Teviot River was somewhat a hit, but fun as it may be, it didn’t quite fuel my obsession for big fish.
On a Saturday off from work I woke up in my extremely comfortable bed and thought that, even though the weather seemed too good to be true, I might skip out on fishing and hang around at the farm all day to make sure I’m fully charged until Monday.
I slipped into something comfortable and ate my breakfast bread, cheese, salami, porridge and drank my coffee while reading quite an interesting book.
But then as I remembered the forecast for Sunday my hands started shaking – rain was what tomorrow was supposed to bring.
Only a proper fix could solve the problem with the shaking hands. The sun kept on shining and the wind were obviously taking a great rest; these were the perfect conditions to explore Lake Onslow.
And so I slipped out of the casual Sunday wear and jumped into my fishing gear. I made sure John Kent was in the backpack before i drove away from the farm with the great hills as my destination. Lake Onslow is located only 22 Km east of Roxburgh but still takes about 45 minutes up to an hour to get to.
It takes quite a climb to get to Lake Onslow since it’s one of New Zealands highest altitude lakes situated more than 800 meters above the sea-level.
Fine weather does everything though, the exhausted corolla engine refused to get overheated and therefor climbed pretty well. If it wasn’t the cars happy soul it must have been the fresh alpine air that kept the engine cool.
I eventually reached the lake. Knowing that the region is known for its dramatic weather changes, I kind of set up my rod and approached the water in a stressful manner. But after an hour of walking around the shore without any sign of life whatsoever, I sat down, relaxed and decided to trust the weather today – it didn’t seem to bring much luck with it anyway.
The lack in presence of fish made me think about Teviot River. I was thinking about all the blindfishing I could do, I’d just run up and down the river catching cute trout on the dry all day. Teviot holds so many fish that one could run up and down from dawn till dusk, catching atleast 5 fish hourly, and that’s not counted with all exciting strikes with the outcome of a fish getting away – which may be around 10 every hour, or way, way more.
Before heading back to the Bridge Huts Road which is halfway back down the road I decided to check one area of interest, an area that made my intuition blast of its alarm while I was glancing at the Topo Map.
“It’ll be more fun than the Teviot” – My intuition told me.
And what I happened to discover and experience was something that I’d thought only exist in the wildest of dreams.
Usually, I wouldn’t be a fuzzhead about secret waters halfway around the earth from my waters at home, but this one was a bit to legendary to simply be revealed to any redneck with access to the internet.
It’s a short part of a tiny river, shallow with only a few pools and runs, and with only about 300 meters of fishable water in total.
300 meters of happiness.
If one dies and has been a kind and sensible flyfisher throughout life, this is where one will end up, this is dryfly heaven.
In the lower section, the fish was literally all over. I began fishing with the classical dry-fly-wet fly setup. But after catching a bunch of 300-500 gram fish with not a single one grabbing the wet alternative I simply pulled out my cutter and went for the example of “Dry or Die”. Spotting the fish here is impossible, so fishing blindly to likely spots for trout to hold out is what I did.
There’s something about these smaller trout, they seem to both look and behave different. When I think of it, they behave like brook trout and stay about the same size as the brooks. Take a look at the anal fin, it sure don’t look like the fin of a classic brown? I might be wrong, but I think these are some kind of hybrids. (It looks exactly like the anal fin of a brook)
Anyways – I could stand around catching these tiny browns all day on the dry, but as the first section began to run quiet I progressed to a spot up closer to the hills, a spot with just a little deeper run containing quite a few submerged rocks.
I made a casual cast set to drift over one of the rocks, and just as the fly drifted past the swirl behind the rock something brown came up and grabbed it at the speed of light. I stretched the line with a light whip and felt the fish, this was not the ordinary baby highland brown – Maybe a fish well over 500 grams?
After having my opponent reveal itself with a splash at the surface my pulse went ballistics.
I engaged Rambo-mode and went straight out in the water towards the fish that were really, really strong. The shallow riverbed was all covered in long nasty weeds that the fish busted trough as I came running for it, I was hundred percent sure that this would end up with a snag. Luckily for me, the line didn’t snap and the trout, which could have dashed down at least a good 50 meters downstream through the weeds, changed tactics.
The fish sought shelter under the undercut banks, I pulled her out a few times but she refused to stay out for more than just a sec.
So after a while I realized that I could let her stay there with the hook in her mouth. I recalled my old Vineyard-labor supervisor Pete and his way of fishing trout – “Trout tickling”
“You crawl along an undercut bank with your hand in under it until you feel a trout, then you tickle the trout, the trout likes it, you tickle it up to the gills and bam! You grab your dinner!”
