Roughing it round Reefton

Okay so I named a place…. well given the dearth of anglers there I figured the owner of the local tackle store could do with a few more customers. Terrific bloke he was, even after I proclaimed I was skint! At first he threatened to set the dog on me, but it was more interested in pursuing a passerby—clutching an icecream—down the street. With the edgy start out of the way we spent near a half hour hunched over the monitor displaying Google Earth. I thanked him profusely for parting with some invaluable insights and vowed to return in a few weeks with money to burn. Note to self, they also stocked CD rods, a brand I’ve been pondering on investing in for some time.

Anyways, backing it up a few days, I’d just finished my last trip but on a spur of the moment decision the short detour to Reefton proved irresistible, given the glorious weather. Approaching the town in darkness a freak shower beat down hard on the windshield, and twenty seconds later it abruptly stopped as fast as it had began. Erratic seems to be an understatement when it comes to New Zealand weather! The mysterious nature of this downpour had me briefly pondering whether I’d actually been on the receiving end of an inappropriately placed farm irrigator and there hadn’t been any rain at all. I parked up at the DOC campsite in the area and feeling too rundown to cook, settled on a couple of bananas for dinner, which thankfully hadn’t turned black while sitting in the boot of my car for the last week. These are the sacrifices we make as troutbums—bananas for dinner—but on the plus side our “soul food” is superior to most other people’s.

Day broke, and I gingerly staggered out of the car. The first night sleeping in the car is always the worst; why didn’t I get that van organised last winter! Breakfast was had at a sloth’s pace, before venturing into town to resupply on food and other essentials. For a small town it was an impressive store, with several aisles crammed full with the essentials, and more. I even spied a Criminal Profiling kit in one of the aisles—tempting—but what this place really needed was a Wily Brown Trout Profiling kit! Desperate tourist anglers would likely pay top dollar for such a thing. I informed the member of staff, and they did their best to stifle a look of scared bewilderment, but failed. Basket(case) loaded, I was satisfied I had enough calories to see me through the next few days. It was a busy little town at this time of year, yet strangely I hadn’t spotted anyone camo-clad yet.

984Reefton, strangely no camo in sight

I was rather indecisive with the forming of the day’s angling plans, and evaluated my options over lunch in the park. With my body pleading for mercy—despite it’s calls usually falling on deaf ears—I wasn’t up for anything big. Finally a decision was made and I opted for a brief fish on the main river in the area, not far out of town. With zero fish seen, it wasn’t a memorable fishing session at all, until the most bizarre event I’ve ever experienced on the river occurred.

Standing mid-river I suddenly heard a high pitched noise seemingly some distance behind me. I ignored it initially, figuring it was one of those annoying species of birds that make a big song and dance when you enter their territory. But the noise persisted and grew louder, then much to my alarm I realised it sounded more like the squealing of a pig! It’s times like this you regret having seen the movie Deliverance! At least I’d heard no banjos, although I’d seen an unnerving amount of pickup trucks in the area. Anyway, I spun around and my eyes met with a dark figure splashing it’s way through the water, headed right for me! It was already a third of the way from the bank, quite a distance considering this was a wide section of river. Despite being close it still took me a while to register what it was—a jet black piglet! I shooed him away, pleading with him Go back piggy, swim for your life! I yelled,  dreading the prospect of having to go for a swim and perform lifeguard duty had he ventured into the main tongue of current. Thankfully he didn’t seem anywhere near as attracted to the front of me as he had been to the back of me and turned, beating a hasty retreat to the bank as fast as his little piglet legs could paddle, bounded across the stony bank, then legged it into the bushes. Well few trout-duels could trump that in terms of a memorable experience, so after having an unsuccessful look for the endearing piglet I decided to move on to another river.

It looked promising—lovely green pools punctuated with stunning white granite boulders—so you can imagine my disappointment and bewilderment when pool after pool I failed to spot any fish. It’s hard to understand what the reason was. If you’ve read many of my posts you’ll know by now I’m a rubbish spotter so you’ve probably chalked it down to that, BUT that wasn’t it. Possibly someone had fished the river earlier in the day but I didn’t even see any uncooperative fish. I persevered up-river for around two kilometres before daylight began to fade and I begrudgingly turned around. I’d been wearing my amber sunglasses and due to their brightening effect hadn’t realised how dark it had become. I legged it back down-river pretty fast as I was torchless, finding it more effective to boulder hop given the terrain. It was a concentration-intensive and rather precarious way to cover ground, and with the occasional boulder rolling as I briefly touched down on it, was a miracle I didn’t come to grief. It certainly was tough going, and my already dodgy ankle wouldn’t take kindly to this sort of abuse come the morning.

