So it’s that time of year for Micah Adams and I to embark on our annual backcountry boys mission. Historically plagued by strong winds, heavy rain, but bloody good wine, this trip was a doozie. Here are a few highlights, because every day fishing is a cracking day out, right? So pour a large one, sit back and enjoy the read.
En route to departure we called into a favourite river for an hour where the first cast by the car yielded a cracking 5lb brown. A sign of things to come? Or had we just royally fluffed our chances of success for the coming days? Hmm, keep on reading and YOU be the judge.
Wu Tang Killa Beez:
It didn’t take long after making shore in Fiordland that an oddly high number of bees were noticed, and all seemed vehemently attracted to my light blue merino T. Very promptly, one of those buzzy buggers sunk his stinger deep into my bicep. I never flinched, as there were people watching, but I would complain about this many times over the days to come. All my merino T’s are blue by the way. I was a target.
Are we there yet? I just wanted to be fishing, not hiking in. Sheesh it seemed like forever to make it to camp and I’m sure those bees are stalking me. Can they sense the blue beneath my quickly thrown on Simms Bugstopper hoody?
So we made camp and upon setting up the tents I warned Micah about the crafty ole Weka, a curious native bird who steals everything shiny it can. I giggled as I recounted an experience my good mate Ronan had one trip in here where he lost multiple eating utensils, his cup, then his makeshift cup to a persistent bird only for me to then turn around and see that feathery little bastard dragging my MSR gas bottle towards the trees.
So after reading a series of wall hangings at The Wapiti Cafe, Micah became obsessed with the history and story of Wapiti in NZ. Question after question had me inventing creative answers until I realised he had me pegged from the first, and I couldn’t back it up...so we cracked a craft beer and kept an eye out for moose.
So it turns out the tarp we bought in for shelter was blue. Needless to say, once set up, we weren’t going under there.
Out of nowhere wandered Dave and entourage, camped in the bush behind us coming to say hi. An invitation to join them around the camp fire was quickly accepted when he confirmed to Micah that yes, he had indeed shot Wapiti. Dave cooks up some of the best damn venison saussies over a fire by the way, and his generous offer of a cold Speights was above and beyond.
Blue Sky, Calm Weather, and Spooky Fish:
We all know to expect four seasons in a day when in Fiordland but day two dawned (well, 8am’d) for us bright, dead calm with a very strange, unfamiliar bright yellow thing up above, surrounded by the eeriest bright blue a sky can be. Plus, not a sand-fly at the breakfast table. This almost feels like summer in Queenstown (but for the bloody Weka that grabbed our egg, then plate, then cooker. Thank heavens we are both athletes and ran that bastard down, but back to the story), certainly not autumn in Fiordland. So we set off upstream with the highest of expectations as it’s rare for me on a trip here with mates not to net 20ish solid fish in a day between us. So with camera at the ready and the net at hand we hit the water. Well, we got a lot of scenery shots. It was strange, the fish were certainly there, we saw 40, maybe 50 odd and presented bloody well to many, but they were just doing their own thing, ignoring our presentations, spooking at the slightest thing or simply acting disinterested. We got a tally together, however with our combined experience we certainly couldn’t understand this behaviour. It certainly wasn’t a product of pressure in our opinion. Meh. Tomorrow we’ll “smash ‘em bro”…
Day 2: Return Of The Weka:
But this time we were ready with hats, boots and clothing hung high in the trees (unfortunately not under the blue tarp, come bee hive where overnight dew would keep them dry), but at least they didn’t disappear into the parallel universe where Weka’s stash all their spoils, never to be seen again. We walked off downstream today, full of excitement. They couldn’t behave like this two days straight right? No reason not to eat. Long story short, fish are dicks and we threw some great presentations with some great flies and it was like groundhog day. Meh. Mid morning and time to jump on the satellite phone for a weather check.
Weather Check, That Bloody Weka, And A Quick Bail:
So rain was always forecast to arrive in a few showers late Sunday, increasing Monday when we leave, and heavy the day after right? We had planned for this and with the catchment low felt we would have ample time to bail via our emergency plan if things went South. “Things have been upgraded, the heavy stuff arrives tonight, get out” was all we needed to hear. Another quick call to arrange the pickup and it was back to camp for a quick pack up, a final ‘screw you’ from the Weka as he nabbed a tent peg, and we made the hike out in time to have a last crafty each, catch fish on dries along the lake edge and await the good buggers at Fiordland Outdoors Co to take us to hot burgers, hotter showers and much colder beer. (Mark even met us outside the pub to make sure we didn’t get lost. Top chap that). I really can’t stress enough how important having a reliable means of communication is in the backcountry. 400mm of rain fell that evening across the pass, we could just be getting back out now if we hadn’t planned and checked in daily. We didn’t have enough Rum for that.
Here we were, two gun anglers, (well, our mums think so), now humbled, one thinking of taking up professional skateboarding if he doesn’t actually have to ride a skateboard, the other applying to judge the next season of MAFS, using many decades of combined experience, adapting to fish behaviour and the bright conditions as well as we feel we could, and casting, we both felt impeccably. The fish played tough but we still cracked them, however came away feeling we had worked damn hard and certainly had done the yards for the result we got. However, in those surrounds, there’s never a bad day.
So, what did we do when we realised this was no longer a literal ‘walk in the park?
- Boosted upstream to get away from the spookier, slower lower reaches and find a different type of water (in this case, runs, pockets and bouldery steps)
- We went long in the leaders. 20 odd foot plus, and light, down to 5x Trouthunter nylon, the lightest I’m comfortable targeting strong, 4lb + fish in boulder water
- Forget the flashy backcountry dries, we went small, and natural with flies. Micah ran a small para with small mayfly nymphs beneath, I ran a pair of size 16 Kyles Deleatidium
- Got stealthy. Make way more use of cover. Trees, large boulders, staying close to backdrops, staying low and eliminating false casts. These fish were wired.
- Realised that hey, that’s fishing. We’re going to hook up with Steve Tedesco tomorrow, head into the hills somewhere, beat this deluge and nail them there...watch this space!