Henry embarks on a day’s fishing with a difference.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Whether it was natural intuition, or a COVID lockdown-induced observation, my partner Caillin quickly worked out that it’s pretty important for me to be fully immersed in my passion, namely flyfishing. A lot of my time is devoted to pulling the oars on a drift boat down the Tumut River, helping others try to catch a trout on a fly. Or walking the Eucumbene and Murrumbidgee catchments, and driving up and down the highway between spots.
In turn, our time together as a couple is a little less than what some might consider an ideal amount. That’s okay though. Comparing myself to others has never been my thing, especially when it comes to relationships. Further, Caillin quite rightly recognises that too much time with me would drive her bonkers and a little Henry-free time is healthy for everyone.
While this awareness and understanding has served us well for a while now, until recently, Caillin hadn’t ever ventured out with me to experience flyfishing firsthand. Then, one weekend, some spare time opened up and we managed to plan a trip. After assurances that we’d have a very cruisy/ relaxed weekend (Caillin had expressed concern that I might be “A little too into the fishing when you’re fishing for my liking”) we were in the car enroute to the Tumut River.
On the drive over, the balance between wanting to get Caillin excited for the day ahead, whilst not overwhelmingly her, was a new experience for me. Unable to resist slipping back into my customary and familiar mode of describing every possible scenario once the boat hit the water, I was swiftly (and sternly) asked if we could talk about something else. Getting back in the car after a break at the Long Track Pantry, the music seemed to hold court rather than conversation for the remainder of the drive. I couldn’t complain. The landscape between Gundagai and Tumut is incredibly beautiful. With rolling green hills and a perfect blue sky, l could admire this countryside indefinitely.
Whilst I had envisioned a seamless program getting the boat ready and out on the water, all with minimum fuss, this of course didn’t happen. On any guiding day, the process runs like a well-oiled machine. Yet on this occasion, I think the pressure of wanting everything to go right for Caillin got the better of me, and just after we pushed off, I realised I hadn’t packed a second oar lock. Half an hour later, I returned from picking up the required oar lock to a somewhat frosty reception. Sitting alone riverside wasn’t what Caillin had signed up for. With reassurances that it would only be up from here, we finally set out.
Perched up the front atop the seat christened The Throne, Caillin was finally out in my element, fly rod in hand. It was a great day to be on the Tumut River. With all the recent rain, WaterNSW had cut the flow out of Blowering Dam right back, so as not to flood the lower reaches already bracing under a rising Goobarragandra River inflow. This created exactly the cruisy and relaxed river conditions l was hoping for. Anchoring up a few hundred metres downstream, in a flat and near flowless pool well away from the crowds at the put in, we started the obligatory Flyfishing 101.
Breaking down the mechanics and benefits of casting and mending and everything in between, was well received and quickly put into practice. Not wanting to overwhelm Caillin with too much information, I made the call to leave Fish Playing 101 until we had casting and natural drifts sorted – the assumption being we were unlikely to reach the hook-up stage for a little while yet. However, as I reached behind to heave the anchor up and push off, I heard, “Oh, what’s going on? I think I’ve hooked a fish!” The green yarn indicator that had been drifting innocently next to the boat, had suddenly bobbed under. Caillin had instinctively snapped the rod back, and had instant pressure on a fish – a really good one too. It breached the surface next to the boat with the crimson flash of a 3-4lb rainbow, which soon came to its senses and set off on its first charging run.
My heart rate leapt, the adrenaline surged, and guide mode intuitively kicked into gear. However, as anyone will tell you, in a high pressure situation where every move is critical to success, a la when hooked up to a big, big trout, regurgitating technical flyfishing jargon to a newbie who has never heard advice like, “Give it the biccies” (whatever the hell that means) or, “Side pressure left… now right,” or, “Tip to the sky!” is only going to make things worse. In this moment I was more hindrance than help. Credit to Caillin, she kept the rod tip high and the pressure on, but when a fired-up rainbow decides its heading for South Australia, it’s often wise to give it a bit of line, not lock up. The perfect cocktail of never having been hooked up to a fish before, me in her ear telling her to “Give it the business” and a fish tearing line off the reel ferociously, resulted in Caillin understandably clamping on the fly line in an effort to turn the fish on its heels. Unsurprisingly the fly popped, and the trout was gone.
