What follows is a list of my favourite fish from the season. Not necessarily the biggest or the prettiest, but the most satisfying for one reason or another. In fact it has surprised me while constructing this list how many of the bigger fish have been left off. They’re certainly satisfying and look great in photos. But these are the fish I’ll remember.
5) Kicking off the list was a very solid rainbow taken on a tough day. To be honest any one of a number of fish could have filled this spot. The fish were feeding selectively on swimming mayflies and couldn’t be tempted by anything else. Once hooked this fish proceeded to take me for the ride of my life through the pool. There aren’t many stronger fish in the rivers than a football shaped rainbow.
4) This was a brown taken blind in a small stream. It was a strong fish and good looking to boot. Andrew snapped a great shot of it.
3) This fish was an unlikely conquest. Al and I left home at midday and rocked up to the river feeling relaxed. In a riffle at the tailout of the run I spotted a smudge moving upstream. I figure I had spooked it, but covered it anyway. It was with more than a little surprise that I watched a snout poke out of the water to take my klinkhammer. What followed was a very determined fight from a fit fish. Eventually Al secured it in the net and proceeded to snap a photo with a Canon P+S camera from the 1980s that he’d acquired for $2 that morning.
2) I was tossing up between these last two. My number two was also my biggest fish for the season, and my biggest rainbow ever by over a pound. It was a seriously good fish taken in atrocious conditions. It fought hard, if unspectacularly and I was unbelievably pleased to have caught it.
1)But my number 1 had the whole package. It was the total experience. Andrew S and I set off after work and headed north. By the time we pulled up at the stream I’d had 1/2 dozen beers (don’t worry, he was driving) and was in a merry mood. The weather was superb so we donned our jandals and set out for a streamside stroll. The first few fish were spooked in glorious fashion…followed by more…and more. It wasn’t until we came to a bend in the stream and spotted a fish rising 20metres further up that our hope grew. I was on point, so assumed the position. I didn’t dare approach too much more given the behaviour of the previous fish so it was going to be a long cast. The alcohol settled the nerves and the cast was perfect. I thoroughly enjoy the casting side of fly fishing, so a fish caught with a special cast is always that little bit more valuable to me. It’s vividly seared in my mind the sight of the golden fish rising vertically to intercept my fly. As I set the hook it absolutely erupted, tearing off upstream at some pace. In the water it had looked like a nice fish, maybe around 4lbs. After an absurdly strong fight, during which the pitfalls of wearing jandals fishing became apparent to Andrew and I (Andrew, I believe, still has the scars to prove it), a rather bigger than expected fish came to the net. The whole experience of catching this fish was topped off by its appearance. It was short, but incredibly round and heavy. In absolutely perfect condition with substantial giraffe like spots dotting its body. For me it was the fish of the season and one of the most satisfying and enjoyable fish I’ve ever caught.
Just a quick pic to ram home why Alex, Andrew S and Andrew M should be planning a trip North… While you boys are wrapping up the end of season, I’m wrapping up warm. The calibre of these lake side fish are very impressive and the fish below is testament.
Matt, Jeez and I fished a Rotorua lake last night and while we got skunked we did witness this fine specimen caught next to us. To be fair, it was a quiet night and this was confirmed by the ranger out patrolling the usual hot spots.
If that doesn’t spur you 3 on then there’s something wrong with you.
Now the weather has closed in I miraculously seem to have more time on my hands… so here’s a slightly delayed report of the day that made my season.
The cold southerly is biting here in Wellington today, but it wasn’t all all that long ago that the warm autumnal winds had the cicadas out in force – albeit for a much shorter burst than the previous year.
After such a fickle cicada period, a mate – Andrew – and I decided to make the most of the hatch while it lasted and so on a whim we headed out one blustery weekday in mid-March. Being later in the season, a smaller stream within an hour-and-a-half’s drive of Wellington was our target desitination in the hope some good fish numbers may have pushed up from the mainstem river in preparation for spawning.
