New Zealand 2017 – South Island – Part 1

After some weeks on the North Island it was time to head south and catch the ferry over to the South Island. While driving south a massive storm hit both islands, but the South Island seemed to have gotten the worst of it. The radio reported of severe flooding in several places, not exactly ideal news for a fly fisherman. But the weather cleared up nicely on the day of the ferry crossing. My hopes increased considerably as the ferry made its way across the cook strait in calm seas. After the crossing, I decided to spend the first night at a remote campsite in the northern parts of the South Island. There was a river in the valley and the upper parts were supposed to hold some impressive trophy sized trout. After some hours’ drive up a flimsy dirt track I finally arrived and made camp.  I took a small peek at the river before night fell and it did look very promising indeed. The upper parts of this particular river had not been negatively affected by the recent downpours. At dusk the forest around me seemed to come to life with strange noises and sounds. The local forest inhabitants including several weka birds and some other animals woke me up several times even scratching on my tent.  I slept lightly that night dreaming about trophy sized trout rising to cicadas in the river below.

I woke up to a perfect day and headed down to the river. Most of the river was still in the shade, so spotting fish was not easy. But it did not take long before I saw what looked to be a very nice brown trout in the 4-5 pound range. He was sitting near the bottom and was visibly feeding on nymphs. I moved into casting position but then I could not see the fish anymore. Was he still there or had he moved? The light was just not right from where I was casting, so I had to retreat and move upriver on land to spot the fish again. And sure enough, with the right light I could see the fish in the exact same place.  I tried to memorize its location and moved back into casting position in the river downstream from the fish.  There I would spend at least 2 hours, casting different nymphs at the fish. The fish was not interested in my flies and I was thinking maybe I should cut my losses and move upstream to find another fish. But first I had to give it a go with a nice big dry fly. I decided on a big Klinkhammer, a fly that had worked well on the North Island rivers. The river was very clear with calm water and it would have been impossible for the trout to miss my fly as it smacked down 3 m ahead of the fish. And sure enough, the fish rose and took the fly immediately! I set the hook and the fish was on! He made a nice little jump and then came straight towards me. I feverishly tried to retrieve the line, but it was too late and the fish got loose. Oh well, I thought. I had found, hooked, and lost a nice fish. Life could be worse.

I moved on upstream, but the small riverside trail quickly vanished and it became close to impossible to move further without some serious climbing. But I could see some very enticing looking pools upstream and I just had to get there. While hanging on to trees and roots making my way upstream I was coming near to a very nice-looking pool. There was a little back current on my side and that is where I saw it. One of the largest trout I have ever seen was standing right there in the back current, but facing downstream. And you guessed it, he saw me as well and disappeared into the depths of the pool. I moved slightly further upstream to a new section that could be fished properly from the river side. I could hear the cicadas and decided to give the sirloin steak of dry flies a try. The big dry fly would be highly visible and would also make a nice splash to get attention from any trout lurking on the bottom. I presented the fly out in the current and it drifted nicely into one of the deep pools. A shade moved quickly as a nice trout rose and ate my cicada imitation. As the fish rose everything happened in slow motion. I tried to set the hook, but I was probably way to quick. And the same thing happened one more time in the next little pool. I moved as far upstream as I dared, but did not find any more fish before heading back. I decided to cut my losses and move on. After all I had a whole new island to explore. There were other more famous rivers nearby that had to be checked out.

I then experienced at least a week without catching a single fish. All of the rivers I checked out seemed to be flooded. Instead of waiting it out I decided to move about a lot to try to understand the lay of the land. And particularly how the water drains through the many watersheds. Hopefully this approach would give me insight that would prove valuable in many years to come. But the South Island would prove not to give up her secrets too easy.


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