This report is from a few weeks back.
Last November Jack and I bumped into Mike for the first time when we were on our trip. We were on our third day, walking into a river near Murchison. We had a chat with him for a bit, and he seemed like a decent bloke. Mike was on a mountain bike that day, and we were grateful when he offered to leave a lot of water to fish. He told us to let him know how we got on that day once we were back home, and we did. After a couple of emails back and forth he still seemed like a decent bloke, we agreed to meet up for a fish at some stage.
Fast forward a few months to mid April, after a few earthquakes and other false starts where either of us weren’t able to make it because of work or whatever other reason, we finally got to catch up for that fishing trip.
I finished work at 7am on the Thursday. I had about 3.5 hours sleep, quickly packed some gear into the car and headed to Nelson. After checking in with the family I went around to Mikes to catch up and find out what the plan was for the coming days.
The weather forecast was terrible, but we decided to go anyway. After all you won’t catch them sitting on the couch. (At least I don’t think you will)
The next morning was an early start. We packed up and were away, heading for what we hoped would be reasonable weather and clear water. An hour or so later the inflatable was loaded up and we were nearly there.
That afternoon it rained steadily and the river began to discolour as we fished the lower reaches. We found a few fish, which were unresponsive, before we met with an angler coming downstream who had already fished this section. After a brief chat we decided to head upstream for a while and look for fish which hadn’t been harrassed already that day.
As luck would have it, we found some. There were at least three fish in the first run, but they weren’t going to come easy. After several fly changes I tricked one with a size 16 Coloboriscus nymph, which the fish took very slowly and deliberately. A good scrap followed and I landed a nice rainbow.
It was great to get one on the board.
Mike hooked up on one in the same run shortly after, but unfortunately it snapped off. He had another take from a fish in the same run, but that didn’t stick either.
A couple of runs upstream Mike fished at another fish which took his soft hackle nymph delicately, but again didn’t connect. He was understandably frustrated. I persuaded him to tie on the dirty fly (Alex, you know this one) and try it on the fish, which was still there, although was no longer moving. To his surprise, it took the dirty fly. But adding to his frustration, it didn’t connect either.
Before we moved on, I wanted to try one last tactic. I hate leaving fish sitting there, so instead of throwing a rock at it I did the next best thing and tied on what can only be described as an abomination, which I bombed across the fish.
I’ve seen some special stuff with this fly, but this comes close to taking the cake. The fish turned and accelerated towards the abomination. The abomination got very close to the edge so I stopped stripping. The abomination just hung there in the slack water, and whack. The fish smashed it right at our feet. The pair of us looked at each other in disbelief, and I landed a nice looking brownie soon after.
I never really expected to see that fish in my net, but it goes to show that you never really know. Anything is worth a try sometimes.
It was time for us to disappear after that, the late season light was fading fast and we needed to get back to the hut for a feed.
The next morning we woke to a grey sky, and after a one square meal each for breakfast headed to where we’d stopped the previous evening. We arrived to clearer water than we had left, and saw a fish immediately to which Mike offered me first go.
I opted to cast from where I stood instead of crossing the cold river for fear of getting cold, and the fish responded by chasing the fly halfway across the current and taking it. Unfortunately I only managed to hook up for a couple of seconds before the fish was free.
The next fish were feeding actively in slow moving water. I never looked like catching them.
It took a while to locate more fish after this, but we eventually came to a long run which Mike assured me usually held fish. By now it was raining hard, the water surface was very broken and much harder to see into than it had been. Looking carefully as we went, we found a fish feeding hard off the surface near the other side of the river. It looked like he was on emergers.
Mike crossed over, and the fish disappeared.
Just as Mike decided to come back over to my side I saw a nice looking fish just upstream from where I stood. I yelled out to him and he told me to have a go for it. I did as he requested and my line came up tight on the first cast.
