I was lucky enough to be in New Zealand’s south island for a couple of weeks recently. For the record I wasn’t there on a “fishing holiday”, but was still excited about a couple of cheeky sessions in a new location and hopefully breaking a personal best (PB) along the way. My travel partner is very understanding of my obsession with fishing. On this occasion suggesting that if I was willing to go tramping through long wet grass on a coolish south island day with the prospect of more rain, I was welcome to it! Thus the rules of engagement were clear. She would be in the warm and dry coffee shop. I would drive an hour to Diamond creek, catch a few fish, drive back and return by lunchtime!
For an Aussie in the south island for the first time, the first thing I noticed was water. It was everywhere. Countless rivers, waterfalls, rainfall measured in metres (not millimetres), and freshwater lake systems that make Sydney harbour look small. And if the rumours are to be believed, they are all teaming with big trout…
Diamond Creek and Diamond Lake are about an hours drive from Queenstown down one of the most spectacular roads in the south island. After a quick stop in Glenorchy for a caffeine injection and a fishing license, I continued on my way. When I arrived at my destination I was greeted by a sign with “angler access” and a stile over the farmer’s fence.
Spot the difference?
The licenses are a little pricey ($25/day) but it’s good to see where the dollars go; facilities for anglers and keeping farmers happy!
Diamond creek was flowing fast and a bit dirty after big rains overnight. At first glance it didn’t have much structure and seemed to me better suited to fly.
Nevertheless, I was fishing a spinner lure (Celta) and went about fishwalking my way up the river. In the flowing torrent the lure was zooming back towards my feet, each cast lasting only a short few seconds. It was soon clear that unless I landed the lure in the mouth of an unsuspecting fish, I was going to need more time with the lure in the water for a fish to strike. Casting at 45 degrees across the torrent gave a longer retrieve. My experiment quickly paid off with the first glimpse of a kiwi rainbow trout. If this fish following the lure was any indication of things to come, I was going to smash my personal best … just as soon as I landed one.
Finding the fish
Trout are a lazy fish. I’m happy to go out on a limb. They don’t swim any harder than they absolutely have to in order to hold themselves in the current. They usually shelter behind a rock, a snag, or in a slow moving pool. But they still need to eat right? So like a swim-up bar at a fancy Fijian resort, they want the best of both worlds 🙂 Combine a sheltered spot out of the main current with access to flowing or white water to carry the next unfortunate bait fish or insect, and you’ve got a prime trout “lie”. Some would call this efficient, but I still think it’s lazy, mainly because it’s easier to think like a lazy fish (another beer sir?) than an efficient fish 🙂
In a featureless and fast flowing river where are the lazy fish?
After an hour or two however, I was struggling to find the fish. At one stage I spotted a big rainbow cruising the shallows. Despite my repeated attempts to convince it to feed, it simply wasn’t having a bar of it.
After many, many more fruitless casts a couple of kiwi fly fisherman wandered by. They mentioned the fish tend to hold up against the bank, especially if it’s a bit undercut. Following their advice, I stopped casting into the main river channel. Or even vaguely towards the edges. And started firing long casts straight up the river’s banks, especially on the deeper outside bends where the flow was more disturbed. My opinion of kiwis dramatically improved when I hooked up to my first fat NZ rainbow trout! (I’m still not sure about fly fisherman though :))
The fish took one good run, peeled some line, jumped and promptly threw the hooks.
Damn. It would have been a good couple of kilos.
Then it started raining.
New Zealand sucks, don’t go.
Jokes aside, it was an amazing experience to fish in Lord of the Rings country – they filmed most of the trilogy here. Snow capped peaks surrounding green pastures and meandering trout streams. Plus I got one follow and one hook-up. And a taste for more…
In fast flowing water casting at 45 degrees to the flow allows for a slower retrieve and more time for that trout to strike the lure! Well it almost worked…
Deeper outside bends with something to obstruct the flow provide the main trout lies in some river systems – a prime spot to target.
So I returned to Queenstown as agreed at 1pm with tales of three big rainbow trout; one which followed the lure, one which threw the hooks and one which seemed oblivious to everything going on around it (too many beers?). Excited yet a bit exhausted, it was time to hit the road and continue on our south island adventure.
More to come soon