The lads had been looking forward to it for many weeks, a chance to all hook up and hike into the wilderness, where conservation meets salivation. The date was set – Friday 13th December, and to say we were all a little edgy at work that week would be an understatement. Not edgy due to the jinx or cursed connotations of this date, we just wanted to get the hell out there.
Baz and McFisto left a touch earlier than the rest of our crew; me, Andy and Pauly. It wasn’t until it was almost dark that we realised we were pushing our time-frame, arriving at the chosen campsite after three hours hiking and relieved not having to endure that last stretch in the pitch-Black-Friday. Even with head-torches, it’s a right pain in the arse. After a few wolf-whistles and a bit of yahoo, we located the others in a likely spot, perfect for five little tents. It felt like camp. Baz looked camp – especially all tucked up in his snuggly little abode, from which he didn’t emerge all night. Something he later blamed on ‘feeling a bit off’. A couple of us had camped in this exact spot before. I knew this because I could still smell the rancid aroma of Tawny port!
Image: Chris Reygaert
Everyone was a bit knackered after busy work schedules and a brisk hike, so we all hit the hay and tried to dream away any nasty voodoo, hoping for settled conditions and pure action tomorrow.
At the time, I was dreaming of a moment when a 6lb+ fish busted me off in a nearby headwater when McFisto lets one rip. He reckons it was a tiger snake coughing but I reckon he’s full of shit. In any case, it was 4:45am and far too cold for the olde ‘Joe Blake’. Wide awake and needing a slash, I sprang from my cocoon to see a stiff, cool breeze rolling across the lake. Oh well, no hurry this morning… coffee time.
We gradually eased out and set off for the day, deciding to navigate the day as two groups to cover some water. We hadn’t quite rounded the first corner, still laughing at McFisto’s general misfortune when some movement caught my eye in the early morning light. Yep, errrbody get down – it’s a fish! I noticed it coming toward me and about to be obscured by a rock, so I quickly popped a ‘Red Tag’ out there in readiness for my next cast. Seems that cast did the trick and the feisty fish scoffed it like there was no tomorrow! It came as a splendid way to start the day, quickly quashing any of that pessimistic pondering.
Image: Paul Anderson
With the monkey off my back at least, we rolled around the bend in the above picture already relaying our instant success when Andy quickly spots another. By this time Baz and Christo had caught up to us and Andy had an audience. Undeterred, he sent a perfect cast to lead the fish by a metre. This fish also saw the fly land and accepted. A round of applause soon followed as Andy proceeded to lay this fish on the bank. That’s two fish from two casts in two minutes – a marvellous start!
With spirits high we had quite spring in our step! Baz and Christo McFisto gave us a wide berth with the intention of bypassing this water in search of chunky browns in the headwaters.
Although we were looking into the morning sun, a high vantage point made for a small window of early-morning polaroiding. We managed to see another 5 or 6 fish along this bank but a couple of these in particular were feeding hard on the bottom, and while they inspected our dries, made no commitment. We certainly raised the topic of hanging a dropper underneath but we wanted to be certain that fish were not going to eat off the top before doing so, so persisted.
We crossed over to another lagoon just as the cloud started crossing in front of the sun. Given the weather reports, we were expecting this and thanked our lucky stars for that brief morning light. Now it was a matter of time to wait for a bit of warmth for some mayfly duns to appear. We didn’t have to wait too long before we sighted a handful of ‘sailboats’ bobbing along but it took some time for the fish to react. Even when they did, many were out of reach and the rises were few and far between.
Pauly and I had been hanging out in this corner waiting for some action to kick in while Andy went around the other side. By the time Andy was in view, we were still here and had covered a couple of fish, with Pauly missing a nice one. With the amount of duns trickling through we had all changed from searching-type patterns like Red Tags to more imitative mayfly dun patterns.
Andy was getting close to poaching our water now so we started to move up the bank when he yells “Yep, it’s a good one” as the fish took him out to deeper water. Pauly was closer then I so he raced up the bank to Andy’s aid. Seems he had a case of the early call syndrome and grossly overestimated on his initial call. Still it was FOD (Fish of the day) so far and a lovely specimen to encounter, even if he did poach it off Pauly!