832My dodgy ankle shuddered at the sight of these boulders

838Small pools devoid of fish littered this river

The sound of tearing velcro woke me in the night as my swelling ankle busted out of it’s velcro sandal restraint. Oh dear, I dreaded the thought of laying eyes on my mutated “cankle” in the morning. And yes, when morning arrived so did the agony. Cooking breakfast was a mission. People eyed me with suspicion when I staggered off to the bog, and considering the time of year, probably assumed I was drunk. This new wounding cast serious doubt on any more fishing plans. I took it easy that morning, loitering about the DOC campsite, and chatted with a Dutch couple who were gold fossicking in the river that ran behind the campsite. They told me about their narrow escape in the 2011 floods, when a sudden surge of water—around a metre high—raged down the river. I’d heard about these floods before and wondered how the rivers had recovered since then, and whether they were at all responsible for the absence of fish in the river I’d visited yesterday.

Around midday, with the “cankle” warmed up I ventured out of town to another river, telling myself it’d just be a short recce, and maybe a fish or two if I was lucky. A couple of hundred metre bush-bash was undertaken to reach the river, which was fast-tracked by walking down a small creek. With it’s high steep banks and narrow structure I felt a bit like a prize fighter making their way down the tunnel to the ring, cue Rocky’s Eye Of The Tiger! Dead saplings were brushed aside and toppled with the lightest prod from a finger, making you feel like a giant, only to be brought back down to earth seconds later when you were restrained by a surprisingly thin—yet unbreakable— vine.

962Approaching the river

848My cankle didn’t like the look of this business, deja vu

Unlike yesterday’s outing I spotted fish fairly regularly, only problem was they were in glassy pools and spooky as hell. After half a dozen instances like this I began to realise I needed to find fish in faster water if I was to stand a chance. Eventually I spotted the first fish to reside in a run. I cast a couple of times with no joy, then after changing nymphs and preparing to cast again the top half of a large tree near the river decided it was time to spontaneously divorce from it’s lower half! My first thought was Seriously? Did that really just happen?! Considering there was no wind at all, Mother Nature was clearly ‘avin a laugh! Needless to say after turning my eyes back to the river the fish was nowhere to be seen.

853One of the difficult glassy pools, the residence of a couple of spooky fish

849The spot where nature took the mickey, and thwarted my best chance so far

Shortly after, I had another chance. Spying this fish only as I was side on to him and no more than five metres away, I dared not move back but instead flicked out a cast with the least amount of movement possible. On the second cast he took one of the nymphs, and several minutes later he was secured in the net. Although not large, he was a special one for me. It was the first fish I’d caught in this river, but more importantly he was the first proper fish I’d caught with one of my late uncle’s creations. His flies were tied more sparsely than my store bought nymphs—no doubt his cat would’ve been pleased about that as it was a main source of material—and seemed to be more effective.

861Thanks for the flies uncle, unlike your nephew you clearly knew what you were doing

I pressed on with renewed confidence, but the river became less promising. Less pools, shallower runs, and fewer fish. I spent a lot of time on one good fish in an awkward pool. This one was feeding with reckless abandon, but the current was awkward and kept drifting the nymphs away from him before they could get down deep enough. Finally I dared move across the river and cast over him which got the nymphs in place, but now he stopped feeding and so I gave up and pressed on up-river.

At around 7pm I turned back, in order to get back to the car before dark. I came across a fish in a run actively feeding. I must have spent twenty minutes casting a smorgasbord of nymphs at this guy, and he dodged and weaved them all. Makes you wonder how you don’t manage to foul hook these sort of fish eventually. Fed up, I tied on a dopey size 8 stonefly nymph—same response. Next cast I pinched the fly line allowing the flies to swing across in front of him, wondering how far he’d spook as my flies sped past him. To my disbelief he pivoted, bolted two full metres across after them, and took the large tungsten nymph. I guess if I wanted to create the illusion that I knew what I was doing I’d have claimed to have adopted the Leisenring Lift technique, which I have to admit was highly dubious of when I first read of it. Anyway, whatever this manoeuvre I pulled was, I will add it to my last resort arsenal for finicky fish!

921Dead drift? No thanks, I’ll take the one going a thousand miles an hour!

884Rugged beauty, mercurial weather—West Coast in a nutshell

890The long walk back down-river

900My cankle was suffering a bout of severe depression now!

