Saturday, January 3, 2015

Top of the Lake & Queenstown



That evening the rain kicked in. Sometimes heavy sometimes none at all but in total it was more than enough to make even the preferred spring creek running high and dirty. I checked it and continued right towards Haast down south on the West Coast. It was the 31st of December 2014. The plan was to find accommodation in Haast, pack and fly in or out – however you want to term it - the next day. Accommodation was not available and not knowing the river I wanted to chopper to, I considered the risk to high that it was still running high. Besides, as I did not want to lose too much time to head further down towards Te Anau anyway I changed plans and drove up the road over Haast pass, along Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea showing quiet some spectacular views with sun and rain. Over the Crown range – the direct route from Wanaka towards Queenstown – with hot brakes and hot clutch. Using the broken center line of the road as the orientation it is intended for. It is not a solid line. Just mentioning this, as several Kiwis get really excited if you cut turns and use both sides of the road even if the next car is miles away.  But some of the tourists sometimes do mix up the sides of the road to drive on. Beware of that!





At the Crown Range I passed the festival Rhythm & Alps and was briefly thinking to join the festival. But I was here for fishing, the ticket prices for just a couple of hours would have been rather high, availability questionable and it was somewhat cold up there. But it was tempting. Though it might not have been Tomorrowland… 


Friend and guide Bruce Leitch in Queenstown gave me note that he won’t be available before the first. Thus I had an issue in terms of how to spend the night leading over to the new year 2015. Every kind of accommodation in Queenstown was booked. V.Know in Fernhill was about to close the kitchen so my preferred location for a quick dinner was not available. I ended up searching a parking space that I found after a while (QT might be one of the few cities on SI that has a real trafic issue, it was even worth the two days afterwards), packed my backpack, warm jacket and went downtown. It was chilly. Everything was unbelievable busy, at least a couple of ten thousand young party people to welcome the new year came to town. Dinner was junk food from a stand. Walked around and observed the more and the less beautiful young ladies – most of them dressed in nothing and some of them more than drunk (drying to drink from the lake and falling over... such things). Considering the chilly temperature lots of them might spend the first days of the fresh year in bed… Got a good place right at the harbor to watch the huge firework. And the new year was there: 2015. Bizarre feeling to be alone among thousands.





1:30 am that night I arrived at the 12miles delta campground out of town – just finding a corner for my car. Repacked the stuff so I could sleep in the car, which was ok but not overly comfy. New Year started with blue skies! Breakfast in Glenorchy right at the lake. Some girls having fun jumping in the chilly lake.


I was back to ‘Top of the Lake’. An impressive, must be seen, TV-series of 6 / 7 episodes. Check it out - it is worth it and can be mentioned right besides Twin Peaks.

Around noon I arrived on the first flowing water to be fished but without luck and just one fish spotted that was briefly attached to my fly (no pictures of that water as it is absolute secret, only some locals know it). I relocated to another more common stream and fished it for a while. Green beetle cast towards sighted fish (sometimes close sometimes further away) made them turning their head and smashing the fly. The beetle caught two or three, for that piece of water typical browns of around 3lbs. Actually these were the first fish of the new year!





In a blog post before I wrote about friends you eventually make if you travel repeatedly to a country. One of them is Bruce Leitch. He guided us on two overnight trips the years before. The first one was legend (and the second one not bad either). He and his friend Chico (and we) still talk about it after years. Bruce (and Chico) with a background in gastronomy has that special sense that makes trips or days with him outstanding. You might not catch the biggest fish but his way to setup a day is just perfect to have the real good relaxed time and atmosphere. The homemade pie as lunch or the lamb chops at night with a couple of beers and a bottle of red under the central Otago milky way are just what fly fishing is about besides catching the one big fish. In case you are in need of a guide in the Central Otago / Greater Queenstown region: ask him, he might have the one or other day available for you!

This night I met him at his home overlooking the Queenstown area with a not to be missed view of the Remarkables. He took care of the steak, I organized the red. Fish talk, not only, as life is most of the time more complex than the trout that just does not like your crude imitation. As he offered me a bed for the night early that day, I just thought how relaxed and uncomplicated he was. 

