Short Cast – ‘The Creek’

I told myself I’d hung up the rod for the trip (see page 8 of Issue 85). This week was for my university research. No fishing. Without a vehicle, the temptation was easy to resist. I didn’t struggle. I was quite merry whiling away my evenings at the Preachers Bar, performing what can only be described as a nightly ritualistic sacrifice of their crispy chicken burger. 

But when Brad Harris messaged me offering a few hours of relaxed afternoon fishing, it was the proverbial red rag to a bull. Plans were set and I sat in front of the Pickled Frog (another fine establishment) awaiting collection. 

When we arrived at the creek, I laughed. I physically laughed. I thought Brad was playing a joke on me. The creek ran at such a low flow and at such a high gradient that it couldn’t possibly hold trout. The fond views I’d formed of Brad over dinner the previous evening were quickly warping in my disappointment. I guess it couldn’t hurt to stretch the legs and go for a walk, but I was sure that was all we’d be doing. 

After brief tutelage in what I assumed to be the utterly unnecessary art of bow and arrow casting, I approached the first sink-sized pool with the grace and finesse of an inebriated buffalo. The bow wave that immediately registered the length of the pool was a sobering one. The creek had fish. And my approach wasn’t going to cut it. 

Hence it was with a little trepidation that I approached what Brad referred to as the ‘project fish’. The trout that had repeatedly eluded him was very much in residence and rising. The exposed kype seemed disproportionate to the size of the water it broached. 

I crept in behind a boulder and waited, heart pounding, as I watched the giant cruising the tail of the pool. My fly was an altogether overcomplicated #18 reverse-tied parachute emerger that I’d tied on a whim and was yet to fish. Something told me it was right. 

My left arm extended back behind my head, gripping tight to the knot in the leader as my right arm quivered as much from nerves as from the enduring pressure of the rod. Catching sight of the fish’s tail in a beam of sunlight that fell upon the water, I unclenched my fingers and felt the release of pressure travel down the length of the rod. I watched as the tiny fly fell with surprising grace a foot above the fish. My breath caught as I saw the tail move forward out of the sunlight. Next I saw of the fish was the characteristic kype breaking the surface to take my fly. 

As I struck, the fish boiled on the surface before surging up the pool, then back down the undercut ledge. It fought with the typical strength of a big fish that knew its surrounds well. The fight had just approached the formulaic part where any dynamic energy the trout had, has long since been exerted and it’s simply a case of the inevitable slowly diminishing circles the fish travels in before it’s to hand. And then nothing. No tension, no fish. The hook had simply pulled. 

In a strange way it felt right. It would have contravened the myth of the project fish for me to catch it on my first attempt. The fish couldn’t have exceeded a pound and a half at most, and yet in that tiny water it had the presence of a far bigger fish. 

With the bittersweet taste of the project fish fresh in my mouth, it was with some pleasure that I landed the next fish. It was a small, vividly marked brown trout with a myriad of crimson spots lacing its flanks. Polaroided in a pool the size of a domestic bucket, without doubt it came from the smallest water I’d ever caught a trout from. 

From that point onwards we entered into a pleasantly relaxed order of proceedings, alternating turns with Brad’s 7-foot 3-weight. We lost a few more fish, and we caught a few more too. Each was a portrait in miniature, perfectly formed, their vivid colours compensating for their small stature. 

My usual aversion to small fish is as much a result of the typically disappointing photos that ensue. And yet, with the right gear, and focusing on the right aspects, the photos of these tiny trout were as memorable as those tenfold their weight. 

Over a pint and the ubiquitous chicken parma afterwards, Brad joked that some of the fish had taken me, not to my backing, but to my fly line. Yet, at the time, the minute scale of the interaction escaped me. I was lost in the reverie of running water and rising trout.