There’s no doubt New Zealand is world-class when it comes to trout fishing. I’ve been heading across the ditch and annoying the trout there since 2000, but this season, due to work commitments, it looked like I was going to have to give it a miss.
That’s when good friend Snake Taylor sent me a message asking me to join him on a late season trip to our regular stomping grounds around Queenstown. I looked at the calendar, found a gap in April, and decided I’d take the opportunity. I also gave co-worker James Norney a call and it didn’t take much to convince him to tag along.
My thoughts for the fishing this late in the season centred on nymphing the high country streams, and some good mayfly hatches on the lowland streams. However, I was also concerned the rivers might be high and cold, limiting hatches. As it turned out, I was happy to be wrong about the last point! As we glided into Queenstown Airport, we were greeted with a blue sky day. Now, the sensible thing would have been to do some shopping and head to our accommodation to set up, rather than head straight to the river and starve that night. Of course, we chose the latter option!
We immediately drove to a favourite spring creek, where a little dun hatch was in progress. There were a few fish about although not as many as we usually see. While Snake landed a lovely brown, we all agreed the fishing was a little slow and we should head across to a bigger river. Good decision. The very first run revealed four fish lined up on the inside seam, swinging hard in the current for nymphs and emergers. The next two hours produced some the most exciting fishing I’ve experienced in NZ, with well over a dozen fish coming to the net on size 14 mayfly emergers; mostly between 4 to 6 pounds.
The next day was another stunning bluebird day, so we decided to head to a high country stream. It was a risky decision as its catchment had copped 200mm of rain just four days before. We arrived to find the river was high, but clear. We walked for about 40 minutes before we began fishing and in the run we started on, there was a lovely fish nymphing hard. I thought I’d try a Stimulator with a weighted nymph off the back. The first cast landed well upstream to allow the nymph to get deep, right past the nose of the fish. As the flies drifted close to the trout, I lost sight of it in the glare and my focus turned to the dry fly ‘indicator’. That’s when I saw a nose pop out of the water to engulf it! Wow, a high country trout lifting 4ft in April to eat a dry – what a start! The rest of the day turned out to be a heap of fun with plenty of fish taking dries and nymphs. How good was this!
The next few days were followed by more exceptional dry fly fishing, including landing a fish over seven pounds in a lowland stream. We also saw plenty of trout in backwaters feeding heavily on willow grubs, despite these little morsels generally being thought of as a high summer food item.
Our last day was your typical Southland day: wind, cold rain and a stiff southerly. Sight fishing would be limited but not impossible, so we chose a small high country stream with a good population of rainbow trout. In the first few pools, there were some smaller fish down deep not feeding, which spooked at our attempts trying to catch them.
A few pools later, James sighted a brown feeding hard on a seam and soon after, a big buck brown came to the net. As rain fell steadily, some mayfly began to pop and brought the rainbows out. Should we change to mayfly patterns, we wondered, or just see if the fish would eat the size 8 Stimulators we had on? Well, every trout covered that afternoon ate the large Stimulator! Our only problem was trying to keep our dry flies ‘dry’ in the wet conditions. What we thought would be our toughest day, turned into one of the best.
Conclusion? Fishing in mid-autumn can be fantastic in Southland, and even if the weather doesn’t go your way there are a heap of options. Steady mayfly hatches on the lowland rivers and fish looking up in the high country streams, make for some very exciting fishing.