Returning to New Zealand in late January seems to have become somewhat of a summer tradition. And so, with the rental car booked for 3 weeks, I planned to spend each week fishing a different region of the South Island. Namely the West Coast, Southland and Otago regions. I had fished these regions before and knew of the vastly different trout fishing each would provide.
After landing in Queenstown, a quick stop at the supermarket and camping store to stock up on food and Cicadas, I pointed the Subaru North and began the drive to the West Coast. When arriving in New Zealand for a fishing trip, the adrenalin always kicks in and it seems as though you can never hit the water fast enough. I had a plan to fish a spot on the Haast River that evening to try and break my duck, but NZ had other plans. As I arrived at Makarora the road was blocked due to a rock slide in Haast Pass. Vehicle access would not resume until 8am the following morning, which meant I had to spend the night with the monkey on my back.
After what felt like an early morning jailbreak out of Haast Pass, I arrived at the Haast River and hiked to my preferred section of water. The Haast is a glacial river with flour and fast water, required a combination of blind casting and sight fishing. I fished a few runs of the river, working my way upstream, without any action on the dry-dropper rig. Dismayed I started following a stagnant green backwater back towards the road when I saw a fish cruising. I hit the deck immediately and laid a cast onto what I thought would be its projected course. The fish never arrived. Unsure whether I had spooked it or not I stalked the rest of the backwater carefully but could find no trace of the fish. I had given up, but decided to head back for a second look when I noticed what would have to have been a genuine 10 pounder sitting in the still shallows. I was creeping around and down some rocks to get into a position to cast when another trout appeared from under a rocky edge below me, working along the shore. I led the fish by 3 metres with the tan cicada. The fish heard the cicada land and immediately began the ascent, engulfing the fly in a slow motion gulp. As the descent began I lifted the rod and hell broke loose as the trout tried to get underneath the rocks I was standing on. After a minute of bullying, the trout was safely in the net. A nice brown, but nowhere near as big as its mate at the other end, which had disappeared during the commotion.
Driving further up the coast I stopped at a road side creek to have a quick cast at a sighted fish before setting up camp for the night. No dice on the fish, but it did spark enough interest for me to return and fish it the next morning.
Persistant rain overnight and throughout the morning saw the water level in the creek rise by close to half a metre. But since the creek was already tannin stained it did not have an effect on the clarity. First run I fished had a perfect bubble line flowing right underneath an overhanging beech branch. First cast produced a beautiful mahogany brown with a deep body. It wasn’t long after this that I ran out of fishable water, with the creek too deep to stand in.
With the rain still falling I made the call to proceed with a hike to a backcountry hut in the upper valley of one of the West Coast’s stunning rivers. I began the trek up the sopping trail mid afternoon, with a heavy pack laden with a supplies to last a few days. The next few hours almost pushed me to breaking point, but after losing the trail a few times, multiple falls and a crawl across knee deep boggy fields, I arrived at the hut just after 8pm, soaked to the bone. The hut was empty, and after lighting a small fire to keep the sand flies out, and a feed from the Jetboil, I hit the hay.
Sunlight streamed through the hut window, projecting a distorted rectangle onto the dusty, worn wooden floor. A quick glance out the window confirmed my excitement. It was the kind of day trout fishermen spend all winter dreaming about, the sky a stunningly bright blue in every direction. I couldn’t rig up fast enough. It was warm enough to wet wade, with unbeatable scenery, trout that were waiting for a dry fly and I had the whole place to myself. It was a red letter day. Then somehow, the following day was even better.
Cicadas were on the menu, although different fish had preferences for different cicada imitations.
The third day I begrudgingly hiked back to the car, which was a hell of a lot easier in the dry weather. With the next set of storms barreling down on the West Coast I legged it South to camp at the Haast River before exiting to Southland. ###