Right Place, Wrong Time
LES HILL REMINISCES ABOUT AN EMBARRASSING PREDICAMENT
L LTHOUGH IT TOOK TWO HOURS, the walk f from Lake Guyon to a favourite stretch of water on the upper Waiau River was most pleasant. The rough track followed the true right of the river, winding through thick stands of matagouri, across rough pasture, and dipping down and up through countless fords. The deepest was the one that tumbled down from the avalanche-scarred slopes of Mount Una -- a massive peak that looked down on the glistening waters of the Waiau.
Three mates and I were making the trek -- lured by the memory of the big fish we’d caught previously – and recalling our past successes as we walked, which heightened our excitement and anticipation considerably.
Mid-morning the reach that we sought came into view. Our pace quickened. On reaching the tail of the first pool, we paused and proceeded to set up a couple of rods -- one for each side of the river -- and discussed our strategy. Straws were drawn for who would cast to the first fish spotted, then our party split and we began to creep forward. We hadn’t taken more than a dozen paces when the excited shrill of voices came from up the valley. Our four heads lifted sharply in unison.
At first I saw just one inflatable canoe, but then a second came into view, tossing and pitching down the rapid at the head of our pool with several excited occupants wielding paddles wildly. Their ride steadied as they entered the long pool and they glided steadily our way. I could picture trout diving for cover in panic, like those further upstream would have done and those downstream, as far as the canoes were paddled, would do.
I looked at my companions, one stood with his hands on his hips, the other two just watched in horror, disbelief and deflation clear on their faces. The paddlers were quite close before they spotted the forlorn faces watching them pass. Unaware that they’d just scared every fish in the river they’d ridden and spoiled our day, they waved cheerily. Our enthusiasm did not match theirs, however we acknowledged their right to be there with a muted response.
Following the sale of St James Station, access into the upper Waiau River had recently been opened. We’d just been confronted by the reality of that and for us that day we’d walked to a proven place, but our timing was unfortunate.
Every angler could share their own stories of ‘right place, wrong time’. Salmon fishermen, in particular, seem to have a hold on the cliché. I’m one of them. Each year as the salmon season approaches, I seek out a likely pool on one of the local rivers -- a pool with a strong run in at its head, a distinct drop off spilling water into a very deep stomach. Plenty of hard water downstream is desirable too, a reach compelling salmon to want to rest for a while once past. Having recognised a place where salmon are likely to linger for a while, I return regularly. However, the reality is that time after time the salmon will prove to be elusive -- sometimes for days on end, sometimes for weeks, and sometimes for a whole season. Repeatedly right place, wrong time.
Whitebaiters, too, live the cliché. They understand that good runs of whitebait occur on only a small number of days each season, yet they guard their spot on a river regularly, awaiting the big day -- the exception to the rule.
I have plenty of tales of misguided, unfortunate, unlucky timing of fishing and now that nearly 20 years have passed I can share one -- an experience that still rekindles a little guilt and embarrassment. It occurred in the late 1990s when
THE BEAUTIFUL UPPER WAIAU RIVER
A HOOKUP ON THE RYTON RIVER