The rain was too heavy for me to take the camera out, so we used Mikes waterproof one instead. It was so wet we couldn’t get the lens dry, so the picture isn’t as clear as usual.
The fish was released and we returned upstream to near where it had been hooked. We looked and saw the rising fish was back on the other side…
Mike didn’t bother to cross back over. Instead he offered it to me. I cast from where I stood, just like I did for the first fish of the morning. As soon as I got the cast in the right place the emerger – sipping rainbow charged across the river towards us in angry pursuit of my fly, and we were soon connected.
This fish was all messed up inside it’s mouth. It looked like it had been fighting with other fish or something?
The day before we watched as two fish attacked each other and tumbled downstream locked together as they battled. It was impressive stuff to see.
We turned back soon after that because of the rapidly rising river. The plan was to go back to the run where we found fish late the previous day, because we knew it held fish and we wouldn’t have to cross the river in the event that it became too high.
Mike hooked a fish on a nymph, and lost it. Then he hooked another, this one he landed.
There wasn’t much elation associated with this fish, it was more like relief.
After that it was a quick march back to the hut and back into the boat. We arrived at the truck just on dark and headed back to Nelson. It was great fishing with Mike, even if it rained for most of it. Next season we’ll try to do it again properly, and maybe even get some video footage. Fingers crossed for better weather!
Speaking of video, watch this space for the second of our video clips from the past season. I’ll post it in a few days time.
Just a quick one from me. Still haven’t had a chance to get out for a fish. Spent the last few days in Melbourne. Saw Joe Bonamassa play live at the Palais Theatre – truly special. Then had an amazing dinner with Dad at Momo. Great trip. Now it’s back to reality. Couple of thousand more words to write on a Judicial Review essay, then it’s time to get cracking on studying for my Advanced Land Law exam. Joy.
Here’s a vid to remind me (and you) of happier times. We’ve got heaps of video footage from the season, so it’ll just be put up sporadically over winter.
Mouse feeders are often easy to identify, with wide thickset flanks, big full bellies with hard nugget-like chunks being able to be felt from the outside…
Huge New Zealand trout feasting on rats and mice are the stuff every trout angler dreams of. Big, fat, heavy brown trout, engorged on a turbo-charged, proteinrich diet of rodents are something to marvel at and enjoy. But it only happens once in a blue moon, in those special years when the native beech forest produces an abundance of surplus seed, which causes rodent populations to explode in number.
Most New Zealand trout are limited in size by the food available to them. Many trout streams here have limited fertility and are not the insect-rich waters that premier overseas waters often are. So, when they get a bumper terrestrial food source, trout are only too happy to take advantage of it.
Recently, I read reports in the Nelson Mail about increased catches of rodents and predators by volunteer trappers in the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary area. I also noticed a few more rodents around my garage this winter before I put out bait stations, with the excellent name of ‘‘departure lounges’’.
With the general trout fishing season due to open on October 1, I’ve been busy fielding inquiries from international anglers interested in the fishing prospects for the coming season. Reports from Nelson Lakes Conservation Department staff would indicate that a spectacular beech seeding in autumn has paved the way for a substantial increase in rodent populations in the spring and summer.
New Zealand rodents range from small to a massive 30 centimetres for a big norway rat. Rodents are prodigious breeders and a female rat can produce 12 litters of 20 rats each year, according to pest contractors Target Pest, potentially having the ability to have thousands of descendants a year, which is a lot of trout food.
When rodent populations boom, their predators, such as stoats, ferrets and weasels, also peak, which is bad news for native birds and invertebrates, which suffer when rodent numbers abate. Cuddly little critters such as rats and mice don’t get a lot of positive press from government organisations and the media, but they are actually pretty interesting animals and, whether we like it or not, they are part of the history of humanity as well.
