The Tough Day

Several years ago, Max called me from a cabin he was renting with a fishing friend on a tributary of the Grey River, South Island New Zealand. I’d been thinking of Max, because news had made it back across the Tasman of terrible floods in the South Island. And not, as often happens, confined to a single district or catchment, but pretty much everywhere.

As Max gave me a live description of watching the river level rise towards the only bridge out of his valley, he hoped that, with my internet access, I could suggest a Plan B. With Max hanging on the line, I frantically searched the NZ MetService site for somewhere drier. But there was nothing.

“Sorry Max,” I offered helplessly, “It looks like the South Island is pretty much flooded from one end to the other.” Struggling to ease his predicament in a small way, I suggested the only idea that came to mind. “You could try Lake Brunner?”

Well, it turned out Brunner did offer some salvation, with Max and his mate catching big worm-filled browns from flooded boardwalks, boat ramps and even roads. It might not have been dry fly and gin-clear water, but ever the pragmatist, Max made the most of the conditions and enjoyed some memorable fishing.

Lake Brunner can save the day when everything around is in flood.

A cynic might say that it’s in the job description of fishing guides and writers (I’m both) to talk up prospects when conditions are tough… and they have a point. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. When the forecast is for gale force winds, or torrential rain, or bitter cold – or all three – I do have to work hard to sell optimism to myself, let alone you.

One comfort I always turn to is, what’s the worst that could happen? With modern gear and clothing, you’re unlikely to get hypothermia. And providing you don’t do anything silly, like trying to cross a flooded river, you’ll still be out in nature, feeling very much alive. Although the chances of catching a fish may be reduced, they’re 100% better than if you were sitting indoors.

Yesterday, I had my guide hat on to take Baz, Michael and Dane fishing. All week, the forecast had been looking nasty. As the day drew closer, I was quietly hoping for those little weather details which can turn a day that’s superficially predicted to be solid rain and gales, into something less relentless; for example, the worst of the rain/wind coming in the wee hours, before we actually head out. Or, conversely, arriving at the end of the day, when the fishing is almost over anyway. I see these variations a lot and it’s one reason to abide by the ‘fish when you can’ rule. You might be pleasantly surprised.

No such blessings yesterday. Except for one 20 minute break, from when we stepped out of the car at the first lake, until we finished up at sunset, the rain teemed down and the wind blew hard. Fortunately, my three guests have flyfished for long enough and often enough to understand that we were targeting a mid-latitude, cold water species, not barramundi. So, they got out there and fished, trying my suggested spots and tactics like they meant it, rather than just going through the motions. As the rain got heavier and the wind roared louder in the tree-tops, the commentary was more about the power of nature, than rotten meteorological luck.

Baz yesterday ‘keeping’em wet.’

And trout being trout, there were opportunities. Incredibly, from time to time we even saw fish rise and swirl in the storm. We had to look twice to confirm we weren’t just seeing wind swirls or the splashes of falling leaves and sticks, but yep, among all that chaos there was the odd trout moving. I was reminded of watching Eucumbene trout rise in a winter snowstorm a few years ago. It is remarkable what you can see if you’re actually there.

This trout was actually rising in a Eucumbene blizzard.

By the time we arrived back at the cabin in the fading light of a rainy evening, seven good trout had been landed, and at least that many hooked and dropped. Importantly, everyone had caught fish. Our jackets and waders were literally pooling water on the veranda, but underneath, we were basically dry – the drowned rat look was superficial only.

Once the soggy chaos was sorted and we were replacing lost calories with Andrea’s lemon muffins, I offered that a fish caught today was probably worth six on a normal day. That may have been an exaggeration given that the fish were surprisingly willing. Probably what I really meant was, the preparedness to not only get out there, but to persist in the face of considerable discomfort, had to be worth a lot of extra angling points.

While I nearly always enjoy guiding, some days I come home at the end pretty exhausted. I suspect Jane was anticipating that yesterday evening, I’d walk in the door looking a bit beaten up and slump into a lounge chair with a drink to recover. In fact, I felt more invigorated than wrecked. Yes, it had been a tough day on paper, but in reality, it wasn’t too bad at all.