That sounded so weird that I got it stuck on my mind, and now I used his tactic (part from the fact that I hooked the fish already) and I’m sure that the trout really didn’t like getting “tickled”.
Fact is I didn’t really tickle it; instead I went straight for a grip on over the neck and bam! A superb Otago Highland Brown! Who cares about foreplay anyways?
After letting her go, I went back up to where I hooked her. With little hope I had the fly drift over the same area. And it didn’t take long until the next fish struck the fake-mayfly like lightning. A set of 5 strokes followed on the following casts with the fish only getting briefly hooked. Not much more happened in that run after that, so I stepped up a like ten meters.
In the next deep run, madness surveyed, it must have been like 30 fish sharing a surface of twenty square meters.
I saw 1 natural rise in this pool, the rest 50 were targeting my mayfly.
The trout went absolutely ballistics when I hurled out the fly in the drift. One fish even jumped onto the fly from below and up into the air. And not a single time did the mayfly drift by undisturbed for an uncountable amount of drifts.
I can’t believe it; they acted like starved rainbow trout-zombies on cocaine.
After a while and well over 15 fish later the run finally ran quiet. I then took my time to eat an apricot and to gut the few pan-size fish I kept for the smoker. I wanted to explore further upstream but this was the moment of the only natural rise I saw in the run. And it was a good one, for sure.
I hurled the mayfly out there and to my not so big surprise it exploded and I felt a violent, heavy shaking in the rod for a few seconds before I saw the fly getting launched back into the air from the depths.
Next cast; a lightning strike that weren’t super effective – a wild explosion occurred on the fly but I didn’t even feel the fish this time.
I then tried several times without the fish willing to go for it again. This one could be the largest for the day, for sure.
I decided to go back to the dryfly-nymph setup. Just to try a nymph that, according to John Kent’s book, should be very effective in the area. I also thought that this big trout had been hiding in the depths all the time, focusing on nymphs.
In between I had an egg and some porridge just to let the trout reset properly before my next attempt.
I was ready with a Manuka Beetle on top and a Damsel nymph on bottom. The first cast landed in the more calm section of the run, and it was a delight to see the beetle get invited to its new home.
A home of teeth and a spiky tongue that is.
The fish launched into the air several times while struggling in vain to get off the hook.
After releasing this fish I tried a few more times, I landed one more 500 gram fish and had yet another strike came from something bigger, although not as big as the one on the picture above.
But that fish followed that same weird pattern, struck once, got hooked, struck twice, missed and then engage ignore-mode. I mean, if one gets hooked the first time why would one be so stupid to go for it again just a sec later? And if one’s that much of a stupid fish anyways, why won’t it give it a third go?
I don’t get it.
I then decided to continue upstream and I can’t believe all the fish I saw hiding away when I approached the waterway which I had been fishing from behind for a while.
How did they all fit? And what’s up with nuking my fly? Anyhow, I was so pleased that I got a bit worried. I became superstitious, am I going to die soon or why is life so pleasant today?
I climbed the hills to see if there where another run like that further upstream. I found one smaller section of interest. And from the hills I could see two trout occasionally emerging from the depths to whack the surface. I wanted to see them emerge while going for my fly so I decided to cast from the hill. My first cast got the fly attacked by a fish that were just too small; it flew straight up from the water with my strike, dehooked in the air and landed somewhere. I couldn’t be bothered helping it.
My next cast had a nice trout coming up at the speed of light, but he denied and returned just as fast.
I waited for a bit before giving it another shot. I made my cast in the same place. And I saw the same trout, at the same speed but with a different decision. He whacked the surface while sucking the fly in. A split second later, I could see a brown shadow raging around in the run from above with my line following its every move. It was the second strongest fish for the day and it was a moment of magic when it jumped so that a vivid rainbow appeared in the sprinkles from the splash. I had to climb down with the rod straight up in the air as the fish was rushing and taking line. I managed to stop it before it jumped down a waterfall. I horsed it to the shore but as I went in to grab the fish it decided to take off like lightning and with the line in my hand I felt a quick pain from something that was about to cut four of my fingers right open, instead, the line snapped right on time.
Contemplation followed about whether it was worth losing the precious fly which was the same one as the one I caught my Rahu Beast on. (link)
I quickly found losing the fly worth it. Everything comes to an end, and this fly decided to quit while on the very top.
This whole day was by far the sweetest flyfishing experience in New Zealand so far. Well over 15 browns not counted with all the tiny fish, all on dry fly and without even walking more than 300 meters.
If you read this whole long entry, thank you for reading as it was a pleasure to share this day.
Here comes a series of pictures from the epic Barren Highland environment lightened up by the bright evening sun.