Reflections on New Zealand
Across the Tasman on the South
Island of New Zealand is arguably the best dry fly fishing
in the world. A three and a half hour flight lands in the
centre at Christchurch with great fishing to the north, west
and south. In my view the costs and benefits are better value
than Tasmania. Don't get me wrong, the fishing is different
to Tasmania, and by saying this I am not disparaging tassie,
but pound for pound or dollar for dollar, the south island
is a great deal.
Just think, anyone else in the
world has to travel forever to reach New Zealand and for us
it is a short economical hop. Costs in NZ are very reasonable
with car hire the biggest item. Food, fuel and accommodation
are reasonable considering the exchange rate.
Compared to other places in the
world there is a great sense of freedom with open roads, a
fabulous panorama of landscape and a sense of wilderness with
brawling snow fed rivers that break out of their beds to tear
across the river valley in multiple braids. Lower down in
the wide farmlands the rivers spread out and meander around
with broad reaches and long open glides suited to extensive
Small streams cut through deep
gorges that fall out into the deeply braided sections that
can fall five metres in two hundred. Eventually lowland small
streams ease their way across the flats in deep channels of
gin clear water with masses of cold water weed, cress beds
and overgrown banks of buttercup and celery weed. These spring
creek/chalk stream like waters are full of fat two to four
pound average fish. These small streams are everywhere and
usually a bridge on the outskirts of small towns indicates
a stream of this type.
Water quality is outstanding.
The clarity of most streams is remarkable to say the least.
You can observe nymphs crawling over the leading edge of rocks
fifteen feet ahead as you wade upstream. This means one thing
only. The fish can see you at great distances.
Other types of water include
pale, aqua blue rivers with tiny suspended particles of glacial
flour that mean the fish are contrasted, particularly the
browns. Visibility is reduced but contrast is increased. Water
that is coloured grey by rain and rising does not mean you
cannot fish the margins of this water with success. Even during
snow falls the fish can be found with relative ease in many
Lakes and storages are generally
crystal clear and the shallows provide fantastic polaroiding
opportunites. Driving can be hazardous when the road is adjacent
to the lake edge! Large hydro works abound with lakes and
connecting tailwaters that provide water protected from floods
Catching trout in the south island
to catching trout anywhere else. The fish have the same food
and behave like trout in the same manner, responding to nymphs,
wet flies, hatches and terrestrials as trout do here. The
difference is that they are on average much larger and the
water is much clearer. They will take your flies in exactly
the same way.
Hatches occur frequently. Duns
can appear in the middle of the day, much like they do in
Tassie. Remember the south island is on much lower latitudes
than Tassie. Christchurch is on the same latitude as Hobart.
Evenings are long and drawn out
with the rise lasting until 10pm in mid-summer and the hatch
itself lasting two hours. Most of the locals, and visitors
alike, fish gentleman's hours. Finishing at 5pm in time for
drinks and dinner, whereas aussie desperados who are there
to fish till they drop will stay on until the evening rise.
Fishing through the day can start
early with hatches occurring between 7 & 8am, but usually
the timing allows you to arrive on your chosen water about
9.30am so you can be in position for when the sun comes on
If the weather is kind and you
have a bright blue sky then this is why you came to NZ. Bright
light and clear sky means sight fishing. Polaroiding big trout
in clear water must surely be the pinnacle of the art of fly-fishing.
Here it is between you and these large fish. Any false move
and you are done. They will lie 'doggo', aware that you are
there, and refuse everything you offer. Untroubled by your
presence they will simply ignore every tactic in your fly-fishing
armoury. Sometimes when a bad cast, or presentation spooks
them, they will cruise slowly up the pool. Subsequently, everything
in that pool has been spooked and your only option is to move
When you can see them nymphing
and moving around you know that they haven't pinged you yet.
They sit on station or patrol a short area. The white of the
inside of their mouths is visible as they take nymphs. Long
leaders and small flies with delicate presentations will see
them slide to the top to take a well chosen dry fly. As the
head appears at the surface with a 'porpoising' roll you will
find your heart in your mouth.
