New Zealand Mouse-Eating Trophy Trout
As Good As It Gets
What do you do after you have experienced the best of the best? Sooner or later you’re going to have your best day ever, one that will never be bettered. I may have had that day.
It all began with John and I trudging through the rain on a repeat trip to paradise. Through the bush we caught glimpses of the brown torrent that we planned to fish. Tucked deep inside our hoods, water trickling in, we both remembered our last visit when the weather had been kinder. We hadn’t caught anything sizeable but we had seen fish of such quality that here we were again.
We stumbled into the hut wet and tired, glad to have sole occupancy but it wasn’t surprising considering the conditions. The next day we just hung around, ate, slept and waited for the river to drop. It didn’t. Our plan had been to come in during high water so that we would be first on the river when things cleared up. The following morning fishing looked possible, just. We were in no rush to get on the water but the unwelcome hum of a helicopter coming up the valley saw me flying out the door and trying to get noticed. It just didn’t seem fair. I was unsure whether they saw me, or if they cared even if they had. Minutes later we saw it head over the mountain and prayed that it hadn’t deposited any anglers above us.
Rattled by the chopper we hurried downstream to give ourselves a little more river, all the time anxious that someone else would wander into view. With about two feet of visibility John did well to spot and land the first for the day. We were on the board. We then shared success pool after pool, the river clearing as we progressed. The conditions were becoming ideal. It was a good feeling to know that the water had been well rested and that the fish were hungry, especially on a river like this that receives such heavy angling pressure.
Fishing a place the second time means that each bend and pool brings to mind previous encounters, it also adds to your confidence. After a few hours we reached what we know as ‘the Big Rock pool,’ just up from the hut. You’ll know it well if you can guess the river we were on. It was here that we had seen one of the largest fish of our lives, a ‘something-teener,’ which had just laughed at us on the previous encounter. We crept up ever so carefully and scanned the pool. He wasn’t home. We decided to cross because it offered the best ‘line’ to run the Rapalas through, and moved into position. The large smudge we spotted was immediately in pursuit and hit hard. It wasn’t the monster from or last trip but at nine and a half pounds it was still an awesome addition to our tally. Elated we move on along the grassy banks inspecting everything very carefully. A trophy fish was a distinct possibility and was one of the goals of the trip.
Several times during the day we caught two fish in the same pool. In areas with limited holding water this is not uncommon and making sure that you fish everything thoroughly can significantly increase the numbers caught. John always seemed to be a fish ahead of me and I was so pleased to keep things even by fishing his ‘scraps.’
Most of the trout were incredible, large rough looking beasts with hooked jaws, most around seven pounds. We were very thorough, knowing that where the trout are big you don’t get many shots during a day. When we reached territory that was new to us we encountered one very long section of what I call rubbish-water. In situations like this one can begin to think you have seen the best of the river, but we’ve also come to know that things can and do change and the next decent pool after ‘rubbish-water’ usually hold a good fish.
The sun was low in the sky when we spotted ‘the pool.’ It was deep and stable with bedrock on one side that the best fish seem to love. The corpulent occupant was right where we expected him. John made a cast to envy and the lure was chased down first time. The following was odd. The fish virtually drifted downstream to us, rolled over and gave up! It was an unusual response from an unusual fish, unusual because it was eleven pound! You beauty. Tick the box marked trophy! After the photo shoot, I fished the remaining scraps of the pool and was rewarded with the small one. Eight pounds. It’s not often that the small one is eight pounds.
We decided to call it a day and headed back to the hut. We had done well, very well especially if reports in the hut log book were typical. We didn’t let on how well we’d done, I suspect the serious fishermen never do. Who wants to let others know the true potential of a place and add extra pressure? The day had cerainlybeen terrific but the following day would prove to be even better.
We began near the hut the next morning and fish averaged about seven pounds, yes, seven, that’s what we were thinking! We took them mostly on Rapalas but also on dries and nymphs when the situation called for it. They were easier to locate the second day because we had spotted them the day before. This meant that we could be especially careful on those we had missed. The previous day we had spent considerable time on a fish we were sure was double figures. This day John got him but he turned out to be a slim old-timer. Lesson. Don’t weigh your fish till they’re landed! It was still a great success and hooking what you expect to be a trophy fish was a thrill for both of us.