The decision looked like a good one – the first shallow riffle we walked into after a half-hour tramp had a good fish holding steady, mid-stream. It was only 10am but already the cicadas were in full swing and the occassional spent specimen drifted downstream in the current. Unfortunately our fish was ignoring the naturals, which didn’t bode well, and seemingly lying dogo depsite there being no chance it had picked us up. I threw a cicada imiation through twice, and was completely ignored. On the third cast (probably a mistake in hindsight) the fish drifted back with the fly – obviously suspicious – and came level with me. Standing in the middle of the river, with no cover, the fish got a good eyeful and shot off to cover… Oh well, at least we saw one straight away.
After that inital fizzer, the day turned into an absolute cracker!
Andrew was next up and cast his cicada with typical pinpoint accuracy under some overhanging vegetation, hard up against a rock face on the far bank. A sizeable snout appeared immediately and sucked down the offering – delay, set. The water exploded and after a short fight in which the fish did several laps of the small pool he had an exceptionally conditioned 7lb brown in the net.
I was up next, and it didn’t take long to find another fish. A few pools on and around the bend from where Andrew picked up his we came to a long and gently glide. Directly in the middle, standing out like dog’s balls, a good brown fed gently swayed in the current – a sitter, this time, surely. My cicada drifted downstream towards the fish on a perfect line and before it even reached its target the brown shot forward to engulf the imitation. shallow water, quick set, and on. Another nicely conditioned fish – this one 4.5lbs – was brought to the net and released.
After a 50m or so stretch of barren we came to a short deep pool formed where the river butted into a solid cliff face of bedrock – one of those places that just smells ‘fishy’… Andrew set himself up in position to start working the pool from the back to the front. By this point the wind had really got up, to a point where it was whipping water off the surface and we had to wait between gusts to make a cast. The temperature had also droppde but the cicadas seemed happy still and were clacking away. Fortunately I had my Hunters Element XTR Extreme Hunter jacket (not so subtle plug!!) to keep the elements at bay and it performed fantasticaly – being totally windproof against a Wellington gale is a true test! The wind, however, worked in our favour, enabling us to really slap our cicada flies down on the water. This is just what Andrew did at the head of pool, the result being an obiging nose slowly sucking in the big dry fly again. This fish put up quite some tussle and as it neared the net it emerged why there was such stout resistance – the fish was big, and in prime condition again. Whe it eventually came in, it pulled the scales down to 8lbs!!
My shot next, and the next pool we reached after some barren riffles and pocket water looked excellent. I worked my through, starting at the back again and was surprised not to elicit a rise in the mid-section. Standing well back from the head, I slapped my cicada down into the main current flowing into the top of the pool, the clunky presentation immediately greeted by a dark shape emerging from the depths. It hovered under the fly and moved back with it for a heart-stopping few seconds before engulfing the offering. I set an was into some serious weight and grunt as the fish realised it had been duped. A minute or two into what was a one-sided battle in favour of the fish, the balance changed abrubtly and he slowly came in wrapped in the leader, which was fortunate given I was only on 5X. Another beautiful brown in belting condition – 9lbs and my best for the season – so full of cicadas I could feel them crunching in his stomach.
About this point in time we were wondering if the day could get any better. Although the 9lber was the best of the day, we went on to get some more epic fish, all on cicada. Andrew’s 7.25lber was next…
I managed another ‘tiddler’ that went 5lbs…
And Andrew went on to nail another two 6lbers before we decided it was time to call it quits.
Plug: I’d been field-testing one of the new Riverworks R2 reels for a few weeks before this trip and while I’d nailed some nice fish none had really been beefy enough to give the reel a good work out. Well, the fish we got this day certainly put the R2 through its paces and it came it out great, its silky smooth but powerful drag proved it was up to the test of taming some monster fish! Can’t wait to pit it against some hefty CNI rainbows now…
And that was our spectacular day! I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again – I LOVE WELLINGTON!
PS – Andrew has posted some awesome video footage which you can find on Fish & Game NZ’s YouTube TV channel here.
