Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The hydro hike

Where we were going, everything needed was to be carried in. Food, shelter, warmth… given the utter lack of anything close by or anyone to pull our bums out of trouble I had a look at my gear and began an upgrade. We’d wet wade so decided that dryness and warmth would be afforded best by waders. My wading boots however had seen much better days, so the first upgrade was a pair of Simms G3 guide boots. They’d provide way more ankle support than my old boots (more akin to a heavy shoe). I also bought some ‘Alumbite’ cleats which screw in to attachment points on the boot. More about those later.  I resisted the urge to pack any more than 1 pair of extra clothes, which were merino garments to clamber into once in the tent and which were packed in a dry bag. Cooking gear, plate spoon & mug, camera, sleeping bag, sleeping mat. Emergency blanket, GPS, spare batteries, head lamp. Knife, fire lighters, lighter. Check. Quick run through and all gear packed down nicely. I made a decision to take only one rod, but did put in a spare reel with a sink tip line for working wet flies through deeper pools. Little did I know that I’d need both a spare rod and reel before the trip was done….

The weather forecast wasn’t great; but with clear flying windows forecast for both drop off and pickup days, we made the call at the last possible minute that it was GO TIME! I hit the road after work and arrived at 10pm to find Coch, assorted gear and odds and sods scattered through the motel unit. We got our gear sorted, packed and ready. I knew that I wasn’t going to get too much sleep but hit the hay before midnight. I did sleep though and awoke before the alarm was due to go at 05:00. We had a quick cuppa then packed my truck and hit the road looking for a nice breakfast which we found in one of Coch’s favourites. With coffee and toasted sammies on board we were off for our date with the chopper. We met our pilot, got a rundown and coordinates for our pickup which were locked in to the GPS, and then we were away. It was a stunning day for flying and as we hopped over ridges we were given a run down on the various watersheds. We came in low over our destination river and straight away were amazed by the size and number of fish that made their way away from the chopper’s shadow.

The craft departed and that was it, we were on our own. Gear assembled, waders (we’d spend the whole time immersed) and packs on, we set off. It’s been awhile since I’d lugged a pack around so I was a bit wobbly at first. This would be the dry day of our trip – with rain forecast to arrive in the evening we certainly appreciated the clear blue skies overhead. Then we began to spot fish. The clarity and depth of the water was astonishing and we were surrounded by beech forest interspersed with the occasional hardwood.  Jase hit the first fish and that set the tone; a beautiful rainbow of over 6lb was landed after a great scrap. My first fish hit deep down in a run – I caught the glint of the fish’s flank and hit – and if a shade under 4.5kg, she was only a shade. Simply the largest rainbow I’d caught in quite a few years lay at my feet after an absorbing fight. Round and deep, what a magnificent creature! We looked at each other, grabbed some shots, got her on her way and fist bumped. The fishing was epic in such awesome surroundings and by our lunch break we estimated the average weight of fish landed at over 2.8kg. A good mix of browns and rainbows were landed and we were going well.

The sun beat down on us – I could only imagine this scenario in cicada season would produce epic dry fishing. By mid-afternoon the GPS indicated that we’d made good progress. The body was tired but felt good; multiple crossings take their toll eventually but the strata was reasonably good as far as footing was concerned so we weren’t burning too much energy on odd sized boulders or needing to climb large rocks.

At 17.00 we left the river bed to look for a camping spot, and after a bit of searching found an old camp site where we got our tents sorted. I headed down to the river to look for dry driftwood (beech forest yields little in the way of good firewood normally) and arrived at the camp pool. It was truly magnificent – the sun poking between 2 ridges illuminating a pool headed by a huge rock buttress against which the main flow thundered before deepening and then tailing out over a shingle flat.  

In the tail, trout moved around intercepting the mayflies; a hatch was on and fantails were darting around taking their share. I grabbed an armful of dry wood then nipped back up to camp telling Jase to drop everything and get down there. If I could camp above any pool anywhere then I’d happily choose this one.

camp pool

We got our meal underway and I lit a fire to dry our gear near – my waders had sprung a leak – which didn’t surprise me so I was wet from crotch down. Not so bad when the sun is out, but our world was about to change…. Having got dry and warm and waders dry we retreated to our tents as the first raindrops fell. I slept like a baby, awakening only to answer the call of nature at around midnight – it was still raining.

