It was my first ‘trout motivated’ trip to New Zealand. The famed gin clear southland waters, such as the Oreti and mighty Mataura were all but visions that plagued my mind whilst I worked and studied leading up to my South Island trip in 2015. Fortunately, my brother also became hooked on fly fishing earlier in the year – pardon the pun – by a few weekend trips to the smaller, pokey waters of the Victorian high country streams and rivers. So it was settled then, November was the time we’d go. My brother – Nathanael (aka Nat) – had just finished his commerce degree and I had finished my second year of Exercise and Sport Science.
Being beckoned only by what we saw, read, and watched about New Zealand fly fishing – we began to construct an idealist picture of what our trip would pan out like. Blue bird skies, a puff of wind at our backs allowing some extra casting distance, and maybe… just maybe, a spotted, glistening double figure brown each – amongst many other fish landed of course. How naïve we were, and how dumb did we think NZ trout would be?! After all, it is a trout’s full time job to discern what it’s next meal will be and whether the artificial hackles that we present it with, will be convincing enough. After a couple of days spent in Queenstown being tourists – bungee jumping, jet boating, hiking and eating – it was time to venture into the Southland to our accommodation for the next handful of nights. We packed into our transport for the next two weeks – an old but trustworthy Nissan Sunny that was the budget rental option but never ceased to drag us out of the spicy situations on our search for prime waters. We turned the key and she began to purr, or rumble.
The drive to our accommodation took us down the picturesque Devil’s Staircase road, precariously separating the Remarkable’s peaks and the iridescent blue, Lake Wakatipu. As the roads opened through farmland we cranked the tunes and headed into the Southland region with our first destination being Te Anau on the West Coast. After a much-needed coffee and bite to eat at the Fiver Rivers Café – it’s fair to say we were sold with the name – we arrived at Te Anau at about 3pm.
We scoped out the town and headed to the supermarket to stock up on supplies for the coming days. You know… the important stuff – cider, two-minute noodles, plenty of muesli bars and maybe some novelty fruit. We were both eager to get on a river for an afternoon session before we called it a day. We concluded that the Whitestone river would a decent option for a couple hours to get us through to the evening.
We hastily got to our cabin in the holiday park we were staying in, unloaded our gear and food, and ventured off to find the Whitestone. It was an absolutely picture perfect night, not a breath of wind or cloud in the sky. There’s nothing quite like being on a river at that time of day. The sun setting, the trout beginning to rise, and the orange sky softly reflecting off the bubbling flow of the water. Enough admiration though – we were on a mission to get on the board.
On approaching the river, it looked exquisite! All I wanted to do was dunk my head in and drink it. I resisted the urge non-the less. It didn’t take to long to see some fish moving about in the pool above us. There seemed to be a hatch happening but we were struggling to match it despite numerous fly changes. Fishing hatches has been a challenge in my early fly fishing adventures but I’m improving as I gain experience and knowledge of different fly patterns. With a bit more know-how now, I think that a small emerger would have done the trick just fine. At the time, I don’t think I even had an emerger in my fly box, so we had to go for another plan to entice the feeding fish. “A dropper hare and copper should do the trick, shouldn’t it?” Sure enough, it did. Nat was on the board early with a nice three-pound rainbow that seemed enormous and had fight to back it up. Not huge for an NZ trout you say – and that’s probably a fair comment – but for us, coming from catching ‘pannies’ in the Victorian streams, we were absolutely chuffed! We’d catch these all day! The rising fish seemed to go quite for a while, so Nat went ahead to prospect a few runs with a nymph dropper suspended beneath a trusty Parachute Adams. He ended up landing two more rainbows of a similar size – one being a seriously beaten up veteran in the trout world.
As well as learning to cast and present flies well, we were also both learning to hold fish correctly – seriously they don’t look that slippery in pictures on Instagram. Still, a cracking effort for a beginner! As for me… I had a big donut to start the trip off. To be honest I wasn’t disappointed at all. I was ecstatic that Nat hooked and landed a few and I knew there was going to be plenty more opportunities in the next 12 days. As the light faded, we bashed back through the hip high grass to the trusty Nissan Sunny to realize that it was 9:30pm. “There goes that plan to eat out!”. Considering how knackered I was, I sure as heck wasn’t going to cook anything and I don’t think Nat was either. We headed to the local tavern, parked ourselves at the nearest booth and ordered a couple of brews and bar snacks where we plotted our tactics for the next few days. It’s fair to say that our enthusiasm was primed for the remainder of the trip!