Careful Catch and Release Tactics
The careful care and handling of trout to give them the best chance of survival is something I am very passionate about, and I don’t see it discussed as much as possibly it should be! I have been fortunate enough to study and work with trout, salmon and many different species of New Zealand native fish for the last 24 years, during which time I have often been able to monitor and assess different handling methods and the short and long term affects of these on fish. The following points are my views from my experience on this topic.
The theory that trout are as tough as old boots isn’t quite true. They do put up with some pretty extreme environmental stresses including flooding, warm water/low oxygen, predation, and sometimes intense competition but like any animal they have their limits, and sometimes even just a second or two of careless handing while being played or in the landing/release process can lead to a prolonged and painful end for these beautiful creatures. With our fisheries under increased pressure and with more frequent extreme flooding events becoming the norm, our trout populations need all the help they can get in order for them to remain the world class fisheries that they currently are! Ultimately you want to know that when the fish swims off it will have the best chance of survival possible. We should all be working to reduce the factors that can have a negative influence or stress the fish, and the following points in my opinion help to mitigate the potential harm to trout when being caught and released.
Use strong tippets. Use as strong a tippet as possible which cannot be detected by the fish or negatively affect the natural movement/presentation of the fly, and check tippet condition constantly when fishing to reduce prolonged fights, and snapping off flies and tippet on lost fish. Before casting to every sighted fish I go through a routine of testing every knot and running my fingers up all of the terminal tippet material to make sure that there are no weaknesses or damage. Do this and you will lose fewer fish! Using strong tippets usually allows an angler to more quickly land a fish, resulting in less stress and exhaustion for both the fish and angler J.
Barbed/ verses barbless hooks. Most anglers want every advantage they can over the fish, but the use of barbless or crushed barb hooks to allow for quick fly removal and reduced harm to the trout when removing hooks from sensitive areas, can only be positive for the fish. I have seen various forum discussions on how barbless hooks penetrate further than barbed hooks and are therefore worse, but I have never seen any evidence of this causing a problem in my past 30 years of fly fishing, probably 25 of these using barbless or crushed barbed hooks. I have heard that some earlier designed barbless hooks in the 1980’s were found to cause some damage to some trout’s jaws by penetrating into the bony structure, but that the same ill effects do not appear to be being caused by the more modern barbless hook designs. Interestingly crushed barbed hooks are often considered better than barbless by some anglers, as they are easily removed and usually don’t penetrate as far as pure barbless hooks. It only takes a second to crush a barb to possibly make a difference!
Quite often I find my fly will have fallen out of the trout’s mouth in the landing net prior to me manually removing it, and from my experience it only slightly reduces landing rates when compared to using barbed hooks. Ultimately it makes me feel good that I know the fish will much more likely be fine if lost. There is no question that barbed hooks do fall out over extended periods of time, however the theory that hooks rust out of a trout mouth doesn’t quite ring true to me. I once placed a standard bronzed Kamasan fly hook in a jar of water and monitored it for over a month, with the hook remaining brand new in condition with no signs of rust or corrosion. Different water chemistry or varied dissolved oxygen levels would influence the oxidation of the steel differently, as potentially would the fishes blood enzymes, but I suspect that the theory often espoused that lost flies will rust out of a trout’s mouth relatively quickly is pretty inaccurate, with likely exception to a saltwater or estuarine environment!. This theory is further strengthened by a study in which hook retention was scientifically tested. This article and several other interesting links are listed below if you would like to check it out.
The following short term scenario is one of my largest motivations to use barbless hooks myself, as in some situations there could be a significant problem with fish which have broken off entering and becoming entangled in snags, especially if a double/dropper rig is used with strong tippet. In such situations the tired fish will likely head for the security of the cover of an undercut bank etc, where the trailing fly then could entangle in tree roots or other objects/structure. A 4 pound fish cannot get up enough swimming momentum to snap off 7lb/4X tippet to escape a snag, and may therefore not likely survive an exhausting attempt at getting free of being attached to an object with multiple flies and strong tippets. So perhaps at a minimum it would be sensible to consider using a single fly only or crushed barbed flies in waters with snags and abundant tree root cover in order to improve the likelihood of a lost fishes survival!
