The following is the journal of the 10 day fly fishing road trip to the South Island of New Zealand in March 2009. It was my first time over the ditch but for my travelling companion Tony, (aka Bablefish) his second.
Months of anticipation, excitement, research, planning, fly tying, gear preparation and quiet dreamy moments poring over maps trying to imagine what the trip may be like and hoping that the weather gods might be kind to us preceded the journal to follow:
DAY 1 – Friday 13th March 2009
Tony and I caught up at Tullamarine Airport and went through the customary procedures with check ins and currency exchange then made our way to the departure lounge to wait to board our flight to Christchurch. The realisation that we were finally embarking on the trip really hit home there. The conversation naturally turned to what we might expect and what we (secretly) hoped would happen.
10am local time, we were finally lifting off, familiar landmarks falling away as we rose. Soon we were over the sea. Lamb schanks for breakfast.
Tonys tip for airline food: Avoid the instant Cappuccino...
'Re: TJ's reference to the Cappucino. Take my advice and stay away from that powder crap they serve on Virgin that they try to pass as 'coffee'. Within an hour I had stomach cramps. It all culminated two days later with a monument left near a river that would rival Stonehenge. Should have done the TJ trick and went black tea instead.' So there. You have been warned.
As the captain announced that we were approaching the NZ coast, peering from the window, I caught my first glimpse of the rugged mountains, many topped with snow. Wild, rugged and incredibly beautiful, it was a moving sight to witness as it confirmed and drove home that our adventure had truly started.
3pm and touchdown. I called Robyn from Britz Rentals in Christchurch to let her know that we were in town and about to go through customs. Being the lovely lady she is, she sent the ‘limo’ to collect us and bring us to the depot to collect our Voyager van that would be home for us for the next 9 days. She looked after us like we were VIP’s.
First stop was the PacNSave to get supplies. Pasta, fruit, eggs, bacon, bread etc and of course, local red wines.
Finally, at 6.15pm, we hit State Highway (SH) 1, deviating at Rangitata to use SH79 and steered a course for The Nunya Braids. We drove through Fairlie, passed Lake Tekapo and then veered right up to The Nunya Braids at XXX. Some 4 hours later at 10pm, we opened the gate and drove into ‘Camp Beiruit’, nestled in the ‘Valley of the zombie trout’. We stood at the edge of the braid, full moon above casting its glow making the braids shimmer and the snow peaked alps glow pale pastel white against a dark star filled sky.
We were there! Dinner, wine, excited chit chat, bed at 12.30 am.
DAY 2 – Saturday 14th March 2009
We awoke at dawn, 7.30 am. The hills to the east make the sun arrive late. The days first light reaches out and baths the tip of Mt Cook in a rosy pastel brush stroke of soft morning light.
Breakfast: Bacon, eggs, beans, bread and coffee. We eat silently, taking in our first view views of the braids we are to fish today. Nice.
Soon we all kitted up and are ready to set off fishing as we hear a car approach. Exiting the 4WD I recognise Simon Chu!
Kay Jones and Francis Gerson. Francis gave me a glimpse of her self tied flies. She ties for the one fly event and fishes in it too. I asked her to adpot me... The flies were incredible. Some real pearlers amongst them too. Peter Carty presented himself and after a little more fun banter and a photo opportunity with my new girl friends, we all set off fishing – Tony and I set off upstream, Francis, Kay, Simon and Peter in the opposite direction.
Our day was perfect. Full sun, blue sky. I had to stop and take a photo of my boots in the insanely crystal clear water. I was blown away by just how far I could see into the stream. Awesome. The braids were gorgeous but tough going. That day, we would traverse some 10km of rocky, ankle wrenching terrain.
Tony and I had both purchased the new Simms Rivershed boots for this trip.
They proved to be super comfortable and reliable in the water. Tony had some wearing in issues on his upper ankle but I assured him this most likely due to some deformity of this feet as mine were fine. He did appreciate my concern. As for cleaning, a breeze.
Soon the first fish was sighted.
It was a long shadow, a dullish greeny-silver blob that tapered to a wavering tail. An eye popping leviathan of epic, unfathomable proportions (well, you’d say the same thing if you fished in Victoria most of your life).
A fly was chosen – a blow fly terrestrial, and cast. The cast was good. 6 or 7 feet above, slightly left. No reaction. Recast, again no reaction. The Zombie Trout had taken over the real trout and reigned supreme.
Various flies tried on other fish that were easy to spot from far behind. We stalked, we kept low. We stayed out of their field of vision. We asked the underworld trout demons to release their unworldly hold on these magnificent fish, but they did not relent. I almost considered a human sacrifice but I needed Tony as he was the only one able to operate the can opener back at the van. So, we cracked the shits and walked up to them to photograph these sleeping zombie fish! And we did! About 20 fish were sighted that day and only half would spook after approached. We can only surmise that the recent, unseasonal cold snap had affected their usual habits.
