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Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing Centre

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Three Days on the Set

The south island of NZ is an amazing place. It literally has everything that the adventurous could desire. Rock climbing, base jumping, hiking, abseiling, hunting, skiing, fishing, surfing, rafting, kayaking and that's just scratching the surface. Did I mention Bungy? Not only that, it has it all in one of the world's most beautiful locations, a place where it seems you cannot take a bad photo. The people speak English. It is a thriving democracy. There is very little in the way of violent crime. By all accounts it is what Australia used to be in the 50's and that is how they like it and intend to keep it. I would wager that most people with a love for the outdoors consider moving there, long before their first visit is over.

As you can no doubt tell, I love the place. I genuinely love it. And we are not talking some big eyed puppy love, but rather the love of an 'experienced man' who has seen most of what is out there and as a result knows exactly what he wants. If one were to set out to create the perfect venue for fly-fishing for trout, then NZ's South Island would surely be the template. While Alaska may win out for huge, untracked expanses, NZ soon surpasses it for sheer variety, the friendly nature of the locals, the purity of the waters, the weather and the reason that is incontestable, the sight fishing in remote waters to large brown trout with a dry fly. You can keep your Alaskan King Salmon and your Tierra Del Fuego steelhead, and I don't even have to tell you what to do with your Tongarriro mutants. That's right. They all pale into Choppers are so cool!insignificance when held alongside the cream of south island fishing. Stalking large and often cunning brown trout is the holy grail of fly-fishing as far as I am concerned.

On our most recent visit we headed to an area that we have not fished much over the past six years. The reason for the trip was to shoot a pilot episode of a fly-fishing series for cable television. Did you buy that? Well maybe not the reason but the justification was that we were shooting a video! Along the way we met some very interesting characters that although remarkable, are fairly typical. One stand out was a fella by the name of Nick. I will not put his full name here as he guides and is booked out all season through word of mouth and without advertising. And also because he is a pretty humble fellow who may accidentally stumble across the site and blush at reading this account.

Well Nick is the real deal. I have been traveling to NZ for a long time now and I can say that there have been but a handful of guides that I have met that I would employ here at our place! Most of the guides I have come across in my travels to NZ are often great stalkers of fish and can see them in their local waters like no other. But more often than not they are pretty basic fisherman and only average company. You know the type. Part time guides when there is no work on the farm. Then there is Nick.

I was put onto him by a chopper pilot who happens to be a mate of his. He suggested that we contact him as he is on the water well over 200 days a year in the back country and he disappears in there for up to a fortnight at a time. His life is pretty much guide/fish south island during the kiwi summer and then hunt in Alaska during the American summer. A real nomad and at 30 he has already been living this life of fishing and hunting for 16 years. Nick surveys the water ahead

We didn't get a hold of Nick until the day before we were set to chopper into the boonies, which left little chance of taking him along, or so we thought. Luckily his clients were very flexible with their time frame and expectations and so he was able to wangle three days to join us. From the moment that we took off the whole trip was a blast. Because we were filming, the pilot did more than a few nice aerial maneuvers and there were times where we came within a few metres of the forest canopy at 200+ kmh! Just awesome. As we flew in Nick gave us a commentary of the area. The history of various catchments, notable feeder streams and tidbits on the great deer shooting we were passing. For anyone who has not flow in a Hughes 500 do it before they ban it! And they will ban it as it is too much fun. Those things really get up and boogie and can turn on a sixpence.

After checking for others on our destination river we settled on a location for base camp. Being just upstream from a major tributary we had two days fishing in the immediate vicinity. Up the feeder day one and then returning to camp. Day 2 up the main river falling back to base camp for evening. A good plan and one that required minimal carrying of heavy equipment like jibs, tripods, packs etc.

I gotta say that fishing with a camera crew is not much fun! Those of you familiar with our Goulburn video will know that we carry small cameras and just shoot things on the run as they happen. Well with a crew it is the exact opposite. Stand ups, cutaways and multiple POV's soon send you around the twist. And then when you finally get a great fish in the right spot, rising in the shallows on a sand bottom what happens? A cameraman wants to get a different POV and spooks the damn thing! While I shouldn't complain I may as well take advantage of a captive audience. We did get some wonderful fish on camera. Multiple angles of takes, strikes, hook ups, runs, jumps etc. I am definitely going back into some of these catchments in March with some free time up my sleeve and a small camera shooting off the shoulder because the footage we will get on the run will be scary!

