There are basically two kinds of tough trip. The first are those where the weather and/or conditions clearly conspire against you. You suck it up, get out there and give it your best shot, safe in the knowledge that you can’t really lose. If you don’t catch much, who can blame you? And if you do catch a few in spite of everything, the victories are extra sweet.
Then there are the trips where everything seems right (at least to the dulled connections to nature of a human) and yet you still do poorly. Such trips are thankfully rare, but they’re out there, lurking at the end of a run of good trips like a broken rod.
You can probably already guess that I’ve not long returned from a trip that was in the second category. It was basically a bream trip to Victoria’s west coast, with the added possibility of a few nice salmon to fill in the quiet patches. On paper, the conditions looked ideal: light winds and settled weather, a high-high tide towards evening, and at least two of the estuaries we planned to fish open to the sea.
On-ground observation only added to the promise. The first two estuaries looked superb as the tide started to come in, with lovely aqua-blue seawater pushing up against the darker tint of the fresh. If run equalled fun, we were in for plenty. But then, while waiting for Max to arrive at the very start of the trip, I worked hard for an hour on my own to land a single ‘legal’ bream. It wasn’t exactly a disappointing result, but with the river looking so good, I had half expected a frenzy. ‘Don’t be greedy’, I told myself, and I was soon joined by Max for the short drive to the next system.
This river also looked superb, a dark high-water stain and exposed flats instantly revealing decent tidal movement. We fished with expectation in water which gradually changed from golden tan to almost tropical blue as the tide surged in.
Well, I’ll cut to the point. After hours of changing flies, retrieves and spots, we caught nothing – unless you count two 8 inch salmon. Another session a day and a half later, this time with cloud and a ruffled surface (negating the ‘too bright and flat’ effect) was, except for one decent salmon, a similar failure.
So long as conditions have been better than horrible, Max and I had never failed to catch a bream in years of fishing this estuary, and we began to seriously worry about their presence. Fortunately (I guess…) a very skilled bait fisher proved their existence by catching (and releasing) 5 nice bream over the few hours we fished near each other. Now don’t take this the wrong way, but Max and I usually expect to out-fish the baities on bream – decent bream anyway – so this only added to our confusion.
On the day between, we travelled to an estuary which was closed to the sea, and a little murky with algae and drifting weed. Ironically, these less ideal conditions actually produced a couple of nice bream and a near miss. It was good to remember what that pull on the pause felt like; that hard-to-explain moment which makes west coast bream fishing so addictive.
During the off times, we fished the surf for salmon. Once again, conditions seemed perfect, yet we couldn’t convert.
At night we caught up with my brother Mark and our friends Peter and David. Such evenings are always a highlight of west coast trips, where the food, laughter and footy in the background are immune from the vagaries of fishing. This ambitious trio had set their sights on offshore tuna, salmon and perhaps snapper and whiting. Yet although their environment and methods were totally different to ours, they also struggled. Sure, a few fish were caught, but the thrust of the evening conversations was around what was wrong, not what was right. We were having a drink on the veranda one night with the waves crashing invisibly in the dark, when David leaned over and, almost guiltily, murmured that he’d snuck a look at the Solunar Tables and noticed that we had mostly been fishing in a ‘Poor’ phase.
It occurred to me later that when we anglers don’t catch fish, our immediate default is to look for something beyond our control: too flat, too rough, wrong tide, fish scared by seals, or not even there at all. The list is long, the excuses many. But although it pains me to write it, I think more often than we care to admit, it’s our fishing which is not quite up to it, and the fish have won. (At least this time.)