Gloves or bare hands. There has always been the big debate on whether it is better to use gloves/pantyhose or bare hands/no gloves when handling fish. Once again I have seen this discussed in many forums over the years, however as yet I haven’t seen the results of any definitive scientific study on this topic. There is no question that you will have a better grip on the fish using gloves, possibly sometimes even preventing the dropping of a fish held above the water, but the most important factor to consider is that you will notice more protective mucous membrane is removed from the trout’s skin onto even pre-wet gloves, compared to pre-wet hands. The protective mucous membrane is the trout’s anti-bacterial/antifungal and osmoregulatory protective coating which is the fish’s natural defence against the growth of unwanted pathogens/fungus on the fish’s skin, and also in some instances helps to maintain the constant internal environment within the fish. Although this layer can be replaced by the fish, even temporary removal of this protective layer can allow the unwanted growth of fungus. From just a few moments of careless handling I have watched a 15 lb rainbow trout slowly (and likely painfully) meet its end, as fungus slowly grew from the areas which had been in contact with a person, all over the fish’s body. It is important to protect against this whenever possible, and to me it appears that less mucous is removed by wet hands compared to wet gloves. All the scientists I have worked with over the years have preferred the use of pre-wet hands over gloves, so this in itself must add some strength to the argument!
Pre-saturate sun gloves. If you choose to wear gloves when handling fish, try to consciously wet them well in advance of touching a fish. I make a habit of doing this while playing a trout prior to netting. If dry the open porous weave structure of the nylon material (usually used in the construction of fly fishing gloves) will absorb the protective membrane of the fish as it absorbs water for several seconds upon emersion, and overall using gloves although providing more grip, also removes more protective mucous membrane from the trout’s skin. If you compare the two surfaces, gloves will be much more slimy compared to wet hands when checked after releasing a fish. On many occasions in the excitement of landing a fish I have seen anglers grab for a floundering fish’s tail to help direct it into a net prior to wetting their gloves, very likely causing increased loss of the protective membrane. The pre-wetting of gloves and hands is also very important to cool down the surfaces coming in contact with the fish, and this point will be touched on in more detail shortly.
Avoid prolonged holding in one location. Try to avoid holding onto fish at one location (ie tail) for extended periods without periodically (every 20 seconds or so) reducing the grip slightly to allow fresh cooling water to surround the fish’s skin. This is especially important when handling fish with bare hands, as it reduces the apparent thermal affect which I have heard some experienced anglers comment on potentially “burning” the trout’s skin.
Pre-wet landing net mesh. Try to remember to pre-wet the landing net mesh in the water when the fish in being played prior to landing. Depending on the type of netting used in the construction of the net bag, this will both soften and cool down the net mesh material that will come in contact with the trout prior to landing. Black plastic mesh landing nets transported on an anglers back in direct sunlight while fishing can sometimes get quite hot, and will take several seconds to cool down when submerged in the water! It is definitely better for the fish to use knotless mesh and ideally the newer plastic coated mesh which absorbs less protective mucous membrane. The black plastic mesh is harder to hold in heavy water flows compared to the older green finer mesh due to the increased surface areas and subsequent larger water resistance, but the older green knotless mesh also usually entangles the jaws of some fish (especially Jacks) more easily, resulting in increased handling time when releasing a fish. The entanglement of the trout’s maxillae is also much more likely in the finer green mesh with the wider gaps, and it is possible to tear this part of the fish’s jaw if it is entangled and the landing net is lifted from the water to weigh the fish. In such situations it is always good to detangle the trout’s jaw and maxillae before lifting the fish, and it is always a good idea to lay the fish flat in the bottom of the net bag to avoid excessive bending of the fish’s body when being lifted. This is especially important with larger/heavier fish in “mousey” condition.
Keep fish close to the water when lifted for a photo. It is good practice to keep fish close to the water at a low height when removing it from the water to take a photo, just in case the angler accidentally drops it. It usually makes for a much “sexier” natural photo aswell, which will be respected by other anglers! The “Keep Em Wet” movement can also only be positive for those anglers who are happy to have a photo of the fish in the water, as opposed to the common out of the water “grip and grin” shot. I always try to choose a location where the water is deep enough to remove a fish from the net, so that if it is dropped the water will soften the impact on the fish. Seeing a fish dropped onto hard rocks on the bottom in shallow water, or any hard surface, is something that can usually be avoided with a little foresight.