Stunned silence hung in the air for what was probably only seconds, but for me at least, it felt like an age, only broken by Caillin announcing, “Well that was a little more hectic than I thought it would be.” Not wanting to let that situation play out again, I swiftly rattled off the fundamentals of fighting fish, finishing with the reassurance, “You’ve kind of got to learn this part by doing”. (Whether that was me trying to reassure her or myself, was another matter!)
Turning our attention back to the river and fishing hard, the adrenaline on the boat was up and we were dialled into the program. However, floating around long sweeping bends and bouncing down funnelled runs, we unfortunately didn’t have a lot of action for the next few hours. As much as the start of our drift opened with a bang, the next part was provingt slow going.
I was also getting a little nervous that we may have hit the Tumut on an off day. But Caillin’s progress was exponential, and soon she was in the rhythm of constant casts with textbook upstream mends. She was flyfishing really well, and to be honest, it didn’t seem to worry her one bit that we hadn’t seen another fish. She was clearly just happy to be outside in a picturesque environment. And the fact we spotted two curious platypus, playing around atop the surface keeping an eye on us, certainly helped break up that early session.
About an hour or two in, with no more action despite Caillin fishing exceptionally well, I started to think that maybe it was true, perhaps we had picked a tough day. Still, knowing there was an absolutely superb run filled with a fish (usually!) coming up, I held out some hope. Often on days like this, all it takes is getting one fish to the boat and then the floodgates open. Wording Caillin up about our heightened prospects, we settled the boat into a 200m drift down the bubble-line of the run as it hugged the edge of a deep cut rock wall, a run that could only be described as a 5-star trout hotel. Lined up in the groove of the bubble-line, the indicator just had to go down. Yet 50m went by, 100m….150m…still nothing. The indicator drifted along perfectly, floating undisturbed.
Then, just as I was about to let out an exasperated cry of defeat, the yarn ducked under. Simultaneously, I cried out, “YEP, YEP, YEP!!” Caillin snapped the rod back, and finally, she was hooked up on to another Tumut rainbow. With some instinctive fish fighting, and some relatively dialed back instruction from me, Caillin soon had a small, but in no way insignificant rainbow cradled in the net. A few snaps and high fives and the fish was returned. Whilst it was no monster, with its beautiful colours and patterns, this fish was the culmination of some fast learning and well-applied skills from Caillin – and a whole lot of yearning from my end. It was a memorable experience for both of us.
From then on, the mantra of one brings two rang true, and trout started coming to the net regularly. For the remainder of the drift, we pulled fish from all the likely lies. Whether the fishing had turned on for whatever reason, or Caillin had reached an acceptable level of flyfishing proficiency from the trout’s perspective (probably a combination of both), the fishing was suddenly very good. The trout were crawling all over the nymphs.
After the sixth fish was accounted for, we turned our mind to lunch. Pulling into a lush green corner on a poplar-lined bend, we decided it was time to take a break. It was a great spot to chill out and celebrate an incredible first day of fishing. Coincidentally, it meant the oarsman was able to jump out of the boat and nymph up the nearby run. I should’ve known this was risky. Caillin now had a buoyed sense of confidence and phrases like, ‘this flyfishing is easier than I thought it would be’ were starting to be bandied around. I was unable to pull a fish out of the run over lunch – the newbie had the upper hand over the experienced guide. My colours had been well and truly lowered, something I was swiftly made aware off, and which I’ve been reminded of often since! All in all, it made for a very funny afternoon.
Reflecting on the day, we both couldn’t have been happier. We had shared a great day on the water, Caillin can now relate to what I get up to whenever I am away fishing, and I learnt that taking the heat out of a frantic day’s flyfishing in place of a more relaxed version, isn’t such a bad thing. I could get used to this cruisy fishing… well, some of the time.