After a great year of fly fishing both home and abroad I decided to take a bit of a break after the fall season up north in Norway. After dealing with more mundane issues at home and spending the Christmas holidays with my family, I decided to leave for New Zealand on December 27th. I arrived in Auckland on December 29th and after picking up my rental car and stocking up on supplies, I decided to follow my internal trout compass and headed off into the interior central highlands. There had been little rain lately and water levels were low in many of the rivers, so I decided to check out the lakes in the area. It was there I had spent some weeks the previous winter and had some success, although only after a lot of trial and error. I do prefer to figure things out on my own, even when that means long spells of frustration and utter despair. But as I have come to find out, when you finally figure things out, as I usually do if only spending enough time, it often means you can reap the rewards in the years to come. Thankfully that was exactly what would happen to me this time around.
There are many interesting lakes up on the central highland plateau, but I somehow homed in on one of them hoping that the damsel flies were hatching. As I arrived the weather was in the 20+ degrees Celsius and the smell of early summer was in the air. It did not take long before I saw that the damsels were in full swing. A quick inspection of the lake shoreline also revealed that the trout were on the prowl. I could easily spot several large specimens cruising about at a leisurely speed hunting for the damsel fly nymphs. I rigged my gear, which after the trial and errors from the previous season had ended up with a 9` #6 weight rod rigged with an 9 ft. 1x leader, extended with 2x fluorocarbon tippet. Last year I had lost many fish when using thinner material and had ended up with this combo as the perfect solution to reduce the number of breakoffs to a bare minimum. The fish sure did not seem to mind the rather thick material. It also makes it possible to fight the fish rather hard, keeping them out of the weed and netting them quickly. For flies I would use a big dry fly, in this case a local foam hopper variant with a high visibility white wing. Beneath that I would attach the main trout food imitations, the two damsel fly nymphs, about 10 cm apart. The dry fly would serve as an indicator, but also as a tool to control the nymphs better. Hell, sometimes the trout would even take the dry fly, highly unexpected, resulting in small heart attacks and too fast strikes.
Last season I put out a GoPro camera underwater to better understand the movements of the damsel nymphs. I saw that they mostly hang around on the bottom, sometimes making dashing runs towards the lake edge or surface. That’s why I use two nymphs, one suspended in mid-water and one just above the bottom. I cast the flies well ahead of a cruising trout, let them sink and then wait until the fish is a couple of meters away. I then do a slight retrieve and the nymphs moves up towards the surface, aided by the big dry fly. In many cases this will trigger a strike, at least if the trout sees my nymphs. Sometimes the trout are looking down searching the bottom, while other times they are feeding closer to the surface. A double nymph rig will therefore increase your chance of a strike. After rigging my rod, I got into my waders and headed along towards the area I last year dubbed “Trout alley”.
And sure enough, several big trout were feeding in the shallow water. The water levels were quite low due to the recent lack of rain. That meant that the trout were not only seen cruising about, but they were also tailing like bonefish on a saltwater flat. It did not take long before I hooked up to the first fish, a nice buck of a trout weighing in at 2,8 kg! Before 2018 arrived, I would have netted several nice fish, including a couple of completely bonkers 3 kg+ rainbow trout that tailed right next to me and jumped all over the place during the fight. I also landed a stunner of a brownie, weighing in at 3 kg. What a finish to an already insane 2017 season! As luck would have it, 2018 also got off to a great start. I kicked off with a 2,6 kg silver torpedo rainbow, then landed several nice brownies including a 3 kg and a 3,4 kg fat boy.
As I would discover, these fish are very territorial, especially the brownies. One of the fish I caught during the first day, weighed in at 2,6 kg. Over the following days the same fish would reside in the same area I caught it in. It would no longer be fooled by my flies, but would swim over and take up a position right next to me. There she sat, watching me as I casted my flies at other passing fish, mostly intruding rainbows. I named her Matilda, and every time I waded out to “her place”, she would swim slowly towards me and take up a position next to me. She did not spook even when I hooked and landed a rainbow right next to her. She inspected my flies several times, but would not be fooled by such wizardry again! Whatever went through her tiny mind is impossible to fathom, but it sure had to be something very strange indeed. Or perhaps it was just about time I met up with some human friends..
The damsel hatches had been very intense these days, but then came some much needed rain and the conditions started to change. The water levels increased and the fragile balance I had been so lucky to prey on had been disrupted. Water that had been highly productive suddenly appeared devoid of fish, including Matilda. I moved to another lake and found some more fish, including a stunning 2,7 kg rainbow and an old 3 kg brownie buck. But there was more foul weather on its way, and mother nature decided to shut down the food factory for now. As a storm was approaching with 100km + winds, I decided to leave the lakes alone for a while and hunker down in my tent, all plugs attached. To be continued, after the storm.