February 24, 2007 - Bay of Islands, North Island
The last two weeks has held some brilliant fishing for me. Here is the summary:
Benmore Lake: Some interesting fishing is to be had near the outlet of the Ahuriri River. So much sediment has been flushed down the river that is has created a tropical flats-type environment. There is a large area which is around one to two feet deep. It’s great for spotting and casting to cruising trout, but the drawback is it is just as easy for them to see me standing in a shiny silver tinnie waving my hands around. I caught a fish on the second cast; then the winds picked up. Once the lake was all frothy with whitecaps, I knew it was time to throw in the towel. A promising start, never-the-less! For the next two days, each time I motored out onto the lake it seemed like Mother Nature threw the “WIND ON!” switch and I quickly had to pull anchor and retreat back to shore. I didn’t catch another fish.
Ahuriri River: When looking for places to fish in New Zealand, I’ve learned to look for lakes, or preferably rivers, that are only accessible at the end of long stretches of dirt road (or by helicopter). Since the fishing is so good everywhere, I reason that most anglers wouldn’t trouble themselves with a long, dusty drive. The John Kent “South Island Trout Fishing Guide” (an invaluable reference) supported this notion by saying there were trophy-size fish in the upper reaches of the river….just not many of them. Sounded good to me. Off I ventured over 30 kilometers of excessively dusty road, with the occasional sheep drive here and there, to the end of the road. The river looked perfect; big deep runs interrupted by perfectly shaped riffles. This might be nirvana, I thought. I sauntered down to the river (a bit of a walk) and approached the bottom of a nice hole. I was hunched down, about to move up the pool a bit more when I glanced to my left to see two big Browns right next to me. I mean..... literally RIGHT NEXT TO ME. It was if they were hunting trout too. I think I remember a Tweety Bird cartoon episode where Tweety pretends to help the cat to spot his quarry. It would have been fitting if one of the Browns turned to me and muttered, “I tink I see a twout!” Anyway, I didn’t look at them for more than a split second as I hoped they wouldn’t see me if I wasn’t looking at them (that doesn’t really make any sense). When I glanced back, they were gone. It was then that I noticed the largest trout I have ever seen holding in the faster water. It looked to be about 3 feet long. It had already seen me as well. To make a long story short, despite fishing 5-6 kilometers of spectacular river, those were the only fish I saw that day.
Matarua River: This River is known for holding some big Brown trout, despite running parallel to a long stretch of State Highway 6. I figured it must undergo extreme angling pressure from every chap who packs a rod and reel on vacation. None-the-less, I decided I’d give it a shot. Nick Reygaert taught me something about New Zealand trout fishing that goes against my North American-based fishing education: The BIG trout in New Zealand can be caught just as readily on a dry fly. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always learned/been taught that the big ones will only be taken on streamers or by nymphing. I prefer dry fly fishing, so this concept is fine by me. As it was a warm, sunny day I decided to forego my chestpack and fish “light.” I’m not sure what I was thinking as I gathered up the necessary gear. Of course, I remembered to bring a couple of small boxes of flies, but I basically forgot everything else that I might need. Like tippet. I can’t recall what happened to the sections of 15 lbs. and 8 lbs. tippet that made up my lower leader. A tree branch perhaps? Suffice it to say that I found myself peering into a small pool containing a 23 inch Brown with only 5 feet of heavy leader remaining. I tied on a size 14 Stimulator and carefully sent it into the pool. It landed just slightly right of perfect and the fish gave it a glance and resumed feeding as it floated past. This is where I found myself a bit flummoxed. Normally, I’d downsize in this situation. But let’s face it, it doesn’t make much sense to put a size 18 anything on the end of 21 pound line. And, sensible or not, the eye of a size 18 anything wouldn’t accept the beefy tippet anyway. This is where I employed (see everyone, I learn!) Nick’s “give them the biggest thing you have” philosophy. So I picked up the huge Cicada pattern, tied it on and tried again. There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation from the big Brown; he sucked it up like it was the last gulp of the last beer of a 12 pack on a hot sunny day. Of course, he then bolted to the safety of a submerged stump, but with the stout line, I was able to steer him away at the last second. He definitely would have snapped a lighter line or been able to get to the stump. Chalk one up for being lucky.
Fiordland: If I’ve realized one thing in our last 6 weeks’ fishing, it is this: The world’s best trout fishing is in Fiordland. Now, if you look at a map of Fiordland, you’ll see that’s a bit like saying that there are a lot of people in California. Fiordland is a massive national park with more lakes and rivers than you can shake a stick at. Anyway, I decided to camp at the mouth of a remote river that pours into a remote area of a fairly remote lake for a couple of days. Oh…..I almost forgot….here is the “rub” of Fiordland; the place is inhabited by zillions of vicious, blood sucking sand flies. Now I’ve seen my share of multitudes of carnivorous insect life in Alaska and in the Yukon, but it doesn’t quite compare to the sand flies in Fiordland. These little fellas land on your skin and are already enjoying a nice meal before the pain of their bite reaches your inner noggin. They are fast! And mean. And the wound (it IS a wound, I tell you) itches like mad and the evidence of their snacking on you lasts for at least a week. Did I say that it causes insane itching??? The worst part, I think, is that they look pretty darn harmless. Anyway, back to the fishing......
