The Dapper Mr Hawkins
– one who daps… Dapping is an old English description of the technique of
dangling the fly from your rod in front of a fish that is too close to cast to.
Whilst I’ve tried it myself a few times over the past 40 years (without
success) it was only very recently that I first heard the term
"dapping" applied to the technique.
The dapper Mr
Norman Hawkins was here on a fishing vacation a while ago. I refer not to
his sartorial elegance as, oft-clad in chest waders, this was not so much in
evidence. A native of Adin, California, and a youthful, sprightly 70+ years of
age, this vacation doubled as a honeymoon for himself and his lovely bride,
Bunny. A relative novice to fly fishing, with a mere 16 years experience, his
skills and patience were put to the test from the start. Bunny was the most
flexible and adventurous of anglers, and saw no harm in adapting to local
techniques, such as trolling a live minnow from a drift boat along the lake
margins. Norman, as befits the dedicated fly fisherman, would not stoop to such
peasant tricks and expressed a determination to deceive a trout on the fly… A
master of deceit, no less, but no takers…
was exacerbated by local conditions – the longest dry spell since
record-keeping began in 1892. Rivers were low to the point of being
non-navigable, and logs never before seen protruded from lake shores and rivers
around the region. Water, warm and crystal clear, was invested with a great
advantage to the trout…
Bunny caught the first fish, a triumph of a trout,
some 25 dark inches long, 5 lovely pounds of angry jack, tricked by a fat
minnow. Norman smiled with pleasure at the bride’s success - and flailed at
the water with greater urgency.
|Bunny caught the second fish, a plump hen, of
gorgeous hue all gold and green. The dapper, Mr Hawkins, smiled through lips
grew intense… day 3 came and went. Trout galore, all oblivious to assorted
flies. Some teased, showed interest, turned, looked, and turned away. A couple
mouthed a Mrs Simpson, others spurned a Hamill’s Killer, or bolted at a red
Rabbit lure. Hard work indeed! The dapper, Mr Hawkins, grew less effusive, more
The first hints
of damps and dullness, mist and drizzle showing rain’s intent. Forest rivers
A venture up the Orangipuku River did the trick, a treble. Two to the
net, one busted off around a trailing branch. Pride restored, honours evened,
faith restored in fisherman and guide.
Frankly speaking, the guide was growing
concerned as well, his usefulness in question… Mr Hawkins, ever polite, was
surely wondering if his efforts were to be in vain. Not lack of fish, but apathy
is a delightful trickle, logs abound, short runs and ripples. Large fish, though
few, fed strongly in inches of water close to cover. The #14 Flashback spoiled
California’s best, was Mr Norman Hawkins
rampant, set forth to take the stage
Southern Island, Brunner Lake, his New Zealand destination
German browns, trout triumphant, perish of old age
waters clear he saw, in startled consternation
casts perfected, accuracy, the anglers only wage
dapper Mr Hawkins, his casting soon improved,
to the ghillie, his casts flew straight and true.
first fish was an easy one, it struck with hungry zest
next ignored our morsels, time and time again.
30 casts without an error, still no interest.
counseled changing flies, his efforts still in vain
opened up the tray of flies, hidden in my vest.
Hawkins, wary fish were log, threw a last despairing line.
fish rose up, convinced no less
thirty previous Flashback nymphs a hatch
savage hit took Flashback in, another gorgeous catch!
reel screamed as line went out, then in
shouts of triumph matched the anglers grin!
The next day we
returned to the Orangipuku, intent on repeating the previous day’s pleasures.
A change of tactics, walking downstream through the paddocks, with agility
avoiding a sequence of electric fences without incident. Rain threatened, clouds
sodden, mists swirling low along the ranges. Cooler. The spring-fed Bruce is
low, a drain with fish… weed-choked, scrub-covered lower reaches, flax’s
tall and tangled. A river?… it’s a term used loosely here. Mr Hawkins cast
to a feeding trout, an awkward lie under an overhanging branch. Several tries, a
twig, a lucky retrieve, but then a line shadow too far. Spooking fish propels
upstream, V-wave revealing his destination under a large log. Gone!
day, another stream
Bruce is small and weeded
careful is the clever angler
is what’s needed
to subtle suck and sip
downstream rise is heeded
yards a fin and ripple, something tasty sucked into a gaping maw! We retreat,
hearts pounding, and take a circuitous route through the rushes and brambles to
a downstream position, to the spot marked "X".
tiptoe caution, alert and slow,
strain through amber glasses
first, guide in tow
tip above the clutching grasses
marker rush-bush looms before us
peer intently over
is that fish that took that fly?
right beside us!
yard away, no more!
rush provides the cover
the perfect angle
now?" from Mr Hawkins?
dapping him!" was my reply
As he pushes
the rod tip over the top of the rush bush, he pauses with another question.
"What happens when I catch him, what to do about the logs and branches
downstream" he says, with a worried look.
"Lets just deal with one
problem at a time" I say, "First things first… " and, muttered
under breath, "Just give the damned trout the Pheasant Tail, and worry
about everything else later."
rod tip lowers, swings around a yard
sure what’s up, he raises it to see,
late… The trout has taken hook and run,
panicked surge for brush and tree.
laugh delighted, and the dapper Mr Hawkins calls again
now?" I laugh aloud as rod arcs under strain
my bloody problem, mate! I’ve done my part,"
the fish, explained the dapper’s art,"
rest is up to thee!"
laughter, I collapse amongst the rush-bushes as Norm sets off in hot pursuit,
Cabelas-green chest-waders pumping. Thank God for 6 lb tippets, that’s all I
can say! He does it well, all 16 years of experience fully tested as;
steers the angry, leaping trout past every log and tree
the battle won, the Trout is brought to net,
again swims wild and free
photo for posterity ensures we’ll not forget
handshake, mirth’s unending chuckles, enough for him, and me…
shared, a bond forever, as neither of us have seen this deed done before.
We walk, content, back to the truck and know that this morning’s entertainment
will be relived in both our minds until the day we cease to be.
legend in the making, a poetry we shared…
essence of this day, belongs forever, come what may
me and Mr Hawkins, the dapper, he who dared
try a new move on the trout
by the rushes on a perfect autumn day.
This to me is
the essence of fishing. A fine companion, a shared experience, and a few moments
of exaltation and good humour that will last us both our lifetimes.
I give frequent
thanks to the decision to become a fishing guide, and for the companionship of
fine men such as Norman Hawkins. It is both a privilege and a pleasure to share
their company on the riverbanks, to tell, and to listen to, tales of previous
trips and adventures. An even greater pleasure too, when circumstances usher our
way a new legend to recount to other friends, and clients yet to come. Days like
this are truly golden ones, oft-savoured.
I give frequent
thanks also for living long enough to learn that what matters most is being
there, not what goes in the creel…. "Thanks, Norm – I’m still chuckling,