I spotted my first bumble bee. Its deep resonate hum almost making me hit the deck fearing attack from an F18 hornet. Amazing little creatures. Did I just say ‘little’? In terms of bees, these guys are friggen huge!
We approached a nice glide when I spotted a rise! This trout must have been on the garlic and escaped the grip of the doggo zombie demons. I tied on my new So-Blow terrestrial blow fly and cast. The big bugger came up for the fly, I felt the hook prick him but the take was missed. I watched the bow waves being pushed up from the fleeing fish and cursed all my ancestors to eternity. After a two hour hike, we were back at the van. Knees aching, swearing to exercise for 6 months before the next time I came back here.
The scenery here is amazing. We ate under the shadow of snow capped peaks, sipping a glorious good local red under a sky jam packed with stars. I think both of us were quietly avowing to one day return with wooden stakes and avenging ourselves. We thanked the weather gods for being kind to us on our first day. Lots of excited chat about the amazing things we saw and plotted the next days assault.
We also discovered Speights beer is most likely brewed from the urine of wild ferrets. That box of ‘beer’ was destined to remain untouched for many, many days.
DAY 3 – Sunday 15th March 2009
Dawn. The day is bright, clear and windless. We depart Camp Beiruit and the Valley of the Zombie Trout. Destination Southland. Stopped for a quick supply top up in Twizel. We also got more food. Twizel is a lovely place – I think the most aesthetically pleasing I’d seen so far.
Soon we were on the SH8, then crossing the bridge at Omarama. We drove past some Fish and Game access points to the Ahuriri River and then the turn off to Birchwood Road. We had a quick chat about perhaps stopping for a fish and soon made the decision to hit the upper Ahuriri for a crack at a big fish. Southland could wait another day.
We drove up Birchwood Road until we reached a good looking (and obvious!)angler access point.
The guide book telling us that this water had few fish, was heavily fish by international fish fishers but the fish were of trophy proportions. Hey, we all like a challenge don’t we?
Along walk down saw us on the river. High cliffs around us had the evidence of eons of river flows etched into them. The river here is braided and very interesting to fish. There are fast rapids, deep pockets, glides, channels, boulders and undercut banks. The going underfoot is tough.
Fish here were far and few between. I managed a half decent cast to a large polaroided brown and it kindly took my Blowfly Foam Humpy. And to ensure my fishing record thus far remained consistent, promptly spat the hook. I thought this to be very uncharitable of him. My heart was still pounding once my knees stopped trembling and my anus ceased threatening to release that mornings repast.
Tony raised one too with the same result on a Cicada/DHE with legs.
Lunch was at 3.15, watching some nice water flowing below an eroded high cliff. We both wondered what the peasants were doing today. Fishing the Ahuriri, we agreed.
We continued working upstream. The river became fast and wide with fewer glides. Tony cast to a rising fish who was finning in a deep channel adjacent an undercut bank. The rubber legged stimmi pulled. Doh!
We crossed the river to stalk a raised bank. We spotted a wide shouldered, big headed, chunky fish of about 12lbs. Okay, I can hear you saying ‘sure TJ’ but man, it could have been bigger. I am being being conservative with the estimate. Nuff said.
As it was Tonys turn to cast, I lay on my tummy above the cliff, acting as spotter whilst Tony got into position. Regretfully, this where the story ends on that one. These fish know when something is NQR and spooked. With a great slash of his paddle, he was gone.
We climbed down and as we lamented the lost opportunity, spooked another fish from another pocket a mere 30 feet away! Double Doh!
Long walk back. Cut up the steep track, have coronary, walk across paddocks with mountains as a backdrop. Dinner. Sleep. Camp was the Hayshed on Birchwood Road, 100m from the cliff overlooking our beautiful braids and clay cliffs.
LESSONS LEARNT SO FAR:
· Braids are good
· Fish like to station on edges that have undercut bank with a channel along it. Always.
· Don’t be arrogant. Fish will be where you don’t expect.
· NZ trout go ‘doggo’ – best left alone and move on once the sink to the bottom and extend their pectoral fins.
· MAKE THE FIRST CAST COUNT!
DAY 4 – Monday 16th March 2009
Perfect weather. Clear sky. No wind. Woo hoo! This was gonna be our day, I could just taste it! Driving out from camp we found good access to the Ahuriri braids just up from the bridge that crosses the Ahuriri River. Maybe try there on Friday as we head back up. 9.45am on the road to Queenstown. Arrive 12.30pm.