I like to save the best for last. If I could do it all the time I would, I like having something to look forward to.
The final day of the season rolled around quicker than I expected. It had been yet another great few months spent wandering about the South Island, and it was all but over.
My time off work was all but over too, the next day was my first day back after a month off. As strange as it may sound, I was actually looking forward to going back to work, for a number of reasons – restoring the bank balance being one of them.
The forecast for the final day of the season was far from ideal, with strong gusty wind predicted in most places accessible from here. I guess it was a fitting way to finish. What to do?
Although I’d experienced more than my share of fishing during the past 6 months and 29 days, my gut feeling told me to get out there one last time. If for no other reason than to see what happened. I felt like there was unfinished business that needed attending.
The alarm went off early on April 30th. It was pretty cold and miserable to start with. I nearly pulled the pin and went back to bed. It took every ounce of self – control not to.
I chose to visit a place with few fish, in the hope of finding some good ones. I ended last season with a great fish, and I was keen to repeat the effort this year.
When I eventually arrived at the river the wind was really bad. It was absolutely howling. It was so bad I thought about flagging it and trying to find somewhere more sheltered nearby. I decided against moving on and stayed with plan A.
It took a while, but eventually I found a fish. Best of all, it looked to be feeding. The adrenaline started right at that moment, and I was a wreck as I attached a dry fly and dropper rig. I dropped down to the river and changed my set up again slightly, I figured the dropper length I’d set was too long and the nymph was probably too heavy.
With that sorted finally I set about laying line on water. This was the next issue, the bushes behind me and the still howling wind conspired against me to turn an otherwise simple task into a difficult one.
My first couple of attempts resulted in my line being stuck in a bush. I kept as calm as I could while I unhooked it, and eventually I nailed the cast, and the dry fly indicator hit the spot. I knew I was in the money.
The Humpy bobbed along in the current. I couldn’t see the fish clearly through the wind ruffled surface, and it felt like forever had passed, but eventually the nymph reached the red zone and the dry twitched sideways slightly.
I lifted the rod and resistance was met in the form of a solid thud. A moment later the fish rolled onto its side, stunned. It then took off to the bottom of the pool at lightning speed. I quickly crossed the river to get in a better position, and the fish pulled up at the top of the rapids, seemingly reluctant to head downstream any further. I sidestrained the fish in close and that was when I caught my first glimpse of its shoulder. It was an impressive sight indeed. From there I was pretty ruthless with my approach and was able to land the fish surprisingly quickly.
I don’t mind admitting I screamed like schoolgirl when I landed this fish. I screamed so much it made my voice a bit hoarse for the rest of the day, but I didn’t care.
Getting the photo was tricky. I can set the camera up on the tripod pretty quickly, but it was so windy I thought the whole lot was going to finish up in the river. Fortunately the expensive stuff didn’t, however, some of the less expensive stuff did… but nothing which mattered much.
Here it is…. the reward for my efforts.
The winning combination isn’t exactly revolutionary. I used a size 12 red Humpy as the indicator, with a size 14 Pheasant Tail nymph hung underneath. It was simple, but effective.
I released the fish and packed up my gear. That was it for the season of 2011-202. There was no way I could finish the season in a better way than that. I really had managed to save the best for last this time.
A while back I devised a plan to convince Matt into a weekend of fishing in the Central North Island, that was the easy part. I was overdue a good concentrated dose of fly chucking so we schemed, planned, googled, schemed some more and had plans A to F sussed. What I didn’t plan for was contracting a cold in the lead up. Being a good Kiwi lad I told myself I could beat it, no way was it going to get in the way of a good trip.
