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Northerner John Cullinane travels around the South Island on a great fishing adventure.

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A Tekapo Canal Fishing Tale
by John Cullinane
ohn Cullinane rounds out a Northerner's bucket list salmon fishing trip with this 13 lb Chinook salmon taken at McIntoshes Hole on the lower Waimakariri River.  Illustration.
John Cullinane rounds out a Northerner's bucket list salmon fishing trip with this 13 lb Chinook salmon taken at McIntoshes Hole on the lower Waimakariri River.

Sometimes you wonder why you fish. Especially when you are not fishing. This was one of those times. Huddled for the second time in as many trips against the wheel of my 4WD in the tiny sliver of shade the wheel arch afforded. Turning into a raisin.

Squinting north the gravel road and structural metal shimmered in the relentless sunlight. One sole campervan left, attended by another raisin. No-one to the south.

The Tekapo Canal was still. Her capricious inhabitants in lock down. If you hadn't seen the place alive with people and fish you wouldn't feel the suppressed beating hearts of that alluring fishery.

Across the canal a lonely car pulls up on the little grassy layby. It is near lunchtime. A brightly coloured family eat and make noise, struggling for shade. Mum, Dad and two kids. Late family. Big people, looking somewhat out of place, in that place, in that oppressive heat.

I am surprised when the kids retreat to the car and mum and dad arm themselves with spinning rods and stride down to fish across from me. Floral shirts overhanging. Big bodies on normal sized legs. Without hope, surely!

After all, I was armed with knowledge, gear, and had frittered my legendary persistence away over the last three or so days to come to the spent, wheel arched certainty that they were wasting their time. No fish had moved but those hidden beating hearts and the sun in the sky for the last four hours.

They fished on. I wondered what drove them. What their expectation was.

I had met the guru of the canal and he kindly shared this with me. That he was primarily driven by the boyhood vision of the wonder felt as the target of the violent tugging battle, an obvious leviathon, is finally spotted in the water. He doesn't mind losing them as long as he has spotted them. I can understand that! What's under there!

I had been busted off by Tekapo leviathons three or four times and the unrequited expectation is poignant and compelling. A fragment of youthful memory records reading of someone looking into a deep dank pool in the Taranaki and seeing a huge brown trout rise but once out of the depths. My memory and imagination have always cradled that vision.

The big people over the canal fished on, moving along a bit. The water was still. Nothing else moved. More persistent than they looked!

So I have been chasing big fish as a motivation for some South Island sojourns but as any raisin knows this has logical limitations. I have been waiting for the next phase, a new goal. This season had me fishing among people for the first time since angry local's behaviour ruined and put a stop to my Taupo experiences. For years I have fished locally and discreetly. Now, here I was, observing others on the banks of the same stream that was driving me, sharing my attraction, but aware of a gulf between us.

A splash! Unbelievable!

Mum has got a salmon on! (I am glad I am a raisin!)

There are some loud urgent voices and “Net” is mentioned. Somehow Dad gets to hold the rod and Mum has to fetch the net from the car 200 metres away.

This is getting interesting! Why does Dad get the rod?

Mum fast walks in that big person way, where their body stays perfectly level but their legs are swinging like mad, like a trotter's gait. I unkindly wonder if I'm about to witness a heart attack. So must Dad, who yells a bit of encouragement. It's a long way back and I can imagine Mum's sweat and laboured breathing when she finally gets her rod back. Dad, armed with the net, makes his awkward way down the bank and amidst anxious advice and noise the salmon is duly landed and killed.

The moment of triumph!

“Well!” I think.

Then Mum reaches across the gulf.

She looks over at me and waves and halloos and then gaily calls while waving “It's my first fish!”

And repeats the greeting to the other raisin, the only other human being in attendance.

The two witnesses.

The only others who can share her joy.

“It's my first fish!”

Lake Tekapo Canal Monster Rainbow.

 

 

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