It has been some weeks since my last update on the blog. After a January with fantastic weather, in fact the warmest in NZ history, February has been rather grey and wet. I have still had some great fishing, but the ever-changing weather inspired me to move around and explore for me new areas on the North Island. But before that, I spent a couple of days doing one more round of stillwater fly-fishing with my mates Andrew & Peter.
There had just been a massive downpour of rain and the fishing in the lakes could be awesome, as it had been in the past after heavy rains. So, we headed out one more time, hoping the water was not too high and not too murky. On day 1 the weather was overcast and windy, perfect for fishing in the central highland lakes. We had to work hard that day, moving about in Andrews inflatable boat, wading in sometimes deep mud, in cold water, searching for feeding fish. Not much was hatching, so we resorted to wolly buggers. After a while we did find the fish and ended up with 25 nice ones between us. Including my largest NZ trout so far, a broad shouldered and heavy set bad boy, weighing in at 4,1 kg! He did not look that big, but he sure felt that big and the digital scale do not lie. Andrew also got a very nice brownie, and we all got plenty of nice rainbows. It was a great day.
On day 2 the weather was fine with only a slight breeze. We thought it would be a great day for the damsel flies to hatch, but they never got going. After a long day of searching for fish, we finally gave up, skunked to the bone all 3 of us! That is just how it is in these lakes, you can either have a complete blast, hauling in fish after fish. Or you could end up with absolutely nothing, as was the case this day. Thankfully we experienced at least one good day and got a good long-lasting dose of stillwater fly-fishing. Peter and Andrew had to get back to the duties of civilized live and I was left alone to my trout-bum ways once again.
I was not sure what to do next. There was more rain coming. I felt done with stillwater for a while, so it was definitively going to be river-fishing somewhere. Should I head back to some of the rivers and creeks I knew, or should I explore some new ones? The guys had provided some tips and I decided to move on, in search of new water. It did not start very well. This one little creek that was supposed to be good, appeared to be devoid of fish this time around. The not to old footprints I saw might have had something to do with it. Anyway, I explored some of the other rivers in the same area. There are just so many of them all over the place. In this second river I did find some fish. Not huge fish but rainbows up to 2 kg. I spooked a few and caught one, satisfying enough when fishing a river for the first time. I returned to my car and took another look at the previously downloaded satellite images from this river. Then I saw that there was a nice pool not to far downstream of where I had entered the river. It was not to far away, so I decided to bring my lunch and walk down there to take a closer look.
I found a nice little hill where I could look upstream and down into the pool, which was rather deep. The sun was at my back and I enjoyed my lunch while peeking into the stream now and then, hoping something would reveal itself. About halfway through my lunch, I saw a fish move up from the deep and into the shallow water and fast current above. It was primarily eating nymphs, moving effortlessly from left to right in the current. Now and again it would move downstream to take something of the surface, disappear into the deep and then reappear in the current above some minutes later. The fish looked rather big, somewhere between 2-3 kg? It was hard to say for sure, but it sure looked bigger than the other fish I had caught in the same river. I decided there and then that I would catch this fish.
The fish was in a bit of a tricky spot. The river turns 90 degrees to the left, in the middle of the pool. At the back of the pool and on the true right bank is a cliff, on top of which I had been observing. I could cast from the cliff, but there was no way I could land the fish from there or get down to the river without entangling the line in the wild native bush, possible breaking a leg, or even worse, my rod in the process. On the other side of the river, the true left bank, there was also dense bush, so the most reasonable approach was to enter the river a bit downstream of the pool and wade carefully up towards the corner, and then cast up into the fast current that entered the pool. It could definitively be done, but it had to be done with care or the fish could spook. So that’s the plan I went for.
I finished my lunch and waited for the fish to get back into the current after one of its downstream dry takes. I moved downstream and waded carefully up towards the corner where the current entered the pool and where I should be able to spot the fish. But the fish was nowhere to be seen. Had I spooked him? Had it taken one of its downstream dry takes and spotted me, now spooked? Or was it still there, somewhere behind that rather annoying glare? I waited and waited, but still did not see the fish. After a while I decided to make some blind casts, but there was no reaction. I waited a bit longer, but the fish was nowhere to be seen. Damn, I had spooked it for sure! Disappointed, I gave up and moved back downstream and climbed up to the cliff again. The fish was still nowhere to be seen. It must have heard me as I moved up towards it. It had to be that damn gravel making noises underwater, or maybe vibrations from the small waves I was making as I moved upstream towards the fish. Anyway, the fish had won round 1. He was still there of course, unimpressed with my unsophisticated attempt at catching him. It would not be the last time either…
Although I fished other parts of this river and other nearby rivers in the coming days, I somehow ended up making camp for the night not to far away from this pool. And over the coming week I would make daily stops by the pool, trying out different strategies for catching this fish. Let’s just say that it involved some serious bushing, climbing, nymphs, streamers and dry flies. All to no avail. This fish was obviously a smart one, probably caught before and weary of fly fishermen. I was basically done fishing in the area and it was time to move on. But I couldn’t, not before catching this fish. One night I decided to drink some good red wine. A rather nice Pinot Noir from the Waipara valley. After a bottle it occurred to me that there was one strategy I had not tried yet. It involved sneaking down upstream of the pool and casting a big nymph or streamer down and over the current, swinging it over the deep part of the pool. And this had to be done at dusk or preferably even in the dark. My friend Monrad had suggested this very idea when I talked with him on the phone some days before. This was it, I was sure of it! And as luck would have it, it was dusk and getting dark, so I got my gear together and stumbled along towards the pool, hopes high and with a slight red wine buzz.
Standing on top of the cliff, I could not see the fish, maybe because it was to dark. The light was dissolving quickly, and I hurried a bit upstream and bashed my way through the bush, ending up hunched down in the river about 15 m upstream of the pool. I had a barbless big black heavy nymph tied on and started to work it further and further downstream, back-casting over my left shoulder and downstream over the current. It was now getting very dark and I hoped I had brought my headlamp, otherwise getting back could be a bit tricky. But that would have to wait, now I had to focus, or risk getting my fly stuck in the bush, potentially ruining this chance of catching the fish. The fly was now approaching the point where the fast, shallow current enters the deeper part of the pool. My heart was beating fast as it swung over the current, and then it happened. The fish ate the nymph. It first went down into the pool, before it suddenly jumped several times upstream towards me. And then the fly came out of the mouth of the fish, plopping down in the water just ahead of me.
I sat there for a while, thinking. But I was smiling. It is just one of those things that happen, barbless hook or not. I had hooked the fish and my plan had worked. Maybe the fish was not as big as I had previously thought? It was hard to say in the weak light. It did make some nice splashing noises as it jumped though. I decided that both the fish and myself had won and that I could finally leave it alone and move on. My headlight was thankfully in my backpack and I made my way back to camp. That night I slept like a baby for 12 hours straight and the next day I moved on, ready for new adventures. But then came the rain again, and it would not make it easy for me.