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 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.
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 a
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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.