Our son James turned 30 during 2020 and is a passionate angler. Having fly-fished since he was five, our gift to him was a weekends guided fly-fishing in the Central Otago/Southland region, with me.
Having previously spent years holidaying in Kuratau near the fly-fishing mecca of Turangi, we know the local rivers well. For 25 years, James and I enjoyed fishing excursions on the Tongaririo, Taranga- Taupo rivers and smaller tributares. We have recently relocated our holiday destination to Lake Hayes, not far from Queenstown, so are on a mission to get to know the local rivers and make more lasting memories together.
With a couple of Covid lockdowns in 2020 the birthday plans were postponed, but here we are in 2021, excited and ready to go.
Taking an unusually active interest in the Meterological Service, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I looked at the forecast as good weather was essential to our fishing. On Friday night, our fishing guide gave us the OK. Our plan was to helicopter to the Wilkin River in the Mount Aspiring National Park. The Wilkin River flows east and joins the Makarora about 10 kilometres above Lake Wanaka. The backcountry is incredibly remote so rather than walk in for 12 hours, choppering was a preferable option.
Without a cloud in the sky, we gently lifted off gaining altitude as we hovered over Wanaka township. Lakes Wanaka and Hawea quickly came into view and we headed east to find the elusive trout. Rising over barren mountain faces and craggy peaks, the feeling of solitude was becoming a reality.
Twenty minutes later, we approached the river. The water clarity was exceptional with each pebble and boulder visible in the sapphire blue, crystal clear water.
Having learnt to fly-fish in the Taupo region and the Tongariro Central Plateau, we knew the fly-fishing would be different. There trout move through the rivers, either heading upstream to spawn or heading back into Lake Taupo to refeed and put on condition. Here in these Southern rivers, the fish are territorial, and the trout don’t travel as much. With the gin-clear water, they could also see us. So to successfully fish we crept up the river bed. With sunlight on the water and a good pair of polaroid sunglasses, James sees a fish. Once spotted, it takes an excellent angler, like James to cast 10 metres upstream, landing the fly just above the fish, so it drifts past in the trout’s line of sight.
The cast is good, but the fish doesn’t take it. So he tries again, and again. A little more to the right. A little more upstream and then, whamo, game on. The fish jumps, and it’s a lovely 5 lb brown. Its swims towards James and he quickly winds his reel. It sees us and is spooked and runs ferociously back into the deeper water. Our guide was ready with the net as James tries to guide it in, but it’s off again. James backs up the riverbank, holding the rod high. The fish is exhausted, and the guide gently slips the net under him.
Wetting his hands, James extracts the fly from his mouth, and after a mandatory photoshoot, he holds the jack by its tail as it gathers its energy and takes to the deeper water.
If you are new to fishing in the Central Otago region, here is a great website to consult.
You will also need a fishing license, easily purchased online.