Right Place, Wrong Time

NZ Fish & Game - - Features -


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



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