Thursday, 18 July 2013

A River Too Far...

A River too far?

Fiordland National Park set in the south-west of the South Island New Zealand has no shortage of water, turquoise green rivers set a midst temperate rain forest playing host to wild brown and rainbow trout.

Trout; a humble fisherman from the UK can only dream of!

We had been exploring different rivers for the past 3 months and now was time for the Jose!

Having heard lots about the river Jose, a secluded back country river known for its remoteness, lack of angling pressure and only accessible by helicopter set in the heart of Milford. A river at the top of every ones must fish list! Luke, a fellow avid fisherman we met on a prior trip to the Clinton, who has been living with us in Te Anau for the past 3 weeks, Richard and myself took to the map and planned our route.

Some was left to chance, we had booked a boat to 'Sandfly Point', the end of the famous Milford Trek, looking at the map we knew we could hike the 6 miles along the track which would bring us to the Arther river, the rest would be wading (possibly swimming) and jungle bashing to the Jose which flows from a distant valley to the north west into the 'dead lake'.


Milford Sound                                                                          Sandfly Point

All we knew was that we had 3 days off work! Armed with rods, map, camping equipment and the determination to to anything to get there!!

After a 2 hour drive and a short boat trip we hike around 5 miles along the trek passing tired hikers along the way reaching the end of their 4 day trip. We however are still buzzing with excitement at the start of ours! With a skip in our step and big smiles we race on.

One of the reasons it is difficult to access, is due to having to cross the Arther River which, running into Milford Sound (in the top 10 wettest places in the world) can rise and fall by up to 20 ft in a day with ease. We however timed it right and during one of the driest summers NZ has ever had and no rain for 7 weeks we could cross easily. (Needless to say we would have swam across if things had been different.)

The Jose runs into lake Aida which is a lake suspended in the mountains high above the sea. A truly remarkable place which has an eerie look about it with hundreds of dead tree's standing out of the water from past floods.

The scenery is breathtaking, lush green beech rain forest oozing with lichen just proves how remote, untouched and pure this area of the world really is. Mountains burst from the sea in the 'Sound' and continue up the valley as far as ones eyes can see, I gazed in awe through the light clouds starting to clear at one of the mountain tops with a prominent scar running through the bedrock, I found out later that it was in fact one of the many fault lines where tectonic plates meet, showing the immense power of mother nature and this special place.

Something this trip offered was a chance to do a little lake fishing which is something I haven't done much of here in NZ. To be honest we can all fish lakes in the UK and stripping lures or twitching nymphs isn't what New Zealand fishing is about, however when you can see a cruising 4lb+ wild brown trout which you can stalk up to and even see its mouth open and close around your nymph or witness the slow motion rise as it breaks the surface, well yes that certainly is worth doing!!

We had marched past many weary hikers almost at a slow jog when we reached a cliff face and an opening in the valley, we knew this was near to where we were supposed to cross the Arther. The view was immense, and even from our elevated position around 90ft above the river we were already spotting large cruising brown trout!
Lush green mountains soared high above our heads, the crystal clear river Arther gently flowed beneath our feet, the eerieLake Aida to to the west, the thick bush we knew we would have to fight through lay between us and the Jose Valley and the whitest of white sandy plain.....We all knew this sight would haunt our dreams and would have to return someday!!!

"WOW" was all that needed to be said. we took it all in for a moment, let some hikers pass us by, and raced on down the track towards the river like three school boys.

We climbed through a small opening in the forest, stepped into the open plain and set up our rods. Richard had already spotted a cruising brown! We quickly put on our buffs and jungle formula as the sandflies had found us which was getting painful!

First cast to the brown on a small still water / back eddie from the Arther resulted in the first fish on the bank a lovely 4lb brown.

The low water left an amazing beach to the lake high in the mountains and we walked around stalking the margins and casting to trout. I had found the 'big boys' we had spotted from the cliff but with no cover and having to approach them from slightly upstream I took to my belly, crawled to the waters edge and began trying to haul the 30 yard cast from the floor to where I had seen them. Passers by must have wondered what the hell I was doing and the usual suspects proceeded to take lots of pictures. Unfortunately the trout made for their lie and disappeared from sight.

