Congratulations to Warwick Sommer from Australia – he’s the winner of our Tell Us About Your First Fish contest!
We loved Warwick’s story because
- he’s a newcomer to the sport who’s got the bug bad,
- he painted the picture of a day with a friend beautifully,
- his first fish came at the 11th hour, and
- we’ll admit we’re suckers for new friends from the other side of the planet.
Here’s the story in its entirety. Thanks to all who participated!
Warwick Sommer’s First Fish
Little did I realise how profound the impact of my first day of fly fishing would be …
I grew up in Newcastle, NSW and spent a lot of time as a child in the Barrington Tops area where I developed a love for the alpine environment. I used to wonder why I’d occasionally see guys pulling out a fly fishing rod at remote places like “Black Hole” or the “Water Gauge”. How did those funny rods work? Would they really catch any fish and if so, what would they be?
In the intervening time I, like many others, watched ‘A River Runs Through It’ and the ‘A River Somewhere’ series. Each time I saw someone fly fishing it peaked my interest in the sport – all I needed was the excuse to get started.
That came this year when, for my wife’s 40th, we went to Queenstown, NZ with another couple (Paul and Ann-Maree) to spend a week relaxing and enjoying to great food and wine and of course, celebrating my wife’s birthday. Importantly, here was my chance to go fly fishing.
As it turns out my mate Paul was just as keen to try the sport. Our itinerary only allowed 1 day to give this a crack, so the pressure was on early if we had any hope of being able to cast, let alone land a fish. To that end my plan was to get some initial tuition before we left and to use a guide on the day in NZ.
John Coles provided the initial tuition in March via his introduction to fly fishing day in Sydney. A really good day and though daunted by what it would take to become proficient in basic casting, Paul and I were ‘hooked’ and headed home with an Echo practice rod each and John’s good advice ringing in our ears – practice, practice, practice. Surely, with our skinny rods and fluoro wool lines, we’d be casting experts by the time we left for NZ at the end of May?
The departure date rolled around quickly and by that time I’d arranged for Paul Macandrew of Aspiring Fly Fishing in Wanaka to be our guide on 31 May – the last day of the trout season. Again, no pressure if the weather was bad and we couldn’t fish. Paul M upped the ante during our exchange of emails and warned us to be ready for a really cold day on the river as he was already seeing -4 degree mornings in April.
We arrived in Queenstown and the scene was set – 2 absolute beginners (though now expert wool throwers), last day of the trout season, first day on any river anywhere and the likelihood of catching little more than hypothermia. Game on.
The sun rose on 31 May without a hint of frost and a cloudless sky. Paul M picked us up and we headed down past Glenorchy to the Routeburn River. He was confident that was our best chance to catch anything given the potential for some trout to be moving upriver early to spawn. We parked at the end of the road with no other fishermen in sight – was that a good or bad omen? On donning my waders my mate Paul confirmed my ass did look fat and still chuckling we set off.
We spent the next hour or so receiving guidance from Paul M on casting nymphs and then moved on upriver casting into pools and flows as we went. We saw lots of huge brown trout and Paul M did his best to get us to cast to the right spot then mend, etc. It was a big ask on our first day but heaps of fun and the scenery was beyond belief. I now understand what ‘gin clear’ water is.
With the score still trout 1, novices 0, we had a late lunch then drove to a lower section of the Routeburn River to try our hand at casting streamers in search of the migrating foe. We walked a good distance and whilst not sighting any trout, our casting was steadily improving.
As the sun was getting low it was time to head back to the car and any minor disappointment in not catching a trout was erased by my already growing love of fly fishing. The only dampener on the day to that point was my ability to attract NZ sandflies, even through atomic strength insect repellant.
When about 300m from the car, Paul M said it was now or never if we were going to catch a trout. To his credit, he scanned a section of river right in front of us and spotted a trout sitting behind a rock mid river. Here was my shot at the gold medal and I, applying my then encyclopedic knowledge of casting, dropped my nymph about 1 metre short of the mark. Bugger! The next cast however was on the money and before I knew it, I was hooked onto my first ever trout. In a relatively short time a beautiful 2lb brown trout was safely in the net and I had a smile on my face only a plastic surgeon could remove (photographic evidence available on request).
Unfortunately my mate Paul couldn’t get another trout to take his fly but on the drive home we both agreed the experience was more than we’d ever hoped for. Thanks again to Paul M for his tuition and guiding on the day – I’ll be back next year.
For me personally the fly fishing experience has bridged a gap between a love of the mountains developed as a child and undertaking a sport I’ve been fascinated with for years. In the short time since returning from NZ I’ve bought a rod and reel, joined a fly fishing club and started practicing (for real). My wife is complaining that I’m now obsessed and I think she’s right.