Dawn came and the rain had temporarily stopped, giving us the opportunity to break down our gear and get packed. We ate, drank got going, not fishing the home pool as a sign of respect to it and its inhabitants. A nagging cold southerly had set in and the first crossing had water leaking in. Today I’d get way colder than I like being.  The heavy overhead conditions allowed good visibility into the pools and again the fishing was superb. We worked our way upstream spotting fish and calling strikes for each other. The water began to change – it was rising but still clear which normally prompts the fish to feed actively. We also stopped using indicators as the fishing was done by sight. It rained on and off and the GPS showed that our progress was slow; however we had a waypoint in mind to reach by midday and were only 30 minutes off the mark; the equivalent of messing around trying to catch one good fish. The timing angst really went back to a conversation that Jason had had with an old timer, who’d suggested that to get through the zone we were travelling would take 5 days, well we only had 3 and a half… we reviewed how far we’d come and realised that we were well on schedule.

We came to a deep pool which held several brownies and it was Jase’s time to shine… he unpacked his big gear and began to dredge the pool with an articulated flaming mick, hooks, legs and appendages wiggling all over and he stripped and wagged the rod tip. For a while a big ol brown eyed the fly up before leaping on it resulting in a solid hookup and Mr Brownie boring around the pool time and again. Finally I was able to grip his tail, what a stunner of a fish, great shape and colour… and with 15cm of musk rat crossed with frog hanging out of his gob he made a great photo subject.

I was getting colder and colder and began to lose my focus a bit; first I dropped my rod with the hub of the Z Reel landing on the rocks. This caused the drag to lock and stay locked on a fairly tight setting. The next fish I hooked ran down the pool with the line throwing spray before using all the available free line then hitting the reel - *ping*. So I sat down, dragged out my old Velocity II and changed the flylines over and got back in the game. With the river now much smaller in size, our shots became fewer and we weren’t seeing any brownies now. I had gone from a double nymph rig to single green stonefly for the deeper pools, or a pheasant tail for fish holding shallower. Mayflies came off now and again so the small brown nymph was quite effective; having said that we caught some crackers on the stoneflies. The team effort was the best way to go; with one guy up on the bank in the bush, fish were much easier to spot and the takes which weren’t always obvious to the angler were called almost unerringly. Our second camp site was found after some searching, and after getting bogged just over knee deep in heavy swamp. Carrying an additional 20kg of gear while being bogged is no fun and on one occasion it took me 5 minutes of effort to extricate myself. I was fairly tired by the time I got out. The site was not very salubrious, just a damp clearing but it looked like a hotel to me. We got tents sorted, food cooked and hit the hay early. It took a while to drive the cold out, but a combination of merino garments, warm socks and the down sleeping bag eventually did the job.

Day III dawned overcast and again I was cold, not having a fire to dry gear with, meant I climbed straight into wet gear. We'd also run out of coffee so were drinking boiling water for our hot drink... surprisingly warming. We bypassed the camp pool and began to head upstream. again we found fish straight away and began to catch them. Often there were several to a pool and on occasion we were able to pick up a 1-2 instead of singles. It rained on and off and by mid afternoon when we checked the GPS realised that our pickup point was not far off. We'd fair burned through our section. The price paid was that the river had risen a foot and we'd burned extra energy fighting the current ...Then, disaster struck. My Radian got hung up in some scrub and in the process of flicking the line I somehow point loaded and snapped the tip section. It was a dumb action of a tired person. Jase immediately broke out his VXP and gave it to me to use - thanks bud.  The river by now was much narrower and not every pool held fish. We were now walking past barren although lovely looking water; our best guess was that angler pressure played a role. We lost very few fish the whole trip but both of us got the dropsies in the afternoon... losing a fish or 2 each. We reached the pick up point late in the afternoon and set about finding a camping spot. I was asleep before the sun went down but not before I found an old candle and used some melted wax in the split seam on my old G3 waders.

Our final day dawned clear. We ditched our packs and after eating headed upstream. The fish were thin on the ground but still of reasonable size. My mental notes tell me that we caught a couple apiece only before our pull out time. We made good pace back to the pickup zone and with a couple of hours up our sleeves spent them getting our tents, waders and other gear dry. At this point I'll note that of 20 Alumbite cleats that started out on the soles of my boots, only 8 remained. A bit of a have, Mr. Simms.

The Hughes 500 zoomed in over the ridge and circled once before coming in. With gear aboard we set out on our return flight. An unbelievable trip had ended. A bucket list trip even...

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