New Zealand has provided some of my most memorable outdoor adventures, including my best fly fishing moments along with some fishy yarns.
The Tongariro River on North Island is world famous for its wily trout with rainbows averaging 4lbs (1.8kg) and browns about 5lbs (2.26kg). Trophy fish in excess of 10lbs (4.53kg) have been hooked.
Fat fish were skulking in the shadows at Whitikau Pool. The idyllic peace of the surrounding forest was shattered only by my guide Mike shrieking “NOW!” whenever a trout took a tentative nibble at the fly. As the I Ching says, righteous persistence brings reward. At Whitikau I made my first strike. It was a 5lb female rainbow, it’s glistening body a shimmering pink that matched the flush of excitement on my face.
Trout are notoriously twitchy creatures and a pool fished too often soon becomes home to fish far too skittish to ever rise to a fly. So the keen angler hopes to keep the knowledge of at least one “secret” pool to themselves.
From Whitikau we moved to one of Mike’s “secret” spots, located on the Poutu Stream that spills into the Tongariro. At this secluded pool I managed to land a magnificent rainbow male after a thrilling encounter that left me spent.
We ate my catch for our dinner, during which Mike commented that we had enjoyed a “tu meka day”, which is Maori-speak for awesome. Anyone within earshot in the lodge dining room probably thought different and that I’d greedily used up all my luck in one swoop. Fishing is a competitive sport ….
On another visit I spent time on South Island and while down Otago way I heard fishing guide Harvey Maguire spin the tale of a legendary trout that once lived in the Lochy River near Queenstown.
Years earlier an angler visiting from the US had watched this particular trout take his dry fly and immediately zoom off at great speed, slip around a large rock, hurtle into rapids above the pool and strip the fly right off the line, prompting the amazed fisherman to yell, “That’s no fish, that’s a freight train!”
In subsequent years this particular trout, forever to be known as Freight Train, was hooked many times but landed only once – when the ferocious fish shunned its usual escape plan and instead sped downstream and was lifted in slower water. It weighed 8.5lbs. Returned to the river, this champion catch finally ran of steam in old age. You have to love a fishing yarn like that.