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photo by Marcus Saunders

photo by Marcus Sanders

By Marcus Saunders

That gentle morning light seems to push back all those fears that hound our minds at 3am.

Glancing sideways out of the ute window, I see vague outlines race by as the human world slowly comes into focus; the radio is silent, and only the occasional rattle of the trailer reminds me that the boat is in tow. Early mornings belong to no one. Fishermen seem to love them more than most, the enveloping quiet, indifference from most wildlife and only the occasional raspy bird call. The put-in at Cressy is quiet, not another soul as you watch the sun creeping closer until finally that ribbon of fire burns across the landscape. The boat slides gently from the cradle, the teflon doing its job as quickly the boat is tugging on the rope. Sometimes it feels a little strange, like a dog pulling on the leash, then final checks and a gentle push, and your other life is left behind. The first dip of the oar as you correct then find your line, followed by the inevitable arse shifting as the rope seat softens and you push to find your sacred position. You swing the bow into the current, one more quick check, and finally it feels right.

Despite the graft, it just feels right. Everything seems to be as it should be, and a little on-the-spot research confirms that these boats were designed for hard labour. I’ve never considered myself an oarsman, but when I sit in a boat that has been shaped by my own hands a different kind of connection seems to exist. It may sound a little fauxmantic, yet it is possibly like any other love in that it helps make us whole. The slow start is comforting, low volume on the chatter as eyes search, those extra few minutes in the seat settle you quickly as mental adjustments are made and reading the water takes on its true meaning, searching casts arc out toward the bank as perception and reality clash. Thankfully, rhythm takes hold as cast after cast seems to be hitting the zone, the first slashy take drags us back as the mad scramble ensues, all that initial organisation goes to shit as the net gets dragged out from under what appears to be a floating fishing store and takeaway food shop. Gently you ease back on the oars as the struggle quickly fades and the net is dipped beneath a pretty little hen with spots that makes you take a second look. It feels good to be on the board early and, after easing her gently back, some quick reorganising shuffles the positions and it’s my turn to cast. 

The day rolls with the pace of the river. Continual mends are thrown as you attempt to use the current to your advantage, still no hatch yet enough fish sitting just off the edge that the nymph dropper can still bring some activity. The air temperature has climbed enough that we can now strip down to waders and a tee, we need no reminders of how cold and long winter is, and any chance to lighten up is taken. Along with the warmth come the hatches. All of a sudden the back eddies are filling with lilting mayflies, they lift and fall under the now patchy sky, leaders are lightened and size 16 black spinners are tied on and ginked. We float along until a fish shows and the oarsman does his best to slow us in the current.

You don’t hit all of them, but when all those sweet little things fall your way it opens a part of your soul and allows you to tip a little back into the sometimes-empty cup. 

We come to the bridge near Woolmers. The old homestead dominates the skyline, and for better or worse we get a glimpse into our colonial past. Fish love this section, and I’m calling off the clock face sometimes, much to the annoyance of the guy up front as fish selection gets a little ragged. I can’t keep the smile from my face as a couple of sippers are missed and observations about my poor boat handling is thrown backwards, all this only making me happier. We swing into the tighter section, dodging overhanging branches and working hard on the oars to hold our good line. The jitters from the bridge section have faded and a solid cast forward sees a good fish suck down the little black spinner; he heads straight for the boat as Marcus works furiously to gain control. The leader disappears under us as I quickly try to pivot us upstream, and suddenly the rod springs upwards and all goes quiet. He starts winding in—the bend in the rod has gone and so has the fish.  

We ease the boat into the bank and unload a far too elaborate lunch. It’s always been this way only because we can; it feels so luxurious to lay back and pick through the esky for an icy cold beer and half a chicken. Talk has amped up as the reality of the day sinks in and we revel in the fleeting ease of our lives. Most of the talk is about access; Tasmania, like most other places, is struggling with increasing numbers and landowners that are taking a pretty dim view of people blundering around their property. But, the boat allows you unhindered movement, and can take you to places that see very few people. 

We quietly reload and push back out into the river. It never ceases to amaze me what freedom I feel when we fish like this, no order, no need to think, just the river taking us along, oars gently dipping as the landscape unfolds like an old school panorama. The heat of the day has slowed things a little, and we seem to settle a little more as lunch and the warmth of the sun work their magic. Casting is laid back as memory works hard to keep the backcast high, and when a fish gives itself up the softness of the day makes for a quick release and gentle return.

We drift on. Numbers no longer matter as we move through familiar country, most sections now open pasture beyond the river with fences of Hawthorn bush and grazing sheep. At every turn you spot a different hawk or kestrel, most riding the light winds as they hunt over the open paddocks, while others sit on fence posts and watch with a slight turn of the head. Sound carries clearly over the water, giving us the chance to put a dry on feeding fish, and takes are no longer a surprise as striking becomes as natural as walking. We watch fish dance across the river, spray showering upwards, the tiny fly holding as you battle all the while with the guy on the oars pushing and pulling, keeping you in touch with the thing you so desire.

Fishing sometimes offers up these special moments as the river, the fish and the landscape allow you to grasp all that is and all that can be, maudlin thoughts abate and for those few thankful moments you are free. 

We seem to have timed this pretty well as we move through the timbered section then on to some longer pools. The sun is quietly retiring and a coolness has moved in; almost immediately another hatch is on. The fish seem to have lost some of their usual paranoia, and seem happy to attack any fly they find. We are both now standing and casting, the boat swinging  on the current and us risking a swim to get a fish. We look up and see something that we both take a moment to recognise; street lights in the distance tell us that we are coming up to the take out and our day is drawing to an end. We are both quiet for a moment, and then I reach into my flybox and drag out a big Goddard caddis; we may be nearly done, but the fish don’t know that. We take turns all the way back, talking and laughing, taking the piss out of each other until the very end. The boatramp at Longford looms up and we quickly tie off, Marcus heads up to grab the car as I start breaking down rods and tidying gear. This bit just rolls the same as always, you know your tasks, get them done. We drag the boat out and tie everything down, the pub at the end the street is open and we stop for a pint, not much to be said, just the life of a couple of fishermen. 

Marcus Saunders
Gink & Gasoline
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