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!!