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Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing Centre

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A Backcountry Trip - March, 2004

The buzzing of the chopper intensified as last minute preparations were made by the pilot and all those on board eagerly awaited take-off. The Hughes 500 was taking us out into the back country on yet another mission deep into the wilderness. 'Us' comprised of a small group of friends who head to NZ each year for a bit of R&R. This time around Jim joined us as we had lost a couple of our regular starters but we had four which is a good number on a trip like this. Packing for the trip. The anticipation is half of the fun

As the skids of the helicopter left the ground there was a simultaneous 'whoop' let out by all on board and the chopper was then leaned on its side as we changed heading to set a course for our destination. Beautiful green and super fertile farmland whizzed away beneath us as we hit 110 knots in this WRX of the sky.

Seriously I am not a petrol head in any sense of the word but there is something so intoxicating about flying along at tree top level at a couple of hundred kilometers an hour! This is known as contour flying and a good chopper pilot can turn a simple drop off into an exhilarating amusement park ride.

Matt is not a good pilot. He is a great pilot and he often doesn't say all that much of his own volition. But every so often he will blurt out some little anecdote about a particular river or valley and it is these fragments of info that make flying him so interesting. That and the fact that machine and pilot are truly one, and he will do some pretty amazing things in the air.

Soon enough we were climbing steadily and about to cross over the mountain range that officially delineates the west coast rest of the country. The ground below had changed from pastoral valleys enclosed by small hills covered in pine plantations to dense native beech forest and jagged peaks, not a single sign of man in evidence. Now thats a map! Nelson Helicopters homebase.

This is surely the best moment of a chopper fly-in. The first time you cross over the top of a tall mountain range is nothing short of exhilarating. You appear to be heading straight at a mountain top, it is actually higher than you as you approach. Then you slowly lift over it at maybe 20 feet clearance of the top of the trees on the ridge and then the ground drops out from under you as you suddenly cross it. In a second or two you go from 20 feet above the ground to 800 feet! It is an amazing feeling and the illusion created is almost that the chopper stands still for a moment and lunges, as all of a sudden you cannot gauge your speed accurately due to the great height. What a rush!

Soon we dropped into the top of a small mountain river catchment and watched the river from a few hundred feet up looking for sign of other anglers. Following this for some time we eventually reached our take-out point where the chopper was going pick us up five days later. This was at a hut where a small creek met the main river we intended to fish. We got Matt to stop here for five minutes, a quick set down with the engine still running. It cost us an extra hundred bucks between the four of us, but it was well worth it. I won't tell you why now. We also spoke to the two guys staying in the hut who luckily were not anglers and noted that there were few people around fishing in the last ten days. A great sign for any fly fisherman choppering into a river.

Another take off from the river's edge saw us flying full throttle along the river at about tree top level confident that we were not going to run into anyone after speaking to the guys in the hut. After a short reconnoiter we banked and climbed to head downstream to our drop off point at a much greater height, just in case someone was fishing. In a few minutes were back on the ground at our home for the next couple of nights.

Matt had to get away quickly to pick up another group in the next catchment over and so we frantically grabbed gear from the cargo hold and emptied the chopper. A few last minute words between Rob and Matt confirmed the pick up for 4pm Friday. With that Matt took off and headed downstream a couple of hundred metres before putting his machine in a vertical climb and then dropping back around and buzzing over us!

No sooner had the commotion of the chopper stopped than we were engulfed by sandflies. Literally hundreds of them all over us. We had already anticipated this and were well covered and coated in readiness for the assault. It seems though that thermal leggings were in themselves not enough. Rob and I had lightweight trousers over ours and were fine. Jim and Bo had been bitten a dozen times in the opening barrage with five days to go!

Gear was thrown into the hut and a few rods hastily put together and we were off up a small tributary stream. The river was stunning and in the afternoon light its beauty was perhaps even more exaggerated. Sort of like natures version of beer goggles! The sounds of the birds, the postcard vistas and the sight of large trout in clear water shared with friends. All these factors play a role in bringing the senses into sharp focus and heightening the pleasures of what is happening around you. (I better stop now as we are a family website and this if taken further we could be accused of otherwise!).

