Belated Reflections of a Zillund tour

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PetertheZimbo
Posts: 10
Joined: Thu Aug 07, 2014 4:51 am

Belated Reflections of a Zillund tour

Post by PetertheZimbo » Mon Oct 14, 2019 9:48 pm

Sitting in the office in England, watching the days grow shorter, with my flyfishing finger getting itchy, I did what I suspect most desk bound fly fishermen do. I planned, and researched and lived vicariously through some of the many, often excellent, youtube videos . Many of these videos seemed a little unbelievable to someone who has not been to New Zealand. I was raised on small mountain lakes with small but tasty stocked trout, with occasional and usually unsuccessful trips to the few nutrient poor almost alpine spate prone rivers in Zimbabwe. I had some experience of very decent fishing for wild brown trout the Natal drakensburg on a river near my University. It was a revelation sight fishing for good looking healthy brown trout up to a maximum (albeit rare) size of about 5 lbs. I was hooked after that, it was a rare treat. Sadly, that particular river was being destroyed by a pig farmer way back then. This colossal #*!”$! was dumping raw pig manure in its upper reaches. It became an algae infested dead zone in a few short years, and has not yet recovered some 25 odd years later. I have since been to Alaska many times, and the fishing is good, particularly for Salmon, but conditions rarely allowed for sight fishing, and a dry fly there is a 1 inch rat pattern used more like a bass lure.

I made a shortlist of guides, deciding it would be best to start my South Island tour with a guide - even though I really dislike being guided - lest I was not as clever a fly fisherman as my chalk stream victories would lead me to believe. I narrowed it down to one Nelson guide who seemed to be suitable, and by all accounts very successful. I was working with a few kiwis, who turned out to be philistines who did not fish at all. I chastised them often and loudly for their lack of enthusiasm for this finest of pastimes. I was outlining my trip and that I had picked a guide, and it turned out that the brother of one of the philistines was a close friend of the guide. A small world indeed.

I had a tent(never used thanks to DOC huts and my unwillingness to rough it in what turned out to be a very rainy tour. 5 million flies, goretex (too short - as it turned out) hip waders, and a bag of all the other kit needed in Zillund, gloves, buff, hat, many shades of polarised glasses etc
My brother lives north of Auckland and he picked out a decent 4runner for me to do my 9 week tour. After a delightful sheep and goat class 24 hour trip from cold and muddy Ingerland I arrived in Zillund fizzing with anticipation. After a week of family stuff, I packed my stuff and fled South with my well marked map and a rough plan. First stop, I had long decided was the ridiculously perfect Waihou river. I did not expect anything other than a spanking there, but it was worth the visit just to see huge trout swimming around one of the blue springs, and too watch a Maldivean chap being hoodwinked by his mate that the water was just like home. He nearly bounced clean out of the river in shock. Beautiful maybe, but certainly not my idea of a fine swimming hole. I spent the next week meandering from Rotorua past some excellent, but surprisingly quite pressured rivers, and on through the Uruweras, which were largely unmolested. Despite seeing many large hungry Rainbow and Brown trout, I did not manage to land a single fish. I hooked a large brown on a roadside stretch of river near Lake waikaremoana, but I managed to duff that. In my defense, chalk stream fishing for flapping tiddlers was useless preparation for long casts to fish that had my heart beating in my throat in crystal clear water. I drove and hiked some of the famous rivers between there and an appointment with a former countryman in Gisborne for Steak and tall stories over whiskey and cigars. The weather had turned foul, and many of these were running high and cloudy, but I am glad I took the time to do it. Some were magnificent, others were a little disappointing after what I had already seen, and did not seem to match the glowing descriptions I had read of them.

With a filthy weather forecast for the region I decided to head south at full speed and try my hand in the South island, with my guided trip not too long away why not acclimatise myself so that I don’t look like a complete fool (which turned out to be yet more flawed logic – a fool and his trout are easily parted.)

