Besides painting, I also write, illustrate and photograph for New Zealand’s wonderful Fish and Game magazine.
My friend David and I had a great fishing trip in 2011, and I wrote about it for the August issue. His trophy fish made the cover.
We arrived at the river about half past midnight, peered into the tannin stained depths off the bridge, pitched the tent and fell asleep. In the morning we discovered that we were in plain view of a farmhouse overlooking our camp site. I wandered over to the farmhands, who were saddling up for a muster, and was kindly given permission to fish and to access the river from the farm track. The river was quite different to anything else we had fished before and we didn’t know what to expect. It moved slowly through the tussock punctuated with intriguing dark brown pools. My very first cast resulted in a 5 pounder so we knew they were in there. These were sea trout, silvery like salmon with dark black spots. We had four by the time we met up with our friend Adrian, who had been following the river on the farm track in the 4WD.
The fish had been in the deep pools and we felt that the gorge we had heard about was the place to be. Adrian drove us down to the beginning of the gorge and we set off to see if it could be negotiated and to see if it held any fish. We arranged to meet up with Adrian in an hour or two. It would end up being more like six! Sorry Adrian, it was David’s fault, honest! It reminded me of a cartoon where a returning angler is asking a skeleton in a car, “Been waiting long?” In reality once the magic began neither David or I thought about anything other than the phenomenal fishing.
No sooner had we started we were catching fish. The first 8 pound fish got us very excited. This was amazing. Soon we were seeing fish all over the place, big fish. Some pools held half a dozen. They were everywhere, in little runs, guts, pools and lined up along underwater ledges. I had never seen anything like it. After catching several in quick succession, and calculating our catch rate, I said that we could end up with 16 for the day. “I like how you think,” said David. Wouldn’t that be something.
The gorge was a wonderland. Marvelous rock formations sculpted by the water lay below towering cliffs and overhanging bush. We pushed on to thrilling pool after thrilling pool until we could go no further. Reluctantly we climbed out of the river desperate to get back into it. It was rough, very rough. We retreated and crossed to the other side and from there we saw how sensible the decision was. The previous side was a wall of rock towering hundreds of feet high. We struggled on. If we were finding it tough so would others. If we could get back down few would have been there before. Finally we spied a possible entry point and managed to get down. David, who has taught rock climbing, was on point. He disappeared upstream and then reappeared. “Look for another way round,” he said, “I’m going straight up.” My route was fairly easy and I climbed up above him. I could see shaking trees that revealed his position. It looked perilous. Then came a crumbling noise followed by an almighty splash!” “You alright” I yelled, half expecting silence and picturing his lifeless body tumbling down the rapids. A hand came up over the edge, “Yea, I’m OK, sort of.”
Glad that I wouldn’t have to fish on alone we resumed the expedition and the total climbed till we had 16 as predicted, some of 8 pounds, how could it get any better. Then it did. In a wonderful pool we spied a good fish and I cast for it. My offering however never reached the target because a silver torpedo came up from the depths and grabbed it. David saw it first and then kept saying, “That’s a long fish Marty, that’s a long fish.” It did look long but not until we netted it did we fully appreciate what we had. It wasn’t deep but it was broad and solid and 29 1/2 inches long! Here in my hands lay the longest fish I had ever caught. What was fish number 17 going to weigh? It had to be heavy purely because of its length. We readied ourselves and lifted the weigh net. How about 10 pounds? Aaargh, a trophy fish, what a day! I remember the look on David’s face as he shared in my joy. Fishing can be like that. You can fish vicariously through your mate, watching him make the casts you would, and feeling the thrill of their success like it was your own. I said, “I feel like this is a dream. I’m going to wake up in the tent any minute.” Was this really happening? David said he was sharing the same dream, “We caught 17 fish and you caught a trophy.” We were pinching ourselves.
After taking photos of my beast he stepped up and promptly landed a 7 pounder to bring the total to 18 fish! Seven pounds isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination but I wanted better for him, I wanted another trophy. I told him, “Get in there again.” He waded out onto a rock mid-current that enabled him to reach new water and fired up a good cast. I was waiting with the camera anticipating the strike and I captured him setting the hook. As I look back knowing what he hooked into the photo becomes very special. He brought this fabulous orange creature onto the gravel edge and I darted in, grabbing its tail. We just couldn’t believe it. Could it be?! Here lay fish number 19, a twenty eight inch beauty that weighed, you guessed it, 10 pounds! We spun around, almost dizzy, just marveling at what we had experienced. Basically back to back trophies, 19 fish for the day that averaged 6 1/4 pounds. We just laughed, there weren’t words for this. “I think we should snap our rods as an offering to God or something” David joked. It was totally mind blowing.