I tried to make some extra cash to spend at Stus later.
We have a look around and continue on to Kingston, home to the Kingston Flier. Soon we are at the Little Nunya in The Arble Valley. We kitted up and hiked upstream. About a kilometre from the car, we found a nice pool. Looking upstream, I spotted a rising fish. A happy, feeding fish. I stalked upstream and we watched that fish for a few minutes.
I tied on a brown foam humpy, taking my time to make sure the knot was 100% and presented it to the feeding fish. The length was good, but the fly landed 50cm to the left. I watched as the brown rose to the fly and slashed at it side on. No connection. I recast but this time the fly fell short. “C’mon man – let’s do this right” I thought. The next cast was right on the money. The fish rose to the fly, the clear, clear water allowing me to watch his bulk move as he did so. It’s snout broke the surface and clamped over the humpy. On autopilot, I lifted the rod gently and the hook was set! Wooo hooo!! Yeah baby!!
A dogged tug of wills ensued and some 5 minutes later, our first fish of the trip came to the net. My first NZ trout and it was perfect! A beautiful big fish from what was essentially twig water. Thanks to Tony and his trusty net.
Further on, we sighted two more big trout feeding. Regretfully, they were both in very difficult lies and Tony did well just to get his fly over them. The first was a couple of meters ahead on a large rock. Behind us, trees canopyed the stream. Tough casting and regretfully, caused a hang up. Even though tony was doing a great job casting under the circumstances, that fish sensed something was not right and slunk to the bottom, pectoral fins spread: doggo.
The second was some 500m further in a worse spot. The pool had a nice bubble line along a sheer cliff face that emptied into a shallow run. Blocking a cast was a big tree in the tail out. Bloody hard casting with reverse currents working against you. Tony had some shots but needed to cast across his body. A couple of casts made the mark but alas, the fish was on to us by this time and went doggo. Unfortunately, my camera took a swim at this stage and took 36hrs to dry and get back on line. (Phew)
DAY 5 – Tuesday 17th March 2009
Slept in. Up at 8am. Drove into Athol and visited stus fly shop. The Orgasmic One was out guiding so no dancing for us that morning. Further down at Mossburn, topped up on some water, fuel, food & a couple of fine wines. Drove south along the Oreti River and dropped in on an access point to find some cars already there. I wrote a message wishing the owners 'Tight lines' in the dust on a back window. We drove up a little way further and tried our luck at another access point.
This part of the Oreti reminded me alot of pictures I'd seen in articles and really felt 'New Zealandish'. The shrubs and flax falling to the waters edge was gorgeous and just so damn fishy. It wasn't long before I spotted a fish. He was finning over a rock in some deep water. Man that makes then hard to spot! I had a shot at him and first go he had a go at my So-Blow ( a blue foam and black deer hair terrestial come blowfly) but I dropped him under the flax. We continued exploring and scanning the water but there were very few fish seen along that beat.
About 4pm saw us on the Aparima River. We drove up to the last angler access on the Dunrobin Valley Rd. After a fair walk along the Aparima Hut track, we were treated to some very nice looking water that whet our appetites. I fished the channels that ran under some undercat banks. They just screamed to me to fush them. I had two fish rise to the So-Blow but both failed to connect. Do you have any idea how frustrated I was starting to get! Arrrgh!
Tony dropped a good brown that took a liking to his Deerhair Sedge. Then it happened, he connected to and landed his first fish! I saw the take and the brief battle that ensured. To his credit, he controlled the fish and landed his prize... Erm, nuff said about that one. You can ask him personally if you like. Just don't mention the words 'small' or 'tiny' or 'NE Victorian twig fish gotten lost'... Okay?
Returning to camp, we disturbed a prowler who got into his car and sped off. A light grey Mazda 626 or similar. The blond haired bink had wiped some dust from a window to try and see inside. We found a rock that had been moved from a few feet away and can only assume he was going to use it to break in or had kicked it along whilst sussing out the van. That left us with a bad taste in our mouths at any rate. Hopefully, it wasn't what we were assuming, but, you just never know.
We made plans to hit the Mataura the next day. The night was cold, we rugged up and had a good hot hearty dinner. The North westerly had kicked up and clouds were rolling in.
DAY 6 – Wednesday 18th March 2009
Tonys mobile phone alarm got us up at 5.30am. Coffee. We had a light sprinkling of rain overnight and with the cloud cover, it was warmer for sleeping. We hit the road, pointing the Voyager towards the Mataura at Fairlight. We arrived at 7.30am to find a nice fish sitting and willow grubbing.