On arrival in the South island I was not disappointed, it is a spectacular part of the world, chock full of wonderful rivers, and hopefully some gullible trout. The short version of this is that I was of course handed my arse repeatedly by seemingly “easy” fish that I did reasonable casts to with locally recommended flies. But I did learn one important lesson, unlike the predicable mud island and southern African trout, you had to look EVERYWHERE in the rivers in new Zealand before making a cast. I found this out whilst wading a shallow barren looking stretch of river next to a smallholding. There was a deranged rooster flapping around mid stream as I rounded the bend. After calling the departing roosters sanity and lineage into question, and mouthing the old adage ”the things you see when you don’t have your rifle” I relaxed and walked on up, nearly standing on a trout of about 6-7lbs in a small scrape where the idiot rooster had just been cavorting.

It was soon time to hook up with the guide. He had clearly not flown many desks in his time, fit and looking at least 10 years younger than he was. A no nonsense kind of a guy, with a dry wit, and a positive attitude, and no shortage of well placed quiet confidence. He checked the weather, checked with his competitors to avoid a clash and planned our warm up day on a river west of Nelson. He asked me, what in retrospect was a loaded question which I suspect had been primed by the philistine in London: “Can you walk?”. I am a lanky bugger, and used to be supremely fit, so I said “I can walk all day”. The river was running a little high and clear, and he guided me onto some heart pumping specimens, yet as hard as I tried I could not get the damned rod and line to co-operate. I duffed a half dozen relatively easy chances for large healthy fish, and started to get very frustrated. When we came upon a particularly good fish in a relatively difficult(impossible for my bumbling self) lie, I asked him to take over while I sat and watched. I wanted one fish in the net that day, no matter who caught it. Of course he made it look easy, and after the usual hard fight he netted a particularly fine 9lb+ trout. We walked about 16km that day up and down a fairly tough section of river, I caught a few smaller fish and thus finally broke my duck.

That days fishing ended up in a magazine article with a large banner headline entitled ”performance anxiety”. The funny thing is he was wrong about the reasons for my poor performance. Firstly I hate being watched or actively taught, I am very much a monkey see monkey do type of student. i.e. Show me and then leave me alone. Not easy for a guide to deal with I think. Secondly, these fish were huge by my standards, and I could see them clearly, so I was a bit over excited each time I let fly. Thirdly my confidence had taken a beating after being blanked for the previous weeks, and this was the final nail in my fishing coffin. With legs like rubber I made it back to the car and I had to qualify my earlier “I can walk all day” claim with “I am fit for a middle aged desk jockey, but not climb Everest fit”.

A few days break for (yet more) rain and contemplation, and we choppered out to the (name withheld?) to test my guides patience once again. I slowly started to get my confidence back and get my eye in and landed about 50% of the chances I was presented. The quality of the river was simply mind blowing. I had never seen so many quality fish in a crystal clear river of exactly the right size and variety of habitat. Each pool seemed to have at least 5 large healthy fish in it, and each run at least one or two. We did not fish it hard, having a shot at one fish per pool before heading up to the next to allow anyone following a decent bite of the apple. My guide was, as described by those who knew him, a highly principled individual, so this was not surprising. I hooked what is without doubt the most beautiful fish I have ever caught, it was large, but not trophy sized, perfectly proportioned and coloured. Nearly all the trout were healthy and fought hard, more like the salmon of Alaska than the trout I was used to. An extremely satisfying few days in beautiful country, blue ducks being a welcome distraction, and bell birds demanding to be fed or at least to have a look in your pack.

That set the tone for the rest of my trip, the weather was frankly awful, the rivers were running high all too often, but I managed to seek out many of the spring creeks between Nelson and Queenstown on my meander south and had the odd day of clear water conditions on the bigger rivers. I walked the Oreti without my rod – too many “trout bums” hammering the water there for my tastes - and fished many of the other big name rivers with mixed success, but despite the rubbish weather these were halcyon days.

