We arrived in dribs and drabs from all over the south east of Australia. Canberra, Woolongong, Melbourne. Myself, Nick and Brett arrived first. Lee arrived not long after and we set up camp. Soon we were sipping on mid strength beers, soaking in the anticipation of what was to come. As dark arrived we set in by the campfire, revelling in our surroundings, the company, the vibes. Finally midnight arrived and we headed down to the river to open the season. The cold and nearby shotgun and rifle fire from local hunters meant we didn’t last long. Christening the season would have to wait until tomorrow.
We woke bright and early. Perrin had made it in safely at 3am after finishing a late shift at the hospital. Over a small campfire the team assembled. It was early. There was no need for alarm clocks, nobody was in danger of sleeping in. The first day of a fishing trip turns grown men into over-excited children on Christmas eve. Bubbling with excitement sleep came slowly, the merest hint of sunrise through the opaque walls of the tent enough to draw us all out into the budding daylight. Assembled, Aeropresses were lazily retrieved from the bottom of bags and coffee was ground. Water was boiled and coffees were made. Strong, with plenty of sweetened condensed milk. Idle chatter and breakfast quickly followed. Soon conversations naturally turned to fish and fishing. The fly rods quickly emerged from cars and bags, new leaders were attached, flies were carefully chosen and tied onto light tippets. It was time to hit the water.
Mist rose from the water as the sun made its way over the horizon. The fish didn’t show themselves but it hardly mattered. Good friends, a beautiful stretch of river and plenty of up beat banter was more than enough. This was good. This was soul sustaining, soul enriching. After a fruitless morning we headed back to camp. The heat of the day had sent all the life on the river, the insects, the trout, the birds and the wombats back to their shady hidey holes to rest for a few hours. It was time for us to do the same. Back at camp we cracked beers and set up our camp chairs in the river. A few hours later the fishing gods to smiled on us. As we sat and drank beers in the afternoon sun, a fish started rising at the head of the pool we had set up shop in. Everyone offered everyone else a shot at the fish. In the end, Brett was chosen to either fluff the fish and be ridiculed for the rest of the trip or to be the first on the board. No risk no reward.
Three fly changes. Five casts. Still no fish. On the sixth, the fish rose and ate the fly. Brett set the hook. Moments later, Brett was on the board. A gorgeous brown on about 2lbs. A small fish for this river, a great fish nonetheless and the first of the weekend, making it even more special.
Later that afternoon, I was lucky enough to get on the board myself blind fishing an unweighted emu bugger. A slow figure 8 retrieve was the fishes undoing. While fishing we listened to the first half of the AFL grand final on an old portable radio from the 1980s. At least for a while. At half time we stopped and focussed fully on the task at hand. Fishing. The afternoon provided more opportunities. Nick was next to get on the board, landing a small fish during the evening hatch. Brett followed up his camp fish with another tiddler. We walked back to camp happy.
The day had been tough, only a few fish, only a few missed opportunities. A year or two ago, younger, brasher, we might have been dejected. Not now. We’d just spent a wonderful day on a gorgeous river with great friends. That was more than enough to make us content. Back at camp there was a pleasant surprise waiting for us. Graz had finally arrived! This was an unofficial bucks party of sorts for him. Well at least until Australian celebrations in January. In a few weeks he will get married to a wonderful lady in Hawaii. In celebration, we all sat and drank beer around the campfire while potatoes roasted in the fire and lamb legs cooked over the coals. Conversations ranged widely, from politics, to fishing, to sport, to relationships and then of course back to fishing. A group of good mates, sitting in the middle of nowhere, sharing those big and small moments that mark our lives, moments that sometimes change them forever. Maybe this was what we were all here for. Time talking shit by the campfire.
Late that night, the wind picked up. It was strong. Very strong. It was time for bed.
The morning arrived. The wind hadn’t let up. It was still gusting strongly. For brief moments the wind would sometimes abate. Spinners and insects would emerge, someone would pipe up “I think the winds letting up, this could be a good day”. Invariably as soon as w word was uttered the wind would be back with a vengeance and the insects would disappear back into the woodwork they had briefly ventured from. Still, we went fishing, heading off to explore new waters in the area and in Graz’s case, explore fly fishing for the first time.
We all walked a lot. The wind and changeable weather meant the fish weren’t rising and that the fishing was tough. After many hours fishing “sensibly”, the monster meat snacks were dragged from streamer boxes and tied on. These big flies attracted interest. There were dozens of follows and two eats, but no fish to hand. So it goes.
Once again the midday heat was spent in much the same way as the day before. Lounging in the shade and in the water. With the wind still raging, so we decided to eat in the mid afternoon and hope that at dusk the wind would drop a little. Perrin had prepared kingfish wings, quail and ribs. All were cooked over coals. There are very few camp dinners I can remember that come close. It was good times. Very good times.
Late in the afternoon we hit the water and waited for the hatch (and hopefully the rise). Sadly it never really happened. For a while it looked like it might. The wind dropped, insects emerged from everywhere and a few fish started rising inconsistently. This was how the movie was meant to go. During this blessed break in the wind, Nick staked out a particularly active riser while a few of us watched from across the river. He worked hard. A number of presentations, a number of fly changes. Oodles of patience. Finally, the fish rose to the fly. He set the hook, the fish jumped, the hook pulled. Sometimes no matter how well you fish, the fish wins. Soon after that the wind was back and that was the end of that. We patiently waited for another window, but it was done. In the dark, we made it back to camp to soak up the vibes by the campfire. There were plenty of vibes. We chatted and listened to the NRL grand final. Six men jumped in joy when the cowboys scored in the final seconds. Afterwards we continued to chat by the fire until the early hours before sleep finally crept up on all of us and one by one we disappeared into our tents.
The last morning had come all to fast. Myself, Brett and Nick had to leave early. I had to get back for the first of our birth classes. This would be my last trip like this before fatherhood. In a month or so life is about to change forever. Next time we all catch up on the river I will be a Dad, Graz will be married, we will all have new stories, hardships and joys to share by the fire. It had been a great weekend, all it needed to really top it off was one good fish, the fish that had eluded us so far, a cherry to top off a great weekend in the bush. Perrin, Lee and Graz didn’t have pressing commitments so were heading off to fish for the morning as we started the drive back home. As we drove me and Brett talked about how we hoped that that really good fish would happen for them, for us. We got the good news somewhere just out of Melbourne. It had finally happened. Graz had landed his first ever fish on fly. A good fish. A very good fish. 56.5cms and 5lbs of fat, well conditioned brown trout. Not a bad way to open your fly fishing account. The message read
“Lee’s rod, Nicks fly and Perrin and Lee’s selfless act to let me butcher a couple of casts somewhere towards a rising fish – team effort!”