A Fish Down South…

Head Waters of the Oreti & the Road to the Von River Valley…

With the regular trout season coming quickly to an end, coupled with me having had a guts full of house projects, I made the executive decision to go for a decent, final fish with my mate Chester in Southland. So I packed up Gertie my 1975 Series III Land Rover & toddled South…and I mean toddled, as it was a long 9 hour road trip. After a delicious Sunday night feast & a decent catchup, we headed for bed to get a good night’s sleep so we could do battle with the Southland trout.

Southland Waters…

We awoke to a day that, weather-wise, could not have been any better – no clouds, blue skies, decently warm temps and NO WIND. So we hustled our bums out the door as New Zealand weather can change in a, well, New York minute.

Looking at the water flow charts & post a quick river inspection as we left Mossburn, we decided to fish the Upper Oreti to start the week off – hopefully with a bang. All kitted up, we fished our way up stream with modest success – a 6+ pounder to the net, but very few fish spotted in what were perfect conditions. Chester & I both thought something was definitely amiss, as our usual fish count was more in the 30-40 fish range in that amount of fishing time.

The Oreti had a wee bit of excess water in it & it had a smidgen of colour, but not enough to put fish down or off their feed. A week or so before it had had a bit of a fresh, so we decided to explore a different section of slightly calmer water on the idea that they may have migrated there to escape the rough waters.

As right decisions go, we could not have been any more righter. We found stable pools with decent water flows (not any sign of flooding like the Oreti) & best of all – trout! Working our way up the these series of perfect pools with deep cut banks was a joy – first fish took a blowfly from the surface & set off on a leaping frenzy & looked to be about 8 pounds. A beautiful take it was too — as happens with many good things as well as bad, it all seemed to happen in super slow motion. I saw him rise from the bottom, silver head shining as he opened his jaws to gulp the fly & turn & return to his post. The day finished out with 4 more fish in the 6-7 pound range – now that’s a start with a bang!

Southland Waters Continued….

The Basque Boys Off for a Fish…Wearing Our Berets (Boinas in Spanish) I Picked Up in Spain…

We awoke Tuesday to yet another stunner of a day (the rest of the week would be ditto) & decided to hit the Upper Oreti again, but work upstream from where we’d finished the day on Monday. And as good as Monday was, Tuesday & the rest of the week was as dead as a door nail. And we could not figure or sort out why…we postulated that since it was spawning season for the browns that maybe they’d gone off the feed & were just looking for sex. Or maybe the previous week’s decent flooding had pushed them to other parts of the river. We saw no fresh footprints on either day, so we could not put it down to other anglers thrashing the water before us.

Yet Another Beautiful Pool to Thrash….

Given Tuesday’s blank trout day, we opted to make the Mararoa River our designated destination as it holds a decent population of rainbows who were not ready to spawn until May, and therefore might offer us a better chance of a hookup. But we’d misread the water flow charts & it was a raging torrent when we pulled up to its banks. Oh well…we had already come this far, so we drove on to the headwaters of the Oreti in hopes we might have access to some decent water which we did, but we were also buffeted by almost gale force winds. So we retreated to another Oreti access point & Chester saved us from another blank day with a 4+ pounder to the net.

Wily Southland Trout Spotted, Cast To & Hooked!

On Thursday we decided to attack a couple sections of the middle Oreti (we had done an inspection the day before & water was crystal clear) but it proved to be as devoid of trout as our 2 previous outings. Always a bit of a puzzle – perfect weather, stunning water with loads of character but no trout. I did spot one – a weird one @ that – sitting on his belly in about ankle deep water with his dorsal fin in the air.

Gotcha!!!!

For our final day we decided that rainbows needed to be found so the Waiau River was the pick of the day. Our first section of the river was a dude, with neither one of us, despite fishing hard, touching a trout. After a great fish & chip lunch, Chester said we were going to a spot where some rainbows were guaranteed – a section of the river where a backwater joined the main river flow making it an excellent spot for rainbows to hold…positioned in the slow, zero current back water but poised to make a quick dash into the main flow for any passing comestible. And Chester fished it hard for half an hour with a streamer, throwing his entire fly line down to the backing out into the main current & letting it drift, and then swing round before stripping it back. Zilch…zero…nada. I guess that is why it’s called fishing…

P.S. – I know I ended this post by saying I guess that is why it’s called fishing, but I wanted to comment on the tragedy of the state of our waterways. In just a short 10 years our freshwater waterways (and salt water too I imagine) have witnessed severe & serious declines to the extent that many waterways are unfishable, unswimmable and certainly undrinkable. And in my opinion & I think many scientific opinions & evidence state that it is primarily because of dairy, intensive agriculture and forestry. Federated Farmers & Fonterra will scream they are not to blame for much of it, but methinks doth protest too much as the reports show, 40% of our waterways flow through rural agricultural & dairy land while only 1% flow through urban areas. I see photos almost daily of cows standing in rivers, streams or lakes having a big piss & poo fest, algae blooms in waterways from low water levels (over irrigation extraction) & massive fertiliser & chemical runoffs and massive sediment clouds in waterways from poorly planned developments & outright idiotic forestry works. And it boggles the mind that New Zealand could have and still does treat its most precious resource – fresh, drinkable water – so tragically bad and to add insult to injury, even sells it to the Chinese for pennies on the dollar to be exported. How much dumber than a fence post do you have to be to not only permit that, but promote it? They say water is the new oil & I think they are right. New Zealanders have a history of passivity but  I can only hope the average punter in New Zealand is finally getting mad & will not take it anymore and gets up off their arse and does something…even if it is just to write an email or letter & let the morons in charge know that you care and want things to change.

