It's a number of years ago now, I remember as a new fly fisherman I had been told the value of fishing with someone who “knows the ropes”.
Keen as mustard, I jumped at the chance to get in a few days on a West coast river with my then new acquaintance (and now good mate) Richard Sinke of Christchurch.
One of life's greatest lessons is your own experience…. Another is OTHER people's experience! Richard, a passionate fly fisherman and purist of the pastime is without doubt one of the great Canterbury fishermen and exponents of the sport of fly-fishing.
For those that are relative newcomers to the sport and wishing to improve and develop their technique, my best advise is find someone like Richard, buy him a beer, and see if you can get him to share some of his experience with you! Given a degree of rapport and trust you may even get lucky and have the opportunity of spending some time on a river together. The magic thing about spending time with a person of experience is they can save you a lot of learning curve time!
Any time spent on a river is valuable if you are continuing to learn. Careful observation of weather patterns, river flow information, seasonal variations etc. all make for an expanding and ongoing base of knowledge. Time with an experienced fisherman in my opinion, is the most valuable teacher.
Our trip was to be via helicopter into a favorite West Coast river of Richard's, to which he would only refer to as “ The Glenfidich”. (For the quality of the fluid) Naturally, I was sworn to secrecy under threat of death.
A good yarn is always a part of any trip, and I enjoyed the chance to swap stories and experiences as we waited for the helicopter pilot to finish his pre-flight check and fueling the chopper. One story shared was of a year or 4 ago when Richard and a mate had flown in to this particular river for 4 days fishing. They shared the unloading and each thought the other had the rods. They stood on the riverbed with their gear around them, only to see the chopper lift off with the fly rods still on board! Of course there were fish everywhere. Fortunately the pilot discovered the error back at the pad and flew the rods back in! That little slip in concentration only cost the guys an extra $300 in helicopter fares. That was one mistake I was not going to make.
Richard started the day by stripping back his terminal tackle to the fly line and retying a tapered leader, and light tippet to the line. His fly box had been fastidiously organized the night before and he had multiples of each pattern of both dry and nymph in varying sizes. 3 new leaders in the vest, fly floatant, split shot, surgical tweezers, an array of nibbles, (for himself, not the fish) wet gear (parka. fold-away) emergency insulated blanket, weatherproof matches, 2 lucifer fire starters for wet fire starts, mini first aid kit, dimp, several weights of tippet material from 3lb to 8 lb. Good boots, gaiters (to keep the stones out) camo vest for coast, (a tan vest and polyprop are also on call for high country.) A good hat. Good polarized glasses. Plus 2nd pair in case of loss or damage. The boots are felt soled which meant he wouldn't slip and fall like me.
We had a large pack each and a good supply of fine Dux delux beers on board from Richard's own brewery / restaurant in the Christchurch Arts Centre, plus a bottle or two of wine.
We were dropped into a vista of lush dense green. The Beech forest was almost impenetrable by foot. There were no established “tracks”, but rather game trails at some points along the bank. Our gear we dropped at one point, and we were then flown a good day's walk downstream to commence our fishing.
Richard took his time as we worked slowly upstream. He explained how fish can be spooked by a clumsy footfall or tumbled rock, or a careless shadow on the waters surface, where to look for the fish, what they would be feeding on, how a change in weather would affect the fishes feeding patterns… and a hundred other pointers I didn't even realise I was learning.
The conditions were in the favor of our quarry. Extremely clear water meant we were as visible to the fish as they were to us. The water was deceptively deep. Looking easily crossable it was actually over our heads, lazily swanning along its merry course. Lots of fun, needless to say without felt soles on my boots I was totally wet all day.
We found the big brown in a magnificent pool that was both wide and deep. Richard was on strike and took but a moment to strip of some line and place an excellent cast to the fish. With 4lb tippet there was no way the fish had seen the line, so the refusal was the fly (a delicate Adams). Only giving the fish 2 looks at the pattern Richard then moved to another small dry. He must have changed hook 5 times. Each refusal calmly accepted and with a slight pause a new pattern sent forth. Finally Richard moved to his nymph box, selected a stonefly imitation and served it up to the Jack. The fish ambled over to the nymph and swallowed it first cast. The strike was sure and the chase began. The big fish went to the depths of the pool in an attempt to lose the hook on submerged trees. Richard, ready for this took the strain of the fish on his rod with a sideways drag toward the riverbank, managing to avoid the submerged tree. It took another few minutes of patient to & fro before he coaxed the fish to the bank.
I had my camera out and ready to snap off some pictures. Richard wet his hands then picked the fish up for a Kodak shot. The fish was only moments out of the water before being gently released back into the cool depths it had come from none the worse for the encounter. We each got fish that day; I myself got 1 and Richard 3. The camp that night was a welcome sight for our weary bones.
There is nothing pleasant about waking up wet. The coast had turned on the water works for us in the night in a way that you have to see first hand to really appreciate! We broke down the tent and packed up our gear for the walk upstream to a higher campsite. The site we had chosen the night before was a little too close to the river for comfort …… had the river risen significantly we might have had to swim for the gear! The rain looked to have settled in so we stashed the packs and hit the river for as much as we could get before it became too dirty to fish.
The barometric pressure makes a real difference to the habits of the fish. They were out on the feed everywhere and aggressively so. The trout were up at the surface hitting everything that came down at them. We both got onto a couple, with Richard finishing up with 5 fish for the trip and myself on 3. Mid-way through the day we packed it in. The river by this time was seriously discolored and had come up at least 3 feet…… quickly.
We spent the rest of the day searching for a possumer's hut Richard knew of to get in out of the rain. We found it not too long before dark. The wood was wet, but the Lucifer fire starters took care of that. We got pretty soaked, but it sure didn't dampen our spirits. Funny but he's given up the smokes since then, I wonder if it had anything to do with the 1/2 hour it took to roll and light one!? A dinner of trout and a serious attempt at finishing all the liquid supplies followed, we knew the pilot would fly in the next morning to collect us a day early because of the rain.
It's been a while since that trip, but I can still hear the scream of the reel and Richards whoop as he hooked up……