European history is richly laced with tales of rats and mice. In New Zealand, rats were of cultural importance well before Europeans arrived on the scene, with kiore or Polynesian rats being a treasured part of Maori culture, having spiritual value to some iwi. Maori considered kiore a delicacy. Rats fattened on a diet of berries and invertebrates were trapped and preserved in their own fat for those cold winter days, long before Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Ratatouille or self-styled love rat Major James Hewitt.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate as a recreational angler and professional fly-fishing guide to have been involved in the capture of an unfair share of very large brown trout, many of which have been fattened on rodents. Some seasons’ trout will be 1kg to 2kg heavier than normal in many rivers, and we all dream of trophy trout 4.5kg and bigger.
So how do the mice and rats end up in the water? It seems rodents range far and wide nocturnally for food, move to new territories, die of hypothermia, drown, and fall or swim in rivers and so become available as trout fodder.
Most mouse-fed trout are caught on traditional tackle offerings such as dry flies and weighted nymphs during the daytime, although we have caught trout on mouse imitations fished during the night shift. Slow-stripping a large floating deerhair mouse imitation across a still pool after dark can provide exciting fishing, although, interestingly, the trout usually take the mouse imitation quite softly.
Rubber mouse imitations or other topwater poppers also work well on spinfishing gear, with the advantage being that anglers can cover larger distances with longer casts and also avoid standing in the water among the eels. Mouse feeders are often easy to identify, with wide, thick-set flanks, big full bellies with hard nugget-like chunks being able to be felt from the outside of the fish. Trout can eat multiple rodents and fish with up to several dozen mice inside have been recorded.
Sometimes with rats, I’ve seen a rat’s tail hanging out of a captured fish’s mouth. I remember one captured trout regurgitating dead mice in the net. Big trout act like a magnet to overseas anglers and word of big fish present will prompt many anglers to book longer and more adventurous trips.
One overseas fishing agent is already playing the mouse card, with worldwide recession and lower than normal bookings requiring different strategies to attract high-value, big-spending tourist anglers. Personally, I’m waiting until I get on to the water and have a look around this coming fishing season before I talk too much about mice and rats. If the hype fails to match reality and the big fish just aren’t there, a river can be a lonely place as you attempt to be a modern-day Rumpelstiltskin trying to spin straw into gold.
Secretly, however, I’m hoping a big rodent year will happen and that the big trout will appear like magic. It might be tough on the native birds but the trout fisherman in me says ‘‘bring on the mice’’. Let’s just hope the Department of Conservation isn’t crying wolf – or in this case, rodent – because, when you’re a hardcore trout bum, you can never have too many mice. Hickory, dickory, dock.
Locally Produced: Zane caught this 11lb brown trout in Murchison with his friend Tony Entwistle.
The variety and diversity of angling opportunity is probably unmatched.
MURCHISON fishing guide Peter Carty once wrote that ‘‘fishing is a disease. It’s not usually fatal and there’s no known cure for it, but the therapy is wonderful.’’
I couldn’t agree more and often think back to when Pete and I began our guiding careers together in the mid-80s around the Nelson Lakes and Murchison areas.
They were halcyon days and we were just the latest in a long line of anglers intent on exploring and enjoying the rivers of Murchison. I still fish these rivers and Murchison has become a playground for anglers from all over the world.
Murchison is situated on the Four Rivers Plain – the flood plain of the Buller River, which flows through the centre of town, fed by tributaries the Mangles, Matiri and Matakitaki.
The thing that has always impressed me about the Murchison area is the people, and we anglers are lucky that Murchison landowners are so generous with access to the rivers. Developing relationships with many of these local families, watching their kids grow up, and enjoying good times along the way have made the fishery even more special in my mind.
Murchison is probably best known for the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that ripped the place apart on June 17, 1929, causing 17 deaths and untold mayhem. The landscape still bears the scars of this massive quake. The Mirfin family has a connection to the tragedy, with my grandfather’s elder sister, Jessie, being married to Murchison farmer Charlie Morel when the earthquake struck. Charlie was killed by a huge mudslide and flying roofing iron. According to witness Samuel Busch, the mudslide crossed the Matakitaki River from the west and wiped out Morel’s house at the Six Mile. A gentleman to the last, Charlie’s last words were, according to family folklore, ‘‘Save yourself Jessie, I’m done for.’’