We were greedy to search for fish number 20 and it never came. Surely we already had more than anyone could want. We climbed out of the gorge to look for Adrian on the farm track, who had been expecting to see us for a very long time. Sorry Adrian, and thanks for being so gracious!
We stopped in at the farm house on our way out to thank the farmer. A rugged 70 year old man of the land, called Harry, answered the door. He was very impressed with our report. “Where you fellas staying?” he asked. We told him we were planning to head off and look for a place to pitch our tent. Harry said why don’t we stay there and almost insisted that we did. There were beds in the large garage that the shearers used and they sure looked good. We glanced at each other with a 'looks-good-to-me' look and accepted the invitation. Harry then introduced us to his charming wife Prue, Sam, his farm hand, and Sam’s lovely partner Liz. They then fed us dinner! This astonishing day just kept getting better and better. The hospitality of these complete strangers just blew us away. After a warm shower the good conversation continued long into the evening. We finally turned in, having had more wonderful experiences in one day than should be allowed. As we lay in the dark we reflected on what we had experienced. This was going to be a hard one to top. Outstanding fishing, wonderful people, just amazing! Our shared dream ended as we fell sleep. What would the next day hold?
(I sent Harry and Prue one of my Brown Trout prints as a Thankyou when I got back home.)
This story, from the same 2011 trip, appeared in another issue of Fish and Game.
As I tell other angling friends about our last trip I feel like I’m making up a story. It sure must sound like it to them but the photographs reassure me that it actually did happen.
The Australians we met one afternoon gave us that blank expression of disbelief when my mate David finally revealed how we had got on.
“So how’d you guys do?” asked the Aussie. “Oh, we did all right,” replied David. “So ya got some?” ”Yeah, we got a few.” “Anything decent?” “Yeah.” This obviously wasn’t acceptable and our Antipodean friend finally asked bluntly, “So ya gonna tell us or what?” The attempted evasion was over. “Yeah, we got a couple of trophies.” Then came that blank look.
Our new Aussie friend had already told us that he’d had a hard morning and caught only one or two small ones. Now he was face to face with either bald-faced liars or a couple of blokes who were just rubbing it in. I showed him the photos on my digital camera. The blank expression turned to a stunned expression. “You caught them here!?” he asked incredulously. “Yea, right here below us.” Within meters of the car park; right near where we were standing. Right where their car had been parked all day!
It had been incredible. We had begun fishing a few Ks below and had passed through some rubbish water. Things were not looking great and I remember saying to David, “One trophy fish would change the whole day.” Little did I know what was in store! Our friend Adrian, and David’s 9 year-old son Landon were following us up on the opposite bank and I called them to stop. We had come to what would turn out to be The Pool of Giants. David climbed a huge flat boulder that lay mid stream at the tail of the deep gorgy pool, and froze like a pointer dog. “Marty, huge fish right here.” “Then catch it” I replied matter-of-factly. David cast the lure well beyond the beast but his retrieve never made it back. Something else enormous took it well up the pool. David did well to bring it under control and past the boulder we were on. The incredible tension turned to elation as it slid into the net. It was, truly, one ugly looking sucker, but it pulled the scales down to ten pounds! One fish can change a day! David hoisted the brute for Adrian and his son to see before releasing it.
Adrian and Landon then moved on up the far side as we sorted ourselves out and climbed into the bush ready to carry on upstream. We got nowhere. In the very spot we had first seen a fish there was another and it looked absolutely gigantic. Being my turn, I got into position to ‘make my play.’ The fish was unimpressed. I tried deeply sunk nymphs. He was still unimpressed. I was just about done when another fish appeared and ran my target out of town before taking his place. The new one was also unimpressed with the nymphs, but it hadn’t yet seen my lure. The first cast impressed us all and off we went down the river, rod held high. Seven pounds, landed, photographed and released in the very spot David’s trophy had received the same treatment!
Once again we climbed back into the bush to carry on upstream. Once again, we got nowhere because just as we were ready to catch up to Adrian and Landon, David spied yet another massive fish tucked up under the near bank. This was doubtless the gigantic fish we had seen before. We just couldn’t get over what was happening. Was it possible to take three big fish from the same pool? David’s cast was perfection and I saw the trout flash sideways and smash the lure as it darted past. Suddenly, the unthinkable was happening! Another trophy fish was on. David and friend disappeared from my view behind the trees and I called out “You there? He still on ?” There was silence, that silence that comes from unspeakable anxiety and mental focus. I virtually fell down the bank into the river to assist and saw a running, stumbling angler and a seriously bent rod. David managed to bring the fish below the huge mid-stream boulder and we were ‘set to net.’ David was in the middle of the river on the stones, white water downstream. I was on the side and between us was a massive upset fish. “Now” said David, wanting me to get across. I was worried that the fish might run up and I’d be in the way. The fish tuned my way as if reading my thoughts. “Not now!” I paused. A chance came, “Now!” I hurriedly stumbled across. The anxiety of wanting to get in quick least the fish come off, and not rushing least I stuffed it up, was intense. This was one was a do-not-stuff-up fish and, thankfully, it all worked out. Quite suddenly, we had fish number three, in the exact same spot as fish numbers one and two. We had made no upstream progress in the best part of an hour, but had landed three incredible specimens from the one pool. No wonder it’s hard for others to believe it, we could hardly believe it ourselves! The beauty went 11 pounds, David’s best ever, and the afternoon’s double double.