Avoid beaching fish on dry, sharp or hard surfaces. If possible avoid beaching a fish on sharp rocks or any uneven/rough surface, and make sure the surface is already wet. If the fish is not fully tired it can flap around aggressively, resulting in sometimes harmful damage to the fish.
Allow time for a good blood clot set if a landed fish is bleeding. Remove the fly quickly and leave the fish in the net in a quiet flow area if possible to allow the bleeding to clot (sometimes up to 4 minutes in my experience). Don’t think that the trout won’t survive if it is bleeding as has been documented in previous historic articles. A little blood can look like a lot and can appear to always come from the gills due to the respiratory water flow in through the mouth, and out through the operculum/gills. In my experience most bleeding will clot, the fish will swim away, and trout should not be expected not to survive! By letting a fish go carefully there is at least a chance, and survival should be considered likely! Salmon smolt can have their very sensitive gill filaments cut off using scissors causing significant bleeding and still have this clot, so in my opinion there is hope for fish even bleeding significantly. Once the bleeding has stopped it is important to keep the fish in the net for at least another 2 minutes to ensure a good clot hold at the site of the wound, before carefully releasing the fish. This just prevents a sensitive clot from being dislodged due to premature release and exertion on the fish, as it swims away to find cover.
Choose a safe release location. In a moving water environment always try to find a safe location out of the heavy flow to release a fish if possible, especially if a long hard fight has occurred. It is sometimes necessary to carefully walk a tired fish up or downstream to a suitable area with the fish remaining in the water at all times/as much as possible, to reach a safe release location. A quiet edge can be good enough but a large quiet area nearby can give the fish a better recovery location. Also if the fish is exhausted and heavy water/rapids are present at the release location it is good practice to remove all your gear/rod etc to a location well below the fish, and then slowly release it into the water where it will hopefully sit and rest. It is then possible to slowly back off behind the fish out of view, and with all the gear removed you wouldn’t then be seen by the fish again, thus preventing it being scared into the surrounding rough water prematurely prior to a good recovery.
If there is some water flow at the release location there is no need to actively push the fish back and forth to increase water flow over the gills, as the gill movements of the fish will be adequate to allow effective counter-current oxygen transfer. This may be necessary in a stagnant water location or where there is a lot of loose sediments on the stream/lake bottom causing the fish to inhale sediment into the gills, thus causing blocking/clogging of the gill membranes. Ultimately any reduced physical stress or premature exercise can only be a positive thing to increase a fish’s chance of survival.
Remove flies with the fish’s gills in the water. Remember these fish have just been fighting for their lives and are likely exhausted, just like us having run a marathon. After heavy physical activity such as being played on a fly rod, the metabolic nitrogenous wastes such as Ammonia built up in the fish’s blood need to be excreted from the trout’s blood system via the gill membranes, into the surrounding water. After a fight, if a trout is removed from the water for excessive periods not only can they not get the essential oxygen they need, but also these metabolic nitrogenous wastes which would normally be excreted into the water then build up in the blood, essentially resulting in blood poisoning. The fish may swim off and appear fine but perhaps a few hours later or even longer, the fish may not survive due to being held out of the water for too long! Think “Gills in the water at all times!”
Only remove the fish for the water for short periods of time when taking photographs. I base my timing on 5 seconds, then if I take a little longer this shouldn’t be a major problem. I have heard a maximum time of 10 seconds bantered around in some forums due to information from a scientific study, but aiming for a shorter period of time can only be good. I have the camera ready and get the angler to remove the fish from the water for 5 seconds at a time to take several quick photo’s, before placing the fish back in the net to get some oxygen. After a brief removal from the water the fish should then be allowed at least another 20 seconds of breathing time before being removed from the water again if a second photo opportunity is necessary. In my opinion there is nothing cooler than seeing a photo of a fish being admired by an angler with beads of water dripping off its body, strongly suggesting that the fish has only been removed from the water for a short time and handled carefully! Often with modern technology it is possible to set a camera or cell phone for rapid fire photo taking, in order to get multiple photos of the trout in different positions as it is lifted from the net and released in a single several second long motion. Alternatively a quick video of the release may be of preference to a angler aswell.
