Friday July 12, 2013

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A holiday in trout fishing paradise

Written by Steve Greig

thumbDuring late November 2005 I was fortunate enough to enjoy two weeks fishing some of the fabled rivers of New Zealand’s South Island. I’d visited and fished in the country twelve years ago while backpacking around the country and, although I had some good sport, had been seriously hamstrung by a lack of transport, gear, cash and, probably most of all, fishing experience.

 This was to be a more fruitful experience, aided significantly by the fact that my mate and travel companion, Euan, spent a month fishing the area in 2004. Having some knowledge of fishing locations and general techniques was a real advantage and saved us wasting a lot of time gathering info on ‘where’ and ‘what’.
wff-7-27-2012-3-57-06-PM-2006aug3011569491873 running for a fish  After flying into Christchurch we picked up our 4x4 hire car, which proved to be helpful in facilitating off-road access, and drove 3hrs south to a small town called Omerama in the beautiful hinterland of the mighty Mount Cook. It wasn’t just the scenic attractions that brought us to Omerama. It has a veritable feast of rivers on its doorstep and allowed us to try different waters depending on conditions and sport. wff-7-27-2012-3-57-06-PM-2006aug3011569491402 upper ahuiri
We spent a total of 9 days fishing a variety of rivers and streams. Not every day was successful, but when we got things right the sport was fantastic. On two days on the mighty Ahuiri River we caught more than 50 trout between us, rainbows and browns from about 1.5 to 5lbs, all wild fish typically in top condition. Most of the fish on the Ahuiri fell to the upstream nymph and indicator method, with fish typically lying in slack water just off major pool runs.

 For all sorts of reasons it was a considerable learning experience for me. Learning to read the water to know where the fish would be lying, trying to spot the fish in the gin clear water (before they spotted me), understanding the best locations from which to cover the water effectively, not to mention reach and mend casting techniques which seemed to pass me by during my formative years on my local rivers, the Esk and Tyne.

wff-7-27-2012-3-57-06-PM-2006aug3011569492344 fishing side steam of ahuiri 3This made the experience more enjoyable as did the variety of fishing available. In fact, one of my most memorable day’s sport was on the Omerama Stream, a 2-6 foot wide stream in pristine valley full of blue and pink luppins and several hundred sheep. The sport involved crouching along the bank and either sight or blind fishing with either nymph or dries depending on water conditions on each stretch and fish activity. It was somewhat surreal to be delicately pitching a size 16 parachute Adams into a tiny piece of water and connect with a 3lb rainbow. It was a bit like being in one of those BBC nature programmes where, with the wonders of technology, they reproduce the animals from our prehistoric days. I landed fish to 3lb but spooked and lost bigger fish. Was this what it used to be like at Leven? wff-7-27-2012-3-57-06-PM-2006aug3011569493096  ariving lakete anu

The size and quality of the fish is clearly a major turn on, but there’s also the fact that all water has public right of access and all for the annual sum of $90 NZ (roughly £35). Add to this the stunning surroundings and typically fantastic weather and it’s a compelling package. It’s worth re-stating thought that good planning made a big difference. We planned the trip to be relatively early in the season (late November is the start of the Kiwi summer) which is one of the best times of the year to fish. Apparently by the height of summer in January and February the fishing in much tougher with lower water, greater pressure and much spookier fish. We also spent a fair bit of time reaching water that was slightly off the beaten track and subject to less fishing pressure. Although the strengthening Kiwi dollar has reduced the number of American anglers, there were certainly plenty of overseas anglers around and we could easily imagine finding open water harder to come by later in the season.

wff-7-27-2012-3-57-06-PM-2006aug3011569493908 fish jumping on the worsley The highlight of our holiday was a 3 day guided trip to fish the Worsely and Clinton rivers in the stunning Fjordland National Park, near to the bottom of the South Island. Our guide was Dean Bell, one of the best known and effective of the Kiwi guides (no mean feat). This was a special trip in a special place. Euan and I averaged 7 fish each per day, with the mean fish size over 5lbs and the biggest a brown of 7.5lb to Euan. I followed that with a brown of 7lb making a pretty tidy brace of two for 14.5lbs.

We were fortunate to be among the first anglers to fish these waters in 2005 as both rivers had just opened for the season and were similarly lucky to get good conditions. Despite some rain neither water was too high, indeed the water was unnervingly clear. The other major success factor was Dean who had the ability to see fish that quite frankly neither of us could. Our fish sighting certainly improved during the 3 days but wff-7-27-2012-3-57-06-PM-2006aug3011569494939 hen rainbow worsely  Dean seemed to be from a different planet. All of the fish caught were sighted and around 70% caught on nymphs with the remainder on dries. Again, I was on a real learning curve here and having to focus hard on getting the presentation spot on first time. Chances were that you’d get a take if the cast and presentation were natural. If not you sometimes had a second and even occasionally third chance by changing patterns, but sometimes it was first time or no time. Having said that, I was amazed at how often Dean got us takes after viewing a trout ignore 2-3 patterns and then switching to something else. I wonder how often this happens during our typical blind-fishing back home? Apparently as the season progresses you have to get it right first time or the fish are truly spooked.
wff-7-27-2012-3-57-06-PM-2006aug30115694953810 worsely brownCatching these Fjordland fish was a thrill and privilege. Most were browns but Euan had some mint hen rainbows to near 6lb that fought like absolute banshees and lost a bigger fish on a sunken tree trunk about 80 yards from where it was hooked. Sometimes it was a case of running across rocks and through rapids trying to keep pace with a fish heading downstream at pace. We never got tired of admiring these specimens; we took photo’s of each one before returning them. Again the scenery was spectacular with gorges, low lying cloud and waterfalls galore.

 So, two weeks of fantastic fishing. If any of you are lucky enough to make it to God’s Country don’t hesitate to contact me for a chat about options, locations and contact details. 

Omerama Motel: Great location, tackle and fishing info as well as a very friendly reception State Highway 83, Omarama Tel: 64 3 438 9451

4WD Hire Car: Ron will pick you up at the airport and has a wide range of vehicles at good rates

Dean Bell: Day and multi-day guiding trips, the main man in Fjordland/T’Anau region Tel: 64 3 249 8330.

Steve Greig grew up in Edinburgh and, in his early years, spent many a largely fruitless day on the River Esk in Musselburgh before enjoying gradually more productive days on local stillwaters such as Harperrig and Crosswood. Steve's fishing experiences developed significantly when he started to fish with the Heriot's FP club and it was here that he was introduced to the delights of stillwater nymphing and dry fly tactics as well as some of the major waters down south such as Chew and Blagdon.

Steve is currently working in San Francisco for two years and has spent the summer of 2006 fishing the beautiful freestone streams of Northern California.


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