While driving back to the DOC campsite in the darkness a harsh rattling sound against the windscreen—similar to hail—became audible. It was perplexing as nothing appeared to be hitting the windscreen. It wasn’t until the headlights of an oncoming car beamed over the crest in the road ahead—illuminating a blizzard of insects— that I became aware of what it was. A Caddis hatch of epic proportions! In the last twenty seconds I’d probably wiped out more Caddis flies than a trout would in it’s entire lifetime. Feeling guilty I drove a little slower, not that it probably made any difference, but it appeased my guilt at least. I entertained the thought of stopping at the river briefly, before reasoning that this sort of hatch is a recipe for angler frustration.

Next morning, not only was the ankle in agony, but I had the worst case of chafage ever. I won’t go into too much detail but it felt as if with each step both legs were rubbing against sandpaper, and we’re talking P40 grade, not the fine stuff! There was no denying it now, the body couldn’t endure any more of this sort of beasting. And with the trip now about in it’s tenth day I opted to head home, but not without stopping in on one last river along the way of course! Acting on a tip from the Reefton Sports Centre owner—thanks buddy!— I pulled into the car park beside the upper section of this large river and hurriedly adorned my gear, in the company of a cloud of sandflies. I opted for waders this time, in the hope of not incurring the wrath of the chafage!

Pretty quickly I came across my first fish. He was a large specimen and in a tough position across the far side of the river. With no room for a back cast, and being a glassy glide, entering the water wasn’t an option. I opted to move on in search of easier prey, and maybe have a go at him on the way back. It was a fair walk to the next fish, which was smaller and busily patrolling the shallow pool. I set a couple of failed ambushes before the gods intervened and rained on any potential parade. After several BOOM’s of thunder I decided it was best to sit my rod down and wait it out, although the driving rain had pummeled the flat water into a sea of dimples anyway, rendering spotting impossible. Several minutes later I realised I still had two metal rod tubes poking skywards from my backpack—moron. Once the gods relented I located the fish again and had a couple more casts in vain.

991West coast sized raindrops!

Heading back down-river I got spooked by a large black object wiggling it’s way out from the bank, which I’d spooked. Initially I though it was an eel, due to it’s darkness and odd motion but no, it was a pretty large trout. It seemed to take a while for it to register what exactly this intrusion was, as it paused beside me, but after several seconds it figured it out and bolted off. Pity because it was a sizable fish, and if I’d been more thorough on my way up-river I may have had a shot at it. Next time.

Now I turned my attention back to the fish I’d walked past earlier. Last chance of the trip, and would make for a memorable end. He was now sitting in a more favourable position, closer to my side of the river. I was readying my rig when I spotted a couple of guys fishing their way up-river. I felt a bit guilty that I hadn’t left a note in the car stating my fishing intentions, so I went over and had a chat to them. They weren’t far into their angling road trip and hadn’t caught or seen a fish yet. Well I figured I’d do the right thing and let them have a crack at the fish—mostly so they wouldn’t witness my casting abominations—but in the time it took one of them to ready a tandem nymph set up the river went from lightly tanin-stained to chocolate brown and the opportunity was gone. We both made a couple of casts regardless; I chucked on my orange beadhead streamer, but even that was barely visible.

986From this…

1009 To this, in just a few minutes

Back in the car and heading home, I was destined for one last treat. Possibly the gods were making amends for their earlier actions, in putting on this lovely display. I pulled over and snapped away with the camera for a while, and passersby looked at me oddly as they sped past in their vehicles, and I returned the look. It’s hard to believe people don’t take the time to enjoy such a spectacle, especially as they were most likely on holiday! The chafage banished any thoughts of a pedestrian detour in search of the much needed pots of gold, a shame because given the demise of my hiking boots on this trip it was sorely needed!

1029A pot of gold to fund my next trip? If only!

1058Double rainbow!

1071Lovely pre-sunset summer sky

And so that marks the end of what was my longest trip yet. Relatively uneventful fishing-wise, and yet I still managed to bang out a novel. For some—perhaps most—it may be much ado about nothing, but for me it was another memorable trip with a few things learnt—mostly the hard way!—and a few new experiences. I guess this is the price you pay for venturing into new valleys—something I vowed would be the trademark of this season—it’s a fairly hit and miss process. And while the body heals I will be busy plotting and scheming my next expedition into the wilderness, and other new territories no doubt! So stay tuned and take note, as this hapless angler shows you how not to do it!