I have some time on my hands at the moment and decided to send a post of activities in Feb.
We normally travel to areas of the North Island that are not well known as Fly Fishing destinations but they have lots of rivers, some with lots of fish, and very few fishermen.
The country is mostly mixed farming with dairy predominating. Tourists are a novelty and it is rare to see another fisherman and unheard of to see a tourist fisherman.
The people are just so welcoming and lovely. Public access to the 100’s of K. M’s of streams is a delight. Each major river system has a pamphlet which details the type of water and the access points. On one river I would drive 20k’s to my destination and pass say 8 access points. Outside weekends I never saw another car in probably 10 visits. That is no other fisherman for about 20K’s of river and the river had lots of fish.
You have the choice of lowland rivers or backcountry. There are generally more fish in the lowland waters but the backcountry fish are bigger.
This year was very dry. Rivers were much lower than I have ever seen before. Consequently, the fish were not widespread, as they were in the past. Many rivers had large sections with no fish as the water was so low and warm, they were not supported. The good news was when you found the best water sometimes the fish were stacked up. It was quite common to encounter 5 or 6 fish from the same run. As long as the fish ran down into the pool below and not back into the run you could continue to catch fish.
The other good news was fish size in the Lowland rivers was up. I am used to Lowland fish averaging about 2.5 lbs but this year it was about 4.0 lbs. I never saw a fish less than 3 lbs and some were close to 6lbs. The back-country fish are bigger and you can expect fish to 8lbs, but you have to work harder for them.
I will put this into the different areas of fishing.
Lowland river Pools
Mornings were the best time for sight fishing in the pools. Once you found where they were it was common to encounter 10 fish in a larger pool evenly spread out and exhibiting social distancing from each other. These fish were in shallow water about shin deep. This made them shy but not impossible. I found them very line shy and you could not use a traditional approach from behind. You had to approach from the side at 90 degrees from these guys and this did not spook them.
I found a good tactic was not to approach an individual but just to wade a few meters and they would come back to you. These fish were spooky and 16-foot leaders were required. Refusals were the norm and many fly changes often required to get a response. Normally started with size 16 pheasant tails and the worked down in size and through the box going through caddis and back swimmers. No patterns emerged. Each fish had to be considered as a new challenge. It was exhilarating and demanding fishing satisfying when you got it right.
The numbers of fish in some rivers was just obscene. It was possible to see pods of 10 to 20 fish in many places. This does not make them easy, just the opposite. They are just, if not more, spooky and 1 spooked fish can spell the end for a run of section of a pool. You would often approach a fish and be about to cast then realize another fish is even closer. Too many fish can be a bad thing.
Lowland river Runs
Deeper runs in lowland rivers were much easier. This year you had to work to find the runs that held fish but once you found them, they were stacked up. The standard strike indicator and 2 nymph rig was all that was required. Most success was with sparsely tied pheasant tails in various styles. Even though the water was low the fish where is superb condition. The pools just teem with back swimmers and it seems like they live in nymph soup. They pull really hard and if any structure was around leader make and diameter as well as hook brand are critical. Leader diameter was .21mm, which usually means 6-8 lbs breaking strain, and with size 18 and 20’s straightened hooks are not uncommon. I only had 2 break-offs but others had many break-offs.
You could catch fish any time of the day. Runs that were deep and emptied into bigger deep pools were ideal. Having said that some of what you would think was the best water had no fish. Sometimes you would walk KM’s between good spots.
The evening Rise
This was the first year I have stayed late enough on the river to encounter the evening rise. Every evening was different. Some evenings the wind would blow like mad and the fish would rise well and then on lovely still evenings there was very little rise.
You had to see each evening as a challenge and adjust accordingly. I can’t say I even came close to cracking the code. I did have moderate success but only after it got quite dark and could disguise my inept flies. The fish would rise consistently in the same spot. I never could see what they were taking only that is was so tiny. I did bring some fish undone with possum fur tied shaving brush in 16 and 18. Next trip I will be equipped with smaller flies for the evening. Reading American literature sizes 22 to 26 are common on some rivers.
Hooking a 5.5 lb Rainbow on dry fly and having him run 30M into the backing and start jumping in the dark is exhilarating. You just hope he stays in your pool and does not run down the next run.
There is still more work to do here, but that is the mystery of fly fishing.
I had not fished back country for many years. We had planned a Heli trip and I was taken back when the answer from the Heli operator was “we have just taken 2 groups out of there and they didn’t do much good”. Certainly, the world had changed in the last 6 years.
I was fortunate enough to have some locals who could give me some knowledge of what rivers were holding fish. We embarked upon a 3-day trip with walking up river with packs and fishing to a hut.
Back-country huts in NZ are superb. The info and the location on the huts are first rate. Most huts are only $6/ night. You bring your own stove and can meet some lovely like-minded people. The river we fished had more and smaller fish than you would normally expect back-country. This made for entertaining fishing and we probably landed 20-30 fish each on the way up (2-5 lbs). The next day was similar with a few fish in the 6lb size. Weather was a bit overcast which made the fish not so keen on dries. Lots of looks but not a lot of hook ups, other than the smaller fish. This time of the year you are looking for cicada days. Unfortunately, we did not have one this year.
When they are on cicada the fishing can be exhilarating. Seeing an 8 lb rainbow flying up from the 3 M down to nail your offering is heart stopping. Well there is always another trip.
While this year was demanding, due to the low water, the fishing was still very good.
Back-country streams are popular with tourists and this is showing now. Others we spoke to told similar stories of more people being in back-country. Still there is the thrill and mystic of fishing this water, and the chance of a trophy.
The lowland rivers were challenging in parts and easy in parts.
While we caught lots of fish the fishing is not easy and local knowledge is important.
It is just great to know there are still places where the fishing is “like it used to be”.