A sad time has come; the end of my New Zealand fishing season. In real terms I could still fish for a month or two but I am going to be in Australia for 10 days and then I have exams. In respect of this it was decided (it didn’t take much convincing!) that a big backcountry trip should be the order of the day to have that one final hurrah before accepting that the trout season is over. With the venues picked, 10 days in which to do it and the cars packed, four guys set off with the best intentions in the world. First stop was Lewis Pass area to have a late season go at those fabled brown trout that inhabit those waters. Accepting it was late season and knowing the trout were likely to be incredibly difficult there were limited expectations. Myself and Pete crossed the river and headed up the true left bank whilst Char and Tay stayed on the right bank and headed further up. I’m afraid to say that we caught nothing, not entirely unexpected but we were treated to a sight I had not seen before. My first ever Chinook salmon, not caught, just witnessed. A fish of easily double figures, sitting boldy among the rocks. A magnificent fish, it’s vast travels and hardship conveyed by the wonderful sight of a fish his size in the tight upper reaches of this river.
After this fine blank day a group decision was taken to head further West, on towards Reefton where there are a number of rivers all within a very close distance. To put a long story short, every single river had a large number of feet extra in them and running the darkest brown I have seen in New Zealand. This theme continued all the way down the West Coast, every river and every creek totally unfishable. We eventually made it down to Haast where we were greeted by some wonderful sky scapes.
After a night in Haast, a decision was taken to bush bash into a river South of there. It was a hard slog of an hour through the bush. The distance covered was less than a kilometer so I’ll let you draw your own opinion of the access. It was hard, very hard. Do not even try to venture in somewhere like this without a map and compass as a bare minimum. To put the icing on the cake when we got to the river it was still milky coloured and was much, much wider than expected. This wasn’t due to flooding, it is just an enormous river. So again we had to hastily make the decision to pull out and head elsewhere. Not to worry though as our trump card was still to be played. We spent the next day or two travelling South and then further South, getting drunk at every possible opportunity as you do. Eventually the time had come for the trump card to be pulled and we set off into remote Fiordland for our backcountry trip to end the season.
We had the luxury of being able to use one of the Department of Conservation’s backcountry huts for a few days. It was a fantastic base; lovely fire, nice bunks and a great atmosphere for the 4 of us.
The first day saw myself and Tay explore the lower reaches whilst Pete and Char went above us. I think we saw in excess of 20 or 30 very good sized browns that day but access to the water or ability to cast was near impossible for us. A drift raft or similar device in there was be likely lend itself to amazing fishing but I’m not sure of the regulations on this. Please check it out if you consider doing something similar. Char managed to get into a nice fish that day, a lovely, well conditioned rainbow.
Day two brought mixed fortunes for Char and myself who were paired together. I had the only fish of the day, a nice, fin perfect rainbow of a smaller stature! The mixed fortunes came in that Char was broken off by 3 fish that day and I was broken off by a further one – one fish landed from 5! The thing I must really mention now is the biblical proportions of insect hatches. This was the very end of April, the equivalent of the end of October/start of November in the Northern hemisphere. I have never seen such a dense hatch of good sized upwings (I’m afraid I cannot identify the particular subspecies) in my life. The river was literally a blanket of these medium sized dark duns. The fish were selective but that wasn’t the issue, the issue was trying to get them to see your fly amongst the torrent of others floating down. It was amazing, truly amazing. The fish I landed that day took maybe 10 or 11 perfect casts before he finally chose my fly from the endless choice of options. The fly was what I have called the Fiordland May, a size 14. We tied them up on the trip after seeing these hatches. I will get a picture of the fly up shortly also.
Day 3 was a frustrating day for Pete and myself. I managed to hook and lose a good rainbow on the Fiordland May and later stupidly missed a take on a wee CDC emerger in the smoothest glassy flat I have ever seen. I was so upset with myself. I had done the hard work in getting a take in such difficult water conditions and struck like a totally inept individual. Pete came close with two refusals at the last possible instant. However, it was Char who came out on top on this day with a very nice rainbow again. I will once again try and source a photo of the fish.
The scene of the missed fish was where the river bends to the left in this photo:
Day 4, our last day was one to be remember for a number of reasons. First up, it was my most successful day on the trip. I landed a perfectly conditioned cock rainbow in his prime followed quickly by being broken off by one of his bigger relatives. Both fish gave an extremely impressive account of themselves, the second fish in particular which I never got to see will be a treasured memory. The sheer power I felt and the workout he gave my new reel’s drag (review to come!) before my tippet decided to have a rest, is something I will struggle to forget.
Secondly the sandflies on this day were truly the worst I have witnessed. Even when walking at a good pace up and down the banks they were in your eyes, in your ears, biting through your shirt, ok I’m sure you are starting to get the picture. Just look around my head and shoulders in the above picture or at this one below of Tay:
There wasn’t much escaping them. It was a mental battle – one man (in each of our cases) versus an army. I like to think we won but the sandflies certainly made their presence known and left some battle wounds. This brought our fishing to a close. It was a trip in which the first half was a total let down by the weather but our 4 fishing days (5 days total) backcountry trip was a total success. We had blue skies and sunshine every single day, we had no wind every single day, we had fantastic insect hatches every single day and we had huge numbers of head and tailing trout every single day. But they weren’t easy, in fact they were incredibly difficult. I feel this difficulty couple with the success was what made the trip as satisfying as it was. I conquered the difficult conditions in one of the most amazing places I could ever hope to find myself in.
I cannot think of a better end to my fishing season in New Zealand – a successful backcountry trip with great friends where all fish were taken on dries. This was the best dry fly fishing I have ever had, not in terms of success but in terms of overall experience. The proportions of the hatches, the rises of the fish, the place, the river, the fish themselves – it is hard to explain other than it was an unforgettable experience. The final day was made even more special by a truly wonderful end to the trip. Words would likely struggle to explain so I shall let the last two pictures finish the story for me.