Warm weather, gentle flows, bright blue days, crystal clear water and trout taking dries? You could easily assume that I am talking about summer fishing in NZ but in fact my recent trip began just 12 days after the season opening. I give up, I can’t pick the best time to fish this amazing region. Conclusion? Go when you can. Yes the weather can turn pear-shaped but this can happen regardless of the time of the year, so why wait?
I stayed at Owen River Lodge (www.owenriverlodge.co.nz). The wines were exquisite, the service and attention to detail is scarily intuitive and the food! Chef Ryan just keeps exceeding expectations and is developing a Heston Blumethal-esque magic. Are Michelin stars awarded to fishing lodges? Owner Felix Borenstein creates conundrums; fishing is priority number one but the luxurious rooms and the ultra-comfortable king-sized beds whisper, ‘Rest, sleep in, sleep in… the trout will still be there later.’
After three hectic months at work my stay with Felix was the elixir I needed and the fishing did not let us down. In early October there is hardly anyone about. “Hello, hello, hello, is there anybody out there?” …I think Pink Floyd were fishing the South Island in early spring when writing that song! The trout are fresh and still bleary-eyed from their winter hiatus. Their metabolism is gaining momentum and they are out for a feed. The catching is definitely a little easier at this time of the year but there are always a few hard nuts to crack. The fish were generally in very good condition, some still afflicted with the remnants of the excessive mouse protein they had gorged on last season. We caught some beauties and missed some monsters. Trophies are about if that’s your thing and this is the place to catch them. To see so many big fish so early is mind boggling; imagine what will be when the food sources intensify.
Fly selection. Well throw out the rule books! There was no pattern, so to speak. The ol’ faithful, ever reliable, unweighted point nymph was not the trouts plat du jour this trip. Head scratchingly the trout were intent in taking the heavier tungsten nymph above it, generally a size 12-14 Cadillac. In my experience the heavier nymph has rarely been the trout’s first choice but merely an ethical mechanism to get the smaller more natural version down to the trout. The other confounding thing is that whilst we stubbornly stuck to fishing the typical early season double nymph rig, Don, who was also staying at the lodge caught a whole bunch of great fish on dries.
Don prefers fishing dries. That’s what he told Peter his moustachioed guru guide. Peter and the trout obliged. I am not talking a few trout here, I am talking lots! Well the rules keep changing, and the goal posts keep shifting, what I know is a “cert” only applies to the last experience. This just adds to the level of mystery, skill, excitement and imagination which is required to hunt big trout in what I believe is the world’s best brown trout fishery.
What a wonderful week spent in a part of the world that is staggeringly beautiful underpopulated and wild. Owen River Lodge is smack in the middle of this wilderness playground and goes from strength to strength. It seems that for the peak months you may now have to book a year ahead such is the demand. For me that’s just fine. Whilst your chances of fine weather and dry fly munching trout may be a better in peak season I am happy to fish at the margins – early or late – when it’s a little quieter and the trout are a little less wary. It seems that if tungsten, gold, copper and brass are not your thing you can always tie on a dry and you are in with a good chance of catching one or ten!
Rain… well it did come; it is NZ after all. No rain, no water no trout! On my last day driving to Christchurch it bucketed down offering a watery spectacle of almost biblical proportions and the rivers received a nice reboot after a gentle winter. In a few days trout memories will be erased and the rivers will again be clear with jewel-like hues of green and blue.
I am now back home, weary, a few aching muscles and even the odd sand-fly bite, but like a trout after a fresh I have also rebooted, refreshed and am ready to return to mortal life knowing full well that the Mecca of trout fishing is only 4 hours away.