DIY Fly Fishing NZ: 4th trip

 

Fly fishing NZ. My fourth trip and another reminder that weather always rules the day. It can rule a week. It can even rule a whole month.

I arrived in the middle of December. The beginning of the month had been very wet. Flying the last leg from Auckland to Christchurch I could see all the major rivers on the north and south islands were high and muddy. The sediment they carried from the mountains to the coast stained the marine blue Tasman sea. It didn’t look promising. Most anglers come to NZ to sight-fish for trout. The key word being “sight”. It’s impossible to see trout in rivers that are a coffee colored torrent. And that’s what I was looking at from twenty thousand feet above. When I landed I learned that the main highway connecting the north to the south end of the island was closed as there were concerns the raging rivers had compromised one or more bridges south of Christchurch. It stayed closed for several days.

I started second guessing my decision to visit in December. In past seasons I fished in late February, early March. Even then, however, weather was still somewhat of a wild card. I remember when tropical storm Gita hit the south island a few years back. Flooding followed making angling challenging for several days in the Southland region. And several days in a two week trip is a significant amount of time. There simply are no weather guarantees in NZ.

A friend, Roman, had already been in NZ for a week before I arrived. His angling report wasn’t good. In spite of travelling many regions, routes and back roads he had not found any clear water. He had hooked one fish on a river that looked promising but then a deluge occurred and the door to opportunity closed.

He ended up calling a number of fly shops and was informed of a river that ran through an urban setting on the eastern side of the island that was clear. He checked it out. That’s where we met when I arrived. The information he gleaned saved our trip and he was rewarded with the trout of the trip: a big sea run brown.

a better picture of roman’s great brown , 8lbs plus

 

One holiday park (campground) owner told me the river we were on is usually just a “trickle” in mid-December. It’s considered an early season angling location and best fished in October and November. With the frequent rain it still had a decent flow, was easy to crisscross and get to the prime areas. The best spots were where the river rubbed up against banks lined with willows. This is where we located fish and had our most productive angling. These treed sections also cast a shadow that broke the ever present river glare, especially when it was cloudy (which we had a lot of) and allowed us to look into the water and spot fish. We were sight-fishing when most rivers were on flood alert!

low slow willow section, great for sight fishing

faster willow section

You learn a lot about a river when you walk and explorer it for several days in a row like we did. Some of the pieces of the puzzle start fitting together; you start noticing the tiny nuances…

resident brown trout caught on size 18 foam black ant

We often fished within sight of a couple highway bridges their undersides sprayed with colorful graffiti and equally colorful messages. We fished to the sound of the morning and evening rush hour, car horns and sirens. We fished while locals with big wheeled 4X4 trucks occasionally drove up and down the gravel river bed often fording river channels above or below us. It wasn’t what you would describe as a pristine back-country angling setting. But the water was clear and that was the key. Finding clear water was like finding gold. And with the clear water we were able to find something equally precious: brown trout..

urban river trash

truck tracks, river bottom

The trout were large and extremely challenging. When people say “any fly will do” with NZ trout that’s simply not true. Of course every river is different and has its demands and peculiarities and this can change as the season progresses. Maybe sometimes fly choice doesn’t matter; most times it does. These browns, sea run and resident, were as selective in their feeding as anywhere I’ve ever been and they were wary. I quickly learned that the “plop”of a heavy foam beetle fly, close or even some distance away, scared most fish. Trout lying in shallow riffle sections were also often spooked by large flies drifting overhead. I had to cast small, soft-landing patterns. I even connected with a few trout on a willow grub dry fly. The nuances of a river!

willow grub fly, foam on a hook, banana yellow or apple green in color

 

clouds and therefore glare and tough trout spotting

roman with another beefy brown trout

I had a three or four day stretch where I landed a good brown trout every day then went five or six days without catching a fish. Early on we had a couple full sun calm days followed by windy weather and frequent cloud cover. The quality of the lighting makes all the difference in the world when sight fishing. You’ll notice that some of or best trout were caught when it was sunny. During my dry spell I had a couple connections and break-offs as large trout bolted into willow branches to free themselves. I also had a few fish eat my fly but no hook-up. That’s all part of any outing/trip.

In my second week the river flow tripled due to heavy rain, Roman had left, and I went south in search of a clear back-country river. The back-country, however, was still under water. I returned to the river Roman and I had fished when the flow receded a little and managed one more fine brown trout. It was feeding in a shallow riffle section but couldn’t be enticed to rise to a dry fly. I ended-up sight-fishing  with a size 18 PT like nymph, no bead-head, just some wire ribbing on the body for a bit of weight.

