Creasy's Column for Reel Life August 2018
By Hugh Creasy
In winter there is time to dream
of things that might have been
if torpid heat had not drained
me of ambition.
Fish remain uncaught, ignored
as despond’s slough took thought
and an angler’s care became despair.
Now cold nights bring brighter days,
and hope returns.
With spirits again fortified I grow bold
in spring’s longer light.
My rod awaits.
Spring chores are many. The lawn is moss-strewn and patchy, and weeds dot the vegetable patch, but the call of the river is too strong. I must give an answer. Winter has not been wasted. New leaders have been attached to old lines and with a bit of luck the lines will last out the season. Some judicious cleaning has them brightly polished. My fly boxes are filled in colourful array, with nymphs aplenty and pretty dries looking soldierly in ordered ranks. There are gaudy Wooly Buggers and sombre Mrs Simpsons – and oldie but a goody in the evenings – with a smattering of Parson’s Glories if there are little fish in sight. A few whitebait imitations in plainer vestments complete the larger lures.
I put new rings on a replaced rod tip, lubricated the reels for my old rod and had a practice cast on the front lawn with my new rod, a weight five that brings joy with every stroke. If only I can catch a fish worthy of its grace and of its price.
Everything is checked and rechecked, and all seems to be well. It remains for the knots to hold and the leader strength to be what is printed on the label.
At this time of year, many trout will be recovering spawners and some of them will be beyond recovery. Jacks especially seem to wear themselves out over the redds and are left skinny and black with bulging eyes and kyped jaws showing teeth that are normally well recessed in flesh. Their tails are ragged and in rainbows their scarlet gill covers shine bright. Their future is hopeless and they should be killed.
A recovering spawner in good condition can be returned to the water. Their eating quality is not good, even if they fight well. With that in mind there is a good chance that a pleasant and fruitful day’s fishing may result in nothing for the larder. The pleasure of a day on the water is reward in itself, with added enjoyment in the exercise of skills left rusty by winter’s sojourn in the suburbs.
Of course there are maiden fish, silver and bright, orange-fleshed beauties that fight and leap and taste clean and fresh. They are the treasures of the river, and though well caught should be killed sparingly.
There used to be a tradition and competition among anglers to catch and kill a limit. Limits were generous, equipment was equally traditional, and a limit bag was often achievable. Modern materials in rods and flies have stacked the odds against the fish and now the limits have been scaled back, sometimes very much in the fish’s favour.
Deteriorating habitats have caused fish numbers to fall quite dramatically in many places, a result of an increasing human population’s impact on the natural world. Progress for some has degraded the water and air quality that impacts us all, and low quality tourism has added to the problem. Freedom to pollute has been touted as necessary to an improved economy. Tell that to the people of Napier or the swimmers who used to paddle the waters of the Manawatu and now swim lengths of chlorine-soaked pools – a pale and smelly imitation of the real thing. Clear-felling forestry practices have wrecked habitat in some South Island rivers. We must treasure and protect what is left, and try to maintain access to wild places where the rivers still run clear – stark reminders of what we once had.
Not all, though, is doom and gloom. Even in the suburbs of major cities there are streams holding trout, often small fish that trophy-seekers disdain, but a lot of fun can be had taking them on light gear and tiny flies. You may be fishing in the public eye and suffer sarcasm and comment if you duff a cast or tangle a leader in streamside vegetation, but suffer it with equanimity – those jeers often turn to gasps of admiration when fish are caught in unexpected places, and it’s all great fun.