Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Chopper Fly Out with a last minute pilot

Driving via the Haast Pass and the Haast River towards Haast, we had a stop to give the river a few casts. Oh by the way the weather was still terrific and sunny. I will comment on that again if there is any change in this summer of the decade (Ines just met an elderly lady, who said she could not remember such a sunny and dry summer, so about the sunniest summer in 50 years . At the same time Germany had the darkest winter since 50 years. The chance to hit it the way we did, could be calculated by around 1/50 times 1/50 equals 0,0004 or 4 out of 10.000).

We stopped at the river, had a lunch break an headed off. Large river with low water, nice landscape, high mountains in the background. We walked, I spotted, we walked, I spotted. I said to Ines ‘if there is no fish within the next bend, we quit!’. The river heard my saying and less than 50 meters upriver, I spotted a decent brown. I can’t remember what I tied to the leader: Adams, Blow or Cicada. Might be last. Barbless. Second Cast. Fish rose and I managed to set the strike with success. A good fight went on. Ines grabbed the cam and went in the proposed direction to take some fighting pics. I really did not want to lose that fish, as I recognized, that it might be a good sized brown. After few minutes it came to the net. On the scale I was satisfied: +7lbs of beautiful healthy trout. Pictures and release. The next fish, I spotted (the water and visibility were perfect, so it might have been the next fish in the river) around one kilometer upstream. Pretty much same procedure, cast, strike, net. This time 6,25lbs. Happy. The third fish I spotted too late, he already saw me and all casts were fruitless. Good quote. Briefly after that we quit and walked down the road 3,5km to the car.

Where is Tobias?Sandmouth

The last time we drove towards Haast, three years ago, we arrived there around close to ten pm. It was all black and nobody was on the street, finding accommodation was pretty hard, as the backpackers was more of the kind to avoid. This time we found a newly opened Holiday Park Campground (commercial campground) that offered very nice flats/Motel units. After some considerations we choose that option.

Our plan was – semi pre-arranged via e-mail – to do a two night chopper fly out to a close by remote river starting from Haast with Greenstonehelicopters. I was unable to make contact with the pilot Peter after some friendly and fast responding conversation two days ago. We planned to go the next morning and set everything up for that unconfirmed plan. Repacked gear to hold the weight limit, still we took quiet a lot with the big tent.
After that excursion we considered Silverpine Lodge at Lake Hawea as an option for two days and as the highlight of this trip. But doing the math for two days we were marking this idea with a question mark. It would be a blast, but we knew that kind of lodges already. 

The alarm clock (the first time since weeks) rang at 7 am, so we could prepare everything and be ahead of time at the chopper-hanger. Arriving there we got the information that pretty much no pilot would be available as the one I had contact with, Peter, was on some assignments in Wanaka. Mmm change of plans. We would fly out the next day and only for one night. Ok. Not too bad. As it later turned out that was quiet all right as the river provided fishing for two days, but not for three.

Instead we went towards Haast Beach, where we found a real neat grocery store that pretty much has everything you can imagine. It was reopened just 18 month ago. Continued further down south on the coast via Neils Beach (passing) towards Jackson Bay. A very small settlement with some see fishing activity. Just to give an example how New Zealand developed in terms of travel budget in the last 4-5 years: we had a shared butter-fish with chips as a snack there that was decent and had a tag of 18,-, for one person it would have been ok. In our travel guide this place is described as “for 10$ you get really stuffed”. Plus in the meantime the exchange rate for Euro countries dropped around 25%. 

Ines and Tobias did spend the next 5 hours around the settlement, doing some nature walk and enjoying the sun on the see and trying to avoid the sandflies. I went for a small creek that was mentioned by the campground owner. Before I went there I fished the river that paralleled the dirt road to the creek, but I did not even see a fish, even as the river looked really good. I continued to the creek further 15km down the dirt road. Walking it up I only saw two fish, one of ok size and one rainbow that must have been +8lbs in a rather big / deep pool. It came to my cicada but definitely missed it as I could see my fly and its mouth just centimeters apart. My unsuppressed strike reflex spooked it and I had no other chance. A fish that position I marked in the GPS. I quit on that pool and drove back to pick up Ines and Tobias from Jackson Bay.

Even if our travel guides book mentions this landscape as special remote and natural, it was nothing compared to what fishing tourists see pretty much every day. Nevertheless in that area is a river that will be on the list for a next trip. It is pretty much a chopper in only river, but reachable from Neils Beach.

(At the time of writing these lines, a couple of days after the days to be described, I am about to lighten the first cigar of the trip. A Vargas Robusto from La Palma, Canary Islands. Definitely the first ever that was smoked at this lovely campground on a lake close to Hokitika. Let’s see how it tastes in conjunction with a Villa Maria Marlborough Chardonnay 2010 – most likely a strange combination. The first mouth of smoke was well as expected. Shoot the camp chair has a beer can holder but no cigar holder. Have to take care of that asap.)

