Into the “Hadlands” – Last trip of the season

Well it had to be done, given that I live so close to them… a trip into mouse-country in search of a last minute trophy trout, or at least a couple of decent fish. Pressure has been increasing steadily on our rivers here in the South Island over the last several years, and in my view it’s reached crisis point. In fact, things have gotten so bad that certain angler-access car parks are often full, and could benefit from some sort of parking valet service. Laughs aside, with the exception of the first couple of months of the season, many of the popular south island rivers just feel “had” these days. Going by some of the streamside conversations I’ve had this season I know I’m not the only one holding this view. Anyways, in spite of that, I decided to venture into these had lands in hope of a miracle. And in the likely event I failed, at least I wouldn’t have to deal with that lingering “what if” the entire off-season.

It’d been a while since my last trip, and as a result the body was really feeling the effects of the several kilometre long hike to the midpoint of this valley (made worse by the weighty burden of my ridiculous packs). It was a glorious day. The immense blue sky was  for once untainted by those dreaded metallic birds, which appeared to have gone into hibernation as they usually do at this time of year, leaving the local fishermen to pluck over the remains of the season. As I marveled at the blissful silence in this still, sun-drenched valley, the faint sound of voices became audible. Investigating a little further into the Matagouri maze, it was here that I encountered a couple of lads from the local fishing forum, standing over my packs which I’d briefly abandoned in order to fish a stretch of river below. I still had some way to go to reach my destination—my campsite from a memorable early season visit—and given I was already in no state to fish, figured I might as well leave the river in their worthy hands, while I pressed on. Upon entering the campsite, I was rather amazed to find the firewood stack I’d left was still there! Useless and wet by now, but kind of refreshing to see no one had camped here since.

129Not the wisest choice of campsites, tucked away in day-long shade mid-left in the distance (shade all day long), brrr!

With the tent erected, I got a fire going early and indulged in a multi-course meal. In the midst of this, I was privileged to have an impromptu dinner guest appear—an adorable little Robin. He perched himself on a branch no less than a metre away from the flames and remained there until only the barest remnants of daylight remained. Probably fearing that if he lingered any longer he may not find his way back to his tree, he finally fluttered off. A thick insulating layer of grey now covered the sky—no stars, but it made for an unseasonably mild night at least. Quite a relief, given that my sleeping bag hadn’t dried sufficiently since it’s last-minute wash, and still had a miserable dampness to it.

The incessant screeching of a Robin roused me the next morning.  A frigid cold had displaced the mild air of last night, and upon feeling this new stinging cold, I wondered if the gobby bird outside was my guest from the night before, demanding a breakfast beside another toasty-warm fire. The skies were clear, I noted, whilst stumbling gingerly toward the river, although unfortunately the sun was still some way from hitting this part of the valley. Despite this inspiring blue sky, I felt fairly forlorn about my chances, even before getting a line wet! The main reason being the lads from the forum—as far as I knew—hadn’t had any luck, and they were fairly able fishermen to say the least. Anyway, I headed upriver after breakfast to give it a shot.

The going was easy—a flat track, and once on the river the verges of tall grasses were easy to navigate as they’d been ironed flat by the season-long pitter-patter of a million angler’s boots! In short, I only saw a couple of fish the whole day, and they weren’t interested. In fact, they couldn’t even be arsed to spook! The biggest feat of the day was somehow managing to prise a pebble from the deep. Quite amazing considering how many fish with soft pierceable mouths had slipped off my hooks, and yet this unpierecable rock had found a way to stay on. Fly fishing can be bizarre and quite ridiculously unfair like that, much of the time.

The most pleasant moment of the day—despite the scene being tainted by a disinterested fish facing the wrong way in the pool, and looking rather shagged (lads from the forum, was that you…?)—was coming across a sedate, utterly divine, bush-clad pool. The residence of two Whio.

DCIM100DRIFTCatch of the day!

099Whio residence, serene spot 

077Two concerningly laxed-out Whio—they didn’t even bother to move as I neared

The night was wintry; the skies clear. As I indulged in a bit of Canadian Club by the fire I gazed upward, spotting a dim dot drifting across the sky—a satellite—before noticing another coming from the opposite way, and then another! Perhaps these were billionaire angler’s satellites, I pondered, deployed with the sole purpose of surveying our trophy waters! It may be wise to take a leaf out of the Al Qaeda handbook, and make a note of their orbits next time you camp out, so you can time the moment you prise a juggernaut from the deep just right, and avoid their detection. Never can be too careful! On a more serious note, this spectacle illustrated just how crowded our skies have become. Guess there’s not really anywhere that is true wilderness anymore, not even up there. After a little more stargazing I turned in. Given that my sleeping bag had a broken zip, sleep was an intermittent affair, turning over every half hour like I was engaging in some sort of pitiful defrost cycle.