Avoid lifting fish vertically just from the tail. Avoid lifting the fish by its tail as all its weight is transferred through the spine. This is important with heavier fish perhaps 5lbs and larger where the vertebrae can dislocate in some instances because of the increased weight stress involved. Instead hold the tail and support the fish under the pectoral girdle/the head operculum area, making sure not to allow fingers to enter the sensitive internal operculum/gill area, or come in contact with the sensitive eyes. This is especially important with larger overweight fish such as fish showing “mousey” condition where when removed from the neutral buoyancy water environment, all the fishes weight may be point loaded on the sensitive internal organs if held further back in the stomach area, away from the strengthened pectoral/bony region of the fish.
Removing flies can be easier when the fish is turned upside down. When removing the fly from the trout turn it upside down in the net by holding its tail. This can sometimes be difficult with fresher/less tired fish but by inverting the fish this will cause them to go into a state of “tonic immobility” or a “mellow out” type state, like that exhibited with sharks in many wildlife documentaries. This allows for much easier handing of a relatively less active fish, allowing for easier hook/fly removal.
Tail first fish removal from the net. I have found the safest way to remove a fish from the submerged landing net bag prior to being photographed is to remove the fish from the net tail first. One will often see people lifting the fish head first out of the net, and at this point all it takes is a flick of the tail and the fish can be lost prior to a photo being taken. I have seen this happen on many occasions and the usual disappointed look on an anglers face although “priceless” is always something to try to avoid if at all possible.
Limit squeezing or large amounts of pressure when holding a fish. Hold the trout’s tail reasonably firmly without too much pressure to cause bruising, but do not squeeze the fish further forward of the tail. As listed above, the trout’s gills and eyes are the least protected and most sensitive areas which should be carefully avoided, with no pressure or squeezing of these areas occurring when the fish is being handled. The fish can be supported just using the finger tips up under the pectoral fins or head, and when taking a photo you will see more of the beautiful side of the fish if cradled on finger tips, rather than with the fingers protruding up the front side of the fish which is being photographed. This will give you a much better photo showing the full beautiful side of the fish.
Wooden floating landing nets represent excellent floating cages. Although they may not be every angler’s preference, a floating net anchored to the stream bottom of slow flowing water using an attached nylon strap acts as an excellent floating cage to securely hold a landed fish. The floating frame of the net does not collapse over a netted trout such as with other net types, which can sometimes restrict gill breathing movements. It also acts as a self secure cage which the trout can sit in while you sort your camera for a photo, or to place the fish in between 5 second photo taking intervals, to allow it time to recover without escaping. This also acts as a great place to carefully drop a fish into if it starts wriggling when removed from the water, preventing an angler from having to squeeze the fish too hard to prevent it from escaping when completely removed from a sinking type net. A floating frame net is also ideal for use in boating situations where the net can be allowed to float in the water securely holding a landed trout, making the handling and release of the fish a much easier two handed procedure. This further prevents a fish from having to be lifted from the water into a boat for easier removal of a fly.
Some other things to remember when out on the water
If possible avoid fishing water warmer than 20 degrees Celsius. The warmer water will contain less dissolved oxygen and played fish can be put under extreme stresses when exerting themselves in such conditions.
Don’t always aim to catch every fish you see. If you and your companions have had a good day landing a good number of fish don’t over pressure the fishery by continuing to catch every fish you see. Maybe this is a good opportunity to check out another alternative location.
If a fish appears to be in poor condition or stressed in some way, then maybe leave it alone and try to find other “happy” fish. Often darker coloured fish sitting in the quieter edges are showing signs of stress, whether due to being previously caught, or perhaps some other environmental or condition related factor.
Pick up rubbish and retain used tippet material carefully instead of discarding it. The “Monomaster” waste tippet holder is the best product I have found here in New Zealand which carefully stores waste tippet of all lengths, until it can be safely cut up and disposed of at a future time.