That first late afternoon on the river was pure bliss in all but one respect. The fish were not cooperating. Most were sitting on the bottom of the river and refusing to feed. Not only to our flies but to the natural nymphs drifting through! Many of the locals refer to this as fish lying 'doggo' and it is terribly frustrating, nay embarrassing, as an experienced fly fisher gets the living hell beat out of his well honed ego in the company of others. We often lament not having a Rob is pleased with this average sized hen brownwitness to verify the capture of a particularly nice fish, but I would happily accept this as 'the way of things' if conversely I had no one there to witness my failures. Especially someone with a DV Camera!

That first day we fished to a dozen fish in the two hours we had to fish before having to head back to the cabin. Perfect drifts, careful stalking, green lines, long leaders, fine tippets, small imitative flies….all to no avail. The fish had taken their bat and ball and were going home. Just one of those days and all too familiar this season.

We then came across a particularly well structured pool in what is pretty much a fast-water mountain river. I snuck up high above the pool and was able to see four good fish working away. They were nymphing frantically! Moving up to 12 feet to intercept a drifting nymph, well on the other side of the drift line and sometimes the pool! This immediately told us that fly selection and stealth would be very important as the fish could see a lot in the clear water and the slightest infraction could blow the whole thing.

It was Rob's turn to spook a fish next and so he got himself into a casting position as per my instructions. He was finding it hard to see the fish thanks to the water being so deep and also because he had to wade out up to his waist to reach them. However he followed instructions well and soon had good presentations to the fish. The first one was amazing. The fish appeared to move a couple of feet to the left to let the nymph drift through and then immediately reoccupied the spot! A change of flies the result. To cut a long story short Rob eventually picked the right fly and cast to this larger fish. I saw the take as clear as day and yelled 'STRIKE' but Rob could not see any movement in his leader and failed to react to my plea. A few words were exchanged and Rob promised to strike on the call next time round.

Focusing on another fish in the bubble line he got a couple of nice drifts that were just timed wrong. I mean Rob did nothing wrong, it's just that the fish decided to zig instead of zag as the fly was lobbed in. This happens all too often and when it happens several times in a row you could be forgiven for taking it personally. Sometimes lady luck really seems against you.

The next cast landed between four fish that were all feeding and drifted about ten feet. At this point it was about five feet upstream of one of the fish and from my high vantage point you could see the fish stop, kick its tail and motion upwards toward the surface. There was hardly a flash of the mouth this time but there was a definite change in direction as the fish took the nymph and headed back down. I instantly yelled 'STRIKE' and Rob did. The result was a magnificently silver colored hen. The fight was solid and there were quite a few 'whoops' and 'yeehaaas'. The fish did its best to remove the fly but all to no avail and soon Rob had a 3.5lb brown to the net. This was a start and we had finally figured out the nymph!

The next bit of likely water had a couple if fish in it that appeared to be working well. I said appeared didn't I? They would not even look at the so called 'right' fly and soon were just sitting on the bottom refusing to cooperate. That was enough for day one. A shortened day but still runs on the board so a good start. We headed back to the hut to share a night with the sandflies and to plan the following day's assault.

Tuesday dawned full of promise. The prospect of blue skies had everyone in higher than usual spirits and after a great breakfast of cereal, eggs, bacon, toast, coffee and tea we hit the river. The plan was to bush bash downstream a couple of hours and to fish our way back to the hut. There were no tracks below us and so we knew we would not be cutting anyone off. We also had to maximize the fishing near to us as we had too much weight to pack extensive distances. Shooting video will do that.

About 10.40 am we started fishing as the cloud burnt off. The water was super clear and theJim with a healthy brownie that took a nymph fish were VERY easy to see, but VERY hard to catch! Jim had the first good opportunity to fish to a lovely brown in slightly fast water. Two casts later the fish moved quite a distance to its left and intercepted the nymph. A delayed strike luckily hooked the fish and a 4lb brown was soon netted and released.

Moving on upstream the change in the river-'scape' was marked. The first section that we fished was almost lake like with no discernable flow and fish cruising the edges. A kilometer later it changed to broad glides with huge tree stumps standing vertically to a height of about twenty feet. It wasn't long after before we came across huge boulder gardens with boulders the size of mini buses! It was just so beautiful. Some people think that the chalk streams epitomize the perfect trout stream but they are dead wrong. The Test and Itchen are like the lower reach of the Ganges when compared to these rivers. It is almost as though these back country waters were designed with trout, and only trout in mind. Each and every rock appears to be hand made and placed and I did not see a single section of river that I would change had I the opportunity. It was just perfect.