We also then noticed the same cars we saw on the Oreti already there, camped around the corner. I went over and introduced myself to the guys and asked if they got my message. They had! That broke the ice. It turned out to be Graham Watson, a guide, with a client and his camp master. He was a nice guy and filled us in on the area and a few other places worth looking at. He spoke about the Brightwater and big fish that reside there. 7 to 8lbs he recons. We worked out who was going where. Naturally, the first comers having the deciding call and opting for the downstream section.
Tony and I headed upstream as he took his client to play on the Brightwater.
As we were about to disappear around the bend, we saw a small white car drive down, do a circle then drive out again...
First bend and I spied a fish mid stream in a lovely glide. I covered him several times but could not interest him. He continued to feed, rising occasionally, unconcerned. I tried a couple of dries - usual suspects, para dun, klinky... all for no result other than a half hearted look at the para dun. Whatever had taken his interest it was damn small and there was enough of it to make him take up station mid stream like that. Further on, we saw a few fish cruising a classic dry fly pool. They were tough late season fish, being very leader shy. We tried the usual offerings: para duns, DHE, nymphs... all to no avail. Total rejection.
The next section we came across actively feeding fish in the deeper, slower sections along the willows. Willow grubbers! Let the fun begin. Groan...! These fish were actively feeding, totally focused on a small meal. They very, very flighty and easily spooked.
Finally we found one in a deep glide under the willows. Tony stalked the big fish as it acually chased another big brown away from its lie and continued to feed on the dropping grubs. A very happy fish.
Tony tied on some Drennan Double Strength 4lb tippet and attached a #18 Griffiths Gnat, citing Clark Reids liking this fly for fussy feeders. Wading carefully into position, Tony laid out a good cast. I was standing a fair distance back but together we watched the monster look, swim up and engulf the #18 gnat and leave a hole where the river should have been! After what seemed an eternity, Tony lifted the rod and the fish was hooked.
The ensuing battle saw a determined fish lunge for cover, Tony applying the wood to keep him clear. The mighty brown made us swallow our hearts with one almighty leap that saw him crash down in a mighty splash.
Tony was talking at a frantic pace, the excitement was so great. "He's still green, I gotta let him tire himself a bit"
Soon, the beautful brown was led to net after a failed attempt that had me shaking. Its a big responsibility to be the net man under that sort of pressure you know.
Tony was understandibly estatic, congratulations all around on a well earnt good fish. 5lbs, 2 ounces taken on a tiny, tiny gnat on 4lb tippet.
We saw many more fish on our upstream trek until 2.00pm when crossed the paddocks to take a look at the Brightwater spring creek. I'd never seen a real spring creek before and it was pretty as a picture. Ultra clear, long fronds of lush weed gently swaying in its life giving flow. Every pastel blue tinged stone and pebble stood out as if outined with an artists brush. Simply beautiful.
We kept going at got back to camp for food and coffee. We were just getting our stuff together when that same little white car shows up again. This time, it swings under the big willows and stops. The boot lid pops and a tall, lanky old timer eases himself out. Without looking around, he takes out a sling bag, dons an old blue vest and kicks off his loafers. A change of socks and some boots go on his feet. A fly rod is produced and sectioned together.
I am standing up front of the van, sipping coffee, waiting to make eye contact. I am ignored, so I head back around. Tony catches his eye and as if being forced to, the lanky Aristrocrat ambles over. His accent is all plum and silver spoon, little finger cocked sipping dargeling tea from a china cup. His words are rather proper and well announciated. Oxford, I'd say. Proberly graduating class of 1924. Aristrocrat!
We offer up our names and get a Statement of Ownership of the Mataura in exchange. Sheesh, here we go... "Yes, I have fished MY favourite lower sections of MY Matuara since 1970... I lived my early years here before moving to London. These days I live in Sydney however make regular trips back here to fish MY favourite sections downstream from here. A few days ago I landed a brownie of two and a half kilos and another of 3 and a half kilos" Downstream huh? We'd like to go downstream... "But it is MY section... blah blah blah" After wishing us luck, turned on his well worn Aristrocratic heel and just takes off downstream, leaving me and Tony blinking. Its HIS river Tony! Owned it since 1970 Tony! Good grief.
So we head upstream, shaking our heads and wishing we'd grow into toffy old Aristrocrats and own our own stretch of river one day. Nothing of note to see or fish for so after a couple of hours, head back to camp. Returning, we see the little white car is gone.
At 7.00pm, we set off downstream, cutting across the paddock where we found a nice glide to watch and waited for the evening "Mad Mataura Rise" to commence.
At about 8pm it started. First, a few mayflies, then some caddis. Soon the water was a smorgasboard of insect activity! Then riser #1 showed, then another further up, the #3 and #4!
