When one thinks of fly fishing destinations planet wide, there are several that spring to mind; Russia, Canada, Seychelles, Bahamas, Iceland to name a few, and there are normally very good reasons why they are at the top of fishers lists when discussing favorites over a few beers or gin and tonic. Whether it is for Atlantic salmon, Pacific steelhead or the prized bonefish, they are all at the top of the sport for providing the most exclusive sporting experiences. One such location that is almost always considered when discussing the planets finest is New Zealand, why? Well simply put, because of its superb and unrivalled trout fishing. However, there may be more to this indescribable country than meets the eye!
I arrived in the small costal town of Blenheim situated in Marlborough no more than a month ago with such anticipation of my trip ahead. Day dreaming on the flight of crystal clear trout streams offering up leviathans of gold, yellow and red, supping dry flies high up in the alpine valleys. But the thing is, it wasn’t just the trout that I was looking forward too.
If I go back a few years just prior to my travels to Russia as an Atlantic salmon guide I met a fellow fly fishing fanatic in London. He had just returned from a somewhat unusual trip to the southern hemisphere. I engaged in conversation with this chap hearing ridiculous stories of bonkers fishing, almost too far fetched to believe. The thing about this yarn was, my original impressions of New Zealand as a fishing destination had just been totally crushed. It was from this point on that I became totally inspired. Once I had had a moment to take all of these stories of tackle destroying fish and epic battles in I must admit, initially I thought, ‘Nah it cant be, there’s only trout in New Zealand’, but so wrong was I.
So prior to my departure I began doing a little research, putting a few plans on paper, and preparing my kit list. On initial examination the list became a little ridiculous, 4wt, 5wt, 7wt, 8wt saltwater, 10wt saltwater etc etc, the list goes on. It was the discussion I had had two years earlier playing back through my mind, driving me insane, ‘if I go to that country and I haven’t got a rod for the job, I’m going to go nutty’! Well long story short I was a little over weight, but thanks to Air New Zealand’s awesome baggage allowances all was well.
So a few Loop fly rods and reels later and the fishing began. It was still early in the season for trout being early September but up there at the top of my list was this fish that I had heard so much about. The Kahawai, all I had to go on was a loose description of a mackerel/tuna like fish that eats anything small and fishy and goes like s**t! It wasn’t long before I made a few very useful contacts and began to put a plan of attack together. The most helpful of those contacts was a small chap missing a few teeth who attempted to describe the kahawai’s Favorite fodder for this time of year. While at an apparently superb spot to get into one of these fish I was invited to check out a specimen or two of these bait fish that Kahawai seem to be obsessed with, in fact it wasn’t just a few there were hundreds of these little fish in a white chilly bin, oddly enough it would seem as though its not just the fish that love them, the locals do to. Know locally as whitebait, they are a tiny bait fish that runs the rivers of New Zealand to spawn in the head waters. Being only 4-5cm in length and only 4-5mm in width, they sure do look juicy. Question is, where do I get a whitebait pattern. Well after a bit of networking I managed to track down a couple of chaps who are just as nutty about fly fishing as I am. It turns out there are a few whitebait patterns circulating, and easily tied, I managed to wangle a couple and the fishing commenced.
So It began, the whitebait had started running and the whitebait nets men were out at the river mouths in pursuit of this apparently Michelin star delicacy. As I have now learnt, when the whitebait fishermen are out, the Kahawai won’t be far behind. The first thing that struck me was the overwhelmingly cool prospect of hooking into one of these fish in a river mouth. As we all know catching a fish in current tends to supercharge the experience, imagine for a moment a tuna in a river, uh, bu**er springs mind!!
So a little Latin Etymology for you; the Kahawai, Arripis Trutta: arripio arripere in fishy English, to slam said fly suddenly and feck off!!! Nothing could prepare me for that first hit.
It was a stunning evening, the sunset bursting through the mountains and cascading over t
he Marlborough vinyards is a sight few words describe, simply put, exquisite. The orange glow took the chill from the Tasman salt water as shorts were the order of the day. Combine the light with a feisty swell braking on the beach made for quite the backdrop.
Eventually after all of six or seven casts we were off a smooth draw on the line from the river and a steady but aggressive retrieve; then there was the take, followed by several expletives, this fish went nuts, into the backing before I could compose myself and not much respite for a good ten minutes, and acrobatic, resembling a salmon, thrashing through the waves. After a good tussle for 10 or so minutes I had it to the beach, initial examination revealed an absolute gem of a fish the turquoise along its back and the spots, with the sharp tail fin, big eye, and large shoulder, stunning!!
Once I had released the fish and eventually composed myself I had a moment to reflect, the discussion I had had a few years before again came rushing back, like the Romans the chap I had met in London was accurate to the T, it turns out that perhaps New Zealand has more to offer the traveling and resident fly fisher alike. Stay tuned for more updates and adventure soon.
Rod: LOOP Cross s1 flatsman 9ft 8wt.
Reel: LOOP Opti Speedrunner.
Line: LOOP Booster 9wt intermediate.
Leader: Maxima 20-12lb built tapered leader.
Fly: Epoxy white bait pattern.