I had been fishing some of the magnificent central plateau lakes for a couple of weeks, and had caught plenty of stunning fish, with impressive average sizes. Mostly rainbows, but also some big brownies had ended up in my net. These fisheries are primarily focused on the plentiful damsel nymphs, although I had started to catch them on big dries too lately. But now I was ready for a change of scenery, catching all these big brutes up in the lakes had taken its toll on me. It was about time I hit some of the rivers, but I wanted to start with some delicate water and had some tiny jungle creeks in mind. I had been doing my research by looking at satellite imagery, and by the looks of it, some of these tiny jungle creeks had some nice-looking pools in them. Tiny creek fly fishing is probably one of the things I love the most here on this earth. And as I have come to learn, sometimes they hold surprisingly big fish too!
Moving about in the woods and backcountry of New Zealand can sometimes be close to impossible. New Zealand might not have any dangerous animals, but the vegetation sure seems to do its best to compensate for it. Blackberry bushes and other flesh scratching plants seem to grow to humongous sizes and put up organic walls for any unsuspecting Nordic fly fishermen. Sometimes there is a hole in the “wall”, that leads you down a secret path, that hopefully ends near one of those enticing looking jungle creeks. As luck would have it, I found one of these secret gateways, and ended up a couple of kilometers downstream of one very interesting looking jungle pool. Once in the creek, wading upstream was easy compared to the jungle bushing. I rigged my #5 weight rod and tied on a size 10 Klinkhammer dry fly. I don’t think the original creator of this fly, Hans van Klinken, had thought his fly would be used in these latitudes and circumstances. But, as I had learned the previous year, this fly works very well in the rivers and creeks of New Zealand. I guess it just looks buggy enough to trick unsuspecting Kiwi trout, unused to exotic flies from the north originally conceived to fool caddis-eating grayling.
As I soon discovered, there were other smaller pools in this creek, that I had missed when looking at the satellite images. As I approached the first one I stopped to take a picture. I made some noise when moving about in the gravel and it was then I saw 2 fish moving downstream towards me, maybe to investigate my incursion into their realm. It was 2 rather nice fish, one brownie and one rainbow. The rainbow looked to be the largest one, but they were both 2 kg + fish. The odd pair stopped 2 m in front of me and turned around, but they did not look spooked. The rainbow turned and headed back upstream in the pool, while the brownie took up a position just below my rod tip. I observed it for a while, not moving a single muscle, unsure of what exactly was going on here. Several times in the past I had experienced trout that had seen me, swimmed up to me, maybe to investigate or to ridicule, and then swim away in a typical spooked manner. But this one looked different somehow. The trout must have seen me, but it appeared completely oblivious to my presence. After about 5 minutes I decided that I must have a go at it, so I gently loosened my fly and flicked it out in front of the fish. The first drift ended up about 10 cm to the right of the fish and there was no reaction. I did another sling type cast and this time the fly ended up directly in front of the fish. As it approached in the slow-moving current, the fish looked up, thought about it, and then gently rose to pick it from the surface. I set the hook and the fight was on! OK, it was not much of a fight to be honest. As I soon discovered, the brownie had seen better days and ended up in my net rather fast. Also, I did not want to spook the other fish, so I did my best to net it as soon as possible in the lower parts of the pool. The brownie, although rather thin, weighed in at 2,2 kg. After the release it swam a bit upstream and rested on the bottom for a while, before taking cover under the left bank of the creek.
I hoped the rainbow had not been spooked, and decided to try to film my attempt at catching it. I rigged my camera on a tripod and was about ready to go, when I saw the rainbow heading downstream straight towards me. I barely managed to press record and to flick the fly out a couple of meters in front of me. The rainbow kept on moving downstream, saw my klinkhammer fly and ate it. I set the hook and the fish turned around and raced upstream to the head of the pool. This one had probably been eating all the food in the pool, starving the poor old brownie. It sure put up a good fight before ending up in my net, weighing in at 2,4 kg. I could not believe my luck and I had not even reached the big pool yet!
I made my way further up the tiny creek and spotted another one, this time in fast moving water. It was another rainbow, not to big, but big enough to flick my klinkhammer at it. And it took it on the first drift and then proceeded to head straight downstream and into the pool where I had caught the previous fish. The trout, a crimson-red colored buck, weighed in at 1,6 kg.