Moving on upstream we messed up a few fish that were obviously not feeding before coming across yet another in a good spot. Bo was next up and quickly moved into a position about seven metres behind it. The fish was obviously happy, being out in the open and feeding well. The big boulder that we hid behind allowed me to film the action and Bo to hide his form and movements. The perfect scenario.

Bo was now nervous. After several near to impossible chances earlier in the day he wanted to get a fish on the board and the prospect of messing up a 'sitter' was playing heavily on his mind. The 20 knot cross stream wind was creating further doubt and fear. The rest of us were chomping at the bit to take his place!

The first cast landed well short and wide. The second not as short but just as wide. Bo said "I just don't want to line him" and I did my best to reassure him that there would be plenty more opportunities around the corner and to measure the line out behind him and reel in the slack. I told him to "have a cast at it because I can see another couple of fish up ahead!" (I couldn't really but sometimes you just gotta do whatever it takes!) Finally a fish on the dry fly

Bo shortened up and threw the line into a forward cast to get his direction right. One solid back cast fighting the wind that was doing its best to throw the loop off target and then a presentation cast, a tight loop with a couple of metre line shoot to the fish. The cast could not have been any better with the leader landing ever so softly and delivering the fly one foot directly above the fish's nose and the leader hooking away to the side. I still have not asked him if he meant to hook the leader away but it was one of the most perfect casts you could imagine, more so when you consider the nerve factor!

The fly drifted about 6" and was moving slightly to the fish's left side with the slow current. The trout met if half way and plucked it off the surface ever so nonchalantly. The hook was set and the fish went berserk, running well into the backing and disappearing into the mess of boulders. After a tense battle and a little chasing, the fish came to hand and Bo had the monkey off his back.

The rest of the afternoon was spent catching the odd fish and generally exploring this wonderful river and being in total awe of the surroundings. The walk back to the hut that night along the track included a swing bridge crossing that just added to the experience of trekking through a spectacular beech forest. Four very tired fly fishers hit the hut just after dark and found a horrible sight awaiting them. We had company in with us tonight and the new arrivals had the doors open as they were cooking and claimed that the sandflies disappeared at last light. While they do go quiet overnight, last light is as bad a time as any to be leaving a hut door open. The place was buzzing that night.

After a heap of bites over dinner I pitched my tent inside the hut (it was a large hut) and prepared to sleep while the others inside slapped and itched themselves into a frenzy.

The next morning we awoke to the not too pleasant sound of rain falling on the roof. Where did it come from? It was a clear sky when we went to bed! The rain got heavier and heavier and over breakfast we made a group decision to walk to the next hut a day early so that if we got a blue sky day the next day we could just fish without wasting time walking. We quickly packed andOne of the huts we stayed in headed out the door with the next hut in mind. The signs said two hours and so we settled into a steady pace all knowing our fitness and how soon we could be there.

The track was W-E- T, wet. Some parts were up to shin deep in mud and there were plenty of steep climbs and descents as well as fallen trees to negotiate. At about an hour and forty five minutes we started to put in some extra effort thinking we would be there any minute. Two hours passed. This was not making any sense. We had walked a lot over the previous weeks and averaged 5 km/h according to the GPS on the short walks (walks of two hours or less). This is quite quick for these sorts of tracks. One particular two hour walk took 91 mins as we blazed away trying to catch Rob who clocked a 7.5km/h average (read insanely fast).

What was going on? We had not taken a wrong turn as the track follows the river almost all of the way. To cut a long and tiring story short it took close to four hours. In the end we were starting to doubt our maps, advice and most of all the Department of Conservation who erected the signs.

Then all of a sudden it appeared. A swing bridge and hut just a hundred metres away. There was a lot of excitement at seeing the hut and we quickly burst in and threw off our packs. Getting a fire going, putting on some dry clothes and opening our stash of food. That's right! The helicopter drop off on the first day was to leave a heap of chocolate, eggs, steak and a real treat. A few beers to have with dinner on the last night.