Immediately after the earthquake, my grandfather Ash and his twin brother, Bryce, managed to ride and carry pushbikes through the mangled one lane Buller Gorge road from Reefton in a futile attempt to help their sister. Later, it took 18 months with pick, shovel and saw to re-open this vital link to the West Coast. Ironically, the road works and repair to the land after the earthquake created many jobs and insulated Murchison from the worst effects of the 1930s Depression.
The Buller River system is one of the world’s greatest brown trout fisheries. The variety and diversity of angling
opportunity is probably unmatched, with trout-filled small, medium and large freestone streams and rivers at virtually every point of the compass. Nearby are the waters of North Canterbury’s Waiau system to the south, the Grey and Inangahua catchments to the west, the Wairau catchment to the east, and the Motueka and its tributaries to the north.
The Buller River itself is a worthwhile fishery, but a shadow of its former glory due to the invasive alga didymo, which has choked the upper reaches above Murchison. Its stranglehold on the rivers of Murchison is expanding, but it isn’t the end of the world because the worst affected areas are the mainstem Buller and the Gowan River, which come out of Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa. Tributary streams that are not sourced from fertile lake waters seem to have fared much better. Virtually every river and stream in the Murchison area now has didymo, but even when its presence is heavy, the fishing can still be good, and excellent trout fishing can be had in areas that many anglers avoid.
The Matiri River is a great fishery for small to medium-size trout, but can be a little tough to fish these days, with a lot of didymo present, possibly due to the fertility effect of Lake Matiri.
The Matakitaki is a great blue river, alluvial in nature in its upper reaches and more confined within gorges as it makes its way to join the Buller atMurchison. A fabulous dry fly stream, it is also rich in gold and still mined to this day. Lately, the Matakitaki has been in the spotlight with Network Tasman looking at harnessing it for hydro-electricity generation, but the
river already has a rich history of intensive human use, including heavy mining activity in the late 1800s.
The Mangles River, along with its major tributary, the Tutaki, is a lovely fishery and I have great memories of wonderful days on-stream. There are some great scenic drives up these valleys, such as the track over the Braeburn saddle leading to Lake Rotoroa or the road through to the upper Matakitaki and Mataki Station.
Two other world-class Murchison rivers and Buller tributaries must also be mentioned. To the north is the small limestone river, the Owen, a bountiful fishery complete with challenging leopard-spotted browns. The Owen was
the apple of my eye when I was a boy, and it was where I learnt to fly fish and hunt with my father, Stuart.
To the south of Murchison is another great trout river, the Maruia and tributaries. The Maruia has always been revered as a fish factory, and this year the bonus for south bank tributaries such as the Maruia and Mataki has been some large mouse-fed trout, many into double-digit weights by imperial measurement.
However, there have been some low catch rates around Murchison the past few months. Many anglers and guides have told me their fishing has been the worst in living memory.
Fish and Game field officer Lawson says recent assessments of trout populations have shown up excellent quantities of medium and large fish. He believes that with so much trout food around this year, the fish don’t need to feed as often or for as long, making them less vulnerable to capture. Let’s hope this is the case and that the Murchison fishery is in good shape for future generations to enjoy.
The Murchison area, people, land, rivers and trout fishery will always be special in the minds of many. Recently Murchison dairy farmer Ken Caldwell struck a chord when he talked glowingly about his new farm in the area and described how he was ‘‘farming it already in my mind’’. Fly fishing addiction and love of rivers is no different and I, for one, will be fishing the trout streams of Murchison in my mind forever.
Zane Mirfin – http://www.strikeadventure.com