15 September 2020

The River Allen, Dorset

I have had my eye on the River Allen all season long, because it's the nearest chalkstream in Dorset to my home. I could just about make a day trip to it and hopefully catch a first trout from a new county. The Allen is apparently one of the most private of all the English chalkstreams, because almost all of its 13 mile length is under the ownership of just two large English estates that have been in the same families for many generations (one being the Earl of Shaftesbury). When I saw that a day ticket beat on the Earl's water near the village of Wimborne St. Giles was being offered at a discounted price this September, I jumped at the opportunity to sample it. Everybody loves a bargain.

When I first saw the river I began to worry. The water level was extremely low, flowing no higher than my boot laces. I thought I had been sold a dud. Fortunately, I discovered there were deeper, fish holding pools at the lower and upper limits of the beat. It also transpired that I had the entire river beat to myself for the day and I enjoyed the solitude and freedom to roam. It turned out to be a very enjoyable day after all.

As I walked down the beat to its lowest limit the river began to form a series of slow-flowing holding pools. This is by no stretch my favourite type of fishing but I could see there were fish in these pools and I relished the chance to return on my way back upriver and target them. I tried to keep a distance between the river and myself as I tread the freshly mown waterside path to avoid spooking the fish. The river gradually became 'wilder' in feel as I went, progressively congested by reeds and water weeds. I spotted some very large trout lying in places which were impossible to cast to. For a little while I tried and lost an inordinate amount of flies to the reeds and trees and spooked many trout. I enjoy this combat style of fishing though, because it takes effort and thought, and the rewards may often be great. I watched a kingfisher fly rapidly down the river in a blur of squawking blue, followed by two more shortly after.

I came to the first real opening of water in the reeds. I really needed a much longer rod and a long handled net, but I cast my self tied olive and pink blend shrimp into the near still water and held my rod high. A fish of around a pound took the fly and gave a brief but spirited account for itself before the hook dislodged. There were several other trout in the pool so I cast again, and the largest of them came to investigate my fly and took it. I lifted my rod as high as I could over the reeds and waded into the water, managing to force a small opening where I could net the fish. I stood in the water and admired the trout, my first from Dorset. It was in terrific condition and brightly coloured. At 18 inches long, I doubted I would catch a better fish from this little river.     

In the very next pool of sedately flowing water, again enveloped by reeds, I hooked another good fish. I had to play it downstream to a small access into the water where there was a gap in the reeds. The water looked shallow there, so I stepped in, and realised very quickly when I sunk into the ooze and the water came to my chest and over the top of my waders, that looks can be deceiving! Even as I floundered I managed to keep the line taut and held on to land the trout, but felt soggy and damp for the rest of the day.

In the next five hours I caught four more trout with the nymph as the water became progressively shallower and the fish commensurately spookier. These fish were all between 10 and 14 inches.

After lunch, I came to a good looking run of water beneath a tree where at least three trout were rising sporadically. My offerings were initially ignored but when I tied on an extra length of 7x tippet, a snout broke the water's surface against the left bank and sipped in my CDC Olive. I struck and the trout instantly bolted upstream like a bull released in the streets of Pamplona. The tippet parted before it got very far. That must have been some fish. I did manage to catch the trout rising against the right bank and again marvelled at its beautifully coloured disposition.    

I spooked the remainder of the pool and with every step I took, I shepherded three trout upstream until they settled in the next pool. One of them was large and I suspected it was the tippet breaker. Suddenly an even larger trout swung into the pool and snapped at Tippet Breaker's tail, sending it fleeing past me and back downstream. The dominant large fish returned to its lie in water less than a foot deep under a low hanging tree branch. I watched it for a while as it settled back into an active feeding routine. With a side cast, I delivered my dry fly beneath the tree branch and the trout inspected the CDC & Elk pattern in a heart-stopping moment before rejecting it. I replaced the dry fly with a small nymph and after three or four drifts past the trout, the brute turned 180° and took the fly with a savage force. I struck and held on until the fish was netted. It appeared perhaps a little too slender for its length, but a 21 inch trout is always special from a river as small as the Allen.

