There’s a Trout at the Bottom of my Garden

Today I had my most exciting days fishing since my arrival in New Zealand. And as usual (according to Jenny), I caught bugger all! Jenny just can’t  understand how a blank day can be better than a 5 fish day like yesterday. Just like I apparently don’t understand stuff about babies, she clearly doesn’t understand fly fishing. I say to her it’s like a woman having an awesome day out shopping. You ask her what she bought and she says: Oh, nothing, but I saw the most amazing stuff and I met so and so for coffee… Or I bought this beautiful dress, which they end up returning after trying it on for a third time. (That’s like releasing a fish) 

I have a few relatives across here and coincidentally they also live in the Hawkes Bay area. My aunt Annie Boyd had mentioned that they had a trout in a small stream at the bottom of the garden. So a few days ago we drove up the road towards Waipawa. It’s hardly a village, more like a place on a map that has a name. When I Googled where they lived, I could hardly believe my eyes that they were on a real river. Small stream my arse! The xxxx River is a beautiful and relatively seldom fished river with crystal clear water, even after the recent rains. I call it river Xxxx because I may well have been breaking the law by fishing a closed river, but I have only subsequently found out about this and how serious an offence it is. There is literally a law for everything in this place. Below thus bridge it’s open all year, above that bridge is closed for the winter, etc etc. Anyway, innocently I sampled the Creek at the bottom of their garden and had a morning to remember. 

We only had a few hours visiting and so I wasted no time in setting up my rod and heading down to the bottom of the garden. They told me about a big fish that lived in a certain stretch of the river that several people over the years had tried to catch but nobody had succeeded. Challenge accepted! This stream was more like what  I was used to back home except clearer and instead of looking for a  8″ fish you were looking for a 4 or 5 pounder. I can tell you that sight fishing in New Zealand is downright easy! Well spotting them is easy, but the catching is a different matter. At home we have to try spot fish measured in ounces not kilograms, and our water clarity is generally nothing like in New Zealand, with the obvious exceptions of the Cape and Drakensberg/Lesotho rivers. After a good half an hour of sneaking up the river looking for the fish, I saw him! It’s a very challenging stream with lots of overhanging willows and so it’s difficult to get your fly onto the water and into the right place.The fish looked a good 5 lbs. It looked like a brown, but I couldn’t be sure. I managed to sneak up to him from upstream and I tried to drift a nymph down to him in his almost impossible lie. My line snagged on some branches on the drift and that stuffed everything up because the fly stopped a few meters short of his lie and just hung there. I had to snap my line and in all the commotion he spooked. The adrenaline was pumping and this was already the most exciting moments fishing I had had in a long time. 

I headed upstream for another half hour but saw nothing, so I returned to look for the fish. The fish was in a different lie but equally challenging. It was now at the head of the pool but under an overhanging branch. This was going to be a huge challenge to get my fly into his feeding channel without getting snagged on the overhanging bush. It took several attempts and a few snags before I got the drift right. Luckily my fly didn’t snag badly and I could flick the fly out without too much disturbance. I changed fly several times and had several flat refusals. I decided I needed something very heavy to get right to the bottom and this drift would keep the tippet away from the bush which kept stuffing up my drift. I couldn’t go any higher upstream as he would have easily seen me. I had taken my strike indicator off to avoid spooking the fish so I had to rely on watching for the take. After a few attempts I finally got the perfect drift. It was one of those moments where instinct takes over. I sensed my fly had been taken but under the swirling current I couldn’t see much more than a shadow floating on the stream bed, that barely resembled a fish. Something inside me just said strike! Maybe it was luck, I don’t know but when  I struck it was solid. I even thought for a while I may have foul hooked him. As this huge fish(by my stds) thrashed around in this tiny pool, it was one of those moments where you realise that this is what you fish for. Those rare moments where you stalk and deceive a large and tricky fish in a crystal clear stream. It doesn’t get any better. Landing the fish now becomes secondary. I got a bit cocky, pulled out my camera and tried to photograph the fish instead of just landing it.

I got some nice pics as the fish tired and ran up and down the pool, but if I had just tried to land the thing it would have been a done deal and into the creel. Anyway with camera in one hand and rod in the other hand, the barbless hook pulled. Predictable I suppose, but I had promised my wife a fish for dinner and so in a way I was glad that the fish swam free and escaped my dinner table. That fish provided me with one of my greatest challenges I have ever had in fishing, and for that he deserved to swim free and fight another day. All this took place in the bottom of Aunt Annies garden. 

A beautiful run on the Mangaonuku River
A 5lb fish stands out like a sore thumb in water like this, but catching them is another story.
An unknown tributary that also apparantly holds a few fish.
I didn’t have time to explore this tributary but this is the type of spring Creek that you dream of sight fishing to big brown trout in.
Notice the fish in the middle right of the photo. It was merely a shadow dancing over the stream bed.
I was surprised it was a rainbow trout, but an absolute beauty of a fish!
Instead of just landing it right there, I took one more photo. A fee seconds later the hook pulled. Gutted?No,  actually deep down a pang of relief that I didn’t have to keep such a beautiful fish. Jenny has been begging me to keep her a fish for ages now!

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