#1 was a gooooood fish. But even though I well positioned and my casts good, he was switched on to something else other than my (1) para dun (2) Klinky (3) cdc emerger (4) DHE... aaaaargh!
So I got bold and waded up to him, called him a fussy bastard and hoped hed get constipated for a month. #2 refused my emergers so I changed to a Bob Wyatt Caddis with a no hackle abdomen dubbed with buggy hares ear in a #12. I let #2 know what I though of his ancestry and cast to #3, who was very obliging. The fly laned a metre above him, just a bit left. By this time light was really low but I could just make out the speck that was my fly suddenly disappear behinf a snout that broke from the water. As the swirl took form, I lifted the rod to feel that satisfying weight of a reasonable fish. Tony waded over to help net the fish and I called it a 2 pounder. I was utterly amazed to see the scales dragged down to more than double that! What a lazy fish! Little fight, just sheer doggedness and refusal to come into the shallows. It was funny to watch try and escape the light from Tonys headlamp! But man, was I ever stoked! This was a real fun way to get a Mataura fish.
So that made it two Mataura fish in our day. We walked back to camp, eager for the next days fishing, elated at the days events. Hot dinner, wine, excited trout talk under the stars reliving the days events. "Tony, tell us again how you got that Mataura fish... pleeeeeeesae!"
We waited for the moon to rise and once it greeted us, had our nightly peach and mango tea nightcap and retired to our bunks.
LESSONS LEARNT SO FAR:
· Stalk carefully, be aware of your silhoette against the background
· Use cover - Dress to blend
· Study lies and potential lies carefully
· MAKE THE FIRST CAST COUNT!
DAY 7 – Thursday 19th March 2009
Up at 8.30, breakfast, checked for little white cars, geared up and were on the water by 10.30am. Tony set his GPS and after a 2.8k walk, we were within sight of the Garston Pub sign on the main road. As we crossed the river, I saw a likely looking nice spot further on. We both spotted fish, albeit different ones in the deep channel that run along side the small willow to one side of the stream. They were both very obviously nymphing. As it turned out, this is what most fish were seen to be doing on the day. The day was a little cooler, and the southerly breeze had kicked in a bit. The larger fish was almost along side his counterpart and actually chased him away to continue feeding. I slipped down the bank and got into position. I cut off my dry and selected a #18 nymph. A pattern I tied with blood and black scintilla, a black rubber wingcase, ribbed with very fine red wire and a black tungstan bead up front.
The first cast got look and the second cast got a take. I was watching the end of my floating flyline and a moment after it paused, It lifted the rod to set the fly. That was when all hell broke loose and that fish gave me some damn good curry right from the go set.
That fish headed straight for home, a tangled mess of willow roots in a deep chanel. I applied heaps of hurt to keep him out of there, straining the 4lb Drennan Double strength tippet to virtually popping point. The 5wt MLS was doubled over as gradually the fish was turned, writhing against the pressure. After a few more runs for cover, he was led back into the main run and soon played out into the net. Man, that was a torrid battle. Such a hard bugger to land!
Once we were sure he was good to go, we resumed our search for fish. We spotted more fish, all nymphing. No rising fish today. Feeding pattern had changed. The wind had picked up, blowing nor-west. Cloud made spotting harder. Late arvo the sun reappeared. We saw another couple of fish rising but in awkward lies. Tony had a few casts. 55 minutes worth of casts! Turns out there were three fish, all the while feeding. One was hanging back in a deep eddy, the other two catching afternoon tea as it washed off the riffle over a drop off.
Tonys playground. Great piece of water to test you thoroughly.
My sookie lahlah fish that turned doggo after tasting my mymph.
I dropped a fish in a medium glide that took a nymph. As I am reeling in some line after hassling one of Tonys pets, I hear a voice. Turns out to be Fish and Game officer Stuart Sutherland. Nice guy. He checked our licenses, made some notes and hung around for a chat. He spoke about the drift dives they carry out and told us that this section had 10 fish in it! He spoke about about local 'top secret' flies. The look on his face said he'd inadvertantly spilled some beans that he shouldn't have but too late. The deatails are faithfully recorded in the trip journal. Wink wink. Stu also commented that it would take a good man to pull any fish out of the river at the moment. That really put a smile on my and Tonys dial as we'd managed three so far! Warm n fuzzy, man, warm n fuzzy! He mentioned he'd seen our van and the note we'd left to let people know where we'd headed. Also mentioned the two empty bottles of red...
Back to camp at 5pm. Food. Wait for evening rise. Dried gear, retied tippet, just get ready and hope for a repeat of last night.