The next section of the river was especially low and I spotted only very small, skittish trout. Fishing became secondary to my enjoyment of the outdoors. The Allen is a wonderful looking chalkstream. It has been left pleasingly wild and the corridor of bankside vegetation must provide excellent cover for the fish. The stream bed gravels were as white as I have seen in any chalkstream. 

The final section of the river is above a trout farm. I followed a narrow grass path around the boundary of the farm, wary not to touch the electric fence. The water is impounded by a concrete weir at the top of the farm and only a trickle of water came over the weir in the river's historic channel. The majority of water was diverted through the trout farm. For around 50m upstream of the weir the water was like a lake, where the trout cruised around in schools or alone. I followed the path upstream and just where the current became perceptible again, I spotted a good fish holding stationary in the water. I cast a #22 bead head pheasant tail nymph ahead of the fish and witnessed it open and close its mouth in a flash of white. I struck in that instant, hoping it had taken my small fly, and enjoyed enormously the double sensation of feeling resistance in the line and seeing the fish shake its head in anger. Once again, it was a fine looking trout. Its top half was olive and brown, descending through a shade of mauve to an underside of golden yellow. Its lateral line was adorned in cherry red spots while its shoulders and back featured large black spots. Something about this water made the fish dress for the occasion.  

Much of the very top of the beat was overgrown and the water was again very low. I enjoyed walking up this section, admiring the open country views and watching out for several drab pheasant hens that erupted in cackling flight from the bankside vegetation. The pheasant cock proudly walked the grass path ahead of me, always keeping a distance. 

At the very top of the beat I found an unexpected surprise - a secret and pretty pool shrouded in the shadow of encircling trees. At the tail of the pool, just before the silt gave way to clean washed gravel, I spied a good fish. I watched my dry fly drift past the immovable trout a few times and then tied on and cast a small nymph to it. When the nymph came into range the trout sharply moved to its left and took it. It put up an extraordinary fight which lasted several minutes. Every time I believed I had the measure of the trout, and readied my net, it seemed to gain more strength and took line by running back into the depths of the pool. When I finally netted it, I saw that it had a recent wound on its left flank - a near perfect round hole the size of a 2p coin that was still bleeding. I suspect one of the many grey herons I had seen earlier had struck it with its sharp beak. Given the small amount of blood which billowed from the wound into the water as I released it, the attack must have been recent. I was amazed that the trout was back in an open feeding lie so soon afterwards. Trout are hardier than we anglers often credit them.  

Two fish were rising at the head of the pool and I waded into deeper water to reach them. Stewart Hand, the river keeper, appeared whilst I was standing thigh deep in the water and introduced himself, and we spoke briefly. He keeps a well run river with just the right balance in my opinion between maintenance and a natural state. After Stewart departed, I spent half an hour trying to tempt the trout in the pool without any joy and eventually called it quits just before 6 p.m. 

What a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the English countryside

In the image above, you can just make out the ruins of Knowlton Church on the crest of the hill. I stopped to look at the ruins of the Norman church on the drive home. It was extensively remodelled in the 14th century and stands inside a late Neolithic Henge monument, constructed c.2500 B.C. The Henge consists of a ring bank with two entrances and an internal ditch, probably meant for ceremonial use. A real weight of history pervaded my thoughts, knowing that for thousands of years prior visiting worshippers would most likely have drawn their drinking supply and bathed in the watercourse I had just fished. 

The days are growing shorter now as winter approaches. The trout fishing season nears an end within a matter of days. It's a dispiriting thought. I'll look back on this day fondly in the coming winter months. 

13 September 2020

The River Alre, Hampshire

The River Itchen is formed at the confluence of the River Alre and Cheriton Brook, just south of the pretty town of Alresford. I recently had an enjoyable day fishing the short section of the Alre just before it becomes the Itchen proper. It felt somewhat poignant that I was fishing at the place where one of the greatest trout fishing rivers in the world begins its journey to the sea. 