On the final attempt to progress past the pool there were no more trophy fish that wanted to be caught and at last we made it. We crossed a swing bridge at the head of the pool and began to look for Adrian and Landon. It was here that we met the Australians. What an afternoon it had been!
Most of the day had been spent traveling in the car and though there was a chance of a fish in the afternoon who would have dreamed that this would occur? We had shared a dream the day before, landing 19 and ending the day with a 10, 7, 10. Now we were reeling at the reality of having caught a 10, 7, 11 the following day! That’s double, double doubles!
“So how’d you guys do?”
“Oh, we did all right.”
“So ya got some?”
”Yeah, we got a few.”
Gale Force Fishing
We said goodbye to three Norwegian anglers who disappeared up the road seeking shelter as the foul weather hit. Gale force winds buffeted David and I as we donned our wet weather gear and threaded up. Apparently the morning had been beautiful but how things had changed.
The Norwegians, who were on their annual pilgrimage Down Under, had caught just one fish but it was 9 pounds! Could we really get anything like that considering the conditions and the fact that we were going to fish over the same piece of water? Fly casting was totally out of the question. The downstream wind was so fierce that you would have been lucky to get the fly beyond the rod tip. Thread line was the only way to go. We guessed that the fish would be tucked up under the steep grassy banks and we began flicking lures upstream as close to the bank as we dared and swimming them downstream. An underhand flick proved best as it kept the lure close to the water and out of the wind.
The first 4 1/2 pound fish to slam the lure was encouraging, especially given the conditions. There were fish in here and they could be caught. David’s subsequent 7 1/2, 8, 8 1/2 and 9 pound fish were mind blowing! Was this really happening?! It was surreal! I was overjoyed by my mate’s success, but I was wondering when my turn would come. We stumbled on through lumpy tussock ‘trout-drunk,’ rain stinging our foreheads. This afternoon was shaping up to be impossibly good. I suppose it was already impossibly good! Here we were fishing in a gale over water the Norwegians had covered in the morning and we were having a ripper of a time! David had noted the weight trend, as I had, and we both dared to think that a double figure fish was a real possibility! I finally scored, but the 6 3/4 pound Rainbow knocked down the average weight and stuffed the trend. Sorry about the ‘small one’ David.
Through the slashing rain we saw some other crazy figures fishing above us, doubtless using a similar technique. We wish we could have shared notes. When we reached the place we had seen them we headed back to the car. David’s 9 year old son Landon had been waiting out his Dad’s foolishness along with our friend Adrian. Our report got Landon out to fish with us. We walked a kilometer or so down and began fishing back toward the car.
There weren’t as many good banks as upstream and we weren’t catching any, except for Landon, who picked up a 6 3/4 pounder fishing the left-overs below us. I was still on one for the afternoon, and the one large corner pool remaining near the car was my last hope. “Martin, you’re going to catch a fish on the next cast,” said Landon. I hoped so. Landon was just a cast out - it was the following cast that brought a solid strike. “That’s a good fish, Marty,” yelled David, “It’s going 8 plus.” “No, 7,” said Landon, whose 8 1/2 pound stunner a few days earlier was not to be bettered. As usual I had no real idea even as it thrashed on the shingle edge. Only when I grabbed it did I think that I had something special. I placed it in the weigh net, lifted it, and saw some very exciting numbers dancing before my eyes. I put it down immediately as I knew there was a stone or two in the net and I didn’t want ‘premature congratulations.’ I removed the stones and asked David for his tape measure. At twenty eight inches, and in terrific condition, this fish was going to be a trophy. We stood close, looked at each other and readied ourselves before lifting the weigh net. Aaarrgh, 10 pounds! Awesome! Sorry about that Landon!
“You deserved that fish,” said David, and I must admit it did compensate for my low numbers that day. Just looking at it, we knew it would be likely to go to the magic mark, and measuring it before weighing it had just heightened the anticipation. David loved the measuring thing before the weighing. “It’s like foreplay,” he said. What a climax to an awesome afternoon!
To top it all off David caught another 6 3/4 before we packed it in. A terrific sunset lit up the sky, like a final, over-the-top gift. It was an afternoon’s fishing that we will look back on in years to come with fond memories and thankful hearts. Who would have thought? Gale force fishing, 8 incredible fish in an afternoon, including a trophy!