On November 5, 2011, a great friend, Mark Fuller and I embarked on a 3 week fly fishing odyssey to the South Island of New Zealand. We had both turned forty this summer and realized these sort of opportunities just don't pop up every season, so we jumped on it. Our fall fishing had been pretty good in JH this year so I stayed distracted with some work and local fishing right up until our flight to Auckland. I was packed well but mentally had not got my mind around the essence of this fishing journey... most often the best part- the journey. Once you arrive in NZ it kinda hits you, along with sheer exhaustion, that you are in the southern hemisphere(my 1st time) and that we were about to go fly fishing for nearly 3 weeks! An unbelievable road trip and adventure lay before us.
We loaded up with essentials after picking up our transportation for the trip, all in Christchurch. After getting licensed up we were officially set free to wander and explore the multitude of rivers and creeks of the Island, a feeling like your a kid again arriving at the gates of Disney.
Our living by camping(this was a budget trip, absolutely no helicopters) came easy for Mark and I, we are both experienced backpackers so quickly a routine was established and a pace was set on our first day. Most days went something like this: wake, coffee, re-organize gear, eat, dress for fishing, begin hiking/fishing, snack, more hiking/fishing, snack, hike back to camp 2+ hours, beer, dinner, beer & deep sleep. A very satisfying and exhausting day.
Each day poised a different set of obstacles that we quickly adapted to and dealt with, some involved gear or camping but the most interesting challenges came from the trout, which were absolutely mesmerizing to watch. To be successful as an angler can have many facets and levels, some not requiring a catch in hand, yet on this trip we were aquatic hunters akin to human herons and the prize each day was to hold that wild trout, an intoxicating moment indeed.
On our first day, on our first NZ river we both went a good two hours before seeing much of anything. I soon realized that this trip was going to be what I quickly coined as a "water study"; instead of casting hard for 10-14hrs like we do in Wyoming, I was going to walk slowly and stare at rocks, sticks, riffles, seams, flats & anything else that looked fishy for a dozen hours or more. This activity can really let your mind run loose and fortunately the exotic bird songs kept me grounded and mostly focused.
When you spot a trout in this magnificent landscape your heart truly begins to race, a feeling more similar to casting to a large tarpon or sighting your first permit. Yet, these were just large wild trout that can test every aspect of our art form and it is then you realize this is what we crave on a daily basis, a connection with nature that makes you feel very much alive.
Our luck with the weather could not have been better in the first 2 weeks. As we arrived the conditions were favorable on most rivers in the regions we intended to focus, the Nelson & West Coast regions and better yet, there was no serious rain in the extended forecast. Our first experiences on the rivers was a combination of elated spirit and humbled promises. We caught nice fish daily but the typical mistakes were made and the trout punished you severely, often making you walk for miles before having another shot, and even then there was no guarantee.
After those first few days we fell into a good groove in the Murchison area. We made friends, rested up, replenished supplies and got our game plan down for the remainder of the trip that allowed for two back country outings and several good rivers to explore from the highway in marathon day trips. The trip was nearly half over and we were now ready and eager to apply some tactics we had learned and caught onto.
Backpacking & "tramping" in NZ is a widely celebrated activity and is available all around you. Our experience in the West Coast region's native bush lined trails was one of captivation and pure excitement. The native bird calls seemed to flow into a continuous song even after covering several kilometers. It was interesting to see such a contrast in vegetation from what we were familiar with, there fern trees rose above to create a dense canopy that looked to be from the Mesozoic Era. Our tramping at times was very strenuous and some of the slip(landslide) crossings quite treacherous, again an experience that heightens your awareness of life.
The back country rivers we visited were in prime condition and stunningly beautiful. While searching and studying the water you would often loose your focus and just be completely blown away by the clarity and richness of this aquatic environment.
After all the hard work getting there was over the fishing was at a minimum, spectacular. Our daily routine was simple, we worked up new water slowly and as we came upon a trout you would immediately stop and start scanning the scene. First, study what the fish was doing, speed of the water, depth, sun-angle, nearest deep lie, logs, etc... the whole scenario was in constant evaluation as you formulate an approach, fly & cast. Meanwhile, your chest is pounding and your brain is rolling through all the possibilities and the clock is ticking, you have to move quickly otherwise the fish would often turn off for no reason... its pretty intense. If you were lucky enough to close the deal you felt elated, if not it was hard to watch your mate work the next sighting, only fair.
After our adventures in the West Coast bush we headed to the town of Reefton to again supply up and stage for what we had planned to be a full week of exploration, instead the weather had other ideas. A 24 hour flood dropped 255mm of rain in the area and every river was a complete torrent. The locals were saying a 50 year storm! Amazingly, the flows dropped as quickly as they rose and by mid-day the following day we had fish able water. This time with higher flows than we had encountered anywhere, we did less spotting and tried blind fishing streamers. This proved to be effective in the slow backwaters and offered some good numbers of hefty trout. The rain came back for a second round and did the rivers in again, this time for 48 hours. On our last 2 days we hiked into a lake and had one more day on the Inangahua River with fair success but still high flows. After our 3 weeks in New Zealand we had walked nearly 85 miles and fished almost 30 miles of breathtaking waterways... it was time to head to our wintry home back in JH.
Thanks for viewing, best to all!