My first glimpse of the Alre

The Alre is a river small in size and like any chalkstream it runs gin clear. The beat I fished is described as being 'traditionally managed' which, I came to learn, is a euphemism for being left to nature's devices. There is an allure in such wild, unkempt rivers but I was left in no doubt as to the enormity of the challenge that lay ahead. The limpid water meant its wily resident trout and grayling would spot me from a mile away. I would have to wade upriver with the stealth and restraint of a heron. I'd need to use a long leader too. The bankside vegetation meant casting would be tricky in places, especially given a stiff cross wind. I was also a little tired and sore from the full day spent fishing the Itchen the day before. I could sense I might not perform at an optimum level. It was a little depressing to think about it. My mind was willing even if my back, shoulders and legs weren't!  

My instincts weren't proven wrong. I waded gingerly into the river at 9.30 a.m. and three hours later I had nothing to show for my effort. The fish were disturbed by my cumbersome presence and fled in panic. It's easy to spot a spooked fish, when it's all too late, and I kicked myself every time. Still, the sun radiated warmth whenever it wasn't behind the clouds, and I revelled in the calm green space around me. My partner came to join me for a picnic lunch next to the river. She appeared to be my lucky charm because a fish took my nymph as she watched, and it revealed itself to be a fine grayling. My partner has little interest in angling, but I must have seemed a very competent angler to her!

Where there is one grayling, there are usually several more. While my partner went to set up the picnic I caught two more grayling. The second was the best of the trio, and hearing the commotion my partner came to watch and commented on how much my little Orvis Superfine rod was bending in the fight. Having never seen it in action before, she was concerned it would break! The grayling in question put up a dogged fight so typical of this species, hugging the depths and trying to flee into the weeds. It measured around 15 inches in the net and was tinged in shades of yellow and gold. When I came to release it, its dorsal fin flared in the water and revealed a dazzling pattern of scarlet red and plum purple.   

After a sandwich, I waded back into the river with a renewed energy and confidence. I was hopeful that I would pick up where I left off, but it wasn't to be. In the next two hours I hardly had a sniff. I approached the top of the beat at around 3 p.m. when I had agreed to meet my partner for a trip into town. As she came down to the river bank to meet me I hooked another grayling! This was another good fish of around 14 or 15 inches. I joked that she should come along on all my fishing trips but she would have none of it, of course.  

Just as before, I caught two more grayling in quick succession after the first. The successful fly was again my self tied olive and pink blend shrimp. I hope to develop my fly tying in the coming months, and catching fish on my own pattern was a real boost. 

I was a little disappointed to have reached the upper limit of the beat without having caught a trout. Grayling are a fabulous quarry on the fly but the pursuit of trout provides me with a little extra satisfaction. It was then that I spotted a trout in the shallow margins of the far bank. I cast my shrimp just ahead of it. The trout moved fractionally to its left and I struck, elated when I saw the fish recoil in surprise as the hook found a solid purchase. I was overjoyed when it slipped into my net because I take great pleasure in catching a first trout from a new river. It had a silvery sheen, and completely lacked the cherry red spots so prevalent in the trout I had caught not a mile downstream in the upper Itchen the day before.   

It was now just after 3 pm. I changed into dry clothes and we drove into the town of Alresford to look around. The old part of the town was about a mile upstream from my beat, where an historic fulling mill spans the river. A mill has been at this site since the 14th Century, harnessing the water's energy to finish woollen cloth. It has now been converted into a charming home. There were some very large trout in the water beneath the mill, completely habituated to the presence of man. Fish pellets for sale next to the river explained their bold behaviour.

As with the Itchen the day before, very few fish had risen during the day. I hoped that by going back to the river in the evening, I might encounter a rise. I slipped back into the water at the very downstream limit of the beat for the second time, at 5.30 p.m. I would have two and half hours to fish until nightfall and I realised I almost never have the luxury of fishing until dark because I normally have a long drive home. It made a nice change to continue fishing as the sky turned pink and the sun set. A little surprisingly there was no rise, so I continued to fish with the nymph. It wasn't long before I caught another silvery trout of ten inches and then lost a very good trout. The latter leapt out of the water when hooked, revealing its proportions, and I was momentarily stunned. It was short lived. As soon as the trout clattered back into the water, the hook dislodged and the line went limp. I won't repeat what was said under my breath. 

