Late Season Recovery

Sam English finishes the New Zealand season in a positive frame of mind

The end of season in the Mackenzie Basin is one of my favourite times of year. Mayflies and rising fish tick all my boxes. If you’ve read FlyLife #88 (I’ve since changed my surname from Reach) you’ll know my season started with a broken leg. It healed really well and by the time late March arrived I could comfortably fish for about 4–6 hours and walk over rougher terrain. Long walks and heavy packs were a no go, but if I just cruised, I was good. Being a young pup and still newly fascinated by the New Zealand rivers and trout, I usually rocket up smaller creeks and streams. I love to cover ground; I want to see all of the twists and turns the stream has to offer. Having missed most of the season, all I wanted was as many dry fly takes as possible. No big ones, no rip-roaring runs downstream, just perfect little surface sips from healthy ‘little’ trout. Only one option then… my favourite small streams. Fairly easy walking and my truck can get right to the water edges. Perfect. First day on one of them over on the West Coast was pretty bad. Heavy rain the day and night before meant the stream that Nicky and I were going to fish was running brown. A slightly smaller one not too far away was the only water we could find that wasn’t too flooded out to fish. We stuck at it in poor conditions and I was rewarded with a nice brownie that was rising hard, left to right, taking anything that passed. One cast job. It felt pretty good to say the least. It was one of only two fish that we saw. TAKE TWO Take two was much better. A glorious day on my favourite local stream. Solid and willing browns lying in pretty much every place you’d expect to find them and the foam lines displaying rows of big brown-and-grey duns off and on all day long. Taking a slower approach than normal, I waited a lot longer at the back of every pool and run before fishing it. The results… roughly the same number of fish I would normally expect to catch in a day, but in a fraction of the distance. Sounds like a cliché, I know. Every angler worth his salt will tell you to take your time and watch closely for movement, but when you’re capable of walking long distances, it’s hard not to. After all, I won’t always be young. The first pool looked extremely fishy. Nice little runner about waist depth with a fallen branch across half the stream providing some nice slack water behind it. I watched for a rise for quite some time and nothing showed, so I slowly walked to the top of the pool. Just as I was about to make my way to the next one, a fish came up through the water column and took an emerging insect just below the surface. I kept completely still as I was right next to him. I watched him moving up and down the water column for a few minutes and, just as I was about to drop back and make a cast, I noticed another fish doing the exact same thing a couple of metres behind him. They moved up slowly out of the murky water and I could see their white mouths flashing constantly. I came up with a plan to nail the back one and then go for the first one I’d seen. As I turned again to drop back I noticed another fish breaking the surface in the slacker water behind a branch and flashing his thick shoulders at me. I knew straight away he was an exceptional fish for this stream. I watched him rise about five times before moving in for a cast. New plan… nail the bigger one first. Dropping back to my casting spot I covered him perfectly with a few parachute dries. He refused them all. So I tried something a bit different, a big chunky brown beetle. First cast and he came up and took it. On setting the hook he leaped out of the water and I knew it was the fish I wanted. A solid fight and he was in the net. A beauty fish of maybe 6 lb. Absolutely stoked with my efforts I marched on. I didn’t get very far, however, as I noticed the two fish I originally saw, still feeding away. I went back to my casting spot, made a few casts and caught them both, this time on a Parachute Adams. Smaller fish but in excellent condition too. As I was about to leave, you guessed it, another fish rose in exactly the same spot as the bigger fish was sitting. A cheeky little hen had stolen his spot while the dominant male was off sulking under a bank somewhere. I didn’t even bother dropping back; I just flicked a dodgy looking cast at her and she gobbled my dry, first go. Confident that there would be even more fish in the pool I then fished a nymph under a yarn indicator. About ten casts later, I landed my fifth fish. Just unbelievable. Never before have I taken that many fish from such a small body of water. TEAM CANADA When I was starting to heal and head out fishing a bit more, I met a Canadian couple — Rob and Grace — two lovely easy-going people who love fly fishing. They are fellow salmon farmers so we got to go fishing quite a lot together. I especially enjoyed Rob’s company. There was never a need for continual conversation, I just enjoyed his presence. The guy has the utmost respect for fish — never removing them from the water and always cradling them in his makeshift tennis racket net. Made from soft rubber mesh, it is completely catch-and-release friendly. I took him out on some of my local Mackenzie Basin streams and we had some enjoyable days with superb dry fly sport. He’s the only person I’ve ever seen wearing headphones when fishing. He listens to random podcasts all day long. That must be a Canadian thing… We caught lots of smaller brownies and just before the season ended we decided to do a couple of days on the larger rivers. He really wanted a chunky brown and I’m not going to lie, I did a little bit too. We hit a local river with easy access. Not the best of waters but it has a brilliant average fish size. Day one was beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind. We spotted a few fish but were unable to make anything even look at our flies. It was a write-off but we got to take in the spectacular views. We tried again about a week later and we’d had a lot of rain. The river was up about a foot but still fishable. Thick cloud hung low in the valley and never budged all day. Sight fishing was pretty much impossible but I felt confident as we started setting up. I was imagining the large fish that usually sit in deep holes to be out near the bank sides where the flow is easier to deal with, and I wasn’t wrong. Not long into our session, Grace spotted a nice brown tucked against the bank. Its head was covered by tussock so we were able to get extremely close. Rob made about 100 small casts and the fish eventually ate a double tungsten bead stonefly. A ripper fish of about 6 lb. Rob was happy, and so he should have been. I would have thrown a rock at the bloody thing! We marched on and came to a bend that usually holds little water. It was flowing well today though, so I cast a large tungsten bead Pheasant Tail along the steep bank. Second cast and my indicator dipped. My rod bent double and I was into a well-conditioned hen fish. After a dogged fight she was in the tennis racket. Not the prettiest, but her beautiful grey head colouring resembled the miserable day and I got to marvel at her for a few seconds as she recovered. I know I said I didn’t need any big ones, but I was well happy with her! KEEN EYE My partner Nicky had rotten luck with some atrocious conditions coming her way. Casting was often a bit difficult for her and we struggled to get days off together. The season ended without her catching a fish on the dry, which I was really gutted about, but I knew of a few spots that hold some great fish throughout the winter months… We fished a few feeder stream mouths on a local lake that has some great vantage points from up high on the banks. Nicky has a very keen eye, often making me look down the line of her arm and pointing finger, at fish that I can’t even see. I set her up a rod and called the shots from above. She caught a few rainbows that she spotted herself, casting like a boss and handling them all as though she’d been doing it for six decades, not six months. Some stunning bows were brought to the net and her end of season agony is forgotten. LESSONS What did I learn this season? Well, it’s those bits of advice I’ve heard many times before but usually ignore. Covering ground isn’t always the answer. Take your time on every fishy looking piece of water. Trust your instincts. And finally, help the people that mean the most to you to get on to some beautiful trout. Another season will soon be upon us so take your time and get out as much as you can on the water. Also…try not to break any bones two weeks before opener!

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