We fished on and saw little else; but as we reached the bottom of the Jose where it met Lake Aida 'the dead lake' we immediately started seeing fish! I cast to the first with a large Irresistible Adams, it swung out and took hard skipping across the pool, around a dead tree stump, leaving me jumping and skipping around rod high in the air trying to free the line, finesse was out of the window but managed to land another nice 4lb brown. Rich cast to the next and landed it and Luke the 4th and 4 fish on the bank!! Well chuffed we headed up, the river had a good head of fish and the lack of angling pressure meant they would quite happily come to a bushy looking fly cast to them.                                                                                                                                                                                              

Visibility wasn't great with the wind howling up the valley upstream leaving a ripple on the water to try and spot through; but after around half a mile we had 6 fish released and more lost and snapped!
Here though, the Jose goes very deep and slow moving for a mile or so, making wading up the river impossible so we had the most horrendous hour of jungle bashing I have had since I have been here, every time we hit a little opening we would come to a block of thick bush with jungle vines that would rip through your flesh and tangle around anything it could find!

'This is why it is a heli fishing destination only' I said to the lads. We persevered; tired and bleeding eventually made it through!

As soon as we did Rich had hooked and been snapped on the strike by a good brown and so the fishing continued!!

We fished on chuffed to bits that we had made it and continued up river. It split and opened into two small lakes, Luke went left, Rich and I straight up, the wind had got up and visibility was really poor on the lakes, Luke lost another good fish but Rich and I struggled to spot any.
The river now took a true back country style, small, shallow meandering through the valley. Rich lost another and the three of us walked upstream in single file. I was at the back when a lone brown swam downstream, three of us froze as if we had seen a ghost. As it approached me I unhooked my flies from the rod ring, slowly took off line and cast a blowfly downstream of it, not thinking for one minute that it would take as it must have seen all three of us. To our amazement it slowed, then stopped under it, and in slow motion gently sucked the fly from the surface film! With a strike a splash and the singing of the reel it was on!!
Darting around the pool another lovely 4lb brown!

This really is a little piece of heaven!!

I had been told by a very experienced guide here that when the river gets bouldery it is lovely water but there are no fish, just as he said we reached the gorge, made our way up a few pools and not a fish insight. We headed back down and set up camp.

Amidst all of this excitement I haven't mentioned just how bad the sandflies were!! Swarms of them biting hard and not letting up made the trip almost unbearable! Not for the faint hearted I can assure you! We decided as we couldn't eat or drink without ingesting countless flies we fished until almost dark. They eased as the darkness fell we could finally enjoy our feed!

Sausages, smash and gravy may sound fairly simple but after our day of excitement and in true wilderness miles away from anywhere it was a little bit of luxury and we three, felt like kings!
Rich and Luke, hiding from sandflies.

Morning broke. We were awakened by a helicopter which sounded like it was descending on the tent, one of the most surreal moments of my life, here we are after a days hike and severe jungle bashing in the middle of nowhere and a chopper decides to use our campsite as a landing site. I investigated, to find mink trappers being dropped off to set a new line of traps. They asked how we got here and after I explained they chuckled and said that there is a small trapping line through the bush which would take us back to the track!

We bid farewell, Luke and I headed for the small lakes downstream leaving Rich in bed. It was flat calm, perfect spotting conditions and Luke quickly had one on the bank. I was trying dries but they weren't interested this morning. I tried suspending a nymph below a Parachute Adams in the line of a cruising fish, it came up to take the nymph and darted off as I struck into it, as it did another trout took the parachute! Now trying to play two good browns on 6lb fluro my chances didn't bode well. They swam in opposite directions and snapped my line! Gutted!!

