All journeys begin in your head. They start with a thought. You imagine what it would be like to go somewhere and you begin to process it. Sometimes you do that for a while then let it rest. Then later on it resurfaces. The thought returns. Sometimes this goes on for a long while and other adventures/ journeys end up occurring instead. Then that particular thought returns.
Several years ago I ordered a few books on fly fishing New Zealand (NZ), South Island. Every winter I’d pull them out and read another chapter, look at another road or topo map, highlighted some rivers, search the internet and imagine what it would be like to go there. Then I’d check the cost, look at my insufficient budget and promptly plan a less expensive angling adventure instead. Something closer and more manageable like springtime Rooster fishing in Baja, or a week or two just south of the border dry-fly fishing Silver Creek in Idaho or the Missouri river in Montana….all wonderful destinations in their own right.
When I thought about a trip to NZ I first felt I’d have to go for a month, nothing less. Well life being what it is, I could never manage to string together thirty days. Finally I came to the conclusion that if I waited for the opportunity to spend a whole month there, it just might never happen. So I managed to put together two weeks and a few travelling days. It would be 13 angling days total in NZ. Not a lot of time but I felt possibly enough to shake off jet lag, orient myself, find my wading legs and get in synch with a few rivers. I felt that if I could do that and if the weather cooperated, I may have a chance to fool a few amazing NZ trout with dry flies, and hey, maybe even a trophy.
I picked late February, early March as summer in the southern hemisphere would be coming to an end and transitioning into Fall. I hoped less anglers would be around as the prime time season would be winding down; I hoped that water levels would be like they are at home at that time of year: generally low and clear; I hoped for sun so I could sight fish; I hoped the trout would be looking up and willing to eat some of the terrestrial flies that I planned to tie and fish; I hoped for a shot at some special fish. I hoped for a lot.
I met a friend, Roman, the first week I was there. He had already been there for several days and had warned me from a distance to, “Bring your A game”. He had been catching but reported the angling was extremely challenging. Our time overlapped for a week and then I fished solo for my remaing week.
While Roman was in NZ he bungee jumped, climbed into a bi-plane, and sped our rental car around like a professional rally driver, leaving a good portion of the front bumper somewhere up on Rainbow Station road. He fished with equal enthusiasm and caught some great trout. On two occasions I was fortunate enough to be close by and photographed some of the ones he caught. His featured rainbow and brown trout below were some of the best of the week. His confidence fly: a yellow humpy. He was a great angling and travelling pal.
It is much easier to sight fish when it is sunny so on my second week I tried to stay flexible and mobile. I watched the weather reports and went where the conditions were predicted to be most favorable. I chased the light…
I also chased open terrain. It’s simply where I enjoy fly fishing the most.
In the clear low water conditions the fish tended to be in and around the pools and along banks with some depth or those in close proximity to pools. I’d cover the shallow river sections quickly and then slowed down and was especially watchful in the prime areas. That’s where a good fish would be. If not, then it was onward and forward to the next promising pool. In NZ you have to cover ground. Often it is as much about walking as it is fishing.
Spotting fish was all about maintaining concentration. Lose it and you’ll miss or spook fish. Scare a fish and you might not see another one for a long time. I scared my share, especially in low light conditions.
I caught all of my fish on dry flies, most of them being terrestrial patterns. Usually the smaller sizes were best. By the time we arrived in NZ the trout had been fished over by local and international anglers for 4 solid months. Also two out of the three rivers we fished were quite famous and therefore they probably receive additional angling pressure all season long. I found most trout to be quite selective and challenging. There were signs other anglers had been around but I rarely saw anyone during my 13 days there.
All trout caught were released.
Brown trout blend in well with any sort of river bottom and with bank shadows and coverage. Often they are difficult to spot. You have to go slow, watch, then watch more, and look for shape and any sort of movement.
Once March arrived mornings were quite cold, especially on a river I fished on a high plateau. By mid day things always heated up, even the fishing.
Holiday parks (campgrounds) were a bargain in a relatively expensive country. Here are some photos of small cabins I rented (below)…all parks had hot showers, some had a community kitchen and laundry facilities. Many of these units were booked by vacationers. Town Fish and Chip stands were also a great deal.
END – LAST DAY
It’s my 13th day here in NZ, my last day and it’s coming to an end. The light is waning. I’ve got this 8 pound plus brown trout feeding on some tiny Blue Winged Olives (BWO’s) riding a bubble line on the outer bend of a large perfect curve on the famous river that I’m on. I’ve read a lot about this river but no one ever mentioned any sort of hatch in their reports. Yet here is this oversized trout feeding on them. It’s windy. It’s cold. I’m wet and I have been out in it for 8 hours without waders. I have a full box of carefully designed BWO flies back in my car a one hour walk away. A lot of good they’re doing me in the bottom of my duffel bag! The big fish took a good look at a small ant pattern I tossed its way but rejected it. The ant has duped several picky fish on this trip.It also came close to eating an Adams like pattern but didn’t. I decide I’ve got to hike back to my car, heat up, organize my luggage and head for the Christchurch airport 4 hours away. I’ve simply run out of time. Leaving a fish like that feeding is sacrilegious but I’ve seen some great fish in the past two weeks and made some connections. I tie on a fairly big cicada pattern and toss it above the trout knowing what the end result will be – he’ll take off! The cicada passes over him, his feeding comes to an abrupt end and he disappears. Game over. Now I can go back to the car and get warm.
