Saturday, December 27, 2014

Backcountry Christmas

As two years ago the packing for the chopper flight had to be done pretty quickly. I was lucky that I did not miss any substantial items. Except that I should have taken the pack of toilet paper I had in my hand but did not throw on the pile, thinking that there would be plenty at the hut as experienced before. It turned out that there was nothing at all. So I had to use a workaround in terms of some 50NZ$ bills I packed. Lucky I had some. No just kidding, kitchen paper was the bail out. It worked fine.

Flying solo is a plus as there are no weight restrictions. Lots of stuff - good for three people was loaded to the R44.

The sky was grey and the clouds where very low, thus only a pilot knowing the terrain very well was able to fly the direct line. Wayne knew exactly where to fly so the sneak through over the ridge with close to zero visibility for some meters was perfectly mastered and down we dropped to the river valley and towards the hut.

A big cyclone has hit the slopes around Karamea around Easter, deforesting large areas. All trees on some slopes lay flat on the ground, several houses must have been damaged by that extreme storm.

First evening at the hut. I had it all for myself. Love that calm. Dinner: appetizer, filet, rice, salad, yoghurt with some cold beers with candles lightening the room in a warm light. Reading at candle light. Nice evening. Unfortunately it was much too warm to lighten the fire.

Candle light, that is the word, if you travel to a hut take three things in particular: a pack of long burning candles, toilet paper and insect spray to get rid of the sandflies in case there are too many in the hut (cover food before you spray and then leave the room for some time). And for the joy of the next guest: leave all three left overs at the hut.

First day at the system I decided to fish branch A due to the rather high main rivers, which made crossing the confluence section impossible (ABC refers to the three branches according to the old blog post nomenclature two years ago). Out of that reason I had to grass-bash through blossoming grass as tall as I am – hello hay fever... that was the maximum dose possible that day. Every single grass bush exploded to a yellowish cloud of poles. Same did my nose and eyes: they just exploded. 

In one of the early pools I caught an active feeding fish and unfortunately ripped it off. But after a couple of minutes it was back on station and was feeding again. I set up another nymph and caught it again! This time it saw the net and I could remove both flies. Did somebody say NZ fish are supposed to be spooky?

I fished well beyond a gorgy section and beyond smaller forks following the main right arm. Very low numbers of fish even in the highly promising pools only one or none… That was rather disappointing compared to the last visit, back then there were considerable more fish not to say many.

In total I caught some 4 fish of around 5 to 6,5 lbs. All browns, all on nymph, all in good shape but not sign of mice at all. Such a low result that I tend to count the double hooked fish twice.

Back at the hut I was surprised to see it full: an elderly tramping couple and a group of four young men on special vehicles, obviously not used to sports as they were all sleeping in their beds – it was just around 8 pm. I felt a little bit unfair to fry my filet second round and having a couple of beers. That night a lot of wood was sawn… by the snoring sleepers.

Next day was the turn of branch B. The whole thing was a little bit limited in terms of fun as my left Simms wading boot for some reason caused awful pain with every single step on the upper inner ankle. No explanation for that never had it before. Now I understood a picture I saw once before of totally intentionally cut Simms boots. I was close to consider the same. After some days I just ended up to tie only the lower part of the lace and keep the upper section open. That made me looking very stylish! It might be the fish did not like that.

Fishing was tough. Very low numbers of fish and low numbers of eels. Lots of walking up until the bush and well into the bush up to a big pool that was the point of return two years ago. Back then there were close to half a dozen fish feeding in that pool. This time I saw three not feeding. Water was clear and dropping, a recent spate had added fresh water, spotting was good, thus perfect conditions. I had no explanation for the low numbers of fish. Catching three fish the whole day. Nevertheless the fish were in very good condition around 5,5 to 7lbs, but no sign of mice died, as the area was heavily covered by 1080 just weeks before.

At night I came back to the hut rather late. And to my surprise it was busy again: this time with two Germans, one relocated a decade ago to NZ, who had a fishing rod and funny nymphs with him. The other one was his tramping buddy. We chatted for a while. I had NZ sausages that night – not too bad at all. 

Next morning we made arrangements to share the fishing. I went to C branch and the two others to another section. I walked for an hour strait on the track to cover previously unknown water later that day. The whole day was starting very slow in terms of fishing. I hooked a first fish close to the bridge that was pulling me through two pools downriver. Strange it did not come to my mind that it might be foul hooked. Exactly that was the case. Landing it, the fly was hooked on the back fin, so this fish did not count. Close to that section I caught one soon afterwards that was regularly hooked. At least that one was a real beauty of something close or around to 6,5-7lbs (think I mentioned before: I am unable to memorize more than three fish a day by weight and details, and after some days most of that is blurred as well). To make a long story short: it was the single one fish of the day. I followed the river a little bit more upstream than before and was happy about the track leading back to the hut. What a strange day celebrating Christmas. It was the 24th of December. At the hut Tortellini and some red wine I shared with the two folks from Germany. The only reminder of Christmas was unpacking a very generous present from my parents and my thoughts of the usual joyful celebration at home.

No fly out on the First Christmas Holiday or Christmas NZ-style (they celebrate on the 25th) – thus I had to spend another day on that system. Branch A saw me again. Not so far up this time just below the gorge. More kind of taking pictures as there was not much action in terms of fish walking upstream. Even the always good lower pools and a specific section did not show sign of fish! I ended up blank! It happens, but not often.

On the way back to the hut I had some casts to educated fish on a pool of the main river. After a while I gave up and layed down on the bank. Not much sandflies thus a quick snooze was an inviting option. After a longer while I got back to consciousness and got upright and to my surprise – first thought was “it is a dream?!” – there was a fisherman coming up at the bank. An elephant would have surprised me slightly less. It turned out that this time it was a Swiss tramping couple,  he casting an evening line and she around the hut.

To my surprise he did not ask me thousands of questions about NZ fishing and the local river system but about where I have been traveling the years before. Being in NZ I would use every slight chance to gain more on site information about fishing before I would ask somebody about his international travel experiences. His high visibility orange fly line, the experience the days before and some other experiences made me silently thinking: folks if you travel to NZ to fly fish then DO your bloody homework. Read books, internet, collect information on fishing, do your preparation thoroughly and behave accordingly! It just improves your chances to catch the odd fish massively.

Nevertheless the conversation that night was nice and I shared the next bottle of wine with my “guests”, this time it was a rather young but still pleasant Cabernet/Merlot from The Mission / Napier. In Napier Tobias made his very first steps three days after his first birthday. Back then he was so unbelievable proud and excited about what he just achieved.

10:30 the next morning – it was Friday the 26th December – the chopper flew me out to Karamea. Farewell River – take care and get the fish back!

On the way out I made an aerial shot of a house close to the water, a house where I wanted to say hello to the residents after being back out of the bush…