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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