Some holiday park rental cabins…….

holiday (campground) park cabin rental, easy on budget in an expensive country

another holiday park cabin rental

Since this is a DIY post my advice when planning a NZ fly fishing trip is bring a lot of flies, from minuscule to fairly large in size: emergers, dries and nymphs. I could have used my midge box on this trip. On one day a size 18 caddis pattern looked gigantic in comparison to what a brown trout was sipping on. Same goes for terrestrial patterns. Bring tiny to large ones. My most effective terrestrial pattern this season and in the past was a small foam ant. You might end up just fishing one fly on your trip. Or you might need to try a dozen different patterns on just one challenging trout. You never know. Because I was arriving relatively early in the angling season (less fishing pressure) I thought I could get away with casting big stuff on some of the rivers I had visited in the past. Well I never got to those rivers due to high flows and flooding, and where I ended up angling was all about small stuff: tiny dry flies and equally tiny nymphs.

sea run brown caught on small caddis fly

 

watching a bank for rises, late day

a resident brown trout

 

Another adventure and some beautiful brown trout…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIY Fly Fishing NZ: A Moment

intact2

intact bank on left

It’s mid to late afternoon. I’m hiking downstream back to my vehicle. I’ve been out all day in tough trout spotting conditions: heavy cloud and even worse, high wind. The combination is a deadly deterrent to seeing fish. With the grey ruffled surface I’ve only seen one trout. Unfortunately it saw me first and was fleeing the scene when it caught my eye. An impressive trout. That’s what’s in here. Good ones. Not many but some good ones. I know. I’ve fished this river intensely before. It’s small water, open terrain with nowhere for an angler to hide. I feel the odds have been against me today, in the present conditions. It doesn’t help I’m running low on energy, have flu-like symptoms and the past two nights have been feverish. As I walk downstream it suddenly gets calm. I mean totally still. It hasn’t been this way all day. I appreciate the silence. A long perfectly curved pool with the outside bend/ fully intact stretches out before me. By “intact” I mean it’s a heavily grassed bank, not broken or shingled/ eroded. Here are some examples:

intact3

intact bank far left, I’m on sheep/angler trail

windshop

intact left side bank and slight bubble line…all good except wind

In late season low water conditions intact banks can have some of the deepest water in a moderate sized river pool. They are also some of safest locations for trout to live, feed and hide as many such banks are undercut. When it’s hot and windy I sight-fish from a downstream position, when possible, as trout often hang tight and pick off terrestrial insects which fall or collect in the water along the bank. No such luck seeing much of this on this trip. And when it gets real calm or late day stillness settles in, an intact bank can be a good place to watch for a possible rise; a sign of feeding.

I decide with the sudden stillness to sit, re-fuel and watch the 40 yards of so of perfect bank water. I eat and study the slow outward bend flow with its faint bubble line. It feels good to sit and rest after walking all day. As if on cue, it happens. A solitary rise just slightly off of the bank. A minute later it surfaces again. Same spot. The first opportunity of the day. It’s feeding occasionally. It’s feeding subtly. I think it’s a smallish fish as it’s not displacing much water. But I’ve been fooled before by rises here in NZ. I’ve learned in my three adventures here that NZ trout are always bigger than they first appear.

I’ve seen just a few blue winged olives out with the inclement weather and tie one on and wade slowing and carefully from the shallow, intern side (opposite side) of the river.  My disturbance travels almost across stream but fortunately fades before reaching the rising fish. I almost blew-it. I almost communicated my presence. I cast to the fish perpendicularly. I’ve got a long leader. My line will be at least 12 ft from the trout. The size 18 olive passes over the spot. No response. I change flies and go with a size 14/ 16 black foam ant. Something more visible but not outrageous. It’s a simple pattern I’ve done well with when I’ve had my chances. On the first passing it catches the trout’s eye, its head appears and takes the ant while turning downstream. Surprising I remain calm, take a second (pause) and then slowly set the hook and am connected. It races up and down the pool then decides to run the riffle/rapid downstream to the next pool. I scramble and chase, get lucky and land it. A good one. It measures at the 6 lbs mark on my Mclean weigh net.

intact bank

Because of the continued stillness I decided to hurry to the next intact bank that I know is about one half mile downstream. With Adrenalin I have renewed energy.  By the time I get to the next location the wind has picked-up again and it starts to rain heavily. I hunker down hoping it will pass but it doesn’t. I’ve had one opportunity. I’ve taken one good fish today.

weather

The decision during the moment of calmness to sit and watch the long intact bank saved my day. I had two other days on the same challenging river where good fish were taken similarly.

