some

SOMEone flipped the switch at the end of August. September has been real cold so far. SOME mornings snow at elevation. SOME mornings right around zero. SOME mornings even colder. On Saturday it was 3C pretty much all day and foggy. SOME good Baetis hatches. SOME good fish have been looking up. SOME selective. SOME very, very selective. SOME frustration getting them to commit. SOME failure. SOME success. SOME brown trout. SOME photos from past two weekends. All trout, not SOME, taken on size 18 BWO’s.

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flies

size 18 BWO’s

 

bwnet

 

brwnleg

taken on hacklestacker BWO, size 18

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focused river guide

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broad tailwater and wind

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low challenging clear water on crowsnest river, fish landed below

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classic crowsnest river rainbow

 

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same brown below

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brown trout on size 18 parachute BWO

 

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DIY Fly Fishing New Zealand: High Plateau

For three days in a row I drove the dirt switchback road all the way up to the high  plateau. That’s where the river was. I’d get up early. My campground breakfast: peanut butter on crackers, a banana and a lot of water. I’d always wake up parched. I never hydrate enough when I fish. Sometimes I even forget to eat.

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The car thermometer registered 2 or 3C in the mornings. Once in town I’d grab a large coffee, or two, for the drive. Then it was the slow climb up the switchback leaving the fruit trees and vineyards of the valley behind.

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In the morning there was always some fog or cloud at elevation and the temperature would drop. Prehistoric looking rock monoliths would appear and startle me as I made my way through the mist. I imagined Sherlock Holmes on the Moors in The Hound of Baskervilles, and a huge dog with glowing eyes on the hunt. I also imagined William Wallace and his clan on foot in the Highlands disappearing into the fog, eluding the English who were also on the hunt.

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After the summit it was a short steep drop with hairpin curves descending to the river. I kept my hands clutched to the wheel. It was low gear, foot riding the brake pedal all the way down…coffee sloshing and spilling. By the time I got to the crossing and pulled-over it was around 8:30 or 9:00 am and sub-zero, usually around  -4C. Cold. When I exited the car I immediately regretted not bringing waders on my trip.” Stupid is as stupid does”.

By then the top of the hills far to the west were just starting to catch the morning light. I’d watch the glow with envy. I’d have to wait some time before it travelled all the way to me and brought warmth. I was early. Too early. I’m always too early when I go fishing.

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I wrestled my wading boots on over heavy wool socks. They were still wet from fishing the previous day and stiff with the cold. On my first few steps I walked like Herman Munster. It was like I had cinder blocks on my feet. As I moved back and forth they loosened up a bit. I got the rest of my gear together. Fingerless fleece gloves made the task bearable in the cold. I checked and double checked to make sure I had everything. I didn’t want to have to come back to the car because of a forgotten item. I wanted a full day on the river. I wanted as much time as the light would offer. I’d be covering a lot of water and wanted to go in only one direction until late afternoon. Until the waning light would remind me it was time to turn around and boogaloo back.

Morning frost turned my boot tops icy white as I crossed a field on the way to the water. Grass hoppers, cicadas and other terrestrial bugs were sluggish, some seemingly in a deep sleep. I knew that would change. The sun would bring some of them back to life and trout would be on the look out for them.

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Briskly walking the river banks warmed me and then river crossings would make me cold again. Upstream I went, feet frozen, reading and memorizing the water as I travelled.

Then the sunlight finally reached the river. I embraced its warmth. It was like nourishment. With the sun’s energy I knew things would come alive. With the light flooding the river I was now able to sight-fish. I could begin my search in earnest. My search for Brown trout.

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Not much had been written about this river on the high plateau, or at least I couldn’t find much. Several years ago I did come across one good story which caught my attention and stayed with me. It was written by a fly fishing guide. He described the region as wide open, barren, inhospitable and prone to hostile weather, and said the river was moderate in size. For an angler walk-wading, mid-sized water is always welcomed as it is easy to negotiate and locate fish in. The author reported the river did not hold many trout but had some good ones, even a few trophies, and said it fished best at the beginning of the season. Here I was standing on its banks near the END of the season. Wrong time? I didn’t know. I felt there had to be some trout around. And they had to eat!?

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I could tell the river had been fished over all summer long. The path alongside it was well warned by wading boots and sheep hooves. With a six month fishing season and a lot of angling pressure, I knew the trout here would be on high alert. With the wide open (no place to hide) terrain I’d have to take my time and be stealthy. I didn’t want to scare the few trout that I might come across. Things were going to be challenging…

By the afternoon the temperature had climbed and I was comfortable. I walked and watched. When I could, I climbed riverside hills and searched from elevation. I continued to make my way upstream. Then it happened. I spotted one.

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For three days I fished different sections of the river. Eventually I hit a gorge and it was time for me to stop. I never saw any one. The place was silent. Silent except for the comforting sound of the natural world. Every full day I’d get 2 maybe 3 chances at great trout. I think I averaged 1 or 2 to the net per day, all on dry flies. Although I caught some larger fish in a river further north and saw more of them in a famous river south, the trout in this river were the hottest, most spirited of my trip. I brought my energy and determination to the river every sub-zero morning and these Brown trout more than matched/equalled it. I frequently saw the backing on my fishing reel. Many months later I still keep thinking about two very memorable trout that out-dueled me.

