The backcountry is an amazing place, perhaps made even more amazing by the fact I have no idea what the backcountry actually is. What is the definition of backcountry? Should one seek clarification from the dictionary or should one have a think about the concept and develop their own definition? Since I don’t have a dictionary handy I’ll have to settle with what comes to my mind when I think of the word backcountry. My ideal involves no other anglers, a hike in and out, big hungry trout and lots of excitement.
We’ve fished a few different waterways over the last week, including three rivers, two lakes and even the Tasman sea! The first river was one we knew we could expect big fish and whilst we did find them, they were all lying doggo and seemed fairly uninterested in anything. This is likely a by-product of the low water conditions at the minute given there hasn’t been any real rain in the last 5 or 6 weeks. It took until the end of the day and some precarious wading for me to finally find a feeding fish. Halleluiah I thought, finally I have a proper shot at a fish. He was nymphing really hard, moving side to side quicker than a toddler on a swing, yet given the choice of my nymph or my small cicada he fancied the dry. A quick battle ensued with him taking the least desirable directional choice bolting straight at me, which left me flapping trying to take up the slack as fast as possible. After teasing me with that run, he shot back upstream and down into the rocks where the little bugger managed to snag me and free himself in the process but at least I got the fly back! He was feeding just in front of the large brown rock to the right of centre.
It was a tough day but it was perhaps saved by the most unlikely of things – bumping into another angler! We met the owners of the Caddis Fly Shop who give us a little tip off about Kahawai being in feeding around one of the river mouths. Guess what we quickly planned to do that evening?! We set off down to the mouth and Craig was first to find the fish, stripping a surf candy on a floating line. Thankfully Craig showed some decency and came and told me he was catching further up the beach (I was catching nothing!) Well, when I say decency, I think he actually lost the fly and needed to beg me for another one! It was great fun and man those things put up a great fight, didn’t catch anything big but they taste good too!
Next up and it was time to seek big fish in the backcountry. We spent three days up this particular river and it blew us away to be honest.
Craig was first into the fish spotting a cruiser the instant we arrived at the river and one cast later had this fish landed. It was a little out of condition and should probably have been a fair bit heavier but it absolutely slammed the cicada and that got the excitement racing for what the rest of the river had in store for us.
I was next in spotting a cruiser in a lovely pool and again he just loved the cicada! The river was incredible, lots of fish were being spotted and every single one was pouncing on the flies as soon as they landed. Big dries in any shape or form from cicadas to ants to giant foam things that resemble nothing were the order of the day.
Craig had a shot at a fish lying incredibly deep and in the process of trying to get to it managed to catch a little one that came from nowhere. Little pest ended up spooking the bigger fish too. We were about to walk off from this spot when we spotted another fish lying near the side of the river. I was lucky enough to be on strike and covered it twice with the dry, no response in the slightest. I decided to tie a nymph off the bend of the hook and this time it took the dry. It turned out to be probably my nicest fish from NZ, it was absolutely gorgeous and a fair old size to boot. Pristine silver like a spring Atlantic Salmon and fit as a fiddle. Unfortunately the pictures just do not do it justice, we had a bit of a settings malfunction with me forgetting to point out that the lens wasn’t set to autofocus!
The day was capped off by Craig landed a lovely brown we spotted lying in the current where a side creek came in. It turns out there were two fish lying in the same area so we’re not sure if this was the one we spotted or not. All we spotted was the thinnest dark line lying under the current seam, it pays to fish over ‘possible’ sightings, that’s for sure!
We had walked out the first day so day two involved a hike back in and setting up camp. Just as we were setting up the tents I noticed a little fish cruise past us so I quickly covered it and ensured the blank was off for the day!
As we set off from camp we quickly spotted a trout lying in front of a log jam which Craig had to get up on top of to cast at. The fish was obliging and again exploded at the cicada. We’ve got some great footage of this behaviour that will be coming in the full video edit.
I picked up some other trout over the course of the day but the best of the day was definitely Craig’s bigger fish. It was lying on the other side of the river in a gorgy section with no possible way of crossing so a 60-70′ cast across stream, with a hard upstream wind and myriad of river currents to deal with, was required. The fish actually missed the fly on the first cast (again we’ve got some great footage) and after that it took about 15 casts and multiple refusals before Craig got him on a giant foam thing.
All of the fish we were finding were in deeper water where the river was gorgy and rocky. Later in the day we both lost a fish which ensured some impressive swearing all round.
As we returned to camp and watched the sun go down I decided it was a perfect time to tie on a mouse pattern and get to work on a large pool just down from our camp. I hadn’t tried fishing a mouse imitation before so I didn’t really know what to expect but when the first cast yielded a hit that didn’t hook up I was hooked if you excuse the pun. I covered the same area and had my first fish on a mouse followed soon after by my second. It was a bloody great night and boy do they slam the fly as it scuttles leaving a wake across the surface!
Day three was a little disappointing when compared to the previous two and in hindsight we perhaps made an error choosing to explore the river further up on a section of flats rather than downstream into more gorgy water. We still found fish albeit they were a bit smaller but we did lose a couple too which would have been in keeping with the bigger sizes. Just after Craig landed the fish below, I saw a cruiser going up the middle of the pool. I don’t think I’ve ever moved so fast to get at a trout, I jumped onto the rocks, stripped off line like mad, fired out a 60′ cast which landed to his side. It was all I could do given the backcast space but he came right over and nailed the big foam terrestrial. Man, it’s great to watch that! Unfortunately he came off but it’s fish like that that really stick in your mind.
This backcountry trip delivered exactly what we were looking for, good fish slamming big dries and no other people. I saw two things I hadn’t seen before – a trout cruising following a dragon fly before jumping out of the water to grab it and getting fish on a mouse pattern. It was just brilliant. As we drove away from here we decided to mix things up a little a get in a couple days lake fishing so we fished Lake Wanaka and Lake Dunstan. I don’t mind naming these as they are massive waterways with a huge resource of fish.
It was blowing a hoolie when we fished Wanaka but we both picked up a fish each and lost a few more on damsel type lures. The rainbows were absolutely stunning and whilst only being about 2.5lbs in size they were absolutely gleaming bars of silver. I didn’t take any photos that day as I was wading in barefeet and shorts out in the middle of the lake and didn’t fancy dropping the camera in trying to get some snaps!
When we fished Dunstan the wind played ball a bit more and was relatively light creating pockets of calm water around the lake edges. Everywhere a calm pocket arose there were a few trout hammering adult damsels. It’s great to watch the trout jumping clear to get at them. Before any calm pockets arrived on my bank I had a nice rainbow on a hot head olive wooly bugger. This fish had something up with its vent, any ideas anyone?
When the calm arrived and the fish started rising you can imagine how happy I was that I had bought an adult damsel imitation in Wanaka the day before just because it looked cool! I didn’t think I would ever actually use it but on its maiden cast it picked up a 3lb brown who was regularly rising on a beat along a weedbed.
The past few days we’ve been staying with Chris Dore in Queenstown and fishing out of here. Thanks for the hospitality Chris, hopefully catch up again next time I’m over. If anyone is in need of a guide around the Queenstown area then give Chris a shout, he’s a top bloke and really knows his fishing.