It is a stunningly glorious day in north-east Victoria. There’s no wind, it’s 20 degrees and sunny, but crisp in the shadows. The autumn leaves are turning and it’s the weekend. What could be better? Hamish and I have decided to fish a small stream near Harrietville, in north-east Victoria. Bursting out of the car with excitement, I am setting up while Hamish has a few casts in the riffles nearby. “Just missed one!”, he yells excitedly, which makes tying my knot incredibly difficult, and I need two attempts to get it right. This is the start of my ‘barry’ for the day. I don’t know where the term ‘barry’ came from, or who barry was, or why he was such a barry, but basically when you are having a ‘barry’ it means you’re generally doing everything wrong and luck is most definitely not on your side*. Today is one of those days.
I eventually join Hamish in the stream, which is narrow in most sections and necessitates pool-for-pool sharing. This is a great way of fishing, and can make one feel like part of a well-oiled hunting machine. One person can spot fish, advise on backcasts, presentations, where to stand and so on. These are all things that after a few years of flyfishing, I have finally started to think about. Anyway, I decide that the stream is large enough for us both to have a cast, so start swoffing away. One or two casts land on the water. The third cast catches Hamish’s dry/nymph team, and luckily it’s not a big tangle, so no biggie. Next cast I’m in the tree behind me, which I am sure wasn’t there before, but reality dictates that it must have been. I am jumping around trying to reach the twig while ensuring I don’t snap my poor man’s quad, which is lying precariously on the ground at my feet. I finally remove the branch, untangle the line, find that my fly is still attached, then walk off, only to realise I am on blackberry. I mutter a few expletives, but after another few seconds I am back in business.
Hamish and I continue up the stream, taking turns casting into likely looking water. Only our mentality is completely different. What I am seeing as ‘likely looking water’ is the water I think I can actually cast at. Hamish is thinking of ‘likely looking water’ being the places that trout would actually be sitting, which, in my opinion, are in completely unfishable places. However, watching him underneath a low hanging tree, between two logjams, casting over a blackberry and into a pocket of water beneath an upturned tree root indicates to me that it was a complete fluke of a cast, until he repeats it over and over again. I try the next one, full of confidence that I can do it too. I assess my backcast, ensure my line is ready to shoot and start swoffing away. Repeat first barry.
We continue on like this for a while and I am getting increasingly frustrated, and the fact that we can see fish but they are not playing ball makes it all the more frustrating. I’ve said it on the blog before, but I feel a deep sense of guilt for getting the shits when in such an amazing place, and in great company. I should be happy and content, to say the least.
Hamish is forthcoming with advice (sometimes a little too much), but I am spooking fish and I can tell he is getting frustrated with me, as I am with myself. He continues downstream to fish another stretch. I am quite happy to be fishing solo at this stage, and focus on fishing water that I can fish without buggering it up too much.
Later in the trip, I am walking along a road, beer in hand, talking to Nick about my experiences. He identifies with it immediately, and begins explaining the process of his (and subsequently my) revelation. Flyfishing is not supposed to be easy. It’s meant to be challenging. Fishing water ‘well’ should be the object (Hamish has alluded to this in his Harrietville post). I am hoping that this fresh mentality will come in handy, and was able to put it into practice in a short session I had on the way home. I stopped in the lower Ovens and picked a nice looking stretch of water. Methodically, carefully, systematically…and enjoyably, I fished it. I didn’t catch a fish. But I didn’t have a barry. Not one. I was sidecasting under vegetation, throwing long tight loops, mending appropriately, throwing the odd roll cast, and absolutely loving it. Never mind the fact that I was using a big lairy dry when I should have been nymphing…
This new approach, the focus on fishing the water well, has started to work. I look forward to the next challenge, and despite the inevitable frustrations and annoyances that will arise, I will take far more pleasure in the fishing that I achieve that is elegant, graceful and effective. I think this will make me a better flyfisher. Thanks Barry, Hamish and Nick (and Brett, who is always trout-zen**).
* Subsequent research has revealed the definition of ‘Barry’, with thanks to the Urban Dictionary (disclaimer: etymological rigour questionable):
Most often used in a sporting sense, when someone asks how you performed.