Not All Heroes Wear Waders

AN EARLY SEASON CONUNDRUM OF CHOOSING WADERS VS WET WADING

They will say he died the way he lived, and on his terms.

The thing is, I don’t want to die young, cold, wet and at my own hand borne of poor decision making. I’d much prefer a death on the couch, old, warm, and mid nap.

But here we are, the night of September 30th 2020 and on the eve of our season opener trip. We’re sitting around a rustic lodge communal dining table discussing, or arguing, depending on how you see it, the pros and cons of waders vs wet wading over the coming four days. And the way the conversation is going it feels like it’s going to be a life or death decision we’ll have to make.

Sika Lodge Taupo

I had already drawn my line in the sand before leaving home, my hill to die on, so to speak. My brand new waders were still hanging up in the wardrobe and I had made the commitment to not wear them until at least next April. Why? I’m not entirely sure, most likely it’s some egotistic romanticism about only wearing waders when one absolutely has to, and as far as reasons go, at best that’s an arbitrary one.

Tim, on the other hand, was yet to pick his side with a pair of waders safely ensconced in the truck, ready to go at a moment’s notice before the absolute final time of departure by way of helicopter early the next morning. I found his brand of fence sitting particularly unnerving as I was hoping that if I was to suffer in the back country I’d be bringing someone down with me. Misery loves company.

Adam was obstinately a wader man for this trip, so we can neatly park him in the astute decision-making column, a dubiously unheroic decision nonetheless.

And then there was Nico, with his cynical approach of hedging a bet each way while claiming “Team Waders” but also carrying a pair of neoprene guard socks with him for the trip so he could conveniently switch out as it suits him. This is classic turncoat behavior and with all of the group discussion around pack weights and beer carrying capacity it seemed like a poor commitment to the overall cause, let alone his teammate.

The parameters for our decision-making process were simple. It was likely to be cold for the full four days, in the range of subzero overnight, and then maybe just edging into double digit temperatures during the day, with not a lot of sun to speak of. There were high winds forecast too, so when you do the math none of that makes an ideal combination for early season wet wading. However, we did have a lot of ground to cover and would likely spend a reasonable portion of each day purely on the move, gaining a bit of vertical ascent as we went. Throw in some weighty packs into the mix and you’ve got yourself quite the constrained and sweaty mix if you’re in waders. The water we were fishing was unlikely to get above thigh depth either, so as long as you had a good upper core laying system you should in theory at least, be fairly well cozy wet wading. It really did feel like a 50/50 call either way but by the end of the night, and a couple of bottles of red wine, we had made our individual beds to lie in for the next few days.

Helisika Poronui New Zealand

Helisika Helicoptors NZ

Tim and I committed to the most honourable method of wet wading, while Adam and Nico cowered into their Gore-Tex pansy pants for the trip, most likely also clipping on indicators and fishing glo bugs to complete their “I can’t believe it’s not winter” ensembles.

And, just like in politics, we immediately become two groups diametrically opposed to each other’s position, just because that’s how it has to be when one picks a side.

IT’S NOT CZECH NYMPHING

Hooked up to a back country trout in New Zealand

It’s easy to fall into the trap of overthinking what a fish in front of you is doing. If we’re not getting immediate satisfaction after the first couple of presentations the tendency is to shift into a full blown technical analysis of the situation, because up to that point we’ve obviously done everything perfectly. Rocks are flipped, tippet is lightened and flies get progressively smaller, until we’ve exhausted all options and declare this particular fish absolutely, positively, uncatchable and move on to find a more willing, unwilling participant.

Perhaps we’re giving both ourselves and the fish too much credit?

The area we were fishing for opening has a history of being a cruel mistress, offering up easy, ego stroking fishing one trip and a stay in your lane, fuggedaboutit, butt kicking experience the next.

What we found over the next few days was somewhere in between.

Being early season and the first people to throw flies at these fish for a few months now we still had easy fishing in our heads, with visions of suitably relaxed brown and rainbow trout happily scoffing down our poorly presented, gaudy early season flies, one after the other, ad nauseam.

Fly fishing in the New Zealand back country

Fly fishing in New Zealand for big brown trout

However, after the fish few fish encounters it became apparent that while they weren’t spooky in the slightest, and would quite happily keep feeding no matter how many times you covered them, there was still something slightly off with plenty of fly inspections, refusals and the odd eat thrown in the mix just to really confuse the issue.

It was easy to attribute this to clever, fussy fish that are obviously locked in on a specific food source only of one size and colour, with only the most perfect of presentations doing the job. And after Nico went into entomology mode we used our powers of deduction to ascertain that they were 100% locked on sz16 Deletidium and nothing else. So basically a pheasant tail. Duh.