I hope that some of this information will prove helpful, and that some of the points listed above will hopefully represent some good topics of discussion amongst other friends and fellow anglers when next out on the water. As previously mentioned these views are my own, based on my experience and are not gospel; however I think they are a pretty good representation of many careful catch and release tactics that some of you might consider thinking about or practicing next time you are out fishing. My ultimate aim with writing this article is that more fish will swim away and have the best chance of survival after being released. All the best with the coming fishing season! J
Chris Bell “South Island Adventure Fly Fishing” firstname.lastname@example.org
Confessions of a fisherman
Looks like I was born to fish rather than update websites! I will be temporarly taking a break from updating this page while the fishing season is underway however I will regularly be posting our adventures to facebook and will add a season summary here when the fish are no longer calling me... until then enjoy the facebook posts or even better come and join me on the water! - Chris (Please refer below for previous Blogs and Posts, thanks!)
Best wishes for the Season!
Apologies for a long break without any blog updates but with both the fishing season in full swing and NZ being a prime holiday destination at this time of year I've been pretty busy guiding so between this, family and work responsibilities I haven't had much of a chance to get on the computer. I hope all is good in your world and I wish you all the best for the Christmas Season. Take care on the roads!
A Recent Westland Adventure
A recent trip away with another really nice client found us targeting a beautifully scenic West Coast river in the attempt to land some lovely big Browns. A 4:00am start had us at our chosen location by just after 8:00am. This spot usually produces some great fish but it's big draw card is the spectacular scenery that surrounds you while on the water. The day started out on a good note as the best fish for the day, a nice 5 1/4 lber was landed in the first run we checked out. Several other fish were also present but proved a little difficult to fool into taking. As the day progressed the trout started looking up and it wasn't long before we started using dries. My client had several takes on parachute mayfly and caddis patterns which was visual and exciting! Despite hooking a few, most didn't stick and only a few more fish came to the net for the day. My client Jeff did really well with his presentations but it was just one of those days where luck wasn't completely on our side, as of the 8 takes he had for the day we hooked up to 5 and finally landed 3. It was a fun day for both of us as the weather proved to be magic and we spotted and fished for plenty of fish. I finally arrived home and got into bed at just before 12:30am the next day. Man what a long day but so worth the effort!
The day of the Trophy
A recent trip with a "top guy" client Eric into a remote Canterbury stream resulted in quite a lot of exciting close quarters fishing action including the capture of a very memorable fish for my client. Unless fishing during a mouse year or in a sea run environment, it is generally getting harder to find large trophy (10lb+) fish these days. I personally haven't landed a trophy in several years now, despite being pretty close on a few occasions. On this particular day we had a big drive from Christchurch to reach our chosen destination. A reasonable walk at the beginning of the day was required before we started to spot the various pools where I had seen trout on previous trips. Early signs were not too flash as we were not spotting much but eventually we came across some occupied water. The first few encountered fish were hooked or took the fly, but a series of bad luck resulted in all fish being lost. We continued upstream and had a few more opportunities, but it wasn't until we reached a regularly productive pool that my client finally landed his first fish for the day. This cracker fish was in absolutely brilliant condition being only the length of an average 3lber but weighed over 5lbs. However this fish was not he largest fish in the pool and our focus now shifted to target the big brown on the far side of the pool. Several fly changes and a different approach were required to finally hook the monster. A strong fight where the trout utilised his weight for much of the time led to some anxious moments, as he tried to exit the pool into faster water multiple times. Luckily we were finally able to subdue the gorgeous giant and were both stoked to see the scales drop to just over 10lbs. Magic! Our attempts to take the perfect photo didn't go quite to plan as the still energetic fish bolted from the grasps of my client on our second quick attempt to take a photo. The accompanying photo doesn't really do this fish justice as it had a large solid humped back, and was in fantastic condition and Eric is a tall guy. Well Done Eric!! We were both stoked but understandably I was a little envious (in a nice way) that I wasn't the one to have caught this gorgeous fish. I think I will have to give myself a little time to build the novelty to visit this location again and have a go at catching this trophy myself. Stay tuned for hopefully a positive blog about this in the future.