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Fly Fishing Southland New Zealand….Nice To Be Home.

The Stunning Upper Oreti River, Southland, New Zealand

It’s nice to be ‘back in the saddle’ again after many months of a motionless fly rod. I last wet my fly line in León, Spain back in July 2017 but our move back to New Zealand quickly took on a tsunami life of its own, wiping out most available free time. Returning to New Zealand in October/November 2017 our daily lives became dominated (and still are) by various issues related to our house, Gertie the 1975 Series III Land Rover, our super dog Billie the Jack Russell and many other hiccups to sort out. 

We have not reached ‘peak chaos’ yet as a friend of ours so accurately described our status, a space where we will begin to feel the gentle (or still bumpy) descent into some form of normality.  But it most definitely felt like I needed a break to thrash some decent trout waters. And I am blessed with a marvellous fly fishing mate Chester (and wife Gillian) who reside in Southland and on their property they have an estupendo granny cottage which is about as perfect a fly fishing crash pad as you could ever want…and they are grand hosts to boot.

After a good night of catchup chat (and a few too many vinos as you do), we arose to our first day of fishing to absolute shite. An ugly Southerly was raging about the place, pissing rain combined with freezing temperatures – an environment which under more normal circumstances we’d have hung home. But we were keen (Chester had not been out this season either) and modestly hungover, so off we plundered into the grey mists, stupidity reigned.

The Oreti was first in the queue and the weather actually worsened the closer we got…we decided on our ‘usual’ beat & plunged into the whipping winds, horizontal rains and numbing temps. Mate Chester had wandered around his kitchen prior to our departure continually repeating the phrase “Do not forget your boots, do not forget your boots” which did the trick – but he forgot his rain jacket. So periodically throughout the day he made a hasty retreat to the truck to get a blast from the heater. I reached peak cold a few hours later when I could no longer tie a fly on due to my violently shaking hands. And the fishing was just like the weather – shite. I raised a fish on the first pool, on my second or third cast & that was the day. Chester irritated a decent brown with a streamer but the day’s fish count (not catch) was a total of 4. Very strange for this Oreti section as a more normal number is closer to 40 or more…could it just be the weather?

Equally Awesome Mararoa River, Southland, New Zealand

Day 2 saw us back @ the Oreti with a chalk & cheese kind of day compared to the first – sun, blue skies, little wind and almost warm temperatures. We fished the next section up & with near perfect conditions for spotting, we were hoping to see & of course catch more fish. But the river gods were not so kind – though the weather was totally different the fishing was still shite – I raised & hooked one on a blowfly which quickly achieved long distance release and Chester did not do much better. And again, with perfect conditions, we saw a total of 4 fish. Our working theory was that the previous week’s floods had possibly pushed the trout down river to other sections…

Too Crowded Oreti Beach…

As we wound up our second day of water thrashing, the back of my casting hand had developed quite a swollen muscle lump as it has been 4 or more years since I had last cast a 6 weight rod for 5-6 hours (mostly 2 or  3 or 4 weights in England & Spain). So we opted to have a rest day and dose myself with some anti-inflammatories in the hopes all would come right to finish the week out on the Mararoa River. We busied ourselves with Chester’s weekly supply runs to Invercargill, a drive along the oh so crowded Oreti Beach (not) & a damn decent fish & chips lunch.

Top Left: Southland Humour with Mircowave Mailbox; View up the Mararoa Valley; Fish On!; Kitted Up & Ready for Action!

For our last day on the water, all had come right as my hand was sort of back to normal and the weather had stuck on the nice side of the spectrum with sun, decent temps but just a wee bit of gusty winds. On our previous 2 days fishing on the Oreti we saw no other anglers, just cyclists on the new cycle trail. But the Mararoa was another kettle of fish – first 2 access points had been snatched by anglers and what looked like a guide prepared to climb the Himalayas.

We snagged the next access point & we hit the water quick snap & were very happy to see that the didymo levels were amazingly tolerable as after a decent flooding you can find it coming down in sheets. But once again, the fish numbers were depressingly low – I managed to hook & land one decent 4-5 pound brown on a blowfly and Chester hooked a 4 pound rainbow on a streamer. But other than a few tiddlers (Chester also landed a 1 pounder & I had aggressive smacks by wee ones) that was the day. I guess that’s why it is called fishing…

Hoping for some more piscatorial adventures before this season wraps up in April…