On the drive to Christchurch I’m thinking of my time in NZ: All the large, beautiful trout; seeing them rise; the clear rivers and majestic terrain; Roman taking off in the bi-plane; the outstanding brown trout he caught on the bank; great breakfasts at the Wrinkly Lamb; the Aussies talking about a river in the shadow of a high peak north of a big lake where they spotted many large skittish browns; a small fly shop owner talking about the same river and warning us about the Quick Sand around it; another angler looking bug-eyed while describing his experience the previous day on a small river two hours away where he and his guide spotted a 3 foot long brown trout cycling in a pool and how he cast to it and the fish ate but the fly didn’t set; I’m thinking about a Fish and Game officer telling me about a river two valleys south where big sea run browns return and how his friend fished it recently and spotted several but couldn’t get them to take. I’m thinking about all this and that I need to try to get back to the south island and Chase the Light. That’s what I’m thinking. And as I said at the beginning of this post, “All journeys start in your head; they start with a thought”.
Nice! Great post that captured the mood and rhythm of the fishing. I’m much better looking in real life don’t you think? Those are some amazing fish you caught…without me! You didn’t mention that you are the most economical fly caster on earth, in that I saw you cast 12 times and you caught 9 fish. Your ROI on casts is outstanding! Great post my friend. We will do it again some time.
R: Yes, we will have to do it again…great country. And you are better looking in real life…but those were great photos of you…nice trout. Will be in touch. thanks for posting.
Outstanding! Bucket list trip. Thanks for the great share.
Jim: With your sight fishing experience/skills you’d have a field day on nz rivers…thanks for the comment. Just got back, will check out your blog in upcoming week to see what you’ve been up to.
Aahh Bobby now I understand! I too have been having those thoughts. The first time I experienced those thoughts, resulted in 12 yrs in a row in Crowsnest Pass. Your images have now triggered new thoughts, more thoughts.
Brain is on overload. What do I do. I may need professional help (or at least a fishing trip)!
Bravo my friend! Your rewards were well deserved!
Joey: Very funny comment….yes, new thoughts and more thoughts…you’ll have to plan an angling adventure. Check out Jim’s blog,,,Jims Wanderings, listed under my special blogs list….of a recent tarpon trip to Campeche, mex……beautiful tarpon, area and pics…Jim has gone several yrs in a row. Thanks for dropping in…
Great photos and adjoining narrative…
Brian: Hey, thanks for the comment on THE post. Will give you a call on the weekend. Hope all is good,
Great report! I’ve been looking forward to reading the blog post about your trip to NZ. It looks like all your planning really paid off. The sight-fishing would have been right up your alley. Awesome photos in the post, too, as usual. You captured the NZ landscape nicely, and the trout pics are very good. They make me want to go there, myself. I’m sure those BWO patterns you tied for the trip won’t go to waste. You will likely find lots of opportunities to use them on your home waters. If not, you can always bring them to NZ again, the next time you go!
Hey Vic: Thanks for the comments on post and photos re: NZ. It truly is an amazing trout destination and place. All trout spotted were incredible. And we did it on our own with minimal difficulty. We were lucky the weather cooperated. All trout were very challenging on the 3 rivers were focused on which made catching quite special. You should go….Checked your recent post on blog: vicbergman.com/blog/ and liked that, High on Hill photo. Again,
thanks for the comments…see you at the Crowsnest Angler Fly Shop.
Hi Bob, what a great adventure. The concept of fishing in another hemisphere is otherworldly. I had to reread the part about you fishing for eight hours without waders. Without waders? It’s hard to comprehend that summer exists elsewhere, especially for those of us mired in the remains of winter.
Les: Yes, it is otherworldly…hobbits and all. Thanks for dropping in. I see you have been on “the creek” and caught some, in March! good start to another season. Like the new look on your blog: The ignorant Angler. Look forward to future posts.
Great write up on your NZ adventures. I noticed you mentioned using a car and van, how did they cope with unsealed/gravel roads? Heading out this year and I was thinking of getting something I could sleep in, preferably not 4WD,
All the best with your future adventures!
Jeffers: Only been to NZ 2 times. First yr I had a Rav/4Wd. After the trip I re-assessed the situation. The rivers I enjoyed and did well on I could drive to, park and then hike. Most access sites were dirt roads but manageable. So second yr I decided to try a van so I could sleep in it if I couldn’t find lodging and move around, be nimble…chase the light! I knew the rivers I was going to fish from the first yr., and knew I could access most areas to them. The van worked out ok….and I don’t mind walking extra distance if road looks iffy. A 4wd certainly is a plus. I guess it depends on where you are going to fish, which rivers, weather, region,etc….I like fishing the dry open terrain regions so when weather sunny the dirt roads were hard/solid….bone jarring hard. For me the ideal vehicle would be a 4wd van!!!
Hope this is helpful.