James came in a while ago. He’d caught a few small fish but wanted to improve his skills. James is young, he is still at uni, first year I think. I took him to the Goulburn to show him how to find fish, how to see them, how to confine his casting to a known fish rather than casting randomly and hoping for the best.
We had a great day. The great man-god in the sky was really kind to us. Each time I explained about how fish take up station or how fish boil to emergers or cruise a beat around a backwater, one would turn up right on cue and perform perfectly. James was gob smacked. I was being cute, playing the perfect guide, predicting, instructing and demonstrating. James stepped up to the plate and started hitting homers.
The first exercise was upstream nymphing under an indicator fly, a sliding stimulator. No joy. I pushed him hard making him cast longer for longer drifts and line mend to prevent drag. We worked over a delicious patch on a big slow corner. The water was knee deep, rippling over the freestone bottom. He had never fished this way before and I am in his ear, bossing him around, making him do everything right to ensure that he would pick up a fish. Twenty minutes on and we had not drawn a scale, not a sausage, nought, nil, nothing!
Moving upstream and leaving the glide behind I decided the best thing to do was look for classic positions, and sit and wait until a fish revealed itself. ‘Five minutes’ I said and on four minutes fifty the fish rose! Right on the current seam in a strong reverse. We only had to wait for him. James cast as the fish settled into rising several times. He rose and took the fly but James struck too soon, just rolling him over as he came off.
The next bank was the same. We stood and watched and sure enough a riser moved beside a weed entangled snag. ‘Wait’ I said. He will come to us. Soon he rose again, closer and then again right under us. He swung around and propped right on station.
‘I can see him!’ said James. Sure enough a fish of about a pound rose right under his rod tip. We could count the spots on his back as he slid to the top to take an emerger in the film. To attempt to cast now would surely spook him, even the slightest movement would. Soon he rose further up, and taking a chance, James got his fly in position on the water. Sure enough the fish returned on his beat sliding up and scoffing a tiny dun right beside his fly. James was blown away by this intimate encounter and seconds later the fish was back gulping down his size 16 Klinkhammer emerger.
The look on his face was enough. Triumph. A fat pounder was admired and released. “Just before we leave, put one up by the weed draped snag”. Up went the Klinkhammer a few inches short. Up it went again to be greeted by a nice, dark snout. James struck tight into a 2 pounder that carted him downstream peeling line off the reel. Soon he was to learn the awful truth of what happens when a fish gets downstream and starts to thrash. They parted company.
James was in danger of dragging his bottom jaw through the mud, it had fallen so far. I was trying to contain myself. I couldn’t have scripted the last hour better if I had tried. This beats a few small fish in the Murrindndi. Walking back to the car I suggested that we revisit the first fish he rolled over. He didn’t need encouragement. This time I sat back. It was all James. He walked up and waited, screening himself in the trees at the reverse end of the backwater. The timing was perfect.
Within a few minutes the fish rose against the bank in the bubble line. James covered him with his first cast unfazed by the high bank and willow tree obstructing his back cast. Down the bubble line came the Klinkhammer. He rose to take the semi-submerged emerger with the tiniest of dimples. When James struck he lifted high and held the fish out of the snags. Blood red spots with white halos adorned his golden flank. The mottled brown spots giving way to the dark olive of his back, as James held him face into the current to allow him to recover.
He didn’t need much, flicking his tail rapidly as he slid into the depths.
This beats uni lectures any day. Been there done that. Who wants to be an accountant? Bugger the business studies, James was on fire. Rolling down the road we dissected each encounter. I hammered home the lessons; I took each point and set it in stone. I sounded like I knew it all, its best to keep this illusion, James will learn the hard way soon enough.
Slipping in behind the island we set up for the evening rise. As the sun’s rays lengthened across the water, the first few duns arrived. James was a keen observer; no doubt I had a firm grasp by now. Leading him would be no trouble. A size 14 Bushy’s Emerger in grey was the perfect match.
No casting was allowed while we waited for the first fish to rise. It didn’t take long. In the middle of the run we saw a head and back appear just ahead of the reflection of a tree trunk in the water. This fix gave him the bearing to aim his fly. Two casts later the head and back emerged to gulp the fly down and a chunky pound and a half rainbow cartwheeled all over the run. This time when he got downstream and started to thrash the rod came over to the side to turn his head and angle him back into the current. Twice he had to do this before the fish came to heel, and after being quickly released, regained his freedom. I am sure the quick release was hurried on by the second fish that was chomping away at duns with a loud splashy whack of a rise.
Yes he landed that one too.
It was black dark as we stumbled back across the paddock to the car. James was back. He called in at the shop. He revisited the scene of his success and caught another one off the high bank again. This time all by himself. More lectures skipped.
Mick met James out on the river last night. They struck up a conversation. James asked if he could tag along and watch, no problem, he watched Mick take a couple of small risers. “There’s one!” said Mick “Have a go at him”. James stepped up and took him nicely, only small but taken with confidence and consummate ease.
“These were the good ole days” James will say in ten years time. “I remember when I first started fly fishing I met these two old timers who showed me how to fish the Goulburn. There were fish everywhere. We used to get five or six a day”. By this time James will be married with two kids, a mortgage and a partnership in an accounting firm. I should also mention the family Labrador that tends to slobber.
James will look up from his computer and gaze out the window. A small nostalgic pain will grip him, “I remember that old bastard warned me, he told me these are the good old days”.