I'm wondering if we might go to the Ahuriri for an arvo session tomorrow and try again for a trophy. Perhaps the upper Mataura? Too much choice and it's so damn nice here. See whats decided. We chat and decide to make tracks back up north to avoid a huge drive Saturday. We decide to look at the Ahuriri around Omarama.
The evening session was a fizzle. A half hearted hatch of caddis and a sprinkling of lil duns. The usual suspects emerged but were not wanting to play. We worked the hatch but as dark fell, cut our losses and headed back for dinner. We had a little visitor during dinner, attracted we think by our headlamps.
The Spinner who came to dinner!
DAY 8 – Friday 20th March 2009
Up at 7am. Coffee. Last gate closed at 7.45am. Drove to Omarama and the Ahuriri River to play with some bows. The guide book told us to expect a few. We crossed the bridge and headed down Ben Omar Road, where we came across this sign...
Now we were warned about this guy. We drove up his impressive drive to a really nice homestead. Beautiful lawns and gardens. I elected to sit in the car and shut up. Turned to be a good decision as Tony the silver tongued slick operator managed to buy our way on with the left over cans of Speights! He he! The Octogenarian Farmer thought he'd get some cash from the wiley ol HCE boys, eh? Wrooooong! Thanks to Tonys smooth talking, while the Octogenarian was mentally adding our access fee to his multi million dollar access fee account, Tones has hit him with the old "Dya like a beer" routine. The Octogenarian is stunned and before he knows it, is left holding a box of brewed ferrets urine and eating our dust! The unwanted, undrinkable brew that was destined to be thrown in the trash was cleverly converted into access currency via smooth negotiation. Our Tones is good, he is.
"You got off easy today" he says. "Don't tell your mates either" he says. "Dont want the place crawling with fishermen" he says. Course not, mate, course not.
He did also say no fires, which we respected.
(I saw three other guys fishing that day. Made me laugh as that farmer was obviously kidding himself if he thought no one was walking his riverbanks.)
We found a nice place to park and looked to the river. We followed a lovely canopy of mature willows along this old track that looked pretty well used.
And were greeted thus.
The place looked very fishy but we found it hard to fish. Mostly fast, mostly shallow. Ideal if you love your upstream nymphing though. We walked a long way and found some interesting and very challenging water. I found a bit of fast water that dumped into a deep pool. Lined up along the drop off were some nice bows enjoying the food washing down to them.
No way to get behind them. It would have to be an across and down presentation. On with the double tungstan and tungstan copper john. The TCR will be tested. I trimmed the leader back to 16 feet and made a mental note to keep that loop open man. Surprisingly, the tactic worked. I had two fish hit the nymphs but failed to connect regretfully. We wandered further along and I spied a backwater that just had to have a fish in it. It was a difficult wade over but with care, I made it across okay - mental note: Buy wading staff.
What I found was incredible. A huge deep, yawning cavern of a hole that could have swallowed our van. It had to be 20 feet deep, at least
I scanned it for fish but none were evident. Looking up the backwater, I followed the bubble line and spotted a fish. Then another. Then another again. This was tricky. I sat back and watched the water. One side ran along a steep drop in the bank. The outer side shelved gently. Watching the fish, they were happily feeding, but down deep. Then one rose! Oh joy! I noticed somethinbg that made my heart sink. A back eddy. That meant that no matter how I cast, the drift would be unnatural. The fly would drag on the leader as the current took hold of the fly and the back eddy took the fly flyline in the opposite direction.
I elected for a nymph. I waited until it was clear for a presentation and cast. The fish reacted to the plip of the nymph like a puppy to a thrown tennis ball. It dashed over and followed the nymph but rejected the offering.
This water was so slow, so clear, the fish would have plenty of time to check out any potential food items. Okay. Time for a rethink. I opened the boxes and looked for inspiration. They were bows. They like to chase... Let them chase this then and I tied on a Sik-Cada. I cast it over the nearest cruising fish who looked up as if to say "Whatda!" and rushed over to it, taking a look then slinking away. Man these were tough customers. The recast resulted in the same except this time I twtched the fly a little. The big bow swam after it then turned. Cast #3. I blooped the fly like a bass fly. Man! They loved that! I had 4 follows from two fish but each time the water began to shallow out meet the sandy shelf, they'd turn. Looking at my watch told me I'd spent enough time here and it was time to catch up with Tony.
We walked back upstream, trying likely lies when I spotted a bow finning under some willlows. The wing had sprung up and was gusting. It was bloody hard work just to get a 30 foot cast even with a single tungstan nymph and reduced leader. The dredded Nor-wester. One cast made its mark, the fish chased the nymph down then spotted me, saw how ugly I was and high tailed it out of there. Not to worry, his friend was still feeding another 20 feet up. Bad news again. Same deal, almost to the 'T'.