I had another two on the bank that morning and Luke two himself, as we arrived at camp Rich told us of his exploring down a tiny creek running off the Jose where he landed 3 and lost another three!! A great start to day two and 7 fish released!

We decided to explore the Arther river further into the Milford track and took the trappers advise to follow the trap line, the jungle bashing was much easier and we were soon back on the track. We explored the Arther upstream, these were more spooky and much fewer of them, we had only landed one when we found our next camping spot. We ditched the bags and having learnt that its best to fish until dark and then eat we set up camp and explored further! I cast to a fish we thought could have been 10lb but to no avail then Rich tried from the other bank again without a take. Slightly frustrated we continued up.

The evening got better and we each had another fish, on our way back to camp we spent some time casting to feeding big browns from one of the suspension bridges of the Milford Track, Luke almost had one which shy'dat the last second and I lost one after connecting!!

Seven before breakfast and only 4 for the rest of the day, although you didn't here us complaining!!
We set a monster fire, warmed ourselves, fed our bellies, laughed and joked about our trip over a bottle of cider!

We woke to rain and mist, and decided to head back, we hiked the 9 miles back, stopped to jump of a waterfall as we were seriously smelly campers by now and caught the ferry back to Milford, a quick mocchachino and cake in the cafe was a real treat and we headed home never to forget this trip of a lifetime!!

An Arther Brownie 

A wet morning on the Arther

A cold plunge

Friday, 3 May 2013

Grimersta Gillies tackle New Zealand Trout!!

Alastair has been enjoying two months of fishing in New Zealand; a real treat for any enthusiastic fly fisherman. I came out to join him and have been here for a month awe struck at the quality of fishing available.

Following a previous Skype call to a fellow Ghillie from The Grimersta, Richard Hold, he, like me jumped on a plane and has come down under to fish some of the best trout waters in the world!!

Slightly jet lagged but full of beans Alastair and I picked him up from Queenstown airport from the 10:30am flight. We bought some essentials (beer, noodles, Crocs and a fishing license) whilst there as we were taking him on a fishing camping trip to the Mataura River. Widely regarded as one of the most difficult rivers in the south but offering large numbers of trophy Brown Trout and particularly known for its consistent mayfly hatches throughout the day

Sharing stories with Rich about previous fishy adventures whilst he was going through our fly boxes wide eyed and amazed at how small some of the flies really were we headed south.

We arrived at the Mataura and went into the access point Al had previously been taken to when he took a guide for the day so we were confident that it was as good a place as any to start. Now the Mataura runs through farmland and is covered in overhanging willows which means there is an abundance of food allowing these brownies to gain weight and are in stunning condition. The past two weeks have seen floods and most of the rivers un-fishable, so confident that the river hasn't been hammered too much and the trout should be hungry now the water is dropping we set up and head over to the river.

Three of us, myself armed with a small 9'5# Rich with his new Hardy Zenith 9'6 6# and Al with his Okuma 10' 7# as his G loomis was snapped on a previous adventure, full of optimism we approach the first pool. Rich first of all is amazed at how clear the water was, whereas Al and myself were disappointed at how cloudy it was which made spotting fish a little more difficult. Nonetheless as approaching the first pool we already have 4 feeding trout in our vision and Rich is beside himself seeing how big they were.