Connected to a New Zealand rainbow trout

Simms Fishing Products Fast Cast Jacket

It was far simpler than that however, and only took another couple of fish to help figure it out, though I think “figuring out” lends too much informed attribution to our thinking. It’s still just a theory, and will so remain because no-one ever really knows what happens inside that head of theirs before the trout decides to commit to an eat, but that’s what keeps us coming back I guess.

That and masochism.

Anyway, I don’t think we were getting refused at all, quite the contrary. I’m of the mind that everything was getting eaten, or at least more than we were expecting, with super quick ejections so that nothing would register on the small indicator or dry fly. Given a fish would easily swing in on the fly three or four times, not spook and continue back happily feeding I think that maybe it’s fair to say we were giving it what it wanted but lacked the vision to see the forest for the trees. Or whatever the fly fishing equivalent might be.

Polaroiding For New Zealand Trout

Time to suck it up and change tactics, ditch the indicators, remove the dry fly and start to lift the rod at any sign of movement from the fish. This was late season stuff that we most definitely weren’t expecting to be kicking the trip off with. Now at this point you might think we’re entering the dark and dangerous world of contact nymphing. A river jigging underbelly so sinister that it has to go by a plethora of names just to impart a sense of misdirection so no-one really knows that what you’re really doing is just Czech nymphing. Oh this? No, it’s actually called “dynamic straight line Croatian thread lining”, it’s deadly. Sure, one of us might cover a rainbow feeding hyper-actively in fast water time and time again with a dry dropper rig, albeit unsuccessfully. Then followed shortly thereafter by a big old sz8 Simon’s Ugly Mother double tungsten, no indicator, bounced through the lie that gets picked up almost immediately, and without hesitation, by the same fish.

Scoping for brown trout in NZ

Back country fly fishing success in New Zealand

Fresh run Taupo rainbow trout

So much for match the hatch and fussy fish. But it’s still not Czech nymphing. It’s sight-fishing-with-a-heavy-fly-where-you-might-strike-when-you-feel-a-bit-of-weight-come-on, but it’s most definitely, absolutely, 100%, undeniably not Czech nymphing.

Because who would do a thing like that on opening day in the back country?

ROAM IF YOU WANT TO

With only one place we had to be over the next four days we all felt the weight of the last few months lift almost immediately. As long as we were at the agreed heli pick up point at midday on Sunday then we were free to do whatever we wanted for the next 96 hours, or thereabouts. It’s not often you get an opportunity to just roam the wilderness these days as we naturally tend to pile more and more responsibilities onto ourselves the older we get.

Back pack fly fishing NZ

Tramping and fly fishing in New Zealand

Wet wading fly fishing New Zealand

To me, being in the back country with everything you need on your back and with the best crew of humans means you should use that opportunity to try to let go, keep the plans as basic as possible and just see where things takes you. Shall we push on? Sure, nowhere else to be right now. Early finishes at the end of each day afforded us the luxury of setting up a nice camp, getting a good fire going and taking a moment to just stop, breathe and skull from the 2L goon sack of wine Nico carried around with him. MVP.

Camping in the Kaweka Back Country

Best gear for back pack fly fishing

For the record, in my opinion at least, it was Team Wet Wade who made the right call for the trip but it was very, very close. Everyone was a winner at some point in time, I know I had a brief moment of regret early on in the first day as my body temperature plummeted to worrying levels but of course I kept that to myself as I stared longingly at Adam’s warm and dry waders and cracked another beer. I’m not cold, you’re cold. That brief experience was to be balanced out nicely in the next few days as we were grinding our way uphill for a couple of hours, packs on and most definitely getting a good sweat on. You couldn’t have paid me to be in waders at that point and of course more than a few smug statements may have been flung the way of Nico and Adam to make up for the pain and suffering experienced earlier on.

Fly fishing New Zealand

Finally, just one last small reflection on what has been a challenging 2020 thanks to old mate COVID. It’s not over yet, especially for our tourism and hospitality industries. It could come back anytime and I feel exceptionally thankful that we are able to get back out into the hills for experiences like this. I remember that overwhelming feeling of cabin fever back in April, dreaming of trips like this that used to be easily attainable but were so out of reach at the time.

Which is why this adventure and a couple that have preceded it over the last four months have felt so super sweet. It’s almost like we’re out there for the very first time again, which is a pretty special thing, so we can at least thank COVID for that. Maybe.

Summer dry fly action in the back country

The mental health benefits of fly fishing

Helisiak weight limit

Chris Sharland is our content guy as well as being Camp Mother. Chris has been part of the team since Manic was a small team with a big dream but is still a terrible fly fisherman despite our best efforts to upskill him.