I spotted a large grayling in about four feet of water which was relatively deep for this stream. It was an easy spot because it stood out against the bright gravels on the stream bed and because it frequently moved to intercept aquatic morsels. I must have spent at least half an hour trying to tempt it, changing nymph patterns several times. I was on the verge of passing the fish by when I eventually struck gold with a #14 hare's ear nymph. On reflection, the smaller, lighter nymphs I had used until then had probably failed to sink to the stream bed in the swift current. On this particular drift, the grayling abruptly turned and took the nymph whilst facing me. As the line tightened, I rejoiced at finally fooling it. 

A little further upstream I came to a small tree on the true right bank. It was completely overhanging half of the river's width and its lowest branches kissed the water. A good current flowed under the tree but it was impossible to cast a fly beneath it. It had big fish lie written all over it, but I shrugged my shoulders and hoped perhaps that any fish which resided there may have left its cover to feed in the dusk light. I discerned the large dark shape of a fish in the margin of the opposite bank and my pulse quickened. Bingo. I cast several times at the fish, changing patterns a couple of times, but the fish was unmoved. Something about its shape looked odd but it was difficult to see into the water in the low light. I inched closer and thought it strange that the fish hadn't spooked, and then I could tell it was a pike. I felt a little silly. By now I was abreast with the tree and focusing on the water above it. There was a sudden splash in the water beneath the tree and the sound of grunting and breathing. It sounded like a dog had jumped in the water for a swim but there really shouldn't have been any dog walkers on this private land. I crouched down to look beneath the branches and saw two dark, wet, slicked back heads looking at me. I was a little shocked to see something so unexpected - two pairs of intelligent eyes staring back at me - and the hair on the back of my neck bristled. I realised I was looking at two otters! It was the very first time I have seen them in the UK and I felt very lucky. Sure as anything, the otters caused a huge trout to dart out from beneath the tree and away upstream.  

I caught two more trout with a nymph, each time marvelling at their sea-trout-silver appearance, before it became too dark to see and I packed it in. 

As I packed away my fishing gear into my car boot by torchlight, a bird - which I assumed to be an owl - let out a series of haunting screeches in the distance. On the short drive back to my holiday cottage along a single lane road, a deer and then a hare were momentarily caught in my headlights before they bounded away into the night. Hampshire is one of the most populated counties in the UK but if you drive just a little way off the main roads, you discover large open spaces, abundant wildlife and dark, starry night skies. It was only the county next door to mine, but my long weekend break offered a wonderful temporary escape. 

09 September 2020

The River Itchen, Hampshire

The River Itchen is often described as the 'prince of chalkstreams'. It certainly has a rich and illustrious place in the annals of flyfishing literature. Some even regard the upper Itchen to be the finest trout water in the world. To say it has been a long held dream of mine to fish the upper Itchen would be putting it too lightly. The problem has always been how to access the river's upper reaches where the trout are bright and wild, and where the busy M3 motorway, a constant companion of the river's middle and lower reaches, doesn't intrude on the senses. There is just so little of it, something in the region of three miles of river. This prime water is as rare as seeing a swallow in the winter and the privilege of fishing it on a day ticket basis comes at great cost. One beat near the village of Itchen Stoke is available to the itinerant angler for the hefty sum of £480 a day. After a little bit of resolute digging I found my fishing nirvana - a beat at Itchen Stoke leased by the famed Piscatorial Society of London. By booking two nights at a local accommodation, I trumped the Society's esteemed members and acquired the right to fish these hallowed waters at a substantial discount. The accommodation was obviously popular. I had to wait months - until the first weekend of September - for the first and only available vacancy this year. I made a weekend break out of it.

