Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Four Seasons in an Afternoon, and a Fish - New Zealand 2015

I returned for a third time to a Southland river and this time a light sprinkling of snow adorned one or two of the surrounding mountain tops. On more than a few occasions I had to pause and either add or remove layers as the weather shifted between sunshine and clear skies, cloud, cold gusts and rain.

Spotting fish proved difficult in the predominantly overcast conditions but I managed to spot three in two hours. The first spooked a second after I spotted it and the second melted away into the depths sometime between me casting a Royal Wulff over its nose.

A thick cloud of rain and mist enveloped the highest snow covered peak and when it cleared some hours later the peak seemed to have been flushed clean of at least half its snow.

The third and last fish was far too preoccupied feeding in a shallow riffle of a pool tail. If it hadn't have been so intent on filling its stomach it probably wouldn't have been caught - I only spotted it when it was directly in line with me, when most other fish would have already bolted for cover or simply ceased to feed. Instead I froze and watched it show off the white inside of its mouth as it moved and sucked in a nymph. I slunk back into a casting position and sent out a team of two nymphs to do the dirty work, panicked a little when I couldn't locate my indicator, but just as I picked it up it in the riffle it stopped and sunk beneath the water. Instinctively I raised my rod, tightening the line, and instantly knew I had hooked the fish and not a rock or some other underwater feature.

At first the fish seemed nonplussed and succumbed to the pressure of the line and I even managed to slip half of its length into the frame of my net. But then it felt the net closing in and all hell broke loose. It tore off downstream, leaving me following ungainly as I negotiated the slippery stream boulders after it. Backing started to leave my reel. I found a point to exit the water and clambered up on to the high bank where the going was easier, reeling in backing and then fly line as I approached the deep pool downstream where the fish had sought refuge. The fish jumped acrobatically out of the water but then, subdued, it came quietly into the net a second time. It weighed 6.25 lbs, my personal best.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Small Stream Reward - New Zealand 2015

I chose to fish a small stream today and it could have been any small stream in Wales or South Africa except the fish I spooked were a little larger and the bank side obstacles different. Tall clumps of tussock (or ankle-twisters as I call them), prickly stands of thistle and impenetrable flax had to be negotiated (or circumvented) and at times it was jungle-like. This little stream has no 'reputation' that I'm aware of and I doubt many people seriously fish it. The barely discernible path along the right bank petered out roughly a kilometre from my access point and for the first time in New Zealand I felt like I was fishing near virgin water. Just a little blue line on my map and an unheard of river name emblazoned on the sign at the road bridge.

The water was discoloured after recent rains but it cleared gradually throughout the day. It meant spotting was tricky so I changed tactics and chose to walk up the river looking for rising fish. I suspect I could have caught a few more by blind fishing a nymph through the runs and pools but I wasn't in the mood for that. I would study likely looking water intently, sometimes up to ten minutes, before moving on. Generally rises were few and far between but on a handful of occasions my slow approach to a new pool was greeted by a subtle, confident rise and then my pulse would quicken. I mistimed two strikes, sending fleeing bow waves upstream, but eventually struck gold with the third. This fish was at the tail of a pool, in the margin against a cliff face. I saw it and cast and when my line landed on the water a fish tore off upstream from a spot about a metre below where I had seen the rise. Shit, it must have moved downstream when I was casting I thought. I was about to reel in my line and move on when I wondered if there were two fish (not very usual for New Zealand in my limited experience) so I cast again and a fish - the trout I'd originally seen - heedlessly took the #16 yellow Humpy despite the prior commotion. It weighed 4¼ lbs and I have to say, catching a fish of this size in a small river is truly exciting and rewarding. I guess it pays at times to depart from the big name rivers and crowds.


Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Cicada Magic - New Zealand 2015

Fishing for large trout with large dry flies is exhilarating sport and today the trout happened to be hungry for cicadas. If you don't know what a cicada pattern looks like, here is a picture of the same pattern I used today:

It lands with a plop and grabs the attention of the trout.

I fished a well known Southland river and the weather was good - clear skies with a gentle breeze. Perfect weather for cicadas to do their thing (make noise and procreate I guess) and for gusts of wind to blow any unwary cicada into the waiting mouths of the trout.