All angling adventures usually get defined by one or two moments no matter how many days one fishes, how many opportunities exist or how many, or few, fish are caught. The moment of calmness which produced the above fine brown trout defined mine. The moment, just a single moment, made my trip…

fly fishing NZ 2019

skull

Yikes, that was brutal! Don’t know if I want to do that again. Tough trip. Dry-flies blowing upstream! Tough low-light conditions for sight-fishing. A lot of walking. Many days it was just a long hard slog: 10 miles plus. And in spite of our effort few fish were spotted. There simply weren’t that many opportunities. I think I averaged less than one quality chance per day. I saw less fish than in past seasons. Terrestrial fishing was almost non-existent.  Maybe the summer just wasn’t consistently hot enough in the regions that I fished? The angling was best when the sun was out. However, “blue sky” days were rare. Most of the time it felt more like winter than summer. In the end, I caught a few good brown trout on dry flies. Four of the best were spotted on a high plateau river that I’ve fished in the past. It is “known” water but receives less angling pressure than some of the other rivers I was on. Here are some photos…

lastone

nev1

lastfish1

 

windshop

most days water had a wind-shop

waik1

ahur5xx

rare still morning

ahurir 8

backeddy

nev6

5trees

nev9

morning

 

nev3

roman

roman throwing line

onehand

pairs

rays2

ahurir13

grasses

ahurir17

roman in the wind

lift

top

 

girth

 

nevv2

ahurir3

shadow1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fly Fishing NZ, Gita and Brown Trout

 

pomardriv

HERDERS

They appear out of the mist in a small beat-up truck that has metal cage like kennels bolted to the flat-bed. A man and woman jump out and flip the latches on the cages. Several dogs, all Border Collies, bolt through the doors like thoroughbreds at the start of the Derby. The woman makes sharp whistling sounds and the dogs immediately respond. They push the sheep herd in the wanted direction. It’s a well rehearsed, beautiful choreography. Everybody knows their moves, even the sheep. The man and woman make eye contact with me and nod. They see me for what I am, an angler. I nod back. I’m probably on their property; their large sheep station; their ranch. They have thick woolen hats on. She’s in a bulky sweater. He’s in a tattered work jacket. It’s early in the day, cool and drizzly yet like all herders I’ve seen here in NZ, they are in shorts and high Wellington type boots. Their foot wear, like their truck, has seen a lot of miles. They head off on foot with the dogs and sheep leaving a trail in the wet grass, and disappear over a hill. I go down to the river. As I walk I keep hearing whistling in the distance. I’m on a high country station somewhere in Central Otago. I feel I’ve been here before even though I know I have not.

sheep

rdplateau

high plateau road to river

abovebwn

nz trout are thick, brown caught on dry-fly

THE CAMPGROUND

I’m up early checking and getting my gear together; my morning ritual. It’s still dark but the campground is alive. Touring cyclists are going through their own preparations: tinkering with their road bikes, their specialized shoes and cycling packs. They are as excited about the day ahead as I am. Some are already on the road. I can see bicycle lights strobing in the distant dark.

A fellow camper drops by. I can tell he’s an angler by his outfit: shorts over synthetic long-johns. It’s kind of the official uniform here for people who chase trout. His name is Remi and he is from France. He fly fishes NZ three months a year and has done so for several seasons. He asks me how the fishing has been. I reply, “slow for me”. He says it’s been, “slow” for him too and that other anglers are reporting the same.

Remi feels we are here “too late” in the season. He also feels there are “too many anglers” around. I tell him I was here last year at the same time and the fishing was excellent. He says, “the same time?” I reply, “the exact same time”. He looks puzzled

mornfogtfree

sriffle

romraindist

heavy clouds

Remi and I talk about NZ rivers and trout. He’s a great resource given all the time he spends here. Then I head out to fish. Light is starting to flood the valley and I want my last day to be a full one. I’ve run out of food and first head for a local coffee shop that opens at 8:30 am most days. Sometimes it opens at 9:00 am. That’s small town NZ…open late, close early. I grab a couple of muffins, a large flat white (coffee) and a thick chicken sandwich. I’ve still have three large Smitten apples in the bottom of my backpack and a liter of water, so I should be good for a full day.