The next day we had breakfast and later he had a client. For me it was a peaceful day in Queenstown. Some shopping intention, did not found anything I needed following the rule “think three times before you buy”, lunch right          at the lake (WTF - why do people cue for 30 minutes for a burger? Guess where in QT… Would never do that myself), some flat whites… average vacation stuff. The Remarkables shopping mall provided little more success and ended with a new ultralite gas cooker and some flies.


Driving southerly from Queenstown you will pass a river after around 40 Minutes that is so famous that a brief stop over there cannot be avoided. On the most frequented access an other couple just left but they mentioned they fished just close to the car, thus I went up as they mentioned nobody would be there. A misinformation as I walked upstream the river was barren. Not a single fish and the answer was simple: two bricks coming down IN the river walking back to their car parked a little bit off site. There was not a single reason to walk in the river. If they fished the river before in the same manner they walked back in the river, no wonder that no fish would show up. Some are just idiots. I relocated to section further downstream, found some fish spooky as hell or aware of every movement on the bank. No fish to the fly there either.

Before those last casts to the spooky fish I briefly drove to a cottage that we rented twice two years ago. Naylor’s house close to Garston. A very nicely renovated old house, sleeps six with large kitchen and living room. Perfect for the fly fishing traveler fishing around the south corner of lake Wakatipu. I made contact to the owner to hear the sad fact that his wife had died just recently. It was good to hear his intention to keep the accommodation business up for the years to come if all works out.

After the last unsuccessful casts at the river, I packed my gear and drove south west towards Fiordland and Te Anau heading to some big adventures…




















Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Spring Creeks with a new Toy aka Rod



After some unbelievable junky breakfast at a local bakery / cafĂ© (the ham was just an insult) and some NZ-Jade-shopping in Hokitika, I started with some disappointing spring creek experience not too far away. I hooked the very first fish close to the mouth of the creek but lost it as it went around a big patch of weed and I could not and wanted not to follow. Though I walked the river for quite a while I just saw one or two other non-cooperative trout – last time there was more action on that particular creek. Another creek close by was inspected for the lowest kilometer without any sign of fish. 

I decided to head south to fish a third creek with a short section of fishable water. Walking down and fishing up I had shots on two fish that did not work out. The second was in an awkward position to cast and to drift the fly to. Changing the bank would have been the better approach. Lazy me… Further up, close to a willow I spotted a feeding fish well ahead. Adjusted my tungsten-nymph-rig and hooked it. 



A strong tall brown of 6,5lbs came to the net. To my delight as this was the first fish caught and landed on the Orvis Helios 2, 9’, 5# that traveled temporary with me for a thorough test - thanks to orvis.de! A very decent rod that was loaded with a 6# line, a custom made 6 meter special leader and Stroft GTM 0,18mm tippet. The Orvis top flex rod has a significant stiff lower section and seems to be somewhat slower than my Sage TCX of the same specifications. It performed with high precision and could be cast with an appropriate tight loop. It felt a little bit heavier in the cast than I expected it to be. If the TCX would not be grown to my hand the H2 might easily be a favorite tool. A big plus of the Orvis are the titanium coil rings. They take much more abuse than the far too thin ones on the Sage. An aspect of high importance when you regularly carry your rod in the NZ bush not within the rod tube, what most of the tramping fishermen tend to do once in a while. My Sage was twice at warranty because of that issue. The carbon rod tube that comes with the Helios 2 is a blast – it is ultra-light and in contrast to my expectations ultra solid. Overall the H2 is a top of the line, high performing toy/tool.



Back at the car and the small bridge I spotted an other brown. Important about that one was to be prepared for the approach after the fish would have taken the fly. As the cast was done from the bridge, thus immediately after the cast I would have to climb down to the bank, but there was a small spot where I could land it. Unfortunately the fish was so weak and might be handicapped that landing it was not an issue. It was a thin brown in poor condition that was instantly released.

Back on the road going south towards double Hari aka Hari Hari. I ended up in the same 'vintage style' motel (Flaxbush) as two years ago. After all it was the starting peak of holiday season and I was happy to get a hard roofed room that I needed to dry my wet tent. Passing a bridge with around 10 police cars and 25 policeman some kilometers before double Hari I was wondering what happened. Later on it turned out that on this rather long one lane bridge two tourists in a car had broken the wooden (!) side rail and crashed in the river running high and boisterous below, both were dead. Take great care when you drive and do not speed beyond your limits!