I watched the long range weather forecast like a hawk in the two weeks leading up to my visit. It had initially been touch and go for a day of rain, but as my day approached and the forecast became a little more reliable, the outlook settled upon a cool day of cloud cover and a gentle breeze. I could live with that. We arrived and settled in to our accommodation in the early evening. Despite the cold air and a gentle rain my partner and I went for a short walk to peer over a bridge into the nearby Candover Brook, one of the main head water tributaries of the Itchen, where a row of picturesque thatch cottages stood. A trout spooked at my presence and bolted for the cover of the bridge. Looking upstream, a grey heron stalked the margins. It was a pretty English scene, and it reminded me of a John Constable painting. We made it back to our cottage just as a heavy downpour fell from the clouds. The rain continued deep into the night, the rhythmic patter on the cottage roof lulling me to sleep. I hoped that I would wake to clear skies.    

The sky was a sullen grey when I woke, but fortunately the rain had ceased. The land was heavy with moisture and large puddles of rain water dotted the single track country lane to the river. I met the estate's young game keeper at the beat's car park at 9 am. I was to fish beat 2, known as "The Shallows", reached by following a footpath running beside the 1st "Home" beat. It gave me a good chance to view this magnificent river, a quilt patchwork of golden gravels, brown silt and a blend of luminous and deep green water weeds. In the ribbons of clear, shallow water running over gravel, trout were boldly visible. The slight yellowing of the riverside leaves announced the onset of Autumn. A gentle rain began to fall, but it failed to dampen my excitement. The Itchen must be one of Britain's prettiest waterways. Unquestionably, it is one of Britain's most precious.    

My first glimpse of the Itchen - looking upstream from the start of the Home beat

Looking downstream from the start of the Home beat

Still mesmerised by the river's beauty, I slipped into the cold water at the start of my beat. I spotted a trout lying behind the trailing branches of a bush but after several casts, it melted away. I realised then that the task ahead wasn't to be an easy one. These fish had their wits about them.

The low light under the grey clouds made it hard to spot fish. There was also a strong glare reflecting from the water. It was virtually impossible to see fish directly upstream of me, so I had to improvise. There weren't any rising trout so I attached a small tuft of white wool to my leader as an indicator and cast speculatively into the likely water, inching upstream between casts. It isn't an ideal approach on a chalkstream, but it paid off around ten minutes later when I landed my first brown trout from the Itchen. It was a lovely little fish of ten inches.

The fishing proved to be rather challenging thereafter. I witnessed a couple of fish spook at my presence from a long way off, and several more seemed to spook at the mere sight of my leader, indicator or fly. I replaced my 9' leader for a 12' version, and added 3' of tippet. This seemed to help, because I caught another trout with a nymph soon after the change. The river here flowed quickly, through a series of two sweeping bends, and as I approached the long, relatively straight stretch of water above, I realised it was almost 12.30 pm. Two trout in three hours seemed too modest a reward, and I began to scratch my head for ideas. But then I witnessed the very welcome sight of a fish rising a little way upstream. I replaced the nymph with a small Parachute Adams, and landed three trout in quick succession. I was a lot happier with my tally when I paused for a pasta salad lunch on the banks of the river. 

The Shallows beat is only around 250m long but it has two distinct sections. The swifter flowing section I describe above, and a long straight section where the river is wider and flows a little more sedately. There seemed to be more fish in the latter section and a greater proportion of grayling. I could also spot them a little easier in the calmer water. By 4.30 pm I had reached the upper limit of the beat, with a tally of ten trout and ten grayling. The best of each species were around twelve or thirteen inches long. I spotted the largest trout and watched it turn and take my nymph (I'm beginning to really enjoy the thrill of sight nymphing). The grayling were all a beautiful shade of gold, and their undersides were seasonally coloured with yellow lines. I was in seventh heaven. 