"Right Rich in you go!" We said, but he was more than happy to watch us to begin with as fishing NZ style is still new to him. With plenty of time to fish over the next two days we watched Al slip quietly into the river. He cast with pin point accuracy, his nymph combo about 6 foot ahead of the nearest trout as we all watched in anticipation for it to take....not this time, so he covered it 3 more times before changing flies then another 3 and changed again until it had seen most combinations of flies Al had to offer and decided to swim on. Why wouldn't it take? asked Rich, "the trout here are big and plenty of them but I never said they were easy to catch!!" I replied.
Al fished on to the next trout up in the pool again three different combination all cast delicately but still no takes until that one was spooked. Baffled we continued searching the water for some indication of what they were feeding on.
I had previously had a conversation with one of our guests at Fiordland Lodge who had been out with a guide and was sworn to secrecy about his secret weapon. I had already guessed what it was when he opened his box and I saw large woollen blood worms in a variety of sizes totally out of place compared to the rest of his neatly tied traditional dries and nymphs. He had sworn blood worms were great here so I made a trip to the local wool shop. Apparently the lady in the haberdashery was used to enthusiastic, slightly eccentric fishermen raiding her stock, slightly annoyingly asking for little cuts of this and snippets of that as I had no use for a 50 meter roll of red wool. She took a liking to me and was happy enough to help me out with some 'on the house' snippets. I raced home and took to the vice!
After covering the third fish in the pool a couple of times all of a sudden Al was on!!!
The brownie screaming up and down the pool the reel was singing and Rich and I cheering!!! Until it had the sense to make for some overhanging willows and came free, with a shout of frustration from Al it all went quiet again.
"What was that on?" I said.
"That big ugly blood worm you tied!"
So with the fly of choice Rich took the rod and fished up the remainder of the pool, there was still at this point a good at least 7lb fish at the head which we wanted to see Rich attached to. As he neared it he placed a cast in front which drifted beautifully past it however instead of the desired take, it didn't like the look of this big ugly red worm floating towards him and made for the deeper water...Spooked!!!!

So it seems it will either spook them or entice a take..we fished on.

It begins to rain and the overcast sky and slightly cloudy water makes spotting difficult and we walk up along side a nice run without spotting anything. We crossed at the tail of the next pool and as visibility was poor I decided to blind fish the margins with a mayfly bomb packed with lead and tungsten and a trailing blood worm. Before I knew it the indicator took a sharp dive I lifted to feel the weight of a good fish!!

Al and Rich had caught up by the time I had it under controlI I landed it and enjoyed seeing the look on Rich's face as he gazed at the 4lb brown trout in my hands, without doubt the biggest wild brown trout he had ever seen and most definitely now in NZ would not be the last! We returned it safely whilst Al and I took a step back. We watched Rich fish the rest of the pool up.

Again with a dive of the indicator Rich was on! Fishing one of the notoriously difficult rivers on the south Island and having been off the plane for little more than an hour, he was now into his life-time personal best brownie! It was around 4lbs and for UK standards a monster, but fairly average for here.

Still slightly dazed, Rich took a step back as Al fished the rest of the pool. We had spotted one sitting deep obviously feeding as it swayed from side to side. Again the blood worm worked like magic! Al into the 3rd fish of the afternoon and all from one pool! We were trying to explain to Rich that it is usually much more difficult than this and the fact that we had caught it after a spate with slightly coloured water seemed to be a blessing.

We spent the afternoon hooking into yet more fish and spooking others and were laughing and joking like three school boys all thinking right now there is nowhere else we would rather be.

Al landed a beauty of a brownie pushing 8lb which took him down stream 2 pools and involved me trying to scare it from under the bank where it was trying to break free. More laughs and disbelief at how big the trout here got. As the light drew in Rich's jet lag was setting in and we agreed to make for the local pub in Garston for some supper.

Now New Zealand certainly is not a 3rd world country and has all the technology associated with western society however stepping into some of these small villages, particularly the Garston Hotel, literally is like going back in time say 20 years what we would expect in the UK. It almost felt like a scene from a horror story; an old weary inn with ripped wallpaper and broken tiled floor. They did however serve a mean burger and chips! So with our bellies full we headed in search of somewhere to camp.

Aiming for the lower Mataura, we camped in a suitable place warmed by the fire and sharing stories of monster trout we had seen and caught here. We had missed the evening rise but there was going to be plenty of time for that later. So 3 in a tent, a little cosy, we slept.

Dawn broke. With trout rising, in under half an hour, breakfast had been caught and smoked over the fire with some noodles. There is something about the outdoors, its going back to simple things where if you're hungry, you have to catch your food. As a rule we return all of our fish but the odd one in circumstances which are perfect - I won't turn down some smoked trout for breakfast!