GITA

The muffins are gone in an instant and I think about what Remi said, “We are here too late…there are too many anglers around”. I didn’t want to hear that. I already feel jinxed on this trip and my angling confidence is low. Just before I arrived in NZ tropical storm Gita blew through and with it came heavy rain, high and dirty rivers. And the trout seem to be “off”. Many we have come across in the shallows seem to have lock-jaw and are inactive. Spotting fish has also been challenging with the heavy skies. Those that are feeding seem to be down deep and on nymphs; very tiny nymphs. When the water starts to clear and optimism returns we get another deluge. At times on this trip I’ve felt like hanging up my wading boots. I’m taking the weather personally which of course is irrational. But anglers are like farmers…much of our success or failure is dependent on what is going on above, in the sky.

boots

 

rdplatshadow

road to river

dirtwater

fast dirty water

romnosglas

roman’s streamer brown

streamerbwn

another streamer brown, photo by roman

romfat

another pic of roman’s thick streamer brown

LAST DAY

The morning is still cold as I arrive at the river after visiting the coffee shop. I wet wade through a side-channel on the way to the main flow. It’s bright outside but there is high thin white cloud that is casting a milky glare on the river. I can still see through the surface but not a great distance. I feel I’ll be able to spot a fish in the shallows or one tight to the bank if I go slow and search carefully. Wishful thinking? I don’t know. In spite of walking 7 to 15 km a day on river stones and through thick clumpy Tussock grass for the last twelve days, with little sight-fishing success, I still have the energy and the desire to find a great fish. There are few things in life that I have this much resolve and patience for. I still have today. I have 8 more hours ahead of me. I’m going to put in my time and search.

It’s already windy which means this afternoon it could really blow and make angling and trout spotting tough. Morning might be my best shot; my best chance. At the first river pool and run that I come across I spot a large trout lying in the shallows. I’m shocked. Luck like this just hasn’t happened on this trip. It’s not moving much. It’s decision time: small nymph or little terrestrial dry? My hands shake at the sight of the impressive trout. I decide to go with what I’d toss at home. I cast and the beetle drifts a little, and I mean just a little (a few inches), to its left. No response. I cast again and this time it passes slightly to its right. Again, no response. After 2 or 3 more casts I get it right, the fly lands dead ahead of the fish and tracks right to its nose. His very large head tilts up and eats. What?!!! I can’t believe it. I set the hook, it holds and I eventually land it. When I take the trout out of the net to get a photo it lies motionless. I admire it for a moment and then without warning it bolts. I lunge with the net but it’s gone…no picture…I can’t believe what just happened.

I try to compose myself and continue on upstream and within 10 minutes spot another large fish on a bank in shallow water. Another chance. It rises to the fly, I land it and this time get a few photos. Then a little later I locate another great one on a bank. It also surfaces but the hook doesn’t set and it disappears into deep water and doesn’t return. I’m OK with that. I’m getting chances. More opportunity sight-fishing with a dry-fly in the last few hours than I’ve had in the past twelve days.

van

cargo van (home) my second week

The wind picks-up and then starts to howl and spotting fish becomes almost impossible by mid day. A bit of wind riffle on the water can actually help you see better. Too much, and it’s like someone has pulled down the window blinds. I persevere, spook one and then don’t see any more all afternoon. I return to my vehicle at 5 pm. I’ve walked all day and searched the water well. I’ve seen no other anglers. My best day angling of the trip. The door finally opened today. I had been standing there knocking on it all week and then it happened; it opened, just for half a day, but it opened. There was opportunity…two wonderful trout spotted and caught on dries. It’s why I came here.

bestfishdry

last day brown caught sight-fishing with dry-fly

 

bigbwnangle

same last day brown

REVIEW

Roman and I threw streamers when the water was dirty and big dries when the sky and water started to clear. When the rivers finally settled we had some opportunity to sight-fish. We probably caught less than a dozen trout but they were good ones. Quality over quantity. It is what fly fishing in NZ is really about. Here are more photos of rivers, landscape and trout. Some of the fish pictures below are of the same trout featured above but taken at different angles.

DSCN4771

bwnblurtop

fast river brown taken on dry

rommidstrm

DSCN4778

tropical

trout country?

calmwater

morning mist,  full day ahead

bowlong

rainbow on cicada prospecting

oreti

angler access, river over 1 mile away in distance

nevsmall

small stream, bright day welcomed

pomarivleft

love sight-fishing this river and landscape

bwnbackmit

sight-fished brown, photo captures unbelievable girth

DSCN4821

riffles and wind, wide open terrain

rno2fish

roman, brown on dry

DSCN4760

mid-sized brown on cicada dry, photo by roman

bwn3finge

brown on cicada on bank

calmtree

some good weather

streamerclose

streamer brown, photo by roman

mussrom (1)

field mushrooms

DSCN4803

dropping down from high plateau to river valley in morning fog

 

DSCN4761

cicada bwn

brown on cicada prospecting, photo by roman

DSCN4775

3treesnev

clear day

DSCN4772

handbwn

photo by roman