My wife arrived for her tour of New Zealand after 5 weeks of mostly rain, predictably the sun came out and stayed out for the next four weeks, but my fishing opportunities were limited from then on, which was no tragedy given the many things to see and do in New Zealand.
Arthurs Pass is spectacular, with those ridiculous Keas cruising around much like monkeys with wings, stealing anything not tied down. They took delight in ripping the rubber mouldings off one particularly foolish tourists rental car, while they looked on with delight and took pictures. Drove over too many of those little popcorn mice around there, an infestation they may be, but they are frankly the most charming infestation I have seen. It set my teeth on edge squashing them en-masse as they crossed the road.
I did not manage to do any actual flying down south. Being taken for a ride to the fox glacier, whilst spectacular, does not count. I will visit Wanaka and the warbird Guys in Blenheim one day, and there is one particularly spectacular river I missed that I will certainly visit next time I come.
The final fish story is worth telling I think. We had spent a few days at Hanmer springs doing the waters, and drinking the whiskey. When we left we decided to head over the mountain pass and on up to Marlborough by the back roads. I knew from my research that the Clarence had been rock snotted for some time, but it was a very pleasant meander along its banks, seeing a surprising number of small trout in it, but very few of any size. I made frequent stops along the way to have a look into the water, but did not feel like I was missing much. We crossed the river somewhere along the way and up alongside a decent size canyon bound tributary with shale banks. I saw a particularly excellent looking pool after the canyon started to flatten out and stopped for a look see. There were a few smallish fish feeding, and the currents/wind would make for difficult casting so I sat and watched for a while. Whilst watching an upwelling in the pool I spotted an “eel” through the ripples. The eel finally backed into some clearer water and turned into the largest trout I had ever seen. I scrambled back to the car to fetch my rod, babbling to my wife that I had seen a huge trout, but she must stay put lest she scare it off. I loaded up a Cicada to try and tempt the beast to the surface. Casting into a howling gusty downstream wind on a steep crumbly shale bank was not a pleasure, and of course the monster had returned to his spot by the upwelling and indeed was mostly out of sight behind an outcrop of very loose shale I could not walk on. I did my best to high stick the cicada blind through the boiling water hoping to feel any take. On about my third attempt my Cicada was sucked under, and would probably be carried right past the nose of this fish. I had to mend some line out to avoid lifting the fly out of the water as I tried to reach over the shale mound between me and the boiling pot. I had a feeling this was going to be the time if ever, but I could not feel or see my line. Needless to say I see this monster backing into the clear water gill raking like crazy having just spat my fly, now sitting just in front of its gaping mouth. It of course descended to the depths to sulk. I was crushed. Ruminating on a missed opportunity to catch this colossal fish of a lifetime, I nearly crashed the car on one of those “hidden” drifts (tank traps) you kiwis are so fond of. My head was full of what ifs and wtf’s, so not entirely my fault.

The vast majority of the fishermen I met were friendly, generous and frankly decent people. In fact the only run ins I had on the river were both foreign guides who tried to pull the wool on two of the more heavily fished rivers. The one German fellow was in for a nasty surprise when he started getting shirty with me. I cursed him wildly in his native tongue when he pushed a little too hard, and he like most bullies shuffled off to ponder his lineage. I am not a tough guy, but I am too old to tolerate that kind of nonsense when I am out trying to enjoy myself.
New Zealand aint cheap, but it was mostly fair value for the quality provided, and I spent much more than I expected, but that was partly because I did not do any real back country camping. My Toyota did not miss a beat and sold for what I bought it for. It is also the place when I first realised my eyes were starting to get middle aged. Trying to tie a small dry on a 5lb tippet at dusk is better than any high priced eye test. I have omitted the names of most of the rivers I fished, as I seem to recall that is the form when posting tall stories.

Finally, when asked about the fishing in Zillund by a fellow Zimbabwean, I explained it thus: Better than the best bullshit story about fishing ever told in Chiredzi (a dusty boring place known far and wide to produce the most incredible stories ever excreted) and that is high praise indeed.
Like Arnie, I’ll be back, this time with glasses and knees just a little more buggered than the last time. Oh and I have since learned to fly helicopters, so I expect all and sundry to salute and show due deference.



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