Image: Paul Anderson
With action too sporadic to stick around, we decided to head over to explore some lagoons around the main river system, hoping to kill some time and maybe spot some feeding fish before the peak hatch gets underway. I took a little detour over to a point where some fish had been feeding while Andy was playing out his fish. There was a distinct drop-off there so I waited a few moments and when the fish didn’t show I explored the edge with a few long casts. A little dun-feeder snatched my fly and we’re on! I had plenty of flyline out as it was but this feisty little brown almost took me into my backing – not bad for a pocket rocket weighing well under 2lb!
Image: Paul Anderson
We moved on and it was pretty quiet around here too and although there was a lot of water around, the main system seemed low which was strange. Pauly did seem a little thirsty, but not that thirsty. We rounded a small tarn and noticed at least two small fish feeding near a creek in-flow. I waited here for Pauly to catch up so he could have a shot, I kept yelling for him to hurry up, all the while threatening to cast at these fish. He was too busy trying to get a galaxia to eat his fly! Once he arrived the smaller of the two fish ate his fly and came to hand. It was interesting to see red spots on this fish, as you don’t see too many out here. We guessed that it was due to this fish being a little ‘creeker’.
Action was lacking around this area so we decided to head back to the duns. On our way up over the escarpment, the wind dropped right out and as we sighted our water we saw it glassed out with fish rising. Yes! We made a beeline for the honey holes and started to look for those consistent risers. Duns were popping all over the place and fish were on them hard. It was still nice and overcast and quite warm without the wind. I was working on a fish close by when it smashed my dun pattern. Pauly grabbed a shot of me playing out this fish under a very cool sun halo.
Image: Paul Anderson
I was keen to get my fly back out there as fish were still going hard nearby. The fish had taken me around some rocks so a re-tie of my tippet was required. While tying on I heard Andy hook up and play the fish before losing it. By the time I was ready to re-cast, the action waned. It seemed that wind was so crucial to this hatch, as soon as it would start the duns would stop and as soon as the duns stopped, so too the fish. Even the odd sailboat that appeared would quickly be given flight by the wind and out of reach from these spotted predators.
We stuck around for another hour I reckon, waiting for that wind to back off or activity to recommence but it just didn’t happen. We eventually packed up shop and headed back to camp for a mid-arvo lunch. We ran into McFisto on the way back who mentioned that he had hooked a couple, but landed nil. Baz had a couple on the board but they were really relying on that sun for the spot they fished! More importantly, Christo informed us that Baz wasn’t feeling too good, with some pretty hardcore stomach cramps.
Image: Chris Reygaert
We met Baz back at camp and he looked pretty uncomfortable. We started drilling a few questions into him like; What did he eat? Where had he been drinking from? We boiled up some water to set aside for cooling so he could keep his fluids up, as he’d already had a vomit or two.
Baz decided to lay back in his tent for a while and tried to keep his increasing pain at bay. Pauly kept watch during a quick kipper while the remaining three of us had a look around the corner. By now the wind was up even more and any dun action was looking grim. Still, I’d spotted another nice ledge which looked too good to leave unexplored. Bait fishing the boys call it, but I was quite happy to blind search the area and by my third cast I found a fish patrolling the edge and it happily scoffed my dry. Bloody baito’s!
We kept blind searching along a lea shore which was eventually blown out by wind as the breeze swung around again and again. Without further success we headed back to camp. We found Baz in a pretty bad state, writhing in pain, knees tucked up and his shallow breathing masking constant grunts. We wanted to rule out appendicitis or kidney stones but his symptoms and pain location seemed to indicate contamination, either from water or food we surmised.
We kept monitoring his pain levels and doing bursts of pain management for 30min blocks, while keeping the fluids up. There was talk of scaling the tallest peak nearby to see if reception was possible, followed by talk of a rescue chopper if things got out of hand. It was a drawn out process for the poor bloke but eventually, Baz slipped into a sleep, exhausted from his writhing. This was the best thing that could have happened as he awoke some time later feeling a bit better but still very sore. For us, it was a positive sign and enabled us to relax, perhaps a bit too much with some dinner and a few hundred ports while Baz slept it off. We yarned a hundred yarns around the Mayoral Throne, which was out of the wind and offered a rare natural amphitheatre for our secret soirée and story telling.
Image: Chris Reygaert
Morning came too early as an early departure found a few of us packing up and leaving before 7:30am, with Baz and Christo hanging out a bit longer. Turns out that Baz was feeling pretty good by now, even talking about the fishing the day prior, which was a huge relief. Ironically, a couple of us now had vomit on the brain as the thought of walking for three hours instilled the darkness of Black Friday again. Port? What were we thinking?