arm up, or a leader inspection, or even if what I was seeing was an illusion.
There’s a lot to be said for poor or non-existent mobile phone signal in the mountains. You can enjoy fishing as it used to be, without the distractions of the outside world. However, there’s no denying the communication advantages of mobiles when fishing with a mate. You can let him know the nymph is really working, or he can let you know he’s found a patch of rising fish.
Right at that point though, on that particular Eucumbene shore, Steve and I were in the shadowland of intermittent reception. My attempt to call him ended in a single ring followed by silence. Oh well, I tried. I kept fishing for a few more minutes, by which time Steve was out of sight behind some giant granite boulders.
Then my phone rang. It was Steve, and the conversation which followed was of the infuriating one bar of signal kind.
“… on the hopper…”
“So, you’re catching some? I’m getting them on the Murrumbidgee nymph.”
“… (something agitated but unintelligible) …”
“Sorry mate, I didn’t get any of that?”
“… so I need… HELP!!!”
“Okay, on my way.”
I wound in quickly and made my way down the shore at a steady jog. I hoped the help Steve needed was of the fishing kind, but of course I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t something more sinister, like snakebite or a broken ankle in a wombat hole.
It was with some relief that I rounded the boulders to see Steve upright. More curiously though, he was holding a seriously bent rod, with his backing disappearing way out in the lake. Okay, this was a fishing problem, but what was the benefit in me running half a kilometre to assist?
“I’ve hooked what I reckon is the biggest Eucumbene trout I’ve ever had on,” Steve explained breathlessly, ”But it’s got me caught on a snag out there.” Before I had a chance to ask the inevitable question, he continued, “Can you hold the rod? I’m going back to get the boat, then I’ll electric out to the fish and see if I can pull it free from another angle.”
I obliged while Steve ran to the boat, which was beached about 200 metres up the bank. While he did that, I held the rod with what I hoped was the right amount of tension. I was unconvinced that the subtle movements I felt through the tip were actually caused by a trout, or simply the action of wind and waves against a very long line. Maybe the monster was long gone? Then Steve came down with the boat, and made an exploratory pass quite close to where the snag (and possibly a fish) was. The powerful thump thump down the line left no doubt – the trout was still attached!
The next few minutes involved me carefully passing the rod to Steve, before he slowly manoeuvred out towards the invisible snag. Alas, pulling from every possible angle (as well as employing the usual slack line and rod tapping tricks) the fish wouldn’t come free. The reality was, this part of the lake was littered with flooded thorn bushes – really nasty plants bristling with rows of reverse-hooked spikes that wouldn’t have been out of place in Mordor. Previously, we’d hooked the odd one on the back-cast, which resulted in an always difficult and sometimes painful extraction of fly and tippet. If a huge trout had eaten Steve’s hopper, and then found one of these bushes while trailing the stick caddis dropper, the prognosis was grim.
Eventually, there was no choice but for Steve to pull steadily and firmly until something gave way. In this case it was the tippet. The trout was gone; another to add to the long list of memorable fish, a list where those lost are overrepresented.
The rest of the trip had its own set of little triumphs and setbacks. Years from now, the diary will show that we caught lots of good trout, on an even mix of hoppers patterns, stick caddis, and my trusty Murrumbidgee Brown Nymph. It will record that we had some fine fishing on the smaller high altitude lakes, but that the big lake, Eucumbene, continued to be the star.
Without reference to the written record, all that will blur into the memory of other trips. However, the monster lost in the offshore snag will always have its own clear narrative.