I follow the weather pretty closely leading up to fishing trips especially when heading to New Zealand. More often than not I nervously watch the progress of cold fronts and rain-laden clouds and pray they miss! On this trip the complete opposite occurred. Little or no rain for the preceding 4-5 weeks saw me resorting to performing rain dances in my backyard! But I wore myself out for nothing, the rain stayed away. Oh the irony…
We fished the Canterbury high country, upper West Coast & Marlborough. It was hot, verging on Australia-hot.Low flows, water as clear as you can imagine and a little warm in places; bright sunny days. But the polaroiding was spectacular.
On the first morning John and I split up. I would walk to the run below and he would fish a deep pool and the run above it. I easily spotted a fish…except it seemed too big to be a fish. A variety of flies and good presentation only annoyed it. The big trout eventually got tired of being peppered with imitations and wafted downstream like a submarine in reverse. In that clear slow water, that’s exactly how my flies must have seemed to him, impostors!
I caught up with John. I could see and feel his focus as he peered motionless into a stunning run. He raised his hand; five, five trout! I should have got excited but to be frank it worried me. I feared the warmish water had pushed trout into the deeper aerated areas. Their behaviour was antisocial to say the least, their senses more acute than Radar O’Reilly from M.A.S.H.! The trout seemed to know we were there before we did.
Longer leaders, smaller flies, nymphs? Forget about it. Larger flies, long casts, short casts, side casts… We pretty much tried everything but the simple fact of the matter was, these easier-to-see fish, in easy flattish water, were near impossible to catch. Of course we cast at every trout that we saw and hoped and prayed. We even tried to work out what a dumb one would look like and target it! However it soon became evident that if we did not come up with plan B this was going to turn into a trout-watching trip rather than a trout-catching trip.
Plan B wasn’t that complicated. Target fish later in the day, make your first cast accurate when we found feeding trout (about 1 in 10!) and look for the hard-to-spot fish. These trout were in faster, deeper water; broken water and/or over bouldery bottoms where even in bright clear conditions they could only be distinguished by subtle movement or colour; often just a different shade of grey from the darker rocks in the stream. These fish were fit, feeding and fell to large bulky flies. Every river in every location was pretty much the same. Find the few feeding, active fish and we had a good shot at catching them.
We stayed way from likely hot spots and either fished rivers situated on remote properties bordering wilderness or we hiked and hiked and hiked. Only a chopper would have got us into deeper wilderness. The hard yards paid off both in the beauty of the environment and in catching some very solid trout rising to our choice of a cicada imitation, which in this instance was a large size 6-8 black Stimulator. The takes were breathtaking, the trout reacting angrily and fighting relentlessly. A rich diet of mice and cicadas has allowed SI trout to put on amazing condition and strength.
We didn’t catch a lot of trout but what we caught were superb fish up to 8 lb, all on dries and most takes were reminiscent of our hopper fishing back in Australia but scaled up in every respect!
What’s a fishing story without a heartbreaking one that got away? Well I have to say that we caught big fish but we spotted many bigger. If ever an opportunity to catch a genuine trophy existed it is this season! I think mine got away… Up high on a rugged West Coast river, satisfied at having already landed two good fish I sent out a cast into a nice narrow run, glare preventing spotting. The big black Stimi drifted for a moment before being devoured by a trout. I waited a second or two (for a change!) before I struck. On, solid hook-up. The big fish reacted with powerful anger and bolted upstream, cutting through the strong current with ease and stripping the loose line through my fingers and guides in a nanosecond. I was in some sort of control, good line tension, rod tip up and then disaster. The last loose bit of the line perversely caught the reel handle and the 4X tippet snapped like a thread of cotton. Devastating! A few seconds went by, I un-hunched my back, took a deep breath and looked up. That shaded water up ahead under overhanging tree branches looked incredibly inviting and the cicadas seemed louder than ever. I tied on another Stimulator and cast it tight under the overhanging branches… bang! I was on again. The pain of the loss just below abated somewhat, though it wasn’t erased.
All up, we had a wonderful, frustrating, exciting and physical trip. The weather was unusual and presented some real challenges. However we somehow worked it out and adapted not only to the conditions but also to the realisation that sometimes good reward for effort, ability (and luck!) is measured by quality rather than quantity.