Catch and Release – Exquisite Moment at Larry’s Creek – also known as the Awarau River, Near Reefton
by Graeme Smith
It happens in that one exquisite moment, that moment we wait for, are watching for, yet usually miss. One instant it’s there, the next instant it’s not. Catch and Release.
Like watching a magician, expecting the unexpected, yet disbelieving when it happens. Now you see it, now you don’t. In a reverse wink – it’s gone.
I’d been watching the indicator for some time now – not intensely, not absently, but somewhere half between. Casting and watching, monitoring that ﬂoating wisp, arranged the line so as not to cause drag, checking that it glides effortlessly alongside a leaf or bubble, I’ve settled down now to enjoy a day on the river.
Away from the demands of work and family, it’s time for some high-quality recreation just for me. Nice word that, recreation. Broken into parts it reads recreation, to re-create myself. On my own in the solitude and tranquillity of my favourite stretch of stream, I feel the process of re-creation going on, of recharging my batteries. I always go home with more energy for life after a day’s fly ﬁshing than when I arrived so it must be working for me, this re-creating myself.
I’ve moved into a particularly nice piece of water. If I were a trout, I’d live there. Just there, behind that rock under that ledge. Just there in the calm where I can lie in wait for some tasty morsel to come ﬂoating by. Carried along in the faster water that licks around the back of an outcrop so I can duck out and pluck that bite-sized treat.
Gently casting upstream the nymph drops with a miniature splash into the current above, nicely pulled out ahead of the indicator. Stroking the line in to take up the slack, I watch my ﬂeck of wool glide confidently into the feed line.
I watch and wait, entirely focused, not another thought in my head, fingers tightening on the rod, expectantly waiting for the ﬂoat to submerge as my trout takes the offering.
The whole assembly sails blissfully through the feed line and out into the open. If there is a trout there he is not easily deceived. Perhaps he didn’t see it.
Again I try, this time presenting the nymph in a slightly different position.
Same result. Try again.
This pattern is repeated over again until I move on to another spot. No matter, it’s very relaxing just being here and soaking up the sounds and smells of life at the river’s edge.
By mid-morning I’ve-become so accustomed to the procedure that I’m not really concentrating at all. My brow is not furrowed, My eyes not tense. I’m still looking for good lies and likely spots.
Noticing also that the sun is a little warmer now and there is a small hatch starting, there’s no urgency in my movements. I am no longer mesmerised by watching that tiny buoy as I was.
My arm easily lifts back, hesitates a moment, then pushes forward for the stroke. The rod does the work, no me. False casting back and forth I’m like the conductor of a symphony being played to an audience of none. The line rolls out and gently alights on the surface, the nymph doing a little somersault ahead to catch up. The indicator runs with ease through the riffles. The soft flow of the pressure against my legs helps anchor me to this idyllic place as I make minute adjustments. Mending line out here, reeling in a little there, to balance out the little swirls and eddies that tug at the fly line.
I have a totally relaxed feeling similar to meditating. But this meditation is much grander than that. The valley is my room, the river is my mantra. I am hypnotised with the scene, intoxicated my senses. Still acutely aware of all around me I am detached by mellowness. And that’s when it happens.
It’s gone! Surely not? Eyes searching, mind wondering, was I watching it or not! I’m sure it was there, so where is it now then. Will it pop up again? Stupid brain, what’s the point, the point is the indicator has disappeared so what are you going to do about it? Mild panic sets in.
Meanwhile, despite the brain’s confusion, the arm has reacted automatically. All the muscles and ﬁbres and tendons and sinews are being called out to the emergency. In the absence of instructions, the arm is already partway through its arc towards the sky. The left hand has also joined the crisis. Fingers have started to clamp the line as the elbow begins to flex out and down. Legs are joining the fray now. Stumbling, awkwardly stepping backwards as in some oafish dance, feet struggling to find a foothold between the slippery boulders that have inexpediently loomed up behind.
Lungs have sucked in, heart accelerating, adrenaline pumping. Like the siren over the airﬁelds during spring 1940, in this previously calm and serene dell where no calamity has a place, the call has gone out, the battle has begun. It’s about now that the brain has ﬁnally caught up. Like a frustrated boss trying to take control of a situation that the boys have already got well in hand, he starts asking all the obvious questions “Is it a fish or a snag? Am I about to fall over or can I live with my foot wedged down this crevice? You can start breathing now lungs”
With the rod swept upward by one hand and the line pulled away in the other, the line has tightened into a strike and, like kids talking down cups joined with string, telegraphic communication can now begin.
The rod tip flashes back its Morse code that signals a ﬁsh is definitely on. Tight as a piano string, the line slices upstream then veers away for cover. It’s time for me to take control.
With bags of line at my feet, I reel in and crank the rod over to steer my fish into safer (for me) waters. I make for a small beach.
She’s a well-conditioned rainbow-looking flush with roe. With her precious cargo onboard she fears the worst. Her eyes seem ablaze with survival at all costs. She thrashes and pulls, leaps and darts, burning up energy at a dangerous rate. I play the ﬁsh ﬁrmly to bring it to heel. She can’t keep this up for long.
Tired now, in a desperate bid she struggles downstream through shallow. I follow and bag her soon after. Weighing in the net at five pounds, I wet my hands, clear the hare and copper and place her, facing back upstream, back into her environment.
She’s frightened and exhausted, not knowing she’s free. Lying still, pumping, she takes her time to recover. Then with a swirl, she’s off, grateful that her luck seemed to suddenly change. I’m pleased with her catch and release.
“Thank you for that exquisite moment”, I whisper as she disappears into the depths.