I saw him off the bridge, he sat in an eddy behind a rock in shallow water. He was easy to see, dark in colour against the stones on the bottom. Scuttling low I clambered off the bridge and waded out to get a good cast at him. Carefully I put the fly down, casting a metre upstream of him, approaching on an angle so as not to line or drop a shadow across.
The Knobby hopper bobbed its way down the ripple and passed clear over his head. Unperturbed, he continued to fin on the current. Somewhat perplexed I waited until the leader had traveled clear of him and picked up. This time shortening up, I put the Knobby in a bit closer so he would see and hear it fall on the edge of his cone of vision. This time it went down with a gentle plop and spreading rings mingled with the broken rippling wavelets. He didn’t budge. Only a little flick of his tail indicated that he was aware of its presence.
Mild confusion was aroused, earlier in the day every fish I covered had fallen to this technique. I retreated to the bank and sat in the shade to give him a rest and consider an alternative. A small emerger pattern might do the trick, so off came the hopper and on went the blue winged olive paradun. Five minutes later I was back on the bank. Several faultless passes had not evoked even a twitch, so rather than frighten him, I retreated to nurse my bruised ego and reconsider. Here was a good sized fish fully visible, sitting in a likely run and totally disinterested in anything I had offered. With my confidence dented I resorted to an unweighted nymph that drifted past his nose in full view without an eyebrow flicker. Now I had my back up.
I changed to a bead head and plonked it nearby and retrieved hand-over in such a delicious way I could have bitten it myself. I edged closer, rattling a few stones as I waded; but still he lay on the glide. I could see him clearly now and despite the broken surface and refraction I could see his mouth open and close in the way that fish take nymphs. Frustration began to gnaw away causing careless and reckless abandon.
Once the leader had been dumped on him, further good presentation didn’t seem to matter. Now I was about a rod’s length away, and despite him twitching now and then, he refused to bolt out into the current and the safety of the deep green depths of the pool. I touched him on the back with my rod and he moved to one side. I touched him again and he re-positioned himself again. He objected, but didn’t leave. I slid my hand under him, easing him gently out of the water, before he gave a kick and a splash and returned to his station. I could see his eyes. They were both grown white with cataracts. I left him there, still finning away in his pocket, unprepared to swim away from his little patch that he could sense. He was a slab, slowly starving away, a victim of the eel-worm parasite. Eye fluke or eel-worm are always present in the water as parasites, but only when a fish becomes old or weak or stressed with high temperatures do the eye fluke migrate from the gut to the rear of the eye causing blindness to develop.
Only a fairly low percentage of fish are ever caught by trout fishers, many of them die from old age or natural causes.
It was almost a year later that we returned to fish the Swampy again and this time Dennis and Anthony were desperate to come. Anthony is a young blood, the zeal and enthusiasm of youth barely able to be contained. Dennis on the other hand had come to fly fishing with maturity and experience but the glint in his eye burnt fiercely. The river had risen overnight and the fish weren’t cooperating and a long fish-less session that had been punctuated with some monsters sighted but spooked and lost, meant any fish would be welcome. Anthony had soloed on ahead and managed to find a big one in an impossible tangle of branches that defied capture. Soon he called to me from the bridge, “I’ve got one! Come and look at this. I have thrown everything at him but he won’t take. You have a go at him!”
I waded under the bridge and Anthony acted as spotter, calling the shots as the fly covered the fish in the run. “Yes! You are right over him…. He has to take it…. The fly is right on his nose. Give him another one… a bit to the left this time….”I could make out the fish vaguely in the distance but soon the recollections began to filter through. He was dark, burnt black as his pigment reacted to the constant sunlight of the shallow run.
“I know this fish Anthony….It’s blind Freddy!” “Aw..Bulldust!…How?”
Anthony fishes with us every chance he gets because each time he learns something, it is a revelation, a constant journey of discovery of techniques, and usually an adventure to some wilderness of nature or the mind.
Down he came off the bridge and we walked up to blind Freddy. He eased off his lie and slid to the left to hold in the current. When we had taken some photos we had to leave and beat our way aback to the plane as the light would soon fade. As we crossed the bridge we could see him easing back, little by little towards his favourite position. He was still thin but over twenty inches long at a guess. He had survived the winter and Anthony was incredulous at his story. We saw Dave and Dennis on the other bank, and to much raucous laughter we recounted how Anthony had met blind Freddy.