It was our last day we were staying in Te Anau and we’d been saving the best till last. The picturesque Eglington river! Running out of lake Gunn and entering Lake Te Anau near Te Anau Downs, this river is known for sight fishing big browns and the incredible Fiordland scenery where it flows adjacent to the main road which leads to the world-renowned Milford Sound. To get to the river we had about an hour or so drive ahead of us so we headed off at 8am to get on the water ASAP. We didn’t have much of a clue where the best sections of river were or even where the access points were, so we went searching. We sighted the river from the road and took the next access “road” – probably better described as a goat track – to check it out.
On first inspection of the river, I was thrilled!! It looked incredible! Crystal clear water with iridescent blue pools and gorgeous runs and glides. The weather was also great in the early morning when we arrived! Clear skies, negligible wind, and low 20’s temperature. The section that we found ourselves in was flowing through farmland and had rather sizeable cliffs on the side we were on which made moving up river a bit of a challenge. After the initial enthusiasm with the area and the river, we began to get slightly overwhelmed by… well, everything! It was wide, running very fast, deep – really deep in sections, and had runs and glides that were 30 to 60 meters long. This was vastly different to what we were used to in our little Aussie streams! Firstly, we tried to work out the optimal way to target fish in it. Should we fish all the way up the deep cut banks of the long spanning glides? Should we focus on the heads, bodies or tails of the runs and pools? Should we try to sight fish? Do we nymph it or go with a dry?
We ended up trying a few different tactics but missed out on landing, or for that matter, sighting a fish, for our morning session. No doubt we walked past fish, but by the time we finally began to fish the river, the wind had blown up, and was making sight fishing and casting difficult. Plus, we were definitely not the best at spotting fish in fast moving water – most elongated rocks looked like they were fish leisurely kicking in the current! We pulled the pin on this section of river and headed up towards Milford Sound to inspect another part of the river. We found a visitor information centre on our way and it looked like there was some access to the river nearby, so we pulled up in anticipation for what this next section might hold. After a pretty standard lunch that consisted of wraps, tuna, and maybe some peanut butter – if Nat would spare me a tablespoon – we headed off through the tussock fields to get to the river. This was by far the most picturesque location I had ever fished. Snow capped Mountains either side, beautiful tussock banks, and a river that was so cold, so fresh and so clear that you’d be happy to perch yourself on the bank and watch the water endlessly flow through it’s rocky freestone bed, for hours on end.
It was hard yards! We persisted against the wind in our face and continued to work the sections that we thought might hold fish. By about 3pm we were both pretty frustrated! The wind wasn’t playing ball, and it didn’t seem like the fish we going to play ball either. Despite sky high expectations for this river, we came up empty handed – only sighting one fish that we’d spooked walking up river. Whether we were in a heavily fished section or the conditions weren’t quite right for the trout to feed we’ll probably never know. What I do know though, is that I’ll be back to tackle this river again. I feel like plenty of rivers are simple to fish… but definitely not easy! What I mean by this is, when you crack the code for a particular river – whether that be an effective fly pattern, discovering where the fish are holding, or what rig/depth you should fish for a given time – the fishing is simple or for lack of a better description… straight forward! Just continue with what you know and slowly learn more about the nuances of each river. What you discovered to be effective on one river may or may not be effective on another, so the process begins again. Think of all your fly fishing experiences – good days and bad – and try to view them as investments into you bank of fishing knowledge. Often, what you’ll find, is that you’ll cash in on a river only because you’ve failed in the past in a similar situation.
This was one of those times for the two of us! Whilst disappointed, we weren’t discouraged. We were rookies, and to be honest, probably pretty lucky to have each landed a handful of fish on the trip. The Eglington, and the valley it meanders through, is such an incredible landscape and it showed plenty of promise. Despite our fishless day, the memories of wandering up river – with no consideration of time or concept of stress – to discover a new dynamic at each turn is enough to draw me back for further investigation. Additionally, if all else fails – which it did for myself and my brother – Milford Sound isn’t to far away!