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“The Trout Diaries, A year of Fly Fishing in New Zealand” – January, Part 2

by Derek Grzelewski

Fly Fishing Trout DiariesIN THE MORNING we started up the river, zigzagging against its meanders, linking up shoulder to shoulder for the crossings, stalking the tails and eyes of every pool. The middle parts of pools, sandy, deep and slow-moving, were impossible. The fish, like submarines, were either parked right at the bottom or finned leisurely in circles, nymphing among the dust devils of debris, completely out of reach. With good sunlight, against the background of mossy cliffs and forest, the fish were easy to see, but catching one—well, for the first few hours at least it seemed beyond the ability of any of us.

Though the water was not yet heavily fished this season—only a few parties had visited thus far—the trout were exceptionally wary, probably due more to the water clarity than angling pressure. Browns you could not touch. Even lifting a rod to initiate a cast was enough to send them off at speed. Rainbows were more forgiving, but only slightly. One in three or four fish offered what I’d consider a fair chance of being caught, and these odds did not take into account human error or gaucherie.

With three of us on the river, I had only two opportunities that day. On the first I hung up a cast, and by the time I untangled my line the fish was gone. On the second, an unexpected gust of downstream wind doubled back my 16-foot leader and dumped it on top of the fish. It was like throwing a rock at it: one moment it was there, the next it was gone, dematerialised. Was this mongrel of a taniwha still following me? I gritted my teeth and took solace in watching the faultless travails of my companions. Despite heavy odds to the contrary, Marc eked out two beautiful fish, and Michel had another one. This, the latter assured us, was really good going in the Rangitikei. And all this happened even before the godsend of the evening rise.

Even if the fishing is hard, the Rangitikei offers a saving grace in the form of an evening mayfly hatch. Fish that are so difficult during the day are suddenly bolder and more visible, and just careless enough to be humbugged. Thus a skunk here is not really a skunk until the night falls fully. Even if you have not touched a thing all day, you can relax in the confidence that the half hour of twilight during the evening rise should produce opportunities which can be converted into fish with even a modicum of skill. Unless, of course, you have your demons for company, or make a cock-up of a stratagem, like I did that second night.

On the classic South Island dry-fly rivers I fish regularly, you can assume that, if there’s going to be an evening rise, it’ll happen in the slower, smoother bottom third of the pool. I am not quite sure why it is so, whether this is where the mayflies are more likely to hatch, or perhaps where the fish can see them better. But you can bank on it, especially if, along the deeper side of the river, there are defining features like trailing willow branches or bushes which create a funnel-like effect in the feedline. This is the spot the best fish would dominate, a place of primary focus for an observant angler.

So that night, as we divided a long cliff pool into thirds so each of us had enough room to fish, I took the bottom section and, all gear ready and double-checked, set out to wait.

And wouldn’t you know it, the Rangitikei trout do not rise in the tail of the pool. They rise at the top end, just below the whitewater of the riffle. In the dimming twilight some fifty metres above me I heard a heavy splash, then Michel’s laughter echoed down off the cliff bank.

“Hah! She is a beauty, this one!”

It wasn’t long before Marc had a fish on too, then Michel again. In the space of an intense few minutes they landed half a dozen fine rainbows, while absolutely nothing was happening at my end.

It was almost dark when, finally—Mon Dieu! Was this really possible?—a fish rose some ten metres in front of me. I’d been ready for the past half hour, line coiled at my feet, fly kept dry in my left hand, and so instantly I had the dainty CDC with its white punk hairdo in the trout’s window of vision. Another rise. I held off for just a moment then gingerly lifted the rod. There was a violent tug back against my pull, then, where the rise had been, a hefty fish leaped, flashing silver against the gloom of the forested cliffs. It bounced off the surface and jumped higher still, then buried deep into the inky water, tearing off all the loose line I had at my feet and a goodly length from the reel as well.

Now I had it on the reel, in control. My throat went lumpy and dry. Man, finally. I had a fish on. I was back. Back from the lala-land of botchery and blunder. And not a moment too soon. This place was far too special, too once-in-a-lifetime kind of water to fish it like a twonk.

I reeled in some line, and the fish pulled it back, and I gained it again. The reel sang, these were the sweetest moments. And then, would you believe it, the fish broke me off. Just like that. Twang! What was touted as “the world’s strongest fluorocarbon” snapped like the tying thread pulled too tight. I wanted to sit down on the bank and howl.

Copyright © 2011 Derek Grzelewski. Excerpted from The Trout Diaries, A year of Fly Fishing in New Zealand, with permission from Stackpole Books.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
 
Derek Grzelewski is a writer, photographer and adventurer from New Zealand. He is the author of The Trout Diaries, A year of Fly Fishing in New Zealand, and contributor to New Zealand Geographic, Australian Geographic, GEO, Reader’s Digest and the Smithsonian. A former fly fishing guide, he is a founder of Wanaka Fly Fishing Academy, and angling consultant for Castabroad.com. You'll find him at http://derekgrzelewski.com/trout_blog/. Also check out his new podcasts in Apple iTunes.
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  • Brandon

    Excellent writing, thank you! I spent a day fishing a small brook on the north island within site of an active volcano. The brook meandered through sheep country and high whispering grassess. My friend Tim and I  were fishing New Zealand for the first time while our wives enjoyed horseback riding and the spa. The trip was a dream come true but it was the windiest day of the year and I had not learned to fly cast yet. Tim had caught a beautiful 4 pound brown on a dry fly in one of the many lazy, deep pools but I could hardly get my line out 2 feet before it was blown all over me and the guide wasted Tim’s time unraveling it. Tim didn’t seem to mind, he is a great guy, but I felt guilty trying to learn how to fish in the place I always dreamed of fishing. The guide gave me his nymphing setup and I told them to go upstream while I cast the nymph and lamb’s wool indicator. I finally began to get the hang of it and cast out 10 feet of line to the center of the pool. I watched my indicator and then saw a bright whitish orange flash below it. Without seeing the indicator move, I set the hook and was into the biggest trout of my life. I didn’t know how to get the fish on the reel and worried I would lose him if I tried so I fought the fish with minimal line out and felt wave after wave of adrenaline course through me as the fish jumped again, and again, and again. The guide missed netting the fish once and it shot upstream leaving a wake like a porpoise. I then got it down to him again and he missed once more while my line caught on his leg and snapped. Tim got the whole battle on his Iphone and I didn’t even get angry that the guide had got wasted the whole day and forgot how to net a fish. On the way down the mountain his brakes went and we almost ran into the bar where the vehicle finally came to a halt. I look forward to my next trip there….someday.

  • Hawkeye

    I go to Wanaka yearly for the fishing and to visit friends, after reading this book which I truely enjoyed, I started to understand the finer details of fishing in NZ, cheers, Hawkeye

  • http://twitter.com/jasondailey Jason A. Dailey

    Picked this up for the ereader after hearing the author on Moldy Chum.  So far its been a good read with something that every angler could relate.