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