The first day we fished a mid sized tributary off the main river and I have yet to see anything like it. But before we did we dropped below the trib in the main river for a warm up and I guess for Nick to size up exactly what he was in for. When you guide for a living you cannot help but to try and get an idea of what your 'clients' skills are like, before getting down into the nitty gritty of it. This is especially true in the south island where wind and the need for a good presentation all play a part..

The first run below the tributary that we intended to fish had two browns in it. One was on aHigh fives all round...yes we all watch too much american television sand bottom and was pale as pale can be. It was hard to see at first but after realising what they looked like it was easy to track and Dave had it on within a few minutes. The fish was played out and from memory it was about 4.5lb. I was next up and had a fish holding in a challenging bit of deeper water at the confluence of the two streams.

The fish was munching on nymphs down deep and we could not see him from the side of the river that we had to fish to him from. As a result Nick crossed over to 'walk the artillery in'. Sorry for the military reference but I still have Wagner's Ride of Valkyrie's in my head from reminiscing about the chopper ride! Nick guided my casts, which were tentative as firsts casts for the day often are, especially when a good fish is feeding invisibly no more than fifty feet from you. After about a half dozen casts I got the length and drift right and we then proceeded to get 7 different refusals on seven different flies. Eventually a tiny tungsten bead brought the desired response and a fish of 5.5lb did its best to tire me out, being landed about eight minutes later. A great start. Two fish found. Two caught. High fives all round! It was now time to head up the feeder stream.

Here starts what would be the most unusual morning of fly-fishing I have ever seen. Nick warned us about the spooky nature of these fish and the need to stalk and blend in. I was Kristi with her first river fish ever!starting to have reservations about the two cameramen, host and two extra fishermen on hand! However it turned out to be the exact opposite. The fish were as dumb as a box of hammers. We caught fish that were level with us and two-rod lengths away in gin clear water. Nick even hooked two that were downstream of us that we had fished to and then walked on past to get to a 'fresh' one. And so the day continued. Fish were caught in every possible way and it was actually off putting (how is that for spoilt?). I actually remarked to David that this was almost 'unsporting' as every fish had this almost psychotic grin and tendency to eat flies in situations that even a pound Goulburn fish would turns its nose up at! Kristi topped out the best fish for the day at 6.5lb and this in her first week of fly-fishing. It was truly was an amazing day.

That night was perfect. The camp was set up and we feasted on a wilderness dinner fit for a king. Surf and Turf, lobster and steak plus some great local wines. Pretty flash for the bush especially when you are used to some two-minute noodles and some chocolate! But what the hell. We had choppers bringing everything in and out. After dinner (read after the wine) we once again solved the problems of the world and wondered how two warmongers like George Bush and Osama would react to having a huge brown come up and snaffle their cicada off the surface. I don't know about you but I reckon they be different guys if they gave it a try!

The next day was the inevitable humbling experience after the previous day's abundance. The first fish was found in the pool immediately above camp. On the shallow sandy edge right alongside a bit of dense bush. This meant we could sit about seven metres away from the fish, level with it on the bank and get a perfect shot of every spot on his back. I got into position Dinner was a real treat thanks to the good people at Nelson Choppersdownstream of the trout, carefully entering the water and clearly watching the fish rise and rise and rise. Walkie talkie chatter indicated we were now waiting for the second POV camera to be set up. I waited patiently for 15 minutes on the feeding fish before it decided to go on a cruise off the shallow edge of the tail of the pool back up into the centre of it. You could clearly see him swimming upstream over shallow gravel for forty metres, eventually dropping back into the depths. From this moment on things got tough.

In the head of the pool there were four fish. Each was nymphing well and each spooked upon inspection of the first nymph cast at it. Demoralising to say the least. The rest of the morning was full of unfulfilled encounters so we decided to shoot some generic stuff and then break for lunch. Nick had the same perplexed look on his face that we did. After lunch things were set to change. It is amazing what a difference an hour makes.

As soon as we finished eating Nick was off upstream looking for a 'known' fish and he found him immediately. I gave up my 'go' to David as the fish was in a very tough to land spot and the chances of getting busted off were high (what are mates for?!). The fish was six foot down on a heavy seam/boil and he was nymphing hard. A few presentations and refusals of the nymph added to the tension and then the thing came all the way to the surface and rose! David had the nymph off in world record time and on went a huge cicada. The first cast over him saw the fish angle up and start gliding to the surface. He came all the way up in the heavy water and ate the dry. The hook was set and 6lbs+ of wild brown trout went ballistic. After a short tussle he ran downstream into the heavy, log strewn water and the fly just pulled out. David was dumbstruck as he was not broken off which was the expected outcome given the surroundings.