As we would stay at the river only one night, we could reduce cooking stuff considerably, thus saving on weight so we would be well under the payload of the Robby R44. The usual means of transportation here to reach distant rivers, besides the real turbine helicopter common for NZ the Squirrel. The R44 works with a normal combustion motor and is thus quiet simple. Most of the accidence used to happen with overloading situations, so pilots in the meantime take great care not to overload it. Good idea to follow that.

Our pilot Chris, came over for us and a few other assignments from Wanaka. The weather forecast mentioned some rain around noon and a fine sunny second day. Pretty much the first rain since we left Christchurch weeks ago! We loaded the helicopter. Tobias was curious about the helicopter. His place was in the arms of Ines breastfeeding him. He was calm and relaxed; surprisingly he did not even try to remove the large noise canceling headphones during the flight. We dropped our gear and flew down the river some 9 kilometers where Chris dropped us to start fishing. 

The river there was very slow flowing with long runs more the kind of a lake. Not real fly fishing / trout habitat. Interrupted by faster flowing sections and two gorge sections of a couple of hundred meters each with huge boulders. I managed to raise a couple of trout but my strike timing was the worst ever. One time I tossed the cicada in a deep section with very slow flow. Just saying to Ines ‘that is like bait-fishing’. Just seconds later a very good sized trout took my fly and headed off to the sunken logs on the other side of the river. The first time in NZ that I saw my backing knot! I was not able to stop that trout in time, it reached the logs and the leader separated. Luckily I will never know how heavy it was. 

Ines handling the fish, while I prepare the cam

In the meantime the rain had started and we were happy to walk in waders and jackets. Tobias had a hard time as he really did not like his situation in rain gear and trapped in the kraxe. We worked our way upriver, I got some more rises and some more fish to the net. But most of them I missed due to my bad strike timing. Later on I got the advice with cicada striking ‘doing nothing is better than striking too early’. I managed to land one fish of – forgot the weight – that gave Ines the chance to take a few pictures. It was a very pretty well fighting brown.

Side creek

An hour tramp away from the camp, the rain eased or stopped altogether in the meantime, Ines and Tobias took off to the camp via a cattle track close to the river. Ines arrived there and found the gear dry and good as I had wrapped it in the outer layer of the large tent as we dropped it there on the way in. 

And again a glowing tentmorningdew and cicada

I continued fishing up the river with more or less success getting in touch with a few fish. The river definitely has some fish, with a better visibility and a better strike timing it might have been a blast.

Arriving at the camp, Ines already had set up the tent and we could start dinner preparations: butter chicken with rice and some salad, beer and half a bottle of Church Road (due to the weight limitations – just kidding). The night was again starry!

Little Stonefly

The next day we fished up from the camp the five kilometers to the forks. My bad timing was still present and thus my quote of fish to the net really bad. Nevertheless a bright sunny day on a remote nice river with some good structure and fish is always good. A high share of fishing was done in these two days casting blind in likely looking water, this resulted in a couple of unsuccessful strikes. Only  a rather low share of fish could actually be spotted. The river had much more structure in the upper part and at the same time was much smaller. Surprisingly even up to the camp there was cattle grazing. Arriving at a good landing spot for the chopper close to the designated pick up point at 4:20  I continued the last meters to the next pool to catch a last fish. Ines and Tobias remained there in the sun. Same procedure as before: fish came and I missed it… The last fish remained uncaught. 

Waiting for the chopperBack to the pickup point. But where was the chopper. 5pm, 5:15, 5:30 – might be Chris misunderstood us and memorized 6pm? Hmm no he is a professional such things do not happen. The sun went behind the mountains, we started to shiver. Only Tobias still had fun crawling around to catch the GoPro from his dad. I was already thinking about rushing the 5 kilometers back to the camp spot to pitch the tent again and spend a second night up here. But finally close to 6pm the chopper arrived. He had some last minute guests to be flown in to another river. Why he did not pick us up first and then fly in the guests I did not understand. As far as I know letting a chopper wait and letting the clients wait is normally an absolute no-no. But the weather was good and he thought he could make the other flight quicker. We had a short flight back to Haast and arrived again at our flat number three for the third night. The Silverpine lodge idea was finally obsolete with the delay of the pickup and the math-thing. Just another reason to come back.
Nice fly out (thank you Chris and Peter @ Greenstonehelicopters), two good days, several rises but only few fish to the net. Wait, wait longer, let the fish turn down again, wait and then strike...

The chaos after the fly out