All of the fish in the afternoon had taken a nymph, and the majority of those had taken a fly I had tied myself before this trip. Intended to represent a shrimp, it was tied on a size 16 hook with a 2 mm gold tungsten bead head, a body made up of a blend of Donegal olive and pink seal's fur dubbing, and a head section of glitzy olive antron. Both the trout and grayling seemed quite happy to take my creation, and it did wonders for my renewed interest in tying my own flies.  

Along the way, I spotted the largest pike I have ever seen. I turned to look into a sheltered bay of calm water to my left and jumped out of my skin when I saw it. You really don't expect to see any living creature of such proportion in a chalkstream. I would estimate it to have been around 50 inches long but now I question my memory, because from what I can tell from an internet search, that would be a very large pike indeed. There were two smaller pike, each around 30 inches long, resting in the same bay. They are menacing looking things.

I was cold and drenched thanks to a leak in my waders, and for a split second I pondered calling it a day. I decided against going home, and walked back to the mid way point of the beat and fished the better second half of the river again. I caught six more trout and another grayling. I'm very glad I persisted because the last of them was the best fish of the day, caught just on the stroke of 7 pm as the light began to fade. I knew I had hooked a special fish when it stripped line from my hands. It was a chunky, mature looking trout of fifteen inches, and its capture really made my day!         

If anything, I was a little disappointed that I didn't encounter a hatch and a sustained rise, but that was only a small grumble. How can anyone complain about catching good numbers of fish from such a renowned and beautiful river? I had finally experienced the Holy Grail of fly fishing. It felt special that these were all wild fish and it showcased what chalkstream fishing really should be about (take note, heavily stocked River Test!). My dream was achieved and now I can only think about visiting again soon.  

31 August 2020

NZ Memories (vol. 5): West Coast Redemption

It was the last week of October in 2015 and I had unfinished business. Seven months prior, I had walked miles up a pristine West Coast river only to turn around and go home at the whim of a recently acquainted fishing buddy. I desperately wanted to know what lay upstream. When my Kiwi friend Nick Moody suggested we go on a fishing trip together, I seized the opportunity to scratch this persistent itch.

This river is hemmed in tightly by mountains and impenetrable beech forest, and the river's banks are littered with boulders ranging in size from footballs to buses. It's an unwelcoming terrain. Like many of the rivers in New Zealand, the best fishing is found some way upstream but there is no maintained track up this valley. It meant our progress was made not in straight lines but by finding the path of least resistance through the trees and teeming vegetation beneath them. It was even harder and slower going over the boulders at the river's edge, where each step had to be taken with studied concentration because the rocks were loose and wet from a spitting rain. Made ungainly by our packs, Nick and I both took tumbles and I worried about the tolerance of our ankles. To add to the gruelling experience, the sandflies of the West Coast were relentless. Prolific clouds of them constantly swarmed around our bodies. It was far better to keep moving than to rest, when the biting insects would settle and test the weaknesses and gaps in clothing. It's a valley for dedicated souls only, but because of that, it held the allure of much promise and mystique. 

Ten kilometres up the valley, only a little further than I had reached on my previous visit, we began to encounter trout in consistent numbers. Our focus switched from travel to sport and we rigged up our fly rods in eager anticipation, ignoring a brief rain shower. In a small side braid of the river we spied a trout holding in the darkest of the yellow water, beneath an overhanging beech tree. Nick won the game of "rock, paper, scissors" and soon made short work of the fish.

We settled into our usual routine of walking slowly upriver, searching the water for fish, spotting good numbers of them, and taking turns to cast. I caught a trout next and then Nick followed with another, suggesting some naivety on the part of the fish. The fishing season was still very young and it was entirely possible that we were the first anglers to cast a fly to these trout in many months. 

We noticed that many of the trout were heavily scarred, typically with what appeared to be bite marks on their backs. We concluded that there must be a healthy eel population in this river, and I remembered seeing an inquisitive eel, as black as tar, on my previous visit. The eel had emerged to investigate the commotion when I landed a trout, and was very interested in the scent of my landing net. It was incredible to think that something larger and meaner than trout hunted in these waters.

When hooked this fish immediately fled beneath a large boulder, where it beached itself!