This was a tough, tough river. Real specialist nymphing water however the day was ending and the time for experimenting had passed. I'll be back though, with a bunch of indicators and I will dredge those bankside channels for those hard bastard bows.
So we saw mostly bows in that section, however we also saw and spooked a few big browns. One was in a spot that well, a trout should not have been there. Full stop. But thats fishin, eh?
Moods of the Ahuriri
That night we prepared a last supper in the bush banquet. A soup course, Irish stew and salad, pasta, bread and desert. And a good red, of course. Someone broke a chair, then wind. I was told it was dodgy (the chair, not the other) from the outset but...
We toasted the night as rain fell from a star filled sky and the cows lowed in the distance. All are tired. All are happy. Very happy.
Shut up cows. Steak for breakfast?
Last cast in a NZ river
DAY 9 – Saturday 21st March 2009
Saturday. The resignation to the fact that we are not fishing today has set in. Today we got up at 7am to clear skies, frost on the grass and no wind. Knowing we had a big drive ahead, the decision was to take a break somewhere nice along the road back up to Christchurch (ChCh) for brunch. We quickly broke camp, put stuff away and fit the road.
About 9.30 saw us pull over at Lake Takeapoo. I mean Takepo.
We parked just off the main main road, bankside to the lake. Looking at the water, there was a rise! Wow! Another! I wandered up to edge, mesmerised by the obviously rising fish, some feet from the bank. Midge! Thaere were midge hatching and these lil buggers were on them. I raced back to the van and fished out a rod that had not been put away. I tied on a gnat and spent too much time covering rises. Would seem that midging fish are bastards not matter where they are in the world and my midge box sitting at home, in another country did not make me feel any better.
We prepared brunch, ate with a gorgeous view, perved on some nicely toned gals out for their morning rides and runs then did the final pack.
Brunch with a view
11.30 back on the road. Get close to the coast and the wind. Our van has all the aerodynamics of a shoebox and is blasted by side gusts. Rain. Cold. The city soon begins to take over open plains and farmland and we are once more urbanites.
The van is dropped off and a cab called to take us to the Heritage in ChCh.
ChCh is pretty. A large centre, lots of parkland, interesting architecture, a clear stream flowing through town, locals dressed in tees and shorts as we rugged up in layers. Chatting to cabbie, we mentioned we were leaving next morning. He booked the cab for us there & then. Sorted.
The staff at the Heritage were very polite which was surprising as we had not shaved or bathed for 9 days. Up to the room, sort gear, shower and give the boots a good scrub in the batch tub. We laid the boots out on the basin stand and aimed the hair dryer at them to make they dried 100%.
We were both hungry by this time so we looked up a local steakhouse as I had a hankering for a big, fat, rare, dripping piece of bovine flesh. We headed out, picked up some souvineers for the family and searched for our steakhouse.
We skirted the shifties at the bus depot and spied our destination.
Once we got to the Mu Steakhouse, the bar was buzzing. The decore was pretty cool. Okay missy, get these two ravinous beef assassins a table.
'Do you have a reservation?'
What? No. Bugger.
'If you come back at 8.30...'
We found another place and checked out the menu. Looked good. Walking in, there were a few tables unoccupied so I thought we'd be sweet. The bloke behind the bar gave us a tired look and mentioned something about hell freezing over.
We now understood how Mary and Joseph felt. Hungry Jacks was starting to look very good. We rounded the corner and spied another restuarant. Portifinos. It was chockers. The bar was humming and the atmosphere alight. The tables were laden with good looking meals and the patrons looked very happy.
We were approached by the owner who looked dismayed when told him we did not, in fact, have a reservation but were very, very hungry.
He was the kindly third inkeeper, saying he wished he could feed all humanity and could cast two hungry fishermen back onto the cold, windy streets of ChCh. This guy was a saint. he asked us if we'd mind waiting a few minutes and disappeared to return saying he'd open upsatairs if didn't mind being the captains of our own ship. Don't what that meant, proberly sounds better in Italian. We were led up a winding staircase to what I can only assume was a wine tasing area. It was class. A landing, where we sat, was connected to a wall of back lit wines by a platform board walk. It was all brick, ancient raw timber and glass. I think Tony and were both stoked. The last thing we both wanted was to be buried in a mass of diners after our own al fresco dinings.
Prawn & scallop salad for starters, washed down with Czech Brovar, lovely crisp garlic flatbread, sirlion in red wine sauce complimented by a good Sangovese Toscana.
Good movie on, No Country For Old Men, or something, fall asleep watching.
DAY 10 – Sunday 22nd March 2009
Alarms rouse us at 0400 hours. Shit. Coffee. Dress, grab bags, taxi at door already.
