I think that I have come to the realisation that it may be futile trying to plan a trip to NZ based on weather predictions or expectation. Leading up to my early November trip I was little apprehensive that I may be pushing my luck a bit and I would encounter cold, rain and high-fast flowing rivers. Well I was almost right but thankfully I arrived on the back of what had been a few wet days. The conditions I did encounter were rivers settling very fast and mild sunny days. The trout were, to say the least, perky and feeding on an abundance of nymphs, mayflies and even some sneaky terrestrials.
And so my early November adventure and stay with good friend Felix, owner and manager of Owen River Lodge www.owenriverlodge.co.nz proved to be one of the best trips to the South Island for some years. I could talk about the superb accommodation, the expertly prepared cuisine, the fine wines, the attention to detail and the wonderful ritual of chatting with other guests just back from their day out fishing. Or good humoured verbal sparring with the guides, trying to extract (read trick them into!) giving away a slither of intel, which is near impossible. But I had better reserve a few words for the fishing.
Well the fishing was very, very good. As for the too many long distance releases, too quick strikes to big trout taking small dry flies or the too slow strikes to trout taking nymphs, not so good. In fact my failures were as spectacular as my triumphs. Rustiness and muted mojo aside, we were into fish or seeing fish almost constantly. The big eye-opener for me was the amount of dry fly action. From great vantage points Felix and I would observe trout swaying left to right, chasing up or down engulfing nymphs, but in many cases also rising to the surface and clipping away at small mayflies. Snip was the sound of the nymphs being removed and small dries tied on. At the risk of being boring, the size 16 Adams were the best fly and if refused (or yanked out of the trout’s mouth), on Felix’s advice Blowfly patterns were next up.
Also on the trout’s menu this season are mice. I’m not sure how widespread this phenomena is but I think the ‘mouse year’ is on for this part of the north of South Island at least. The trout are in great condition and rapid growth mode. A local guide decided to keep a trout to see what it had been eating and sure enough it was full of mice. A local farmer told us he is catching 300 mice every night in each of his clever traps; and you can actually see and hear these little rodents when you are fishing or out and about.
Five days on five different local rivers all provided great flyfishing. The river and stream options in this region are quite mind boggling and the average size of the fish very impressive. The spotting was as hypnotic as the fishing was exciting, with feeding fish present and willing to take well presented flies. During dull or cloudy periods when spotting was out we seemed to work out where the trout were likely to be. We had great sport searching with small double nymphs. We don’t necessarily go to NZ to prospect but I must admit it was a blast, especially when on average we had a take every 15-20 minutes.
What a great time of the year to flyfish New Zealand. Aside from the other guests at the lodge and their guides we did not see another angler. Conditions at this time of the year as you would expect, being spring, are fantastic. The rivers have good flows and despite the lingering bursts of snowmelt, are very, very clear. The trout seem to revel in these conditions. They’re very fit and a real challenge to bring to the net. In my book, early season fly fishing in NZ is something to definitely put on the flyfishing calendar – in bold print and underlined!