I’ve been given this assignment for a luxury travel magazine: to fly fish from Fiordland Lodge in Te Anau – (I know, but please don’t hold it against me, a guy has to make a living somehow) – and suggested to my fishing compadre Craig Somerville that we add a few more days to the gig and make it into a road trip.
The lower South Island rivers have taken a tremendous beating during the spring storms, some of them are only just becoming fishable for the first time this season, and I wanted to check out their state, and that of the trout, just as the rest of the waters were opening on 1 Nov.
The weather we had was less than ideal – thick overcast and downstream gale – but we were off to a fabulous start, with the first three casts converting into three magnificent browns.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to keep this perfect score for long,” Craig said.
Prophetic words. We did not touch another fish for the rest of the day.
The bend in the #5 says it all, Craig and Maya in hot pursuit
Day 2 was even more gloomy, and so windy it was impossible to cast upstream, even with the canon of a rod like the #7 Cross 1. Usually, a sight-fishing purist, I’d just go back to the camper and read but Craig had a better idea.
“You just turn around and fish streamers,” he said, “it’s just as good.”
Worth all the efforts.
Craig grew up on Scotland’s best salmon rivers so he is something of an expert on swinging streamers. He was hooked up almost immediately and to me it was something of a revelation, and a reminder: “fish to the conditions, not ideologies.” Craig had rescued what would have otherwise been a blown-out day.
On day 3 we went looking for rainbows. We walked for miles exploring a river that was new to us both and we found the fish in gorges and on shallow spawning beds. After the demanding browns, they were almost too easy, and it was clear they have had a tough time surviving the floods. I spotted the “fish of the day” and Craig caught it with the first cast, and we were surprised to see it had teeth like a barracuda. Neither of us had ever seen anything like this.
On the day 4 we rolled into Te Anau, a small frontier town on the edge of over 1.2 million hectares of Fiordland wilderness. Though we love walking remote rivers in pursuit of trout, camping on the riverbanks, sipping single-malts by campfires and being lullabied by the burble of trout waters, this far into our intense Carpe Diem trip we were more than a little weary. Sore-footed and weather-beaten, and as dusty as our 4×4 camper. More than ready for a little luxury.
“You’re in for the treat of your life,” Craig told me. He has been to the Fiordland Lodge before. I said it was a tall order considering I spent the past 25 years of the said life as a travel writer and no stranger to luxury and opulence. I even got to stay in royal suites, I went on. “One of them had a walk-through wine-glass cabinet bigger than your living room.”
But Craig’s confidence was unfazed.
“No, trust me, I mean it. Wherever you stayed, you’d have never seen anything like Fiordland Lodge.”
Stay tuned for Part 2.