Its raining hard. Its bitterly cold. Cabbie is in short sleeves. Easy listening music for oldies on the cabs radio has me trying hard to resist certain comments. I can't help laughing though as we approach the Airport drop off point and the cabby see 4 cars dropping people off. "Its mayhem there!" he says. Erm, okay dude. Just here is fine, thanks. Watchout for the traffic bro.
5.00AM Check in.
Tony buys me a much needed coffee. Mmmm. Thanks dude.
Wander through Duty Free.
7.15AM Board plane.
After take off, we pass the site of our first fishing spot. I make a mental note of the features and an area to look at next time. Mt Cook passes below and soon the grand vista of the Land of the Long White Cloud fade to the blue of the ocean and then the grey of clouds.
We sit quietly. I am tired. So, so damn tired but sort of 'okay, its over now mister' tired. I am enveloped with a sense of appreciation and feel fortunate to have experienced so much and have had an awesome, epic time. I close my eyes and in my minds eye, relive that first fish. I can easily recall details of the water, the hills, the fish. I find myself planning a return. I recline the seat, feeling the corners of my mouth turn up.
And the final word from Tony, a better pen-man than me...
Babel Babblings….or….Some Words from Tony
When TJ first suggested a road trip fly fishing adventure of the South Island, I had mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation. Excitement in that I had dreamed of one day doing just this type of trip, and trepidation due to the unknown factors involved. I had been to the South Island two years prior for a week of fully guided fly fishing in Southland, however this trip would mean DIY in the true meaning of it all. Would it all come together and become a memorable trip? Would it be everything we were anticipating it to be?
Being the adventurous type, I was keen to give it a go, and it was not too long before I was fully committed. The planning started in earnest; maps and guide books were purchased, the Internet scoured for information. No stone would be left unturned. Before we knew it the time had come, and as we shook hands early on the Friday morning at Melbourne Airport, there was the realisation that it was now ‘for real’.
The trip itself unfolded somewhat differently to what I had expected. And that was a good thing. It meant a greater opportunity for discovery and learning. We fished some amazing waters, in beautifully rugged locations. We camped by rivers surrounded by rolling hills, mountain ranges and skies full of stars.
There were many highlights. My favourite and never to be forgotten moment was TJ getting his first trout in NZ. A beautiful brown of 4.75lb, certainly a great way to open the account. It was classic dry fly fishing; the rising fish spotted tailing in a lovely crystal clear run, TJ very carefully getting into proper casting position, the initial miss-take by the fish that had our hearts in our throats, and then the eventual take and hook up, fight and landing. I’ll never forget the look of satisfaction and elation on TJ’s face.
From my own perspective, the trip cemented for me the DIY ethic that it can be done well where the will to succeed matches the dream. I learnt much about my own fishing; the things I am good at, and more importantly, the areas where I need to improve. There were splendid, joyous moments in time that will remain ingrained in my mind forever.
Thank you TJ for sharing the trip with me, your sense of humour (at least as insane as my own), and overall commitment to ensuring the trip had every chance of being a success.
Here’s to the next Hardcore Element Tour of Duty!
The wash up...
We camped nearly each night by water. We cooked hearty meals and dinners of two and 3courses, drinking really good red wines and conversing under skies so full of stars it was hard to quell our wonder at them. We saw shooting stars. As we travelled, we had wonderful banter and good conversations. And really, really stupids moments of hilarity that I enjoyed. Johnny Cash songs were sung, as was the Ode to the Dead Possum song, complete with spoken narration...
We camped where we chose.
We looked at maps and guidebooks to decide where next.
We discussed the days fishing.
We explored, we experienced vista of grandeur and we experienced hard, challenging fishing. We were fortunate enough to also experience the elation of that moment of connection to a good fish. We were lucky enough to land some and we will keep those memories to look back upon and relive those great days on the road and on the water.
My gratitude to a fine person, mentor, travelling and fishing companion. Thanks Tony.
Van: Voyager from Britz Rentals
Boots: Simms Rivershed
TJ's Rods: 5wt G Loomis Max Line Speed / 6wt Sage TCR 691
Babels Rods: 5wt Sage Z-Axis / 6wt TBA
Leaders: 18-25 ft, 4 & 6lb tippet.
Flies that worked were: TJ Blood & Black Blk Tung BH #18; Bob Wyatts Hares Ear Caddis Sedge #12; Brown Foam Humpy #10; Cicada; DHE; Deer Hair Sedge; Stimulater legged; Griffiths gnat #18
Books, Maps and Guides
Remember people, clean those boots, waders, neo socks and socks!!!
CHECK, CLEAN, DRY