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In a region described as inhospitable, I felt at home. In a region described as barren, I found a great river and some amazing trout. The high plateau…best place I’ve ever fished.

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I had the week off and decided to get out-of-town. It’s something I haven’t done since March. It was a quick trip down to Sun Valley, Idaho. A 12 hour drive for a family vacation along with some fishing on Silver Creek. I’ve waded this beautiful spring creek before and connected with some of its challenging trout.

The air was thick with smoke all the way to south central Idaho. Several towns we passed through on HWY 93 were on evacuation alert. It was burning in BC when we left. It was burning in Montana as we raced through. It was also burning in parts of Idaho when we arrived. Did I forgot to mention that things were burning?! Sun Valley was Smoke Valley for most of the week.

smoke

 

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no visible life

I fished downstream of the famous Silver Creek Preserve section as understandably  “no pets” are allowed on the hallowed water. There were few bugs on the lower section; few rises; inconsistent rises…one here, and then one there 10 minutes later. Brutal.

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excellent wading, no wake

 

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One morning a brief Trico hatch occurred (once the smoke cleared) which I appreciated but very few good fish broke the surface. Just a lot of little guys. Guppies. Brutal.

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the oxbow in smoke

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oxbow, clearing sky

I searched the banks for signs of life: water displacement, any indication of a good one prowling or sipping, or gulping a terrestrial bug or anything. I watched and watched while baking my brain in the intense heat. In desperation I even fished blind, covering water with grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, damsel flies…brutal.

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cloud

Eventually I just had to accept the situation: that the fishing was poor and probably wouldn’t change during my brief visit. Things got easier after that (but not the fishing). At the end of the trip Smoke Valley cleared and beautiful Sun Valley returned. Our lungs breathed easier. My retriever stopped sneezing. I spent more time exploring the quaint town of Hailey, where we were staying, and a little less on the creek. I must say that if I had to pick one western town/region to drop into for three months every summer, and that was close to great fishing, this would be the spot.

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I caught several fish on the creek but managed only one good one in 4 days fishing. It was a brown trout, which was occasionally rising. It was one of the few good fish that I spotted. It took a small beetle. It was the prize of the week, and even more significant than it normally would have been, given how few opportunities there were to cast to large rising fish.

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We took a different route on the way home, driving interstate highways at a good clip after spraying our vehicle down with flame retardant (just kidding). Several areas we passed through were very smoky. Once we hit the Canadian border the smoke intensified. There was a fire racing through Waterton National Park. At home ashes were raining from the sky. Brutal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

man-eater brown trout

“Trashy novels always out sell the classics…tabloids out sell the Times”

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brown trout on size 16 dry fly

 

In the past three or four years I’ve written 100 plus posts on this blog. One post, above all, received significantly more attention (hits) than any other. It simply blew all the others away…10X more attention. Was the quality of the writing that much better?…”No”. Were the photographs super special or intriguing?…”No”. Were the trout huge?…”No”. Was I giving away cash?…”No”. It was simply the title. It contained the words, “French Assassins”. The post had nothing to do with espionage, mystery or murder. I was simply quoting a phrase/term used by an author in a slow-paced, gentle fly fishing book called, Chalkstream Chronicle, by Neil Patterson. It’s a great book. One of my all time favorites.

 

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faraway

rainbow on dry-fly, size 18 pmd

In one chapter Patterson describes how some French anglers in economically depressed war-time France, or just post war, survived by designing highly effective flies (killer patterns) for flat water creek fishing (difficult water) that allowed them to fool very discerning trout; I believe they were brown trout. If I remember the story correctly they either kept their families alive with the protein they caught from the streams or they sold the trout to restaurants in order to earn money when there was no employment opportunities in their ravaged homeland. Basically, they fished to survive and because of this they became very skilled and specialized at catching trout on their local water. Thus the term, “French Assassins”. The common feature of all of these flat water flies is that they were tied in a very sparse (airy/light) style.

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Abby, trout spotting from bluff

 

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brown trout

best abby

 

I wonder how today’s tabloid title, “Man-eater Brown trout” will fare? More hits? I’ll see…

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scenery

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rainbow, fly, size 18 pmd

Above and below are some brown and rainbow trout I caught and released over the last couple of weekends sight-fishing late July and early August. The angling was quite challenging. All trout were fooled on Pale Morning Duns (dry-fly/emerger patterns) size 18 and 16. I got lucky as some of the small fly hook-ups held. I also missed quite a few.

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rainbow

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simple dangling patterns, size 18, black wing for grey glare

 

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close in rainbow

The Sock

“Keep calm and wear odd socks”

-David Spires

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rainbow caught on PMD by author

My fishing sock returned! I’ve missed it. We’ve been separated for 6 months. I accidentally left it in New Zealand in a rental car at Christchurch airport. My friend, Roman, found it when he thoroughly checked the hatchback of the rental before his return flight to Canada.