John also did the double double. He caught the same trophy fish he’d caught the day before! That’s right, the same fish, same pool, only using a different technique. On the first day with the Rapala he had just surrendered with hardly a fight! The second day John caught him on a nymph and this time he gave John a good run for his money. John wants to count it as two trophies for the trip. In my good moments I allow it!
The staggering thing is what happened next. I got to fish right up into the eye of the same pool to a substantial smudge. I pitched my double nymph rig well up and visualized its drift. When the blur lifted I struck. He bolted and we were off upriver into the next pool, me crashing through the water trying to keep the line out to a minimum. He then turned and both of us headed for the Pacific. I ran literally hundreds of metres after him, rod held high, looking ahead to see what thorny Matagouri bushes I would, or would not, be negotiating! Thankfully, just upstream of where the river quickened and divided by a gravel bar, the fish, like me, showed signs of tiring. Unwilling to follow him on this downstream marathon I had a cunning plan. I charged in and from my upstream position I steered the tiring beast onto the shallows of the bar before reeling myself down onto him and smothering him. My net man finally found us, secured the fish and oh, the satisfaction! Could you believe it, two trophy fish from the same pool within minutes of each other! The fish was a stunner, small head and balloon body, what a fish! What a day! Its great when your mate lands a trophy, and its even better when you both get one.
From here on we entered new territory, full of the thrill that new territory brings. We were alive, the wind blowing in our hair, feeling fresh and invigorated. We moved on k’ after k’ conscious that each step would need retracing at the end of the day but we wanted to fish the river to the last of the holding water. The river did eventually thin up but not before John picked up another and I added a terrific eight and three quarter pounder to our tally. It’s was wonderful seeing such a huge fish in such small crystal clear pool, in what what was little more than a stream. John had suggested, “Nymph maybe?” I had the Rapala on which had accounted for so many. “Na,” I replied confident that the Rapala would do the business. It did, first cast.
I also caught the smallest fish in the river. We had talked about taking a trout to eat, because our food rations were so low, but these 7+ pounders were just too big. The problem would be finding a fish small enough! With timing that could not be better, late in the afternoon, I landed a chunky 2 1/2 pounder that had dinner written all over it. We dispatched it and buried it in some cool sand to pick up on our return.
The day had been terrific with numbers of awesome fish, trophies, and new territory but like all good things in this world the fishing finally came to an end. Having a bit of time John suggested that we seek a thermal spring up a side creek. He had be intrigued by a mention of it in a hut log book. Wouldn’t that be a neat way to end the day. We laid off our day packs and rods and bounded up the creek for fifteen minutes until we came across the spring. From under a bank steaming hot water trickled out into a pool formed by a ring of rocks. Stripping off sand-fly-quick we both slipped into the pool, John in the hot end, me in the other. It was wonderful, skinny dipping in a hot spring with beech leaves floating around our necks, patches of snow visible on the mountain slopes. I grabbed a few photos to show the family. Here we were after an epic day’s fishing experiencing what money just can’t buy. No expensive thermal resort could compete with this, and
like so many of the best things in life it was free. In life there are ‘life-moments’, and John and I both realized that this was one of them. It was yet another memory to be treasured.
With a little sorrow that the day had come to an end we turned about to head for the hut. We collected our dinner on the way and reminisced. I picked some fresh watercress from the spring near by, and John prepared the trout which we fried in the oil from some noodle sachets. As we savoured our wild foods meal we reflected on what we had shared that day and wondered if it could ever be bettered. As time has gone on that thought has grown stronger. Since then we have caught bigger fish, we have had days with greater tallies, but that wonderful trip will never be eclipsed. It wasn’t all about the numbers or incredible average size. It wasn’t all about the trophy fish but they certainly rounded out the trip. It wasn’t just about a plan coming together or the unforgettable hot spring at the day’s end. It was all of those things, compressed into one incredibly special time spent with a good mate.
Your ‘greatest day ever’ will come, sooner or later, maybe it already has. I hope that there will be someone in your experience to whom you can say, “Remember when...”, and have it all come flooding back. To have had someone thrill in your success, and share their’s with you is invaluable. That day’s fishing with John was for me as good as it gets and there are only a few other days that might vie for the title “the best day ever.” One thing however that is consistent to them all is that any ‘best day ever’ requires a mate. Everything might come together but without someone to share your joys no day is truly as good as it can be.
In the end it seems to me, rather paradoxically, that the best part of fishing isn’t the fish. They just happen to be the glue which holds together a wonderful collection of experiences, and the most significant of all is the experience of friendship, and that’s as good as it gets.