After snaking through the alps and a quick stop in Queenstown for a fergburger and some food supplies I headed South to banks of the world renowned Mataura River. I briefly stopped for a captain cook at one of the Nokomai Gorge access points. The river was a lot lower than I had previously seen it. Even with the scarce flow it didn’t take long to find a handful of trout sipping willow grubs under the cover of low hanging branches. I watched these fish for ten minutes and was tempted to rig up the rod, but I knew I had to keep moving if I was to camp the night at Mavora Lakes.
The drive up the valley to Mavora is always special, with the Mararoa River to the left and the world famous trophy waters of the Oreti to the right, separated by a dusty gravel road that encourages Colin McCrae inspired driving in the rental car. I pulled up at one of the upper Mararoa access points, just below the lakes and landed a few decent rainbows on a tan cicada in quick succession. Unfortunately the Mararoa has felt the full effects of a didymo invasion, but this year a heavy flood had helped to scour the river bed earlier the summer.
After camping the night at South Mavora Lake and a quick fish for a couple more rainbows in the morning, I headed back to Queenstown to meet up with a group consisting of Illawarra and Lakeside Fly Fishing Club members, and my partner for the next week of fishing, Leo. Most of the group of 14 are regulars on this trip to Southland, staying for a week at the Mossburn Hotel and fishing any of the multitude of rivers or lakes within an hours drive. This year, the fishing and weather were excellent in most spots, with the only exception being the upper Mataura which we found not to be as good as previous years, although the lower reaches and tributaries were still first class.
Together, Leo and I fished rivers including the Mataura, Mararoa, Waiau, Waikaia, Hamilton Burn with plenty of dry fly action on either cicadas or willow grubs. Some days I would tie on a woolly bugger and swing it through current just to try something different.
The highlight of the week would have to be the day spent jet boating on the Waiau River with Ken of Fish Jet. A group of 4 of us and Ken left the boat ramp at 10am and spent the day getting chauffeured between usually inaccessible gravel bars and islands or even casting out the front of the running jet boat to sighted trout. The day was only interrupted by a lunch of fresh venison and crayfish tails. Life doesn’t get much better than days like this. All 4 of us were amongst the fish all day. The fast flowing currents of the Waiau produce well fed fish with incredible strength that require stronger than usual tippets up to 10lb. Most of the day we fished large dries such as cicadas or bushy stimulator patterns. Nymph droppers were also used but most fish were quite willing to come to the surface. By the time dusk was approaching Ken loaded us back on the jet boat and we headed back to a small island near the ramp. There were hundreds of seagulls around, which Ken stated was a good sign for an evening rise. We parked the boat on the island and all necked a beer while waiting to see if a hatch eventuated. I switched to a Twilight Beauty ready for any mayfly action. Sure enough, Ken was on the money and it wasn’t long before a few rises started. Two casts later I was attached to a meatball of a Rainbow that gave me a workout before Ken netted it in a calmer cove around the back of the island. The hatch only picked up from here, soon there were fish rising everywhere, with an incredible amount of mayflies on the water and in the air. The seagulls are a real pain and will take a fly as a couple of the others found out. The hatch would have lasted close to 40 minutes and I landed 6 fish in that time. The others did similarly well. It was just after 10pm by the time we arrived back the ramp, Ken the Kiwi legend had guided us for 12 hours straight, champion! We were all stoked and I think Ken was happy with the new daily record of 41 fish landed.