Back to the Coast
The next outing was with a client who was visiting Christchurch for a wedding and who had a few days spare for some fishing. We had decided to do an overnight trip to the West Coast with a combination of
river and still-water sight fishing on the cards. The weather was looking good and other than a strong easterly breeze, we were greeted with a relatively warm and sunny day upon reaching our first fishing destination, a beautiful coast river. My client’s wife had decided to accompany us on the trip, and it was
great to hear all about their lives and experiences on the drive over. She was really interested in bird-watching, so I had chosen this Westland river location as the riparian native bush held a reasonable variety of native bird life. While she searched the nearby bush for birds we rigged up and started
scanning the water in search of the first fish of the day. I was happy to see a nice trout feeding in the first pool. It lay in a difficult lie where drag became an issue in the presentation. My client made some good casts but eventually the fish wised up to our presence and disappeared. I proceeded to spot upstream but the next pool was absent of any fish. Luckily the next nice section of water housed a good sized trout which appeared to be actively feeding. My client was excited to see a fish in the 5-6lb range regularly nymphing in such a scenic location. His explanation of this being one of the most beautiful rivers he had every visited made me feel pretty good about selecting this river to fish. I spent a little time checking all the terminal knots to make sure we had the best chance of landing the fish if eventually hooked. After watching the fish for a while he snuck into a good casting position, and made a nice cast up towards the feeding fish. A few casts later, the perfect cast laid out and drifted down towards the fish. The small size 14 black tungsten glister nymph was the fly of choice and proved interesting enough to the fish, as it swung a metre to the side to engulf the fly. The indicator dipped and the client struck. The weight of the fish made a sizeable bend in the rod as the fish fled to the other side of the river. Luckily after a short time the fish began to tire, and he gradually drifted back across the flow to settle in an eddy in front of us. He appeared to be a reasonable fish as he hydroplaned in the current, surfacing every so often. He seemed to be lacking a little condition but was still a beautiful trout. The opportunity to net him came shortly after, and a successful netting resulted in a lovely spotted 5lb trout glistening in the net, and a very happy client and guide. The first fish certainly takes a little of the pressure off the guide, and allowed me to relax a little more for the rest of the day. We proceeded to take the all important photo but upon preparing to pose the fish, it took its opportunity to escape and bolted to the safety of the river. Not to worry, as the client was stoked and was ready for some more action. He didn’t have to wait long as the next nice glide just upstream held another feeding fish. This time the fish was a little smaller and was sitting a
little deeper in some disturbed water. I checked all the knots and tied on a slightly heavier caddis bead head nymph. The clients first good cast drifted to the right of the fish and it quickly moved in the direction of the fly, before rising as little in the water column to take it. The disappearance of the indicator was followed by a solid strike. The really active fish bolted all over the river, before eventually coming to the net. The day was going well as the wind was slowly dying away and as the fishing hotted up, so to did the temperature. After a quick lunch and a few stories about all the different bird species his wife had
encountered, I proceeded up the river to spot another fish. Three to four hundred metres upstream I finally found another fish, but this one ended up cruising down and spotting my client while he was preparing to cast. Oh well, not all opportunities work out. Another 150m upstream I peered over a large log only to find another nice fish feeding in a gently flowing eddy. I watched him for a while and was excited to see him rise for a mayfly dun on the surface. The client came over to check out the fish and while he inquisitively watched his feeding behavior, I changed to a size 14 parachute mayfly pattern, to hopefully get him on a dry fly. The client got into position and proceeded to cast to the trout. He was unable to see him while moving about subsurface, but was able to clearly see his head break the surface as he inhaled the odd terrestrial insect. I guided him to get the cast he needed for the fish to see his fly. A good presentation resulted in the fish slowly rising towards the surface, gently sipping in the parachute fly. I was located directly above him and was in a great spot to watch all the action unfold. There’s not much more exciting than watching a nice fish rise only mere metres in front of you. Magic! I called the pause and then the strike. The fish immediately exploded out into the current upon feeling the penetration of the barb-less hook. The client tightened up to gain some control of the rapidly departing line, and
unfortunately parted company with the fish. Maybe a little disappointing to have lost the fish, but it had been so exciting to watch all the action that we were both satisfied with the experience. A further search upstream did not uncover any more fish, so we met up with his wife and walked back to the vehicle. Well what a good day! Some classic fishing amongst good company, surrounded by spectacular scenery and a diverse variety of native bird life. Everyone was happy so we headed back to the hut to relax and have some tea and to get ready for all the action on the water tomorrow.
