I guess you’ve all heard the phrase before, but do you really understand what it means? To me, its that rare and special event where every segment, every millisecond, just flows together, smooth as silk, sweet as honey, to produce a result so perfect, you will remember it always.
Like the day, delivering milk with Lance, and as he ran across the road with an arm full of bottles, a bloody huge, angry German Shepherd dog came flying down the driveway to meet him. It launched itself, and as it flew towards his throat, Lance hurled a full bottle of milk at it. The butt end of the bottle hit the dog fair between the eyes and it dropped in a heap at his feet. Flopping like a stunned mullet, then staggering to its feet, it tottered off down the driveway, yelping…. Beautiful! And no more problems with it either, which was a relief – why do you think I sent Lance down that side of the street? Not stupid, hey?
Over the years there have been a few events like that, times where everything happens in slo-mo, allowing you to savour every portion of the moment, indelibly etching the occasion onto your mind, enabling unlimited playbacks. This is, I believe, designed to help you through the other times, when your whole life turns to custard, and ritual disembowelment seems like a rational - indeed desirable - solution.
I learned to fish with a fly rod a long time ago. My younger brother had a session with some old guy who taught him some basic casting skills, and he eventually caught a couple of fish. Seemed a bloody sissy way of catching fish to me. After all, an evening in the dinghy with the spotlight and a 10ft spear was a hell of a lot more productive! Points on the board, son, counts when you are hungry, as we often were in those days. My granddad was a dedicated fisherman, but he did not stoop to such namby-pamby methods as the fly rod. A master of the art of trolling, he knew every stump, every weed bank, and every rock around the perimeter of Lake Brunner. He and I mostly made our own lures, my job was placing (and retrieving) the pennies and half-pennies from the railway line. After the steam locomotive and rake of coal wagons, they were not so good, I found – too thin. The old Vulcan railcar was damned good, reducing them to an ideal shape and thickness. Drilling and attaching swivels and treble hooks with split rings, a flash of red plastic, a liberal application of spit and polish, and then looking forward to the next weekend to test them, that was real bloke’s fishing. Or so I thought, back then. A few fellows, staying at the lake on holiday, at the baches, could be seen slyly wading, flicking their split cane rods along the shoreline. Loopies, in our view, as visitors are called to this day.
Still, there was always that nagging doubt, lingering in the back of the mind, which grew in intensity as the technique became more prevalent around and about. My brother caught more fish. Bugger. My first rod was a cheap, hollow fibreglass bargain, with a budget reel and a double ended line – the salesman reckoned they were just the go because when you wore out one end, you simply turned it around and used the other end. Brilliant! And they can last a lifetime with care…. I believe this even now, as I’ve still got the reel and original sinking line, still unturned after 30 years, so it will definitely see me out, I reckon. Of course, I don’t use it much now, preferring my flash new Composite Development 4-piece rod, Okuma Sierra reel, and the clever weight forward line from Scientific Anglers. Still, that salesman sure was knowledgeable, and persuasive, and very honest. Quite unlike today’s, where even getting their attention is a challenge. Today’s salesmen are generally all beardless youths, untested in riverside battles, dispensing wisdom with the conviction and integrity of those who sell on commission. But, I digress – which happens a lot as you get older, have you noticed? Age plays funny tricks, to which youths are sublimely oblivious - boy, have they got a lot to learn.
I remember back to a fishing trip, some 20 years ago. My fly fishing skills were adequate for those lovely lake brown trout, cruising shallow waters, that would readily take a lure flicked clumsily in front and jerkily retrieved. One of the guys at work was a keen nymph fisherman, a technique new to me. He espoused the glories of fishing the gorge section of the Maruia, and succeeded in luring me in that direction one fine morning. Boy, was that a wake-up call or what! We stalked the river’s edge, Polaroid’s and all. Taking turns to cast to big trout in lees along the rocks and ripples, eyes and tails of pools, I learned more in those few hours about the joy of fishing than in all my years before. For the first time, I got spooled by big browns who tore downstream in runs so ferocious, no sprinter could match their pace. Leaping from boulder to boulder, reel shrieking in protest, line stripping off at an incredible rate. Until, at last, the inevitable bust-off when the backing hit the knot. Incredible! We caught fish too, good browns of 5-6 lbs, fat and feisty. Spotting the shadow flickering on the white granite, casting with heart in mouth, watching the abrupt change of direction, the flash of opened mouth, and then the strike! What sheer, unadulterated joy in the perfection of it!
The culmination of the day came in a small side channel, 2 feet deep and 6 feet wide. A large trout would periodically emerge from the shadow of an overhanging log to delicately sip passing insects from the surface. My turn to cast, an awkward spot with overhanging branches, and only one chance of success. Precision essential, with branches from the huge beech tree intruding into the air space above, and head-high toi-toi grasses not far behind. Perhaps the hardest cast I’d ever attempted. Peter recommended a Coch-y-bondhu dry fly, an imitation of the manuka beetles prevalent in the area. Adrenaline rush, the line flicked high behind, some released on the back cast. Driving forward, straight and true, released, floating down to settle the fly a few inches to one side of the last rise, and a yard in front. Breath held, knuckles white on the rod, and slowly the dark shape emerges from the shadow, sips in the fly and retreats, to meet the tightening line! Yes! The world resumes its rotation, the cicadas re-start their racket, and the reel screams in triumph as the fish races for the main stream. Bloody beautiful! Poetry in motion, in my book! A moment of time, frozen in my memory until my end, to thaw and savour numerous times before it disappears along with all the rest at close of play. My philosophy of life is that "He who dies with the most memories wins!" And I’m still giving it my best shot, I tell you! This day, and others like it, are the reason we keep coming back to the mountains and the streams, the rivers and the valleys, the great outdoors. I still can’t cast worth a spit, nothing pretty. Agricultural school of fly-fishing, in fact, but I still catch fish from time to time.
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