Friday, 20 February 2015

A Bit of a Shambles - New Zealand 2015

So the remote river I mentioned in my last post is the Ohikanui. This is what John Kent (author of ‘South Island Trout Fishing Guide’) has to say about it: “There is no marked route up this river but a rough track follows upstream from the bridge on the true left bank. Only active, fit anglers should attempt this river, as there are no huts, tracks or roads in this valley… This remote, bush-lined, rough, bouldery, clear river offers great sight fishing for the fit angler who is unafraid to camp out. The best fishing lies well upstream where crystal clear greenish pools and runs holds a good population of medium and large brown trout. Wear overtrousers and take insect repellant for the sandflies. The upper reaches are now designated as a wilderness area so helicopter fly-ins are no longer permitted.” 

The confluence of the Buller and Ohikanui Rivers on a misty morning

Just about to set off

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, we gave it a go. We packed for 3 nights and 3½ days of fishing up this 20km long river. A small annoyance an hour into the walk upstream when I realised I had left my SLR camera in the car but no matter, I had my compact with me and I was grateful for the lighter load. Perhaps it was a portent of things to come. We pushed on upstream, with my new Japanese fishing friend, Takahiro, saying “we go up and find big fish in every pool”. I happily agreed with his obvious enthusiasm but the full meaning of this would only be comprehended later that day. It was hard graft made a little easier by someone with the foresight to mark the track for us with intermittent pink ribbon and later pink spray paint. Initially the path is quite noticeable and level, obviously fairly well used, but later on it became a little more steep and difficult to see. Quite often we would stray from the path then double back until one of us would spot the small splash of pink spray paint on a tree or fern and yell out “pink”. We probably walked about 10kms upstream and it took us 8 hours, stopping for lunch and for Takahiro to rig up his rod and cast to a trout of about 3lbs which had risen to sip an insect from the surface while we watched it (he had no success).

The track

We eventually found a small gap in the trees to set up our tents. Someone had once had the same idea as us as I found a tent peg buried between rocks in the beach sand, but it must have been years ago given how rusted it was. Just as I had shrugged off my rucksack and sat down on a rock to rest Takahiro declared the river to be devoid of big fish and said he wanted to go back early the next morning. Now I had just walked 10kms, possibly more, with a heavy pack, in hot, humid weather and I hadn’t even unpacked my fly rod. To say I struggled to see the funny side of it is probably an understatement and the ensuing conversation was likely lost in translation. He did have a point in that we had only spotted fish up to about 3 or 4lbs on the way up but we had half the river still to explore. And look, my present fishing companion means well but I have to say he is perhaps just a little obsessed with the idea of catching a 10lb trout. He explained that a well known Japanese fishing guide visited Reefton in 2004 and wrote on his website that there are many rivers in the vicinity which, after a bit of walking, have trout of 7lbs plus in every pool. I now understood his earlier reference. Whether a hopelessly false expectation has been created or such rivers exist, I don’t know. I mulled it over in my mind as we set up our tents, which was then in light rain which did nothing to help my mood.

With my tent up I sat on the shore watching the water, mulling over the issue when I saw a trout leap completely out of the water right in front of the camp. In that brief moment the setting sun filtered through a break in the clouds and amplified the golden-yellow colour of its flanks to a colour which resembled freshly deposited leaves in Autumn. It splashed back into the water with a thwack audible over the sound of nearby rapids. I called for Takahiro, in his tent out of the rain, as he had yet to catch a fish in our time together but he poked his head out and waved his hand dismissively. I asked if I could use his rod which was already rigged up and standing on the shore and he agreed before going back into his tent with a squeal of the zip. I quietly entered the water and cast, too wide of the main current where I had seen the fish leap, then again, this time just right as the dry fly (a mayfly type pattern with a deer hair wing and a twist of hackle tied by Takahiro) disappeared in a gentle boil of water only just visible against the low sun. The fished again leaped in the air but this time in outrage and I followed it downstream where I could lead it to shallow water and land it. It weighed 4½lbs. As I was releasing the fish back into the water two eels emerged from the rocks. Perhaps they were aroused by the struggling throes of the fish and they curiously investigated my landing net lying in the water and the fresh scent of the trout.


The rain had ceased by then and perhaps sensing my mood Takahiro said “I’m so sorry but I just cannot go on fishing this river.” I acquiesced - better that than forcing somebody to be someplace they don’t want to be - but with a compromise. There was still light for 3 more hours, lets walk upstream as far as we could to see if we could spot any large fish to target the next day. Agreed, we set off but saw none, the task made a little harder under cloud cover and in fading light. It started to rain again, harder this time and the large rocks on the river’s shore became very slippery. I slipped and fell and my rod tip snapped. Disaster. By that point I wanted nothing more than to be home (home being the modest comfort of the holiday park in Reefton where I could at least have a decent hot meal, a beer and a hot shower unhindered by sandflies). I got back to our camp just as it was getting dark with a mist creeping eerily up the valley and boiled enough river water for the hike back out the next day. I hadn’t taken along a lid for my pot and the water resembled a soup of sandflies by the time I was done. We hiked back out the next morning under our still heavy loads (I’d planned on the weight of the food at least being missing on the walk out) and I was relieved when I saw the road bridge. I’d say I might even have cracked a little smile at the first road sign for ice cold Coke on the drive back to Reefton.

The Ohikanui on the walk out - a great day for fishing!

All in all a bit of waste of time - the loss of two day’s fishing and a broken rod. At least I got a fish. Now it’s time to test how good the Orvis guarantee is!

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