I moved further upstream and was now approaching the big pool. I decided it was time to launch my Mavic Pro drone and hopefully get some nice footage, and maybe also spot a trout or two. I found a nice looking flat stone that would serve as my launching pad and then set it off skywards. As the drone moved upstream and moved around the corner, the pool appeared on my tine mobile screen. The weather was overcast, and this made it hard to spot fish. I did get some nice overhead footage though, but then it suddenly started to rain quite heavily, so I quickly returned the drone and decided to close in further on foot. The weather cleared quickly, and the pool revealed itself in front of me. I could immediately spot several fish and they looked to be rainbows about 2 kg. To get a better look I climbed up on the left bank, where a recent mudslide at made a nice little platform for me to stand on.
The light was good, so I switched to my 100-400mm zoom lens to try to get some up-close shots of the cruising rainbows. This went on for a while and I think I got some pretty nice shots from my slightly elevated position. But then one of the rainbows headed downstream out of the pool and straight towards me. It was as if it had seen me and wanted to investigate further. I froze completely as the fish moved out of the pool and took up a position right next to me below some brushes. There I saw it pick off whatever came into its feeding lane, including both bugs and pieces of vegitation. Hey, some people are vegetarian, so why not fish too? Anyways, it had me cornered. My rod and backpack were lying on the ground 3 meters behind me and I had to get to it somehow. Either I would spook the fish and it might spook the other fish still up in the pool. Or maybe, if I somehow managed to crawl back to my rod and flick the fly out, I might be able to save the situation by hooking the fish and fighting it in the lower parts of the pool, or even better, in the creek. So, I hunkered down, crawled back, and exchanged the camera for my fly rod. Was the fish still there? Oh yes, it was still there, and it was feeding, completely unaware of my presence. I was starting to like these jungle creek rainbows, they sure as hell were not spooky!
I decided that I might as well try to film this situation too, although I did not have much room for maneuvering my tripod & camera. I changed back to my 12-35mm lens, set the focus on the river and pressed record. By sheer luck I then managed to flick the fly out and over the vegetation, precisely into the feeding lane of the fish. I knew it was going to take my fly, and it did. It made some splashes and then hurled itself upstream and into the pool, jumping several times. I followed suit and jumped into the creek, hoping that I could keep the fish from scaring the other ones in the pool. After a quick and decisive fight, the rainbow was netted in the tail of the pool. A little sparkling gem of a hen rainbow trout, weighing in at 1,9 kg. And a got it all on tape as well, although not exactly with the best perspectives. One for the memory book indeed, in case of future Alzheimer’s.
There was not much time to contemplate what had just happened, because another fish was now cruising around in the pool. It looked a bit smaller and I decided to wait and see if there were any more in there. And sure enough, another fish rose at the head of the pool, where the little creek flowed into it. “That’s a nice place for the biggest fish in the pool”, I thought. The fish was rising steadily and I could hear its jaws clap as it lazily picked off any foody looking items sailing downstream. I felt I was on a bit of a roll and decided to set up my tripod once again. Maybe I could capture the take a bit better this time? I set the focus, pressed the record button and made my cast. And sure enough, the fish rose to grab my fly. But I was way too fast and did not set the hook. I immediately casted the fly out there again in the hopes that I would get a second chance. And the fish, now looking downstream wondering where its food went, now gobbled down my slightly chewed up klinkhammer fly. This time I set the hook perfectly and the fight with the boss of the pool was on. Fighting fish in such small and restricted water is usually up-close and personal combat. The fish don’t have much room for maneuvering, but seem to do their best to get the line entangled in any submerged tree stump. I managed to keep the fish away from such things and after some jumps he was netted. He was the boss of the pool alright, but no giant. He was a 1,8 kg, fat bellied and kyped jaw little fellow. After a quick photoshoot he was back in the pool with his hareem of beautiful females. One of them had been observing the fight and was now looking straight at me, only a couple of meters in front of me. It was the slightly smaller fish I had decided to pass on earlier. It was probably around 1,5 kg, a decent fish indeed. But I decided that that was enough and that I would leave this little gem of a pool alone for now. It had already given me some truly memorable moments, little fragments of fly fishing magic that would be with me for the rest of my life. I had gotten all that I came for and more. I will surely come back sometime in the future. Hopefully the jungle rainbows will then be even fatter and just as oblivious to human intruders sporting fly rods.