We all know that sometimes the best laid fishing plans and expectations can be turned on their head. This was certainly the case in late January with a huge cold front, rain and a bank of clouds hitting the South Island during our annual summer adventure. In the 7 years Fly Odyssey have been hosting groups to New Zealand, these were definitely the most challenging conditions from a sight fishing perspective and often threw up more questions than answers in the search for rising trout. Yet on a positive note, it made everyone brush up on their polarioding approach and it forced the continual analysis of forecast charts and river levels, as we chased clear water and elusive pockets of sunshine throughout the Southland region.
Joining me for the week was UK journalist and wild trout enthusiast Paul Procter, who spends many months each year chasing trout in Iceland, Europe and South America. I’d never heard the term, “She’s on it like a tramp on chips!” as I watched a big brown inhale Paul’s fly – his thick northern accent and great sense of humour helped make a fantastic week of fishing.
It had been a very dry season with the rivers generally quite low. Combined with high angler numbers over the summer season, this ensured that in some regions, the trout were on high alert. The rivers definitely needed a few inches of rain, which we received the day after arriving! For eight of the travelling party who had just left 10 degree days in the UK, it was the lack of temperature difference this time that had them in shock, and reaching for the familiar feel of waders and raincoats from back home.
Most of the time we spent meticulously scanning every metre of water with our polaroids to maximise the number of shots at sighted fish. Sure, it’s great to come across fish feeding on top so regularly that they seemingly have a flag sticking out of their back, but this year that was certainly the exception to the rule. Or it was at first…
Working in tandem with the lead spotter 3 metres from the bank and the second trailing a few metres behind on the river edge, proved very effective. It not only allowed us to spot those trout with a second set of eyes in the back of their heads before they spotted us; it also allowed us to sight and cover the fish tucked tight in on the margins. Catching them though was a different story. Early in the week when we sighted a fish and stalked into a good position then laid a precise cast with a perfect drift, we were still getting blatant refusals. The trout would subtlety change their behaviour in a classic manner that said “bugger off!” or vanish altogether, often without even a chance for a single fly change. They were tough.
As the rain kept falling we focussed higher up and very low in the catchments to ensure we were still fishing relatively clean water. The trout were initially switched off, sulking under banks and dogging down low, only moving into feeding stations for short periods during the day.
But as the rivers began to clear in the days following the downpour, the fish began to relish the new conditions. In streams that still held a tinge of colour, the trout started feeding freely as they moved into new beats to take advantage of the flood of food coming past. The decent flows flushed out plenty of nymphs, and while a few trout were rising freely to terrestrials, the majority were going hard below on small #18 and #20 mayfly patterns. Small backwater pockets had plenty of patrolling trout.
The best results came from unweighted nymphs presented without an indicator, instead watching the trout’s behaviour carefully to judge the take and dictate the timing of the strike.
As the week warmed up a little, the willow grubs started falling and the blowflies and cicadas began to appear in greater numbers, resulting in some fantastic dry fly fishing. The fish also started moving to feed in small backwaters where we had some great action.
We continued our high level Met Service-based board meetings at the breakfast bar each morning, taking weather interpretations and river height predictions to a new level. The group then split up and took off in different directions, all with different hunches, scouting for clear water and hopefully finding some pockets of sunshine with rising browns. If the water and skies were clearing, the browns came out to play. Fortunately luck fell our way as our gambles led us to blue sky and rising fish. Unfortunately some of the other groups of anglers didn’t have the same luck, finding rain, clouds and zero sunshine, despite being less than 40 minutes away!
Many river flows peaked late in the week and became unfishable, so we sought a change of scene. Scouting the maps, we headed to the upper Pomahaka to see if the rain had brought up any early sea-run trout, which typically commence running in February each year.
After tussling with a few big resident browns in some lower pools, we finally found some good, hard-running water and spotted a big snout sipping midstream. After covering it with a small dry the trout took with aggression, racing downstream with a procession of breathtaking aerial leaps. After giving chase for a hundred metres, Paul led a stunning sea-run brown to the net. The 15km return leg on foot was well worth it, as we headed back to the car very satisfied that the punt had paid off.
On the final day, we again went in a different direction with the hope of getting a hold of some of the big boys that would soon be out to play. Although the water was running very clear now, we knew it had been fished hard in the preceding days due to a lack of options for other anglers, and that we would have to be on our game. After landing several solid fish early in the morning on large terrestrials, the prospects were looking good.
With the day warming up the excitement peaked as we spotted that big ‘flag’ we hoped for waving about. In a bubble line close to an undercut bank, a big snout repeatedly sipped from the top. Paul moved into position and laid a large blowfly in its path and the fish took it without hesitation. The battle was then on as the trout raced to the opposite bank. Paul applied plenty of side pressure to keep the fish from an undercut it was desperate to reach. Finally I was able to slip the trout’s head into the net and it was easily the best brown landed for the week. The thick northern accent went into overdrive and Paul could hardly keep the smile from his face.
To book your next flyfishing holiday, contact James Laverty at Fly Odyssey.
+61 (0)499 900816