Fishing the Backcountry NZ

Lars mentioned that I should write a piece on backcountry fishing techniques which I thought was an unusually good idea for him. This is going to be a “how to catch all the fish in the backcountry” article, not because you will catch all the fish in the backcountry having read this, but because that's my approach and I think that should be your approach too.

in the backcountry, mystery river xThe first thing you have to know about NZ backcountry is that there are not many fish, but they make up for the lack in numbers by being big. Because there's few fish - sometimes only one or two per mile - it's critical that you catch and release. Not everyone has figured this out yet, which is why there's even fewer fish than there should be. Mostly the backcountry limit is one. It should be none with the angler only resorting to eating fish for survival reasons. Which doesn't actually happen very often in NZ incidentally, not unless you really fuckup.

I've been fishing the backcountry for 15 years. And while there are guys who've fished it for much longer than that, I can tell you that I've seen dramatic changes in the fishing experience. The main change is pressure - lots of people fish the backcountry now, this is partly because of me, but also other publications, as well as guides' marketing, NZ tourism board, Lord of the fucking Rings and so on. The thing is, while in the past you may have been lucky to have met someone you could share the fishing and fishing stories with around the campfire, now you just don't want to meet anyone, and that's not very likely to happen, at least not during the summer months.

This has had the inevitable knock-on effect upon the fishing. You will get fewer runs up a river with truly virgin water - virgin water in this case, being water unfished for more than three days. There was a time, and to be honest it's still possible but extremely rare, that you could fish water that hadn't been touched for a year or more. Unfortunately, generally speaking, there's a reason for that now, ie it's probably not very good. Of course you may be surprised, which the main reason I keep doing it.

I hardly ever fish the same stretch of backcountry water twice in the same season. I can't see the point when there is so much water available. Better to move on in my opinion and always try somewhere new and I always fish new water each and every year. Predominantly for this reason, everywhere I fish in NZ is either Mystery River X or Mystery Lake X, I'm not here to cause the rape of rivers and let's face it, foreplay is 50% if you're a man and 90% if you're a woman - or so I'm led to believe.

So, um, this is how it goes, get on the water early because you have to be first into the gorge/up the river. There's no point in following someone else apart from on a very few select waters. You want first shot. If you don't get it, fish somewhere else. Jumping in front of someone else, even a couple of miles in front of someone else, will see you killed. Typically I'll look to fish 10-15 Km of water in a day, sometimes more. That's a 3-3 ˝ hr hike out. Now Chris [Dore] will tell you that those days are over and yes, come summers especially, you have to be lucky, most of the time your day will be spoilt - which is why I night fish, lowland river fish or lake fish mid-summer with only the occasional shot at the backcountry, but that's neither here nor there, we're talking about how to really fish the backcountry; how it was, and how it can be if you either get very lucky or find your own water and treat every day like a reconnaissance.

So I'm going to spend the rest of this article discussing methods. There are other skills you will need, early season for example you will need the skills to cross big water, which is neither easy nor relaxing - you have to run the river and every time you do so you may die. Shit happens. You will need bush skills, such as being able to build shelters and light fires in the torrential rain. But frankly you can find that stuff already on Sexyloops and the stuff you haven't found you'll work out or not as is the case - and let's face it, this is also what backcountry fishing is about; using boy-scout skills and sleeping under the stars.

You will also need to be able to spot fish. Spotting fish is about being able to read water. If you can't read water you need to check out our Rivers section, Deano's article and practise. Sometimes you can't spot a run because it's too deep or broken. So then you quickly fish it. Don't fuck around however, you have 15K of water in front of you. Run the flies through quickly and efficiently. Watch the water carefully for a take/interest and use an indicator fly with white wings - dries with sparkle bodies show up better (but catch less fish). You're nymphing. If fishing likely spots blind isn't producing and you're not seeing fish, put the miles in and look for footprints.

THE killing method in the backcoutry is a dry fly indicator RFU size 12, on a dropper, 12-13 feet from the flyline - use a tapered leader - a tungsten and leaded nymph #12/14 six feet from the dry, with a smallish #16 nymph trailing 12 inches tied off the bend.

Sometimes you'll have to bite the dry off and shot the leader - maybe upsizing/super-weighting the nymph/s. Or you may have to switch the double nymph to a single light-weight pattern - Cove PT is deadly. But that's your basic rig, ready for quick changes as required.

If they're nailing the dry, go dry only on a 15ft leader. You'll have less foul hooks, tangled fights and easier, less balls-in-your-mouth casting. But if they're not hard on dries and you don't fish the triple hedged bet then you're not even in the game. You are out to catch every fish in the river, this is not a party, make your first shot count. It's the best one. And be quick about it. NZ trout sense you're there. It doesn't take long and they bugger off.

You're on strike, muddy up as you travel and be ready for the quick shot. I have caught countless fish unhooking the flies and tossing them in front of trout. Being able to go from spotting to fly-in-front of nose is what it's really about. You don't want to come all the way to NZ, buy a car, walk 15 miles, quit your job, can your girlfriend, bust your balls and then fuck up the biggest fish of your life. Learn to cast before you get here. Learn to cast into the wind, learn to cast three flies, learn to cast in close, learn to cast so well that casting is NEVER the problem. Then you're in the game.

That goes for all sight-fishing actually.

For tippet think seven pounds - I don't know or care what that is in X. When you hook up you're probably going to get wet. Learn to turn, roll and generally fuck with fish. The best piece of advice I can give you is to really take the fight to the trout, keep them out of log jams and bully the shit out of them. If you're really good and tip the fish early you'll get a second and even third shot moving up the pool - don't ask me why, but trout often hole up together. Much better to catch three than pussy around with one.

Sometimes - not always, in fact not even often - trout will hit a really big streamer. Most of the time you'll spook them, but occasionally and especially after dark a really big fly is the way to go. A 5 or a 6 inch 4/0, or a tandem 1/0, tied to a tippet of ~20lbs will catch those big doggo daytime fish. They're big, they're not eating during the daytime, what else would they be doing?

Come on over Lars, NZ is an interesting fishery and NZ is possibly the best country on Earth, next to Denmark of course.

Cheers, Paul


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