In the late afternoon the sun briefly emerged from behind the clouds and bathed the valley in golden light. Its energy-giving warmth dried my damp clothes and imbued a sense of optimism. I soon caught the best trout of the day. 

Nick had been told by someone in the know to look out for a prime place to camp. There are very few flat, grassy places in this valley and we would have struggled to find a suitable place to camp without this useful piece of information. The camping spot wasn't visible from the level of the water and could easily be missed, but Nick had been given a loose description of markers to look out for. We eventually found the hidden oasis in the evening and set up camp for two nights. We cooked and ate our dinners, ignoring the sandflies as best we could. I was tired and went to bed early, settling in to my tent to read a copy of Derek Grzelewski's 'The Trout Diaries'. I lasted only a page or two before I fell asleep. The constant sound of the river was reassuring and I enjoyed a deep sleep. 

Sandflies use kamikaze tactics with boiling water - perhaps they're attracted to the heat?

I woke a little after dawn and went to collect some water from the river for my coffee. The air was cold and still and my body ached from yesterday's hike. As I filled my pot with water, a trout rose next to the bank of boulders, mere metres ahead of me. Still in my pyjamas, I fetched my rod and cast a dry fly to the trout, which hungrily obliged. The trout had a gorgeous golden-orange hue and its capture marked the perfect way to start the day. 

We agreed to split up on this morning. Nick would take the water immediately upstream of our camp and I would walk up some distance, leaving him enough water to fish. Because I'd already caught a fine trout that morning, I was in no rush to get going. I lingered and watched Nick stalk and catch several trout, and took some great action photos.

My memories of the time I spent on my own that day are now a little fuzzy. I recall catching a couple of trout without ever thinking the fishing was dead easy. The going felt a little more difficult than the day before, as if the river was revealing a fickle nature. My defining memory is of spending a long time trying to tempt the largest fish I encountered. It was lying in a deep pool of water and the only way to reach it was to scramble on top of a boulder the size of a Range Rover, and cast to it whilst lying flat on my stomach. The structure of its deep lair was just too complex to ensure a good presentation of the fly. It was a seething, boiling convergence of currents around boulders and a fallen tree. I could see why an alpha fish which I estimated to be around 6 lbs would make its home here. After a flurry of casts, the wily fish stopped moving altogether and assumed a rigid posture. It must have seen me or just instinctively known that something was amiss. I knew I was beaten and accepted defeat.

I walked back downriver and rejoined Nick in the afternoon. Curiously, he mentioned that he could smell cigarette smoke in the air but we never did see another person. It felt unsettling to know that in a place so vast and remote, someone may be so nearby, intruding on our solitude. 

We spent a little time in the evening fishing together and each of us caught a final trout for the day.  

We packed up the next morning and began the arduous walk back to Nick's car, which we had left parked just off the main road. Along the way we spotted a good sized trout in the water and it was simply too good to pass up. My rod had been stowed away but I put it together and caught the trout with a dry fly. Just downstream of the image below was a small waterfall, and I had to play the trout hard to keep it within the pool in the image. It was a wonderful way to sign off on this trip. 

I have come to learn that I am intensely motivated by exploring the unknown. Fishing new rivers fascinates me. Discovering what lies around the next bend in a river is deeply satisfying for my soul. Returning to this river and finding out what I missed on my previous visit felt very rewarding. This wasn't a big fish river. It would disappoint anyone who held wildly exaggerated expectations. But it made up for it with an abundance of innocent trout in the 3 to 5 lb range, trout that were easily fooled, and that is quite a rare thing in New Zealand. Looking back, the effort to reach these fish was more than justified. The sheer sense of solitude and escape was unmatched in my time in New Zealand because very often other anglers, hunters and trampers were encountered on my trips. The camaraderie developed with my fishing buddy over three days of fishing bliss was the icing on the cake. I miss not having the time and freedom to do it again. 

The memories of my second trip to New Zealand in 2015 will last a lifetime.  I am glad to have belatedly written about them in my diary.