On a trip like this most of the time it is dehydrated food carefully chosen, measured and weighed as you often have to walk and spend 7-10 days getting into, out of and fishing. With the chopper you can do things like drop off supplies on your intended route which then frees us space in your pack to carry luxury items. The one thing that we did do was eat extremely well the entire time we were out there.It is an adventure just being out there

Well the rain did not stop for the rest of the day and the next it hardly stopped either. The river came up dramatically but did not color and we sat there in the hut just killing time. I found an old magazine and proceeded to do all the crosswords I could find. Bo spent his time trying to kill sandflies and catch mice while Jim did, well, nothing! Rob saw the deteriorating situation and decided to go for a walk. Less than 24 hours in the hut and cabin fever was already well and truly setting in.

The rain stopped late the next day about 5pm. That gave us about 23 hours before the helicopter would return and about 15 hours until we would hopefully fish. That evening we had company in the hut and we had a little bit of a shin dig. With beers, eye fillet and plenty of after dinner sweets. A good last night was had by all and the previous two lay days were soon forgotten.

Several checks that evening revealed a clearing sky and we all went to sleep dreaming of a good day and one last chance.

The next morning was cold and the 7am check out the window revealed what appeared to be fog. It wasn't but was rather some cloud which would burn off over the next hour. By 8.30 we had brilliant blue sky, no wind and the water had dropped a foot overnight and was now almost down to its normal level. And it was very clear.

Breakfast was decadent as we over indulged our surplus food stocks. We then quickly packed up our gear and cleaned the hut after which we cut some firewood and replaced it in the shed. Part of the deal with these huts is that you leave them in at least as good a condition as you found them, better if possible. With that in mind we carry a fold up saw and spent half an hour replacing wood and cleaning. With four people it is pretty easy work.The last day and the sun showed up

Final checks of gear with tippets replaced and flies carefully chosen before heading off. The river was in shade for the first 500 metres and we walked by some prime trout real estate in order to get to some sunlight. We had to make the most of the time we had left.

The first pool we came across had a fish feeding very obviously about forty feet up from the run out. It was in about four feet of water in front of a large boulder and nymphing well. It was my turn to fish to an easy one.

I carefully started to make my way out to a good casting position downstream and at about a 45 degree angle to the fish. I did not want my line landing anywhere near it and the 16 foot leader and angle of attack would ensure this was the case. From here the fun would begin . Another psychotically picky brown is photographed before being released

A perfect cast and drift. No response. One more just in case. No response. Change flies. Good presentation. No response. Fish then feeds after nymph drifts out. This went on for the next forty five minutes as I went through my nymph box and we all tore out our hair.

Eventually we managed to get the fish to 'eat' the fly. Not by seining the drift and working out what it was on, but by pure stab in the dark guessing and a great deal of luck. The fish moved a couple of feet to its left to intercept the largish #14 nymph. A great fight then ensued with some searing runs and tense moments of to and fro with leader and tippet being run over boulders. Eventually the fish came to hand, I make a point of this as we had lost three weighnets in the days before, and posed for a few happy snaps. While not a monster at between four and five pound it was typical of the fish to be found in many of these rivers.

We had about five hours before the chopper was due and we just fished. The camera was shut off and we all had a section of river to ourselves. The fishing was tough as there were no insects about and so they were not coming to the top, but every so often you would fool one of these The chopper arrivesfour pound fish into eating a nymph. At about three o'clock we made our way back to the hut as we needed plenty of time to make sure we did not leave anything behind. Also we had to be ready to go the moment the chopper arrived as he had a number of pick ups that afternoon/evening.

The sky did not have a cloud in it and you couldn't help but feel a bit of "if only we had a few more days". But if the pilot had said did you want to stay in longer we all would have said no! After a couple of days of being trapped in the hut due to rain and the lack of a really good wash, we were all eager to head back to civilization.

We arrived back at the hut and got organized. It took about 30 minutes to get everything prepared and at pretty much the exact moment that we were ready Matt showed up, a little ahead of schedule. It took only a few minutes to load the chopper and get on board. Matt Time to go homeseemed to want to keep his distance from us and I do know why. It dawned on me that evening when we did a clothes wash!

Anyway Matt fired up the blue beast and we were whisked back to the 'real world'. We did however get him to fly out along another river we are going to come back to next year and as I write this in mid-May plans have already been finalized. More on that in late November when we return.

~Antony

 

 

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