GOING WILD IN
THE LAND OF THE LONG WHITE CLOUD
story from the summer of 2003 by Alistair Eykyn ©)
ďYouíll never catch fish in New Zealand by
yourself.Ē Repeatedly, this was the message I received when
doing my exhaustive homework before setting out Down Under for
the trip of a lifetime. Fanciful ideas of casting a casual line
into the myriad of prolific Kiwi rivers were soon banished. The
internet was trawled. I wanted browns, I wanted the majestic
scenery of the South Island, and I wanted to know how on earth
to go about it. There must be a hundred websites on which to
browse for brown trout fishing in the Land of the Long White
Cloud. But I will wager there is only one which can summon from
the ether, the experience and genial know-how of Ben Kemp. If
itís big, wild, fighting trout youíre after, Ben is the man to
lead you to one of the holy grails of game fishing.
Catching trout in New Zealand is almost
exclusively reliant on spotting the quarry first. Each river
that criss-crosses this jaw-droppingly beautiful country is gin
clear, with a turquoise hue that teases and taunts the
fisherman. Often the icy colouring is the result of glacial
run-off or snow melt, and it lends the fishing a unique
element. Without a guide you will flounder. If you canít see
the trout, you can be sure they will see you - and even the
stealthiest of predators will leave empty-handed.
The other unusual element to trout fishing in
New Zealand is that contrary to popular advertising, the rivers
are not stuffed full of hulking ďtrophyĒ trout waiting to
provide sport for visiting anglers. Most rivers do not sustain
that much aquatic life, so that large numbers of trout fail to
make it beyond infancy. Those that do, find themselves towards
the top of the food chain, and cream off the majority of insect
life passing through their particular territory. These fish grow
to uncommonly large sizes, but they are not numerous. Local
knowledge is indispensable.
In early November, driving a tatty blue Kombi
van packed to the hilt, my wife Anna and I rattled into the
little hamlet of Nelson Creek, at the foot of the Southern Alps.
Ben greeted us warmly in our picturesque riverside campground
opposite a neglected old pub.
||We then set out down a tangled
labyrinth of dirt tracks into the wilderness.
An hour or so later we emerged
from dense woodland, blinking in the sunlight as the
Ahaura River sparkled on the vast plain in front of us.
Flanked by snow-covered mountains
in the distance to either side, the crystal clear water
hurries over the rocky bed, maybe 50 yards in width,
blending fast rippled sections with long smooth glides.
The six-weight fly rods were already
assembled, with a Haresí Ear nymph tied as a dropper below a dry
Royal Wulff. The dry fly acts both as a lure in itself, and as
an indicator for the nymph. With the sunlight dappling the
water, it is easy to miss a take. Ben took up position alongside
us, and within a short time, spotted several fish in a junction
pool, where a side creek joined the main body of water.
not an experienced fly fisher, but casts well and is a
fast learner. Ben instructed her patiently for half an
hour or so, and we approached low, moving quietly over
the rocks. After a couple of attempts that landed safely
wide of the target, the Wulff touched down 2 yards
upstream of the waiting trout.
the fish ease into position, and as the fly sank from
view she tightened the line. Five minutes of acrobatics
later, 3.5lbs of lean silver brownie came to the net.
Ben gutted it on the spot, and left us to our task. He
busied himself with an ancient portable smoker, and half
an hour later we savoured the freshest trout of our
Naturally it took me a good deal
longer to score, but when I did, the thrill of the fight
in such a dazzling setting was everything I had dared to
dream about. The afternoon passed in a happy blur of
scenic beauty and heart-pounding adventure. We caught
several more fish up to 4.5 lbs thanks to the eagle eyes
of our guide.
There is nothing quite like
stalking your prey, with one cast to hit your target.
Sometimes you could even see the trout open its mouth as
it approached the fly lazily. Like an excited child
offered a sweetie, it is all too tempting to whisk the
morsel away before the deal is done. As Ben confidently
told us, itís the most fun you can have with your
For our remaining two days we pitched camp on
Bain Bay, by the edge of the imposing Lake Brunner. We paddled
quietly on Benís self-made boat up the Hohonu River Ė a much
smaller creek, wonderfully different to the Ahaura - fringed by
tropical rainforest. It wouldnít have surprised us to see a
crocodile slither out from the bank, but thankfully as yet they
havenít made it across the Tasman Sea. Again the water was
clear, though this river bed was sandy, lending it a tint of
ochre. These trout are also easily spooked, and often our fly
landed too close to the fish, and the shadowy figures shot away,
horrified at our clumsy practice. Ben remained patient as ever,
quietly offering unobtrusive advice, and all the while watching
for movement below the surface.
We also fished the reedy fringes
of Lake Brunner where the browns patrol, or snooze their
way through the day. The same principles apply, the same
20-20 vision required. It was a prolific time, with
plenty of fish in the 3 to 4lb bracket and several lost
that, naturally, were a good deal larger.
When we werenít fishing, we were
treated to an endless succession of fresh smoked trout,
and other delicacies crammed into Benís numerous
Never have I camped in such
luxury. After whiling away the evening hours with
stories around the lakeside fire, the pampering was
complete with camp beds on which to rest our weary
heads. We drifted into contented sleep to the gentle,
melodious calls of the flightless weka bird.
We left Ben, and coaxed our ageing little
Kombi the length and breadth of the South Island over the
following three weeks, often pausing to cast a fly in a likely
spot on one of the hundreds of gleaming rivers we passed. Our
optimism was bolstered by our new found knowledge; our failure
testament to our lack of realism. Itís true enough - youíll
never catch fish in New Zealand by yourself.
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