The river had cleared up a little and visibility was better, so we packed up and drove to another access point where we had previously decided to try. Shortly after walking up the second pool we could see trout feeding hard on 'willow grubs' and difficult to catch, try as we may, we just couldn't get them to take any of our imitations and spent the morning generally clumsily either spooking fish or watching them totally dismiss our flies as they rose for naturals.
'This is what it is usually like here,' Al and I both said.
To which he said exactly what we had said when we arrived and many other anglers who have trout fished in New Zealand.....' It's humbling' we all thought we were relatively good fishermen never struggling to catch trout anywhere else before but these are a different story and our skills need to be developed.

Al managed to hook into one just before around 1:00 pm when we had to leave, which coincidentally, snapped his 3lb line which we had resorted to going down to. 7 fish for day one and just one lost for day two just shows that there are good and not so good days but always beats a day in the office!

We raced the one and a half hours back to Te Anau and settled Rich into his house. Some friends of ours in town had a room to rent which we had arranged for Rich. It turned out that it was the party house!  Consistently keeping Rich awake into the early hours of the morning. But that is another story.
Al and I went to work and the following 3 months for Rich would lead to many more of the large trout New Zealand has to offer.

There is an art to fishing New Zealand style, not just the set up with either two nymphs or a nymph trailing behind a dry tied to the bend in the hook. It is also a way of thinking and acting.
Stalking the banks, the fish favour different spots in different rivers, knowing the likely places and training the eyes to catch the smudges on the bottom which is often all you can see. Trying not to make a silhouette on the skyline is key as these fish seem to have eyes in the back of their head. We have found ourselves on many occasions crawling to get a closer look, often turning out to be a fishy looking rock which you may have spent the past 5 minutes getting into place and casting at! Its all a learning curve.
Once you have spotted one, deciding which fly to use and stealthily getting into position before having to cast ever so delicately with pin point accuracy no matter what the weather is doing, studying the quarry, is it swinging left or right? What depth is it at? Do I need a heavy tungsten nymph to get it down or will the splash spook it instantly? Will it readily come up for a nice, bushy blow fly or terrestrial? What combo of flies should I use and what size? After the first cast without a take, do I try again or change as another could spook it? Do I need to go down to 3lb line as the water is so clear and the usual 6lb could be seen a mile off? Do I use Gink or Xink (leader sinker)? Do I risk using an indicator as some fish will spook as soon as it sees it, others will happily take, if not using an indicator how will I know if it takes? Can I see its mouth open and close, do I strike when it swings or wait for the line to take, at which point it may be too late?
If it comes up for a dry, you have to be disciplined as it is so easy to strike too soon.  Wait for the lips to protrude the surface and then back down before lifting in, anything sooner or later and it could all be over. Patience is a virtue.
If you finally hook one, this is no UK brownie or stocky, these are mean, fit, wild trout at an average of 4lb + and know every inch of the pool they inhabit. If there is a snag or rapids they will find it. On many occasions we have found ourselves jumping in trying to avoid snags or running hell for leather down stream following it down some rapids, with the use of size 18# - 20# hooks it is so easy to loose them.

All of that for one fish, then there may be a good walk upstream before spotting another - sometimes up to half a kilometre on some rivers.

These are just a few things that need to be thought of, skills Alastair, Richard and myself have thoroughly enjoyed trying to master!

If here for a holiday and a chance to fish, I would without doubt recommend using a guide. They have mastered these skills and know where the fish are.

We however, had time and loved every minute of practising. Needless to say, there were many spooked fish but as we got better, the trout's chances were reduced and by the end we could confidently approach a new water, and with good conditions, catch New Zealand's wonders of the world!

If anyone is planning a trip to New Zealand and would like to discuss the fishing, where to go and what to expect - please leave a comment or drop me an email and I will be more than happy to give you a taster. If you live for fly fishing, this place is a Mecca and I suggest you start planning your pilgrimage!

Here are just a few pics from other trips: Something to get you planning!!