I landed two brown trout, each 5½lbs, and lost a slightly larger one which was on the hook for about ten minutes and had my arm aching. I also pricked two other trout but these two had turned and followed the fly for a way before taking it facing downstream and this is perhaps why the fly was pulled from their mouths when I struck. You'd think trout would hit these big morsels with aggression but they don't. Instead all you see is a snout quietly poke out the water as calm as you like and disappear back under the water with hardly any surface disturbance at all.

One of the fish below is a real fatty too! Great to finally get on the plus side of 5lbs.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Guided Day - New Zealand 2015

A few days ago I broke my Orvis Battenkill large arbor reel. Perhaps more accurately it broke itself. I reached down to wind in my line and instead of finding a reel handle I clutched at thin air. Somewhere along the river the handle had parted ways in a clean break of plastic and metal. Coming off the back of two broken rods in the same week the demise of my reel was a cruel blow. I used the small protrusion of the counter weight to reel in the excess line a little awkwardly and began the long 3 hour walk back to the car. A long day's fishing where I walked about 18km with no fish to show for it. I did miss two rises though so it wasn't wholly uneventful. The next day I bought a new reel in Te Anau. If anyone reading this is planning an extended fishing trip to New Zealand I strongly advise bringing along a spare of everything. Find the space, it's worth it.

By this time I'd hooked up again with Takahiro. By coincidence we happened to be staying at the same camp site at Te Anau and I recognised his blue tent. New Zealand is actually quite a small place when it comes to fishing and often I run into familiar fishing faces, transient trout bums all of them just like me. The following afternoon we fished the Upukerora River which is probably the closest stream to the town and whilst the guide book suggests rainbows are the predominant species I caught two brown trout of 2½ and 4lbs. The 4lb trout was a rewarding catch as it refused about nine patterns while feeding consistently in clear water no more than two rod lengths away from me. Eventually, perhaps after about 45 minutes of watching it and casting to it, it rose ever so slowly in the water on a collision course with a Royal Wulff and sipped it as gently as a dandelion falling on the grass. I waited a second for the fish to turn before I struck, as you have to do with these browns if you don't want to see your fly ricochet past your ear, and that's when the fireworks started. It's moments like these that make New Zealand such a rewarding place to fish.

Anyway, several weeks ago I had decided to book a guide to learn as much as I could of New Zealand fishing methods. Chris Dore came highly recommended and whilst initially he could not accommodate me because of an already full schedule he volunteered to use one of his rest days. Unfortunately the day itself turned out to be the worst day of weather since my arrival in New Zealand. A strong, almost permanent gust of wind from the west (downstream) made casting exceedingly difficult and from mid morning it started to rain and it never let up until about 5.30pm when we were already back in Chris' 4x4 on the road back to Queenstown. It was a miserable day, difficult for spotting fish, cold and wet and I cursed my foul luck at paying for a guide on such a day. Chris took me to perhaps the most famous big trout river in the district but all I could manage was a solitary 4lb brown trout. I learned a lot about spotting fish (Chris spotted more fish in the morning alone, even in the miserable conditions, than I would probably spot in three days of clear weather) and a few alternative methods such as streamer fishing but deep down my goal had been to beat my personal best of 5lbs (not an overly-ambitious goal for New Zealand). My initial feelings are of disappointment especially given the cost of a guided day and for a while I thought of nothing else but the many other things I could have spent the money on. But I bet over the coming weeks I will put what I learned from this day to good use and hopefully it will start to pay dividends. 

I'll never tire of catching 4lb fish. Anywhere else in the world fish of this size would be trophies to be celebrated and I try not to forget it!

Just a few more words on the day - Chris was an exceptional guide and the failings were mine alone. He put me on to about five or six fish which were happily feeding, some of them in the 8lb range at least, and for any guide this is a job well done. This is where the angler's skill has to prevail and unfortunately I came up wanting. The trout in this river are ultra spooky and you get one or two casts at most before they somehow know they are being pestered by a sharp piece of steel wrapped with fur and feathers. In the strong wind I tended to get my cast in the right place only at the third or fourth attempt and this is simply not good enough. You have to be exceedingly accurate with your first cast here. I also freely admit I probably suffered a bit of stage fright on the occasion - it's hard to control the nerves and adrenalin when casting to a large fish when the margins for success are so small. I cannot stress enough the importance of improving your casting accuracy before coming to New Zealand (and being able to do it in strong downstream winds).     

For now the quest for a 5lb plus fish continues!