The Dapper Mr Hawkins
Dapper – 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…
The challenge 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 grown thinner.
The pressure 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 intent, determined.
The first hints of damps and dullness, mist and drizzle showing rain’s intent. Forest rivers beckon.
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 the challenge.
The Orangipuku 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 their day.
Adin California’s best, was Mr Norman Hawkins
Enthusiasm rampant, set forth to take the stage
On Southern Island, Brunner Lake, his New Zealand destination
There German browns, trout triumphant, perish of old age
Crystal waters clear he saw, in startled consternation
Where casts perfected, accuracy, the anglers only wage
The dapper Mr Hawkins, his casting soon improved,
Listened to the ghillie, his casts flew straight and true.
The first fish was an easy one, it struck with hungry zest
The next ignored our morsels, time and time again.
Some 30 casts without an error, still no interest.
I counseled changing flies, his efforts still in vain
I opened up the tray of flies, hidden in my vest.
Mr Hawkins, wary fish were log, threw a last despairing line.
The fish rose up, convinced no less
Those thirty previous Flashback nymphs a hatch
A savage hit took Flashback in, another gorgeous catch!
The reel screamed as line went out, then in
And 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!
Another day, another stream
The Bruce is small and weeded
And careful is the clever angler
Wary is what’s needed
Alert to subtle suck and sip
A downstream rise is heeded
Downstream 30 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".
A tiptoe caution, alert and slow,
Eyes strain through amber glasses
Angler first, guide in tow
Rod tip above the clutching grasses
The marker rush-bush looms before us
We peer intently over
Where is that fish that took that fly?
Damn, don’t move!
His tail waving,
Lying right beside us!
A yard away, no more!
Our rush provides the cover
And the perfect angle
"What now?" from Mr Hawkins?
"Try 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."
The rod tip lowers, swings around a yard
Not sure what’s up, he raises it to see,
Too late… The trout has taken hook and run,
A panicked surge for brush and tree.
I laugh delighted, and the dapper Mr Hawkins calls again
"What now?" I laugh aloud as rod arcs under strain
"Not my bloody problem, mate! I’ve done my part,"
"Found the fish, explained the dapper’s art,"
"The rest is up to thee!"
Dissolved in 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;
He steers the angry, leaping trout past every log and tree
Finally, the battle won, the Trout is brought to net,
Released, again swims wild and free
A photo for posterity ensures we’ll not forget
A handshake, mirth’s unending chuckles, enough for him, and me…
This moment 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.
A legend in the making, a poetry we shared…
The essence of this day, belongs forever, come what may
To me and Mr Hawkins, the dapper, he who dared
To try a new move on the trout
Hidden 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, mate!"