Day 2. The day dawned clear and calm as the easterly had now completely died away. After a quick breakfast we were on the road to fish for some cruisers around the margins of Lake Brunner. We arrived to a glassy clear lake that had been quite peat stained only a week before, after significant rains in the Westland region for several weeks. My client spent a little time stalking the lake edge in search of cruisers while I assembled the inflatable dinghy. Having sorted all the gear, we proceeded to some submerged bush edges where there are usually plenty of good cruising browns to target. Upon reaching our destination we immediately located a few cruisers. It wasn’t long until my client was into his first fish of the day. We were mainly using small damselfly nymph patterns with a small dull yarn indicator located approximately 45cm up from the terminal fly. The aim was to cast the fly approximately one rod length in front of the cruising fish. As the fish approached the fly, a brief retrieve or twitch would get the trout’s attention. The fly was then left to naturally sink, during which time the fish would usually take it. Using this technique we were getting takes from most fish that hadn’t spooked by seeing us before they had seen the fly. This often happens in such close quarters fishing like this where fish will sometimes take the fly within 2 metres of the boat. As long as you are not wearing bright colored clothing or move at the wrong time, often the fish will be oblivious to your presence in their peripheral zone, as they visually focus on the fly. It’s exciting visual fishing! One thing I noticed was that the average fish size was down on previous years. Usually we would regularly encounter 4-5lb fish but these were few and far between, as we were mainly finding 2.5-3lbers. My client proceeded to land 3 fish within a short period but then lost several more under logs and on unlucky strikes. We were all having a fun time but unfortunately the weather forecast wasn’t as accurate as hoped, and the wind started to really blow just before lunch. This dictated that we fish amongst the shelter of the submerged trees, but the swell was even penetrating into this zone, resulting in less desirable fishing conditions. Despite this, my client still got stuck into some more fish, landing a beautiful 3.75lb specimen with lovely spots. The wind caused an early departure but not before encountering some fantastic sight fishing, described as some of the most exciting fishing my client had ever done. Happy client, happy guide! We packed up our gear and headed home having had a very enjoyable two days fishing on the coast. Thanks for the great company guys and I look forward to another trip away together when you visit Christchurch again in the future!
A Pleasant Day in the Back-Country
An invitation to fish a location that had just opened to fishing with a friend who I hadn’t yet fished with this season was hastily accepted. This location held the potential for some good brown trout fishing in some pleasant high country tussock scenery. I hadn’t fished this river for almost 2 years as a large flood had deterred me from fishing it the previous season. A 5am pickup had us geared up and starting to walk up the river by 8:30am. The day was overcast and cool as the tail end of a southeasterly front remained in the vicinity. Upon reaching the section of the river we planned to fish, we immediately spotted a good trout feeding actively in a pool. The spotting was hard and the recirculating eddy the fish cruised about in was a difficult spot to get a good drift. My friend was first up and did a good job presenting his nymph to the fish, but unfortunately the fish wasn’t playing ball and eventually disappeared. A short walk up to the next pool and we stumbled onto another happily feeding fish. It was my turn and a change of rig was quickly made before casting to the fish. The fly (a size 14 glister variant) landed a little shorter than expected, but after only a short drift the fish immediately turned and nailed the fly. I tried hard to keep the fish in the pool but he was keen to head downstream underneath a fence that lay across the river. As you would expect he went straight under it. I tried to bring him back upstream but he wasn’t so keen on my plan, so I eventually had to pass my rod under the fence to my friend waiting just downstream. The team effort led to the netting of a nice conditioned brown of approximately 6.5lbs. A good start to the day! Further up the pool my friend managed to extract a beautifully spotted 3lber which was so beautiful that it deserved to be the subject of a quick photo. A few pools later and another fish was located actively nymphing next to a submerged willow branch. My friend crossed and proceeded to present his nymph to the fish. The first good drift was taken, but the fly didn’t stick and the fish bolted into cover. We had had a great start finding feeding fish in most decent sections of water, and we had now only travelled less than 1km upstream. The day continued to play out in a similar way, however there were longer and longer stretches of good looking water which lay devoid of fish. The overcast conditions were I’m sure responsible for the odd missed fish, but it appeared that the fish distribution was more and more spread out the further we travelled upstream. Despite the lower trout densities we were having an enjoyable day, with the occasional landed and lost fish keeping us entertained as we proceeded upstream. We experimented with dries and nymphs but most fish were focusing on the subsurface flies. As the day drew to an end our minds started to focus on the longish 1.5-2 hour walk back to the truck, and just as we started to pack up our gear we heard the familiar sound of a vehicle driving towards us on a nearby road. A quick scramble up a Matagouri clad hill and we waved down the farm truck. After a brief conversation with the driver, he kindly offered us a ride back downstream. We gladly accepted. Man how lucky was that! Within 15-20minutes we were back at the truck pondering what we would do with all the newly found spare time that we now had up our sleeves due to our quick trip back. I think my friend was thinking about more beer drinking time with his buddies while I was contemplating being home in time to see my two sons before they went to bed. The smooth trip home had us discussing the next possible fishing trip together. Looking forward to it already!
