New Zealand 2018 – North Island – Grand finale

The Interislander ferry would take me across the Cook Strait and down to the South Island a week or so later, and there was just enough time to squeeze in a few more days of fishing with my friends. Cicada season should have been over by now, but as I had discovered, the fish were still rising to a well presented imitation, even on cold and rainy days. As a fly-fisherman, you cannot get any better reason to go fishing than that.

I decided to meet up with Peter and his brother Mark for some days of fishing up in the backcountry. After a good long walk over the mountains we arrived at the river, only to find that someone else had already gotten to the stretch of river we wanted to fish before us. Such things can happen, especially on weekends. Instead of getting grumpy about it, we made a change of plans and decided to fish further downstream than originally planned. The water there was a bit scrappy” as Peter called it, but we knew it still had some good fish in it. The weather was overcast, and spotting was not easy, especially in the faster water. We did see some fish though, but it was one of those days where we didn’t manage to hook one. We never concluded if our strikes were to fast or too slow and ended up on blaming the fish for not being keen enough.

On the next day we had more success and the brothers caught a few decent fish on cicadas, or on a nymph dropper in case of cicada refusal. I also had my chances, but unfortunately the strikes were not successful. Our plan was to head far up into the headwater gorge of this river, but the water level was a bit too high and we couldn’t get as far upstream as we wanted. There were probably some giants up there and hopefully we will be able to make them a visit next year instead. After our walk back from the headwaters, Peter and his brother had to return to civilization, while I decided to spend another day to fish a different stretch of the river.

On the 3rd day the weather was stunning, with blue skies and little wind. I made my way down to the river and came upon some lovely pools. There were no fish to be seen, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t any there. I fished my way up with the cicada, plopping it down in “trouty” looking places. It didn’t take long before a fish rose to take my fly at the tail of a pool, but again I was too quick. I continued up the same pool, and another fish raced downstream to take my fly. Again, I tried to set the hook too soon and pulled the fly out of the of the water before the fish could reach it. What the hell was I doing? I couldn’t believe it… Was I not concentrated enough? Was I too eager? I had probably missed half a dozen good fish on missed strikes the last couple days, something that can really make any fly-fisherman starting to doubt himself. There was nothing else to do but to shrug it off, and I continued to fish my way upstream. I came upon a new lovely pool, long gliding but with a defined slow moving current running towards the other bank. Then I spotted a trout lying on top of a rock. I immediately splashed my cicada a couple of meters in front of the fish and it reacted at once and gobbled it down. This time my strike was good enough and the fish was on. A lovely nicely spotted brownie and my skunked streak was over, for now. I continued up the pool and fished it blind with the cicada. A bit further up there was a sudden movement after the cicada hit the water and I set the hook once again. This was a bigger fish, one of he prettiest ones of the season for me so far. Had I done something differently with these last 2 fish compared to the ones I had missed? Probably not, but it is hard to say for sure. I continued up a bit further, but didn’t catch or see anything else, before deciding to make my way back to the car. Reaching civilization, I was exhausted and ecstatic at the same time, the latter both because of some great days out in the wild and finally catching some fish, but also because the pizza I had thought about on my walk over the mountain was only a short drive away.

The weather turned foul after this, with one night getting temperatures close to zero degrees Celsius. I spent some days eating, relaxing and reading books, but when I had the opportunity to fish with fellow countryman Oddvar, I got ready once again. The weather was cold and rainy, so we decided to wear waders for the first time in a long while. Conditions were not exactly ideal, but the river in question looked decent enough for a day of fishing. Unfortunately, we did not have much action. After a long walk upstream in the river, we had not seen a single fish, either in the pools or runs. I then thought I saw something fishy-looking, but it was not really a great place for a fish, or so I thought. Just as I got ready to move on, Oddvar said STOP! But it was too late, I had already moved and the fished was spooked. It was my fault of course, but Oddvar handled it with a smile, and we kept on moving, while discussing the possible reasons for the apparent low number of fish in the river this day. We fished over all good looking lies and pools, but there were no reactions. Then we came upon a pool that had a special fishy look to it. It was my turn, so I got into position and made my cast. As the cicada flowed past a cliff edge I said out loud, “Come on, fishy fishy”. And lo and behold, a big head appeared and inhaled my cicada! The fish, an old warhorse missing one of its pectoral fins, ended up in the net and got its picture taken, before being released back into the pool. We continued a bit further upstream but didn’t see anything more before deciding to call it a day.

My last fishing trip on the North Island this season would be the following weekend, together with my friends Peter & Oddvar. Again, the weather was cold, but it looked like it would be a nice day with blue skies. But since we were heading out with Peter, we knew there would be some serious river walking ahead, and we decided to leave our waders behind. Wet wading is not something I often do back home, but on the occasions when you are walking along long stretches of river, it most certainly is a lot more comfortable and something I will do more of back home as well.

It was a cold beginning to the day, starting with a river crossing, but after a while the temperatures increased. We didn’t see any fish for many hours and then we saw footprints. Not all along the river where we were walking, but on the sand near some of the pools. Could someone had raced on ahead of us on the path to fish the best pools? Doubts were creeping through our minds, but we were there and decided to press on. About halfway up the river we finally spotted a good fish. It was visibly feeding on nymphs, moving left and right in the current. I made a cast with the cicada, but there was no reaction. When this happens, the solution is often to tie on a dropper, and maybe even change to another dry-fly also functioning as the indicator. Royal Wullfs or Klinkhammers in size 12 or 14 is often a good choice for these kinds of rivers, depending on depth and nymph weight. I retied my setup, but when I looked up the fish was gone. We searched for it and found it had moved further upstream, to a deeper part of the pool. After many attempts from both sides of the river, we concluded that it must have been spooked. It was feeding and moving about a lot and could have seen us while darting back and forth feeding.

We moved on and saw more footprints near one of the pools. While Oddvar was fishing his way up, I suddenly saw movement up in the hills behind us. It was a couple of trampers and obviously the creators of the footprints. Relieved, we continued upstream and started to find more fish. We all had good chances, but the failed strikes were back again, this time for all of us. When we came upon a big fish it was Oddvar that would get his chance. The currents were tricky in that particular spot and made the fly float downstream to the side of the fish. Anyway, the fish reacted and came after the fly downstream. It opened its mouth, and I am sure all the 3 of us did the same, and after what felt like an eternity, Oddvar set the hook. The fish was on for some seconds, but then broke off. We continued upstream while debating the size of the fish, while hoping for more chances. It didn’t take too long before we spotted the next one, and now it was Peters turn. This time the fish took the his Royal Wulff and Peter set the hook in a textbook manner. Finally, a fish in the net! We got a couple of more chances and I finally spotted and hooked one, taking me on a harrowing run downstream over boulders and rocks. The fish was not a giant, but a beautiful specimen. It had taken the dry fly, but the barbless hook had gotten loose during the run downstream and then the fish must have hooked himself on the nymph dropper. After a lot of back luck, I had suddenly gotten very lucky! We didn’t catch anything more that day and headed back. Temperatures plummeted, and we concluded that summer was definitively over.

I had spent about 2,5 months fly-fishing my way through the majestic North Island, but now it was over for this season. My love for the island had only grown throughout the season. The nature is spectacular and varied, and so are the friendly people that live there. The fishing is great both in lakes and rivers of different sizes and character. There is so much more to explore, and I will definitively be back next season and hopefully find even more beautiful places to walk and fish with friends.

Now onto the South Island, where I will finish the fly-fishing season down on the southern hemisphere.

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