A special topic as the police announced to enforce a zero tolerance speeding policy during the holiday season. So going just 1km/h too fast would result in a speeding ticket. Crazy idea because by this rule you end up out of law if you overtake a car in an appropriate manner and you end up paying more attention to your speedometer than to the road and the traffic. Strange way to enforce traffic laws...





Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Rewarding Day


Driving to the somewhat hidden access I was lucky as there were no fresh tire marks and there was no car on the access, thus this section of the river might have received some rest. Recently unfished water is an important aspect in NZ - try to fish fresh water! In case you fish with a guide, he (most of the time it would be a him, thus he) should take care of that and make a couple of calls to colleagues to find out where to go. Still sometimes fishing behind somebody might work on some rivers and still catch a couple of fish but it is far from good and should be avoided.  

To my surprise it took a while at the river till I could spot the first fish. Last time I was there, the first pool had two fish and the first was caught with the very first cast. NZ is about sight fishing, blind fishing I do at home enough and thus I was reluctant to fire out a few blind casts. But in that case it later was the ticket to two above average fish of strong fighting 7 and 8lbs on nymph. One caught in a pool where I was lucky two years ago. All fish were of exceptional good condition, no sign of mice diet but just normal deep wonderful shiny browns.

Further up in an infamous pool where the fish are sometimes easy to spot and sometimes very hard (this time) I finally spotted some and got shots on them but no takes, in the end I was successful to spook them with my casts from the bank.

My first thought about the 8lbs fish was that it must have been foul hooked as it was pulling line as hell against the current and a tight brake. It was not foul hooked; it was just made of solid muscles and power, trained in exceptional wild natural environment.


 
 




 
The river further upstream had a section that is rather complex to fish as the whole width is likely to hold fish and the spotting could be only done from a very short distance. The third fish I finally managed to spot, was just meters ahead in fast 80-100cm deep water, the brown was literally attached to a medium sized boulder but it was heavily feeding. To catch that I would have to get the size 12 nymph down very fast and accurate without a long lead. I set up a double nymph rig where the heavy fly was double tungsten pulling the smaller fly down like a stone. My delight was high as this setup suddenly stopped in the current and the fish was on. It was the smallest of the day with 6,5lbs.

Fourth and last fish of the day was at around 10am on the virtual orientation clock (12am would be straight upstream) just around 6-7 meters away. Landed and 7lbs came to the net, the brown showed a remarkable pattern and coloration. This again showed that sometimes the close distance might be the way to go in case fish are not spotable from say 12-15 meters distance due to light or natures camo.

As usual I took and unintentional dip in a notorious pool. I never mange to come out of that river dry. 





Light very fine drizzle started but some sunrays were still on the scenery. A deep feeling of satisfaction and happiness came with it. Exceptional good fishing, not to easy but four to the net was a delightful result of the day. Some more casts and it was about time to head back to the car and down south.

Driving down that night towards Hokitika I found myself pretty much stranded well after 10 pm, everything closed, accommodation not really available and not necessarily needed, thus I ended up at the same DOC campground 10km south of Hokitika as two years before with Ines and Tobias. Less than ten meters away from the last camp spot there. I cooked a simple meal of fresh salad, readymade butter chicken, some desert and the better part of a bottle of red. Fine drizzle started again and I went to bed early the next day.

My original intention was to fish a remote backcountry river in the Haast-area after the front and rain that was about to arrive. The front was said to be in the area around Wednesday. Thus the plan was to fish a west coast spring creek or two before the front would hit and to drive down the coast on Wednesday during the rain and to chopper to the remote river on Thursday. Would that plan work out?

















Monday, December 29, 2014

Moments in Time and Friends



We discovered that special place during the preparation for our first trip to NZ SI five years ago. Karamea Lodge, a very decent (which is rather an understatement), perfectly located in Karamea, the gateway to several large river systems in the distant north west of NZ SI. Best of all the offered accommodation was absolutely fair priced. We were amazed by the lodge and the friendly owners. Two years ago (as far as I remember we did not go towards Karamea during our second trip) we went back to the lodge for a couple of days for Ines with Tobias exploring the nature around Karamea while I was fishing at a river in the bush and for me as the day after coming out of the bush. The owners were so exceptionally guest oriented that they reserved the whole lodge for us – unbelievable!