198Reflecting on a despairing day

Next morning, I endured a torturous breakfast and pack up, as the sandfly hordes ravaged me mercilessly. I’m fine with their biting by now, but it’s the itchy sensation of having them crawling over your face while having both hands occupied, that I can’t stand. It’s a plague far less marketed than this mouse one, but no less real! I’m certain their numbers have doubled due to the increased number of anglers visiting the area this season. I headed back down the valley around midday, only stopping for the occasional breather, and a stop in at my old nemeses residence—General Sherman. Remember him from my Trifecta of Torment report? Well unfortunately for Sherman, a bloody great salmon—guess around 30lbs—had decided to check into his home, and he was nowhere to be seen. Hopefully Sherman doesn’t have to remain a trout-hobo for too long, and manages to regain his old pad once the bloody great big salmon has moved on!

UPDATE: While in the process of writing this, I’ve been informed that this may in fact be a bloody, bloody, great big ridiculously enormous TROUT, and not a bloody great big salmon at all! If so, given his obvious gluttonous overeating disorder, I fear he may perish from type 2 diabetes before I can get at him next season. Certainly a smaller tragedy than if he were a searun, as he would obviously become a sinking hazard to freight ships etc when he heads back out into the ocean.

296Behold SS Monstro! Home invasion at the Sherman residence! Took a LOT of waiting for this window of smooth water to arrive

Dreams of a can of chilli beans, instant noodles, and peanut butter sandwiches proved to be sufficient motivation to get me out of the valley and back to the car, reaching it just after 5pm. Pausing a final time to take in a vista of mountain silhouettes and matte silver and ginger clouds, I couldn’t help but think it was an apt scene to portray my season. Pleasant enough, yet non-spectacular.

By now I’d completely forgotten the date, and so was in for something of a shock as I pulled out onto the road and into a sort of commoner’s F1 race. Bloody maniacs, us Kiwis heading out of town on a long weekend! It’s as if we do our best to try and avoid making it to point B. After about five minutes of enduring the madness I’d had enough, and found a pit area—well a rest area—to pull into and sit it out, cook a feed, and observe the automotive antics from afar. It was another clear night, and sleeping in the car is even more miserable in such circumstances, But with the aid of numerous layers of polypropylene and goose down insulation, I actually slept pretty well, apart from being woken every so often by a rodent—or something—scuttling across the roof of the car.

352A last look back into the “Hadlands”

Come morning, I decided to roll the dice on a different river, as ending the season like this was just to grim to bear. It was a still, mist-laden, most atmospheric morning. Eagerly striding over the riverbed with renewed hope, it was merely seconds before I’d spotted my first fish—a little fellow, on the far side of an awkward, swift current. With a few ineffectual casts made, I gave up on him and moved on, reasoning he wasn’t worth the effort. The next object to draw my scrutiny was an eye-catching dark blur, also on the opposite side of the river—of course! And again, we were separated by a swift current, though this one was far more uniform. I made several casts, and being content I’d given my nymphs a couple of irresistible drifts past it which surely no fish could resist, lobbed a rock over. Peowww! Bugger, it WAS a fish!

I came to rue that lazy action, as I walked for a good half hour before I arrived at the next fish, which readily spooked from it’s resting spot right at the river margin—punishment for my now-jaded approach. It was frustratingly unavoidable really in these conditions—overcast skies creating a glare-laden river, the fish a long walk between—as it seemed forlorn to tippy toe and carefully inspect kilometres of seemingly-barren water. It was at about this point that I ran into another fisherman, coming from the opposite direction. We chatted a while and then decided to fish eachother’s water—there wasn’t much else to do—as given the overcast conditions it was almost guaranteed we’d missed the odd fish. He’d been kind enough to tell me the location of a fish he’d been unsuccessful with, so I stored that to memory as I headed off again. It all seemed in vain, as there were no sightings, until I eventually arrived at the spot he’d told me about.

Despite applying a bit more care to my movement, I still managed to spook a decent looking fish— it all!—which bolted toward the middle of the river and I lost sight of it. I’m pretty certain after a few minutes I managed to locate the same fish, and after making several casts, eventually achieved a hook up! Initially, it didn’t look to be a great specimen—rather short in length—but when it’s back broke the surface, my appreciation of it increased significantly. After several unsuccessful runs upriver toward a sanctuary of numerous woody obstructions, the fish changed tack—pirouetting—dashing downriver. With a final, frenetic, one hundred metre skip along the riverbed after it, a bit of force applied to swing it over to the river’s edge, and an uncustomary decisive scoop of the net, and I’d finally procured my first fish of the trip!

389 - Copy - Copy - Copy21 - CopyA pretty short fish for 5.5lbs!