We pulled into Taupo on Friday night and did the prerequisite shop – I still don’t know where the bread rolls ended up! We set up camp at the Old mans house and tweaked our final arrangements over some Pilseners. Seriously, how many times can one tie a new leader and fuss over gear? An early start had us on our way with a quick stop for a healthy pie in Turangi. With that on board we carried on driving.The river of choice was looking very inviting from the road so we quickly set up for the walk over some farmland to access the lower reaches.Or so we thought…Having hunted around for an hour to find the supposed “there’s a way down but it’s a bit hard to find” track, we gave up and headed to another point we thought would be achievable. Hallelujah, it was just as Mr Google suggested, a little bit easier than the last spot. I was pretty happy about finally hitting the stoney riverbed.A quick scoff and assembly of our gear and we were ready for the fish of our dreams. This water was seriously lush. Soon we came to a great looking pool that had to hold something, something big and hungry. For a second I forgot I wasn’t feeling too flash. Not a touch, nothing to spot or even spook. We had planned for a low fish count so carried on.The water was super clear and cold, I found that out when I took a dunking while crossing a hairy piece of water above some rapids. Thankfully my foot found a hold and I managed to get back upright before going deeper into the pool. A word of note – if it’s dodgy buddy up, make sure your jacket is over your waders and closures are pulled tight. Wear a wading belt at all times, you can’t put it on in the rapids. If you get fully swept off your feet keep calm and drift feet first, bum down. You’ll eventually wash into calmer waters without snagging a foot on anything. Hopefully you’ll never have to put this into practice.
I wasn’t surprised when I dropped again. This time distracted by some noisy Whio. Damn, this was going to be a long slippery walk. And it was, this river was living up to its name. Devoid of any fish we pushed upriver and had lunch. We reassessed and made the decision to high tail it out, fishing any hotspots along the way.
We blanked, oh well, it happens sometimes. It was an ambitious plan B after all. The scenery did make up for it though. A quick fish in a new river just before dark had the same result! We checked into the backpackers and dried out while my voice impersonated Barry White.
The next day dawned frosty and brisk. It was nice to eat porridge and gear up beside a still burning fire place. The next port of call was Matts pick. The scramble in was according to him “easier than yesterday”. Thankfully it was. Again we found some stunning water that cried out for trout. We’re going back early season. Take a look at what’s on offer below.Soon enough we made the call to exit and go find some fish. I had a beat that produced fish in the past so we began the drive home in order to stop there. Plan E.
Finally after all that walking and scenic imbibing I looked up river to see Matts rod being worked by a cranky brown. Oh yes, by this time I had lost my voice and only managed a little yelp of joy as I ran up river. Some quick net work had the fish in the bag.We partied right there on the riverbank.This opened the floodgates and we soon found rhythm. I spotted a good looking brown in the shallows feeding happily until my size 16 Hare and Copper variant glanced its lip. What came out of the water looked fair decent and in prime condition. After dropping the fish I discovered Matt had sabotaged me and left my net downstream. Upon my return he’d picked up a stunning Searunner.
We pushed up, pricking fish and landing a few others along the way. Even spotting a few more in the murky water. I was having a tough time making the fish stick to my flies and saw another brown thrash the surface as the hook pulled free. This was put down to my lack of voice, there was no way I could yell STRIKE! inside my head.After we made it to our designated limit we raced back down the track to the truck. With 2 hours of light left we knew there was a good section of the Whanganui on the way home that would finish the trip off in style.There certainly were fish in here and we had a blast taking Rainbows from their usual haunts. Any old fly seemed to be doing the trick but one in particular for Matt had him converted. The takes were hard and fast, even I managed to bank a lovely model for the camera.With that monkey off my back we called it a day. The drive home in the dark was a tease knowing that we were crossing bridge after bridge of fine water. There’s always next time.
This weekend I hope to charge the Waitahanui, an old favourite. Nothing beats Birthday fishing.
This is the fourth and final instalment from our trip south. Thanks to Chris Dore for providing a good portion of the photographs for this entry.
We were nearly done in this particular part of the world for now. It was time to head somewhere else.
Day four saw us quietly packing up the campsite and heading back along the track at a rather sedate pace.
We stopped where a tributary stream entered the main river. Jeremy and I headed downstream with the intention of fishing back up, Jack headed upstream on his own, while Chris disappeared into the tributary with his bow.
