Almanac Fishing: Great Hope


As the silk line ran up the snake guides, as quietly as the beat of an owl’s wing, it made a soft schwiff. The cast was a good one. A decent rod length in front of where the quarry should be lying. The nymph arced like a well executed drop punt and dropped like a bomb; just where the current picked up speed and its weighty qualities made the top fly sit up on the current all perky and dainty like. Rabonzo watched the Royal Coachman glide along with the river’s flow.


For the next few moments the dry fly skipped and drifted along the surface of the water, it was enjoying the moment as much as Rabonzo was. As it approached a protruding tree stump it’ bliss was disturbed and it had to dodge, turn and then shoot forward through the swirl only to have to baulk around an outstretched root, bobbing and sidestepping until it was carried ducking and diving within the eddy that existed behind the stump. Then it was gone.


For a moment Rabonzo wondered whether the nymph was hooked upon an unseen tree root or perhaps a piece a weed streaming up from the bottom, but then he reasoned the cause of its disappearance was clear cut. This brief interlude of evaluative thought, serendipitously to say the least, made for perfect timing; for when Rabonzo raised his rod tip to strike he immediately felt the unmistakable throbs of life pulse up the line and along his rod. The fish felt heavy, if it hadn’t been moving it could’ve been another tree trunk.


Immediately Rabonzo was awash with a giddy sense of delight, he had got it right. The trout was where it should be, they always were! It was a large trout because only a large trout could hold its own in a hold like that. It all made sense and felt good but then the euphoria was snatched away as the trout began to move. The number four Sage bent over like a newly sprung willow limb surely indicated that this would not be a one-sided contest.


Rabonzo’s immediate thought was for his foothold, precarious to say the least. His left foot was perched on top of a loose boulder and his right foot was sinking in the soft silt of the river bottom. He needed to sure up his feet or he could go under and loose any number of things, from his fly boxes, his rod or even, as had almost happened in the Acheron one day; his life. Panic and instinct were kicking in at the same time; he scrambled around with his feet feeling for safer ground while keeping his rod held high and, somehow, was able to crab his self sideways towards the left bank, here the bottom was stonier and solid. Having survived that particular peril he checked what the fish was doing and it was still there but moving back towards the tree stump, not a place Rabonzo wanted it to go.


Keeping his left hand on the underside of his reel in order to slow its whining spin and using the curved rod’s inherent energy Rabonzo leaned the fish away from the stump and towards himself. That was when he saw it, not all of it but what appeared was a huge head and a long flank looking like a piece of Papunya bark, the sunlit coppery skin sprayed with red and black dots. Rabonzo was overwhelmed with the beauty of it.


Rabonzo kept marvelling at its beautiful buttery flanks as the trout come up into the last patch of the sun struck watery surface and then the trout turned and dived again. It was not obvious who now had the momentum, angler or fish? Powerfully and single-mindedly the trout resisted Rabonzo’s efforts but Rabonzo was up for the challenge and he was enjoying it. Every moment of the tussle made Rabonzo happy, he was deeply absorbed in the contest and was employing all his wit and technique honed since he first picked up a rod.


Mostly, Rabonzo was careful not to let his adversary make any unexpected runs or flops. His rig was over matched and he had to be mindful that the leader didn’t snap or a knot unravel or the fish dived into a snag, so he carefully played the fish and all the while kept using his fine rod to ease the fish away from the deeper water and towards him. Then the fish broke surface but its leap was short, its tail lashing the water. Rabonzo thought the trout’s angry slashing and twists of its body made it seem indomitable.


Rabonzo lowered his rod to give the line some slack and then waited breathlessly to see whether the line would snap, but it didn’t, it held and the fish, having burnt much of its energy began to slowly circle just under the river surface. This might’ve been welcome relief for Rabonzo but he knew that he was still in a most desperate moment because he had no idea how to land a fish of such size standing waist deep in a flowing river.


Then Rabonzo remembered his net but immediately wanted an alternative strategy. He looked towards the riverbank to see if he could bully the trout onto the shore but then caught a glimpse of the nymph in the corner of the great fish’s mouth; the bend of the hook had straightened a tad and the opaque hinge of the trout’s jaw was being pried away by the ferocity of the struggle and it looked as though the nymph might rip away at any moment. To make matters worse Rabonzo didn’t actually trust the strength of the tippet he had attached to the end of the leader, he simply hadn’t envisaged a trout of this size when he strung the rod up. It was the net or fishing oblivion.


The trout had now calmly come to rest a short distance in front of Rabonzo and was peering straight at him; its head slightly upright from the tautness of the line. Rabonzo immediately relaxed the line ever so slightly and then reached for the net. The bastard of a thing was three quarters of the way up his back attached to a magnet that was attached to a loop sewn into his shirt half way between his shoulder blades. The reach was almost beyond him, Rabonzo crept his hand up and up, tugging and straining his middle-aged shoulder muscles until they swore. Then, for no apparent reason, he managed to grasp the net in his hand.


Rabonzo calmly brought the net down, slipped it into the water and moved it gently towards and under the trout. Rabonzo did not wish to frighten his opponent. Next, deliberately and assuredly the net was raised under the massive trout. The trout sensing the worst; made one last gasp and had enough pluck within to explode into a savage fury.


Rabonzo held his nerve, he no longer cared whether he won or lost this struggle, he was totally sated from the contest itself and considered the actual landing of the fish to be somehow disconnected from his very being, from any reason for fishing in the first place. He no longer cared about winning a competition, of accolades or making a point to any of the other competitors. This fish had fought an honorable fight and he had fished as true and pure as he had ever fished. Fish or no, Rabonzo felt everything had aligned in a way that was right and meaningful for him. The trout was exhausted and its manic bid for freedom was not quite enough to settle the issue beyond doubt.


Rabonzo looked at the huge river critter resting on the rim of the net; its head was leaning into the net, its tail hanging over the edge and downwards towards the river. Its long body then began to crest towards the sky; its muscles and very life force screaming for freedom.


“At this point,” thought Rabonzo, “anything is possible”.



  1. Mark Trezise says

    Good article mate. Can’t wait for the book. Zen and the Art of Angling.

  2. Steve Hodder says

    Zen by Zane Grey?


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