I was pretty stoked with this fish. Okay she wasn’t a mouse-devouring juggernaut—though it looked like she’d had a couple!—but at least it meant I wasn’t going to skunk on my last trip of the season. And actually—thinking positively—this was my best rainbow of the season. I thanked my trout-possie informant when I ran into him again, who responded with a “Well done mate, but bugger you!” Haha, fair enough response. I approached my exit point of the river around 4pm, but decided I may as well fish a little longer as I had a couple more hours before I had to gun it back to town, and the local supermarket for some well earned cold beers!

The water here didn’t look promising but I hadn’t fished it before and it’s always nice to be able to tick more water off the big long list we all have! Around an hour into it and I hadn’t seen anything, well apart from fishless water, of which there seemed to be an abundance. Light was beginning to fade now and my “just another couple of pools” voice was flaring up. Yes my head has multiple voices, but this one is one of the more vocal on the river, and one that all-too-often gets ignored! Anyways, it was at this point I spotted a ridiculously large, dark, vague shape on the far side of the river. One thing was certain, if it was a fish I’d likely need to summon Ned Land and his terrible harpoon if I was to stand any chance of landing it. Although Fish & Game would probably have something to say about that!

It was fortunate I was too tired to bend down and grab a rock, as I made a few casts instead. The indicator dipped on about the fourth one—I struck. It felt solid—no give—lifeless, like a snag. But then, like a Sake-fueled Japanese man on an after work karaoke bender, the reel began to sing wildly… zinggggggggggg! This guy just went mental, and had me wondering whether the mice he’d been indulging in were laced with “P” rather than the traditional conservation poisons, for his supernatural energy. On the first of these frenetic runs, he made for a branch which slumped down from the bank and protruded into the water, but pulled up just before it. On the second run he wove the line under it,  and continued to speed on another twenty metres upriver. Gormlessly, I hopped over to the branch, braced it up with my back, freed the line, then manoevred under it and off after him in a cretinous, thoroughly unathletic, gait. Each of these runs were so powerful that they caused the reel’s spool to overspin, leaving a little slack in the line, spurring obvious alarm. Eventually with fly line mostly regained, I closed in behind him, but by now he’d had sufficient rest and bolted back downriver, full speed ahead! The water wasn’t overly swift here, but despite that, he was really moving and I must’ve been merely a couple of turns of the spool away from being into backing. A moment of horror ensued, as I pursued him as fast as my line retrieving allowed, with the majority of fly line running through the current, which caused a cringe-induced vibration to travel up the line. Past experience told me I was about to lose him any moment! Frantically, I wound away on the reel, and slogged awkwardly through knee-deep water, as my legs and lungs burned equally. Must…hit…the…gym…offseason, I vowed, knowing full well this experience would fade and I probably wouldn’t.

And then the gods threw me a bone, or rather his gormlessness did. With all the navigational ineptness of the Costa Concordia captain, his fevered run petered out as he ran himself aground in shallow water. Wriggling and writhing there for several seconds attempting to free himself, I closed the gap, thoroughly gobsmacked as I saw his immense physique for the first time. I’ve seldom been fortunate enough to have this sort of beaching happen before, especially in water 10cm deep (probably due to not catching fish of this size).  Scoop, and a monumental whoop! I had a new personal best fish! This certainly was an easy way of netting fish, and had me pondering whether I should make it easy on myself and just catch these sort of beaching-prone fish from now on….

519-NEWamushroomsdone1cowsTHEBEST1123MOOOOO1234567789999newest12345text123456oil1 - Copy (2)3456shadedown1nearlydone1234567 - CopyJuggernaut mouse-fed monster, a new best!

485 - Copy112456789CURRENT1234chopper123 - Copy (2)Yes it’s the same fish, can’t help putting up a couple of pics! Note the red-faced, utterly exhausted angler

Sitting in the car in the darkness, parked up in a rest area, I was in two minds: return home, or gun it all the way to Reefton to resupply on food and other essentials before the shops closed, allowing me to stay another day or two and fish another section of the river. After a good twenty minute musing, I opted to head home, figuring with it being a holiday weekend, and rain scheduled, I should end on a high as I was fairly certain I wouldn’t be bettering this fish!

I guess this trip—well the season in general—has been kind of like how people describe war; long periods of extreme boredom, punctuated by brief moments of both exhilaration and horror. The horror being those moments when everything—well usually a brown trout—is on the line, and looking highly likely to come off it! The battlegrounds have been mostly unfamiliar this season, with many of my trips having been exploratory in nature, so perhaps next season there will be more of the exhilaration and horror, and less of the extreme boredom. Anyway, it has been most satisfactory to end this season in the same fashion it began—landing a new best fish!

Ahh, and if you were wondering what was the reason for the Super-Mario style backgrounds, well we’re a fairly paranoid lot here in New Zealand when it comes to protecting locations. Usually I don’t bother as I don’t catch many “proper” fish worthy of anyone’s stalkery efforts, but this time I figured it wise to go all out with concealment efforts! And if you do recognise those last couple of spots, well, it may be time to put the drugs down!