The sock travelled a great distance. It went from Crowsnest pass to South Island NZ, was worn daily on many great rivers, then travelled back to Canada with Roman to Ontario. There it stayed for several months, dry but very eager to wade and fish again.

The sock finally returned to its home, the Crowsnest Pass, when Roman came out for an angling trip, with his two boys, Christian and Daniel.

It’s a well-travelled neoprene Simms sock. Now ready for duty on my local streams. It has been reunited with the other one. A sort of balance has been resorted and all seems right with the world!

Here’s a photo of the international jet-setting sock looking happy to be home again…

sock

This past week I had the opportunity to fish with some friends: Joe, Roman, Rick, Christian, Daniel and our four-legged tag along, Abby. All good angling mates. Fishing at times was tough but at the end of the week we all caught some fish….and a few great ones I must say. All were taken on dries, mostly sight-fishing. The weather was good…summertime in SW Alberta.

Some memories from one week in July:

-Joe’s favorite line, “Hey Bobby, I’ve got another one on”. One of his browns and a rainbow were the prizes of the week.

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rainbow on a PMD dry fly

 

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brown on PMD dry

-The boys, Christian and Daniel, double hauling into the wind. Both great casters. They picked up some nice ones and ended their trip with a multiple fish day on a cutthroat stream. Their favorite lines: “Hey Bob can you pull my fly line through the rod tip” and “My fly is stuck in a bush, can you un-hook it for me”.  Some of their fish…

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brown on dry

 

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electric cuttbow on beetle

 

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cutthroat on drake dry

Other memorable events: Rick casting from a seated position on the river; and the boys repeatedly asking their father, ” Can you untangle this”…

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river crossing

 

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Roman and Christian chasing a bull trout

 

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the group working a pool

 

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abby

 

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long day

 

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brown on beetle

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rainbow on dry fly

I hope to have the chance to fish with them again next summer…in the meantime I’m going to put on that happy sock and wade a local river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIY Fly Fishing New Zealand – Chasing Light

THE BEGINNING

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.

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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.

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author along river, photo by roman

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.

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THE MIDDLE

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.

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r big bow

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r fighting

roman: fish on!

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roman with fish off of bank

 

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…

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I also chased open terrain. It’s simply where I enjoy fly fishing the most.

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brown trout

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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.

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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.

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great bank, early frost

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a great bank

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large bank brown

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.

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ant pattern

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others have fished here

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beetle pattern

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larger pattern: cicada

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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.

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large brown in shallows after release, blending in

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another released brown

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subtle path, river to right

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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.

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early morning frost and fog, heading for a river

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cool march morning

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photo by roman

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all day fishing equipment

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.

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small town coffee shop

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photo by roman

Other images…

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had to beach this big brute

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in open terrain sometimes you have to deal with wind

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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”.

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Catch That Sound

pivot

With the cloudy, drizzly and calm weather predicted for the weekend I drove to the Missouri (M0) river anticipating a hatch of BWO’s. And presto, just like that, the little May Fly appeared. In spite of their teeming numbers a lot of the flat water sections I frequent year after year were void of rising trout. It was hard to believe the fish weren’t sipping on the tiny flies collecting in the more gentle/quiet areas of the river. They should have been on them like kids on candy!

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blue winged olives and perfect raindrop circles

I watched and waited but little happened. So eventually I went for a walk and hunted, and found some good fish in the Mo’s broad riffles, or more specifically, at the tail end of these sections where the riffles started to flatten out/expire.

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brown trout caught on dry fly

Most trout in these spots were focusing on emergers. This is usually the case. I saw many anglers wading right through these sections, never noticing the sometimes quite intense feeding and multiple fish. I’ve done the same in the past. It’s very easy to miss these fish with the grey glare that exists on such a wide river. Riffles also camouflage/mask any sort of surface disturbance made by trout. It can make spotting more challenging. Experience has taught me that if I just stand still and watch (when bugs are around) often I’ll see signs of feeding trout: bulging water or boils, or other subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, surface disturbances. Listening carefully can also save the day as some trout will break the surface and the odd one will occasionally eat on top. I often hear them before I see them. Once you catch that sound, you can then intensify your visual search.

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Although most fish were caught in the riffles and some tail-out spots on large pools, early in the day and then late I picked up a few good fish eating duns on the more enjoyable classic flat water sections. Most trout were caught on a Klinkhammer (body dangling below surface) style fly: dry/emerger. The best brown refused all my surface offerings and was hooked sight nymphing. The nice thing about this time of year is that if you see a fish moving water there is a chance it might be a brown trout as many of the river’s rainbows are still spawning in feeder creeks, and thus are absent. I catch some of my nicest browns in the Spring. Some rainbows were around as the photos show.

The Mo is an incredible sight fishing river. I hope to return in May or June… and Catch that Sound!

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I stayed overnight at Wolf Creek Angler, in Wolf Creek (great name for a town). Basic lodging and manageable price. They also have an excellent little fly shop.

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brown trout caught sight fishing with nymph

 

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craig bar

Joe’s bar

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rainbow on dry fly

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