Stalking and casting to actively
feeding fish in the seven to eight pound class that rise to
a dry fly has to be experienced once in every fly-fisher's
life. If it happens to you once you will need to do it again
These huge brownies, some that
are often larger than those described above, occupy the prime
positions in the pools. In the flat water either side of the
main current, in the eye of the pool where the main current
enters and in the bubble line. Fortunately you don't have
to resort to a nymph very often but occasionally a strongly
feeding fish will refuse to rise.
Clearly this is the cream of
the fly-fisher's art with no margin for error and people travel
from all over the world just to have fish of these dimensions
rise to their dry fly. The crystal clarity, the highly muscled
fish in fast water and fine tippets result in a ferocious
fight that might see the backing several times before being
netted three pools down. Long distance releases are common.
In the height of summer the cicadas
are in the grass. These small, fingernail sized terrestrials
cone in a variety of colours and as is often the case getting
the colour right can be the difference between success and
failure. These cicadas are taken with gusto and the big trophy
sized fish are well tuned to their arrival on the water.
Sometimes a rushed take by a
big fish leaves your cicada pattern bobbing on the surface,
a complete miss! Other times the cicada is sipped down as
gently as they would take an emerger. These cicadas allow
you to prospect and blind search for fish when a thorough
inspection of the pool with polaroids fails to locate one.
On days of overcast sky or wind
ruffled surface a cicada will do the job bringing a fish up
when all else is unlikely. Stimulators, cicadas, hopper patterns
and the like will all work when prospecting and blind searching.
The geomorphology of a stream
will indicate the reaches where these trophy fish are to be
found. As NZ is geologically very young, large scale erosion
by glaciers and severe floods from snowmelts means that most
streams are heavily braided with multiple courses across the
valley floor and the fast water cutting new courses down the
steep incline on its way to the lowlands. These braided sections
of the rivers contain lots of fish. This highly mobile freestone
environment generates enormous quantities of nymphs and a
subsequent growth rate in the fish. Six fish to the kilometre,
average two-three kilograms.
This sort of information sends
a chill up my spine. If I cover five kilometres of river in
a day I will have the potential to see thirty fish averaging
four kilos! Not all will be visible, not all will be feeding,
but out of thirty maybe one will be feeding and visible and
this is all I ask. Then it is down to me alone.
Six pounders are common and will
slam a cicada or hopper pattern or sip down a dun or emerger.
They can be spotted and sight fished too and a day stalking,
prospecting and presenting to multiple six pound fish in brawling
fast water can leave you gobsmacked.
The rainbows are awesome, even
the small ones around the two pound mark. They can cart you
down three pools, peeling line off your reel at blistering
speed. A memorable fish that swam relentlessly upstream against
the current and the full bend of my five weight Loomis as
though it was untroubled turned out to be five and half pound
when he went into the weighnet. I had seen the backing go
out and stumbled over rocks for 200 metres upstream before
fighting him to a standstill. He gulped a huge #10 Royal Wulff
in a rapid full of pressure waves before taking off upstream
like a locomotive. These fish have awesome power.
New Zealand may be the land of
the long white cloud but on a hot, clear day it can be the
land of the fierce and relentless northwest wind. Buffeted
by huge gusts and with no chance of even a short lull to cast
in, you will need to use your road map to seek shelter or
to drive to a stream where the wind will be behind you or
over your shoulder. Casting into the wind will cause your
line to slap and the leader to pile and presentation to fail,
spooking the fish badly. Usually there are a few fallback
positions where fish can found sipping terrestrials on a willow-lined
river protected from the full force of the wind.
God grant me one more day that
has no wind, hatching duns and one rising fish out of thirty.
One that has a head like a 'Sherrin' football and is one of
those average 2-3 kilo fish where you get six to the kilometre!
That's not much to ask for!
Oh yes, and the company of a
friend and witness who may happen to have a camera so that
I can capture his triumph too.
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