There was a notable absence of fish in the stretch Jeremy and I fished. We didn’t see nearly as many as we expected. Despite the lack of fish Jeremy managed to catch one anyway, as he has a habit of doing. I think Jeremy is some kind of fish – catching genius. He could pull a fish from a puddle in the gutter if he tried hard enough.
Later that evening we arrived back into Queenstown and stopped off to collect our much anticipated, pre ordered Fergburger. Then we headed on up to Chris’ place where we promptly smashed our respective orders to pieces.
I’d ordered the Big Al, with fries and aioli. Looking back on it now, the fries were overkill really… in fact I knew at the time I didn’t really need to eat the whole lot, but I didn’t want to show any sign of weakness in front of my peers so I pushed through the pain barrier and finished what I set out to start.
That night I had a pretty good sleep on the couch, once a bit of time had passed and my food baby settled down a bit.
The next morning we were woken by Chris. He got up and started walking around at some ungodly hour. I don’t even think the man uses an alarm, he just wakes up.
Slowly I gained consciousness and coherency, and then Chris, Jack, and I packed the truck with our gear for yet another couple of days on the river. Jeremy stayed behind – he mentioned something about cleaning Chris’ carpet and having catch a plane in the afternoon….
The first day of phase two was taken at a leisurely pace. It was a nice change from the norm. We headed south from Chris’ place – this was to be the day Jack and I fished the mighty Mataura for the first time. I’m not usually one for saying where I fish, but I think I’ll be ok to disclose the location this time.
I felt it was very important to catch a fish on this monumental day in my fly fishing career, and thankfully I wasn’t to be disappointed. Although the insect activity was minimal that day, which made things slightly more difficult, I ended up catching a couple of fish that day, as did Jack and Chris.
I don’t know how I would have felt if I blanked on the Mataura? Probably not all that happy I suspect.
That evening we stayed at Simon Chu’s trout cottage in Lumsden. The cottage is a really cool place, reading the visitor’s book reveals that many well – known anglers have passed through over the years, and it is something of a shrine to all things fly fishing. Many thanks Simon for allowing us to stay there.
Once again the next morning it was Chris who was out of bed first, really, really early this time! He brewed the coffee though, so getting up wasn’t as difficult as it may have otherwise been. The coffee was a minor incentive to drag myself from the warmth of my sleeping bag.
As painful as it was to begin with, we needed to get away in good time to secure our stretch of river for the day. When we arrived at our destination our early start was rewarded with an empty carpark.
It was pretty fresh that morning. I guess it was a good thing we had a reasonable walk before we would start fishing and were able to warm up pretty quickly.
That day ended up being pretty tough. I managed a nice fish in the morning… but that was all for the most part. Later on I momentarily hooked and lost a couple of fish in the same run near the end of the day. This saw me nearly lose the plot altogether, I displayed some of my less refined behaviour for a few seconds there – and that was that. It was near dark when we got back to the truck, and it was time to head back for a feed. Not a moment too soon either.
Somehow between the three of us we managed to forget our lunch for the day, so we were looking forward to food. We were really looking forward to it. Luckily for us, Lumsden is the home of the Mayfly Café, and based on the evidence of that night – they make great food.
We ordered ourselves a pizza each, and we weren’t at all disappointed. In fact we were very impressed. The pizza I ate was so big that it hurt me to finish it. I still finished it though. That’s pretty good value for 15 bucks if you ask me.
The next day Jack and I had to catch a plane in the afternoon. It was time to go home. I had the pleasure of watching Jack put on his wet fishing boots at the airport for the flight home in order to bring his luggage down to the weight restriction. I was kind enough to photograph it for you all to see too…
The final hurdle after that was actually getting on the plane and taking off. The flight was delayed for over an hour, and then we had to wait for about half an hour once on board for some people’s gear to be removed… I think they got booted off or something? Who knows – it took a long time though!
Eventually I was home, and pleased to be there. Two weeks of tents and couches was enough for now. For a couple of days at least…
The season was nearly finished… but not quite. There was still time to throw a few more casts.
As always, watch this space for more to come!