Before I continue with that 'too good to be true' story: the lodge was closed due to personal reasons by the owners’ just weeks after we were there early 2013. Sad for many many satisfied guests.

Back to the current trip and me returning from the bush: flying over the lodge I saw several cars there, thus there must be somebody at home. Unloading my stuff from the chopper at Karamea 'airport', paying the bill, a quick side trip to the beach and the ocean, where three locals fished with their Kontiki longline fishing device, catching several red snapper.

After the beach I passed the the former accommodation and appreciated restaurant Riverstone, I learned that this venue was closed as well... (later I was told that a divorce was the reason for that sad situation. The homepage is still up but as of 01/2015 the location is closed, check if you are interested)




The welcome by Jenny and Mark, the owners of the former lodge, was exceptionally warm and friendly. It felt like home from home! I was immediately invited to take seat between a bunch of family and friends. And the best of all – if everything works out, they might visit Bavaria in the not so distant future!



A similar situation of friendship turned up some days later in Queenstown with guide Bruce and again in Te Anau – those are the very special moments you only experience when you travel destinations several times. Traveling this way,  you come to places that developed a meaning to you, not just tourists’ attractions and points of interest but real connection to a place, a landscape, the people and ultimately friends living there, locations and memories that cause highly intense emotions. 
After four trips many places in New Zealand SI hold such a special meaning for me.
Too bad that I had to deny the friendly offer to stay for the night as I was on the road towards some flowing water further south that called… would have loved to stay but with just four weeks you should better have an eye on the outlined rough route.

Reefton was the destination of that afternoon. Ending up there in a Motel, but to my delight the favored Tilly’s Place crib / bach / holiday home would be vacant from Sunday onwards for two nights. Saturday found me driving via Springs Junction to one of the rivers around Lewis Pass. Millions of cars drove towards me as it was the first day of the holiday season. Every second car with a boat or other device behind its hitch. 




At the trail head to the river, I packed my gear and started to walk in. Right in that moment a guy jumped out of a motor-home parked at the main road and announced that they “wanted” to fish that river as well. Did they? No they were parking and having a late breakfast. I offered them to give them a day of fishing from the mouth upwards and I would walk further as intended upstream. A burden for me as my left food reminded me every single step. Anyhow, the day was rather windy and overcast. At the first significant pool where the track comes close to the river I immediately spotted a very good fish but resisted the temptation to fish for it. As I said I would walk further upstream. Fish were few. Only in the obvious pools I could spot a couple, mostly one brown in the tail and two rainbows further up the pool. In one good pool at the end of a short gorge I spooked them all by bad and lazy habits and bad casting in the wind funneling through the tight valley. Several pools and some fish later I finally landed a nice and strong 7lbs rainbow, another one was lost. Not much for that day, but at least not blank. The motor-home was long gone as I arrived. Might have been some bloody European fishing tourists ; )

PS: I was wondering about the tramped grass on that particular river while tramping and fishing up. Later somebody told me the reason for that: a trophy was caught there recently and thus everybody went there. If I would have known that... Do not tell anybody not trustworthy where you catch big fish! BTW I caught my trophy in the river XXXXX!




Late on the way back towards Reefton I was lucky to make arrangements for two nights at the mentioned place. Strange feeling to be back in a holiday home after 1 ¾ years. Sunday, sleep in, a couple of useless kilometers, less than two hours on a river close by (lots of stones were in the riverbed) the way back to the car was mega bush bashing to get through a distance of just 50 meters. A machete would have been handy or better a rotary cuter to open a tunnel in the dense new plantation scrub, black berry and stuff. If you get lost in such a piece of vegetation - nightmare … better not to think about it.




But I had some promising plans for Monday I was looking forward for: a challenging but frequently rewarding river. Sunday was tying some special flies, cooking dinner or going to a local restaurant / pub, think I went to a restaurant that night, relaxing, taking care of the washing, writing …