The ordeal of canceled flights and lost luggage seems far behind us now and the days are going way too fast as they always do here in Kiwi Land. There are some big fish around but like always, they have college degrees and to say they’re tough is an understatement. I have always thought that skill trumps luck here, it’s almost always the first cast that wins, but that’s what makes it interesting. Long walks, long tapered leaders, gin clear water and huge browns are what the South Island is all about. Drab colored clothing to blend in, a super quite approach with minimum false casts, fly lines like the RIO Grand designed to turn over tungsten bead head nymphs and large cicada patterns in what is sometimes a cruel head wind. Need I say more? So you might ask, “Why even come here”? Why does a mountain climber climb? Because the mountain is there. We come here to the Everest of trout fishing to test ourselves against the most selective, moody, yet magnificent brown trout in the world. Indeed we come here looking for quality, not quantity, in a land with breath taking scenery, wild rivers and some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.
John Gemmell has a reputation for finding big trout and along with his wife Robin has Riverview lodge near Hammer Springs. Like most Kiwi guides John takes his job quite seriously and he will be quick to tell you when you’ve made a mistake. To get him to smile takes awhile. But all in all John is just being John and we’ve come to love the guy. Across the river he and Cathy are stalking a big trout, John is as ridged as a rock as he stares ahead peering into the depths of the pool. Cathy stands twenty feet behind fly rod in hand waiting for John to give her the signal to move up. The hand signal finally comes and she ever so slowly moves up to Johns side. The guide and angler are studying a spot upstream of their position, I know what John wants, first for Cathy to see the trout before she makes a cast; secondly, he wants that cast to be perfect; and third, if the trout takes he’ll want Cathy to pause before setting the hook.
I watch as the line unfolds. I can barely see it but I know the fly is a Super Beetle, one of Cathy’s own patterns and I know at this point that she is tensed and holding her breath. Ahead a nose pokes through the surface and the Super Beetle quietly disappears, “Yes!” shouts John with so much energy that I even jump at his command. Cathy’s five weight Sage METHOD bends in half as John shouts out directions on how he wants her to fight the fish. I have to grin at the two of them, we’ve been fishing with John for many years and he still gets wound up in the battle.
The fish looks like it could be a double digit as it goes airborne and takes off downstream. In a blazing rush it’s out of the pool with John and Cathy in hot pursuit. I fumble with my Nikon trying to capture as much of the action as I can but this fish has a mission – to get rid of this nagging fly hooked in his mouth. The leader fouls on a rock and I think its all over. She risks it all and throws some slack over the rock and the fish is back and moving. I try to get across the river and almost lose my camera in the process. Three pools down I can see John in the water with his net. By the time I catch up the fish is in the net. Nine pounds plus John says smiling.
We photograph the fish and carefully release him. John says that it’s one of the strongest browns he has seen in a long time and that it’s a good thing she had Maxima for tippet, something John always insists on when he’s hunting a big trout. Cathy laughed and said “It’s not Maxima, it’s the new RIO Powerflex PLUS, and it’s 4X”. John took the leader and went down to the tippet and started to pull, nothing gave so he pulled harder and still nothing gave. He looked up and said “It’s so thin I can’t hardly believe it”.
Our stay is over here at Riverview and with bags packed our group moves to the Murchison area and settles in at the Owen River Lodge. We still have seven days of fishing left and our host Felix Borenstine is ready to help us settle in. ORL is a first class lodge with a lot of different rivers within a reasonable driving distance. The stable of seasoned guides are a cast of characters; Aaron Ford, Steve Perry, Craig Simpson, Greg Gardner, Pete Flintopt and Paul Van de loo top the list. Over dinner there’s talk about how many big fish are around and how good the weather forecast is and I know out there somewhere is a happy double digit brown with my name on it. All I have to do is make the right cast with the right fly, and then maybe the trout will take my offering, and when the words “Yes!” come from my guide I”ll remember to pause before I strike, and then again maybe I won’t.
After New Zealand we head home to Pennsylvania for a quick turnaround. Ten days later we meet a new group of anglers and we’re off for a month in Patagonia. Hopefully our flights will be on time, the weather will cooperate, the fish will be hungry, for we know our anglers will be excited and ready to go. We’ll stay in touch. As always – from the field.
~Sage Ambassadors and world travelers Barry and Cathy Beck www.barryandcathybeck.com