The next few hundred metres produced a couple of 4-5lb fish that were almost invisible to us. That is to me, David, Kristi, Rob and Johnny. Nick saw them as clear as day. I actually stood by him for a couple of minutes with him giving me directions just as I often do for my clients. It is very humbling to venture onto new waters with someone who fishes them on a daily basis and then to have him looking back at you like you are Oobatz when you cannot see the fish. Anyhow after finally seeing the first one I got a fly to it and got a take from a 4lb+ average size brown. After a few pics we quickly found another one, which by then I was able to see, and Nick caught it.

The last pool we fished was a ripper and we gave Rob a shot at breaking his south island duck. He was yet to land a big fish in four trips and you could cut the air with a knife. A spotter and cameraman high above the fish on a cliff with a perfect view. A second camera and spotter on the far bank. And Rob and I in the middle of the river. Rob fishing and me as moral support. The fish was a ripper. Minimum ten pounds although more closer to 11 and 30". The fish was nymphing quietly on the leading edge of a rock, which made drag a problem. The first good drag free drift saw the fish saunter over (big fish never swim over they always saunter, mosey, meander, amble!) and eat the nymph. The spotter up high yelled strike at the exact time the indicator dipped and Rob instinctively raised the rod. This is where I am meant to talk about 'all hell breaking loose' but it was not to be. The fish rolled, the fly failed to find an anchor and the fish just sat there dumbfounded.

Rob was crestfallen and there may possibly have been a few expletives to be removed from the footage in post! But wait. The fish sat for a few moments and then went back on the feed in front of the rock. Now he was little cagier than earlier and all it would do is come and look at the nymph before moving back to his drift line. Unfortunately due to the angle we were on in relation to the fish, we could not go straight to it as drag would pull it unnaturally past him and we would risk spooking it. So we had to fish just wide of the trophy and bring it off to the left, hoping to get him to move off his rock.

By this stage I had been able to climb atop a large boulder and could now see the fish clearly. I resisted the urge to tell Rob that he was longer than the boulder as I did not want to add any more tension to an already tense moment. Many people return from NZ with stories of seeing dozens of 10lb fish but they are not as common as you would think. It is amazing how many people hook ten pounders and land 7 pounders! So to find a true trophy out and feeding for the cameras is an amazing thing when you have only two days and a film crew in tow.

Eventually we got another perfect presentation and the fish once again intercepted the fly and the call strike could he heard clearly above the noise of the stream. Again Rob lifted and again he came up fishless. This was frustrating for all involved, including the big fish, who by now was working out the calories gained versus calories expended and therefore looking for some stonefly nymphs to make up the shortfall! Amazingly the fish kept on feeding!

Now the ribbing started. "He's now eleven and a half pounds", "If this keeps up you can start fishing a mouse at him" (reference to the next mouse plague scheduled for next year) and I think he is about to run to spawn". All good fun as long as you were not on the receiving end. A few dozen casts on and the fish took the fly again in carbon copy and the strike was again missed. Subsequent study of the close up shot from above clearly shows the nymph drifting, the fish closing his mouth and then opening and rejecting the fly almost immediately. It was almost instantaneous the take/refusal and a great example of how tough a big brownie can be. The whole thing ended a few minutes later. The fish went back to feeding and then for no discernible reason he just disappeared into the depths of the pool! Rob's luck is bound to change sooner or later.

We humped it back to camp after that encounter to prepare dinner and relax. Another wonderful meal and a great sleep saw us up early to pack the gear away and prepare for the day ahead. The weather was evidently changing and we were all buzzing for another chopper ride and extra the adventure of the day. The sound of the chopper in these valleys is a wonderful thing. At first you are unsure of where it is coming from as the sounds echoes around you but as it gets closer and more defined you cannot miss it. It was an awesome sight to see a chopper flying through the gaps in the mountains with a large net slung below carrying a whitewater raft. Just amazing. Rafting out was a lot of fun...like the choppers they saved us a lot of walking

The pilot set it down near our camp and we then met our rafting guides for the day before doing a safety check and heading off downstream. The river down from where we camped is not a fishable river and so we knew that we would not be running into anyone but what a way to finish a back country trip. Although the water was not high we did a lot of Grade 4 water that was extremely technical given the low flows. We had only one casualty (out of the raft) and managed to wrap it around only the one boulder, which given the levels was remarkable.

After a very enjoyable raft session the two choppers picked us up and whisked us back to the lodge. Just a phenomenal day that finished off a brilliant trip. Two choppers with gear slung below flying under the approaching bad weather and depositing us at our lodgings in time for a few cold beers and a hot shower. It does not get any better than that.

Antony Boliancu

 

 

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