So I arrive at this undisclosed location, unpack my rod and reel, tie on this ridiculously flashy Cicada pattern by Stu Tripney (www.bionicflies.com/) and cast to a large Rainbow holding at the edge of a shore drop-off. BAM! A perfect, slow motion-type take and I have him on board. He was a beauty! I was mentally foreshadowing the wonderful picture I was going to take of him when I realized the camera was back in the tinnie..... which was located 50 yards to my right. Now..... I don’t think I could piss off the fishing Gods more than, after being given the privilege of hooking a fish, thinking I can play the fish while covering the 50 yards back to my camera. I mean, what a preposterous, conceited, monumentally arrogant move that was. I only made it about half way before the fish found a submerged tree limb to wrap the line around and break off. Lesson learned, I thought. I tied on my other Cicada and walked up the river a few yards. Blind casting a good way into a promising hole, (the Kiwis call fishing a hole where they haven’t actually seen a fish “blind fishing,” or “American-style” fishing) I get another take from what must have been a much larger fish than I anticipated. It immediately bolted down the small river 40 yards. I thought “What a feisty bugger” or something to that effect when I realized the fish had found cover under a large, submerged tree stump. I couldn’t believe my eyes, this stump had at least a thousand roots protruding from it. A firm, unresponsive tug on the line confirmed my suspicion that I was again, wrapped. This time, I would have none of it! I waded towards the stump, assessing the disappointingly intricate maze of roots with each step. It was then that I noticed that the bottom of my fleece jacket, worn on the outside of my waders for some absurdly stupid reason, was getting rather drenched. Rather than retreat, I merely lifted the sides up so that I wouldn’t have to postpone my fish-extracting mission. It was then that I noticed my camera had fallen out of my jacket pocket and settled peacefully upon the bottom of the river. At this point, any sane person would go ahead and take a step back, or do one of those “count to 10” exercises. Not me. The camera was definitely, at that point, ruined. I accepted that notion. But I would not accept the notion that this fish was beyond my capture. I determinedly slid the camera toward the bank with my foot. It wasn’t exactly easy, but I did it and made a quick note of my success before I got back to the fish at the other end of my line. I climbed up on top of the stump and peered into the clear water to see that my line had been expertly woven in and out of the complex root structure. The hopelessness really should have begun to materialize in my head. Did it? No way! Visions of miraculously un-threading the line from this mess occupied my thoughts while I snapped the leader off with my hands (quite a feat with 28 lbs. test, but I reckon my hands were pretty cold). So there I was, sitting on top of this enormous tree stump, reaching into the bone-chilling water up to my arm-pits, unwrapping the leader by handing it to myself on the other side of each snag. Although it would have been quite embarrassing at the time, I sort of wish someone had captured this situation on film so that I could have a nice visual of my ridiculousness. This went on for about 5 minutes. Apparently I was making just enough progress to convince myself that the next unwrap would be the last one and that the fish would then be mine. Well, finally I came to a snag I couldn’t reach, gave it a firm pull and the tippet snapped. The chase was over. Mission impossible was, well, confirmed. I dismounted the stump, waded back to the bank and sat down. Here I was, 1 hour into a 2 day stay, my primary jacket was half-drenched, my long sleeve polypropalene top was wet, water had managed to slip down my waders to dampen my pants, my two best Cicada patterns were gone and my camera was history. I remember the moment with complete clarity. Could I have gone just a little too far in pursuit of this passion for fly fishing?? Naw. It was just the psychological ass-kickin’ I needed! It was just the necessary realignment of the meta-physical forces that govern my existence! It was just the “wake-up” call that reminded me of how completely fortunate I was to even be in this situation! That was it..... what a privilege it is to come away from an experience with a complete understanding of just how extraordinary that experience is.
The rest of the two days came off without a hitch. I caught at a dozen fish, ranging from 5 to 9 lbs. Of course, you’ll just have to take my word for that.
I am currently spending some time back up in the Bay of Islands with family. I’ll get back to fishing shortly. My apologies for the inordinately large amount of text in this update. If you want less chat and more pics, just let me know.
Thanks to all for their continued support of my little adventure!
Dan with a feisty Benmore Lake Rainbow
A nice Brown from Moke Lake caught on a Damsel Fly pattern
A Brown from the world-famous Mataura River
Mount Cook and the Southern Alps
A waterfall in Milford Sound
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