The persistent North-westerlies and accompanying heavy rain in the Alps were severely limiting the variety of available fishing locations. Increased angler pressure on the more often clear lowland waters had deterred me from checking these out so although not my first choice of location for the day, the exploration of some smaller clear high country streams was on the cards. An early start had me on the water by 7:30am. Evidence of a recent severe flood showed a freshly turned over river bottom with little algae covered substrate visible in the stream. This doesn’t invoke confidence in finding lots of fish but you never know, and exploration is always required to determine present fish numbers and locations. My fears became reality as pool after pool lay devoid of fish but upon reaching the most likely expected location of some trout, the confluence with a large river, I was happy to see a feeding fish. A brief rig up of the gear had me casting my tungsten bead caddis pattern to the fish. Despite what appeared to be two good drifts past the fish, it wasn’t until the third drift that the indicator dipped and a firm strike had me into the first fish of the day. The fish proceeded bolt around the pool finally moving downstream to the next pool before coming to the net. Luckily this fish had not had the motivation to travel any further downstream as an uncrossable river and a steep cliff would have prevented me following him any further down. He was a lovely conditioned Brown in the 6.5-7lb size bracket. Nice! After a quick photo I moved back upstream and started once again scanning the water for signs of another fish. It wasn’t long until another good fish was located. This time while preparing to present a fly to the fish it suddenly turned and drifted downstream, finally taking up a resting position right opposite me. The decision as to whether or not to wait until he moved before I cast to him was made easier by the fact that he was now in a position where I could get a better drag free drift to him. Despite the risk of him seeing me move I chose to make a short cast across to him. The cast was good and as the indicator past him I anxiously waited to see his reaction. The indicator dipped, I struck and the fish bolted. Stuff it! Not meant to be I suppose. After gathering my thoughts I continued spotting upstream covering heaps of potentially good trout holding water but not finding any more fish. The recent big flood had obviously had a negative affect on the trout population of the stream but as with every big flood event, a reconnaissance is usually always necessary to determine its fishing potential. Despite little success it was still an enjoyable day on the water and a good conditioned fish a bonus.
Many of the scenic West Coast lakes are great locations to encounter and catch large numbers of trout. On good days it is possible to land more than 20 decent trout, most often in the 2.5 to 6lb size range. At different times of the year fish move in and out of different depths or locations around lakes to best take advantage of food (fish/invertebrates) and to prepare or recover from spawning. Usually during the warmer months when there are good numbers feeding in the shallows, we tend to make the most of opportunities to head over the main divide to the Westland to target them. Fishing these lakes often adds to the variety of sight fishing opportunities available and is a nice change from fishing rivers and streams. In my opinion nothing really quite compares to the scenery that you encounter when fishing on the West Coast. It's a magic place which keeps me coming back time after time.
A scan of the internet to check river flows and weather indicated that the west coast would provide the nicest weather and clean fishable water, so an earlyish start saw us on the road and at the lake by 8:40am. An inspection of the water showed some dark tannin staining due to all the recent rain, but it was still possible to spot cruising fish. After a brief motor to our chosen fishing location and we began scanning the cleaner shallow lake edges for cruising fish. It wasn’t long before we encountered a fish feeding in
20-30cm deep water. Even more exciting was the fact that every so often he was feeding off the surface. Recently shed chironomid shucks littering the waters surface and the odd visible emergent adult suggested that he was most probably feeding on emerging midges. My friend was first to have a go and a good cast followed by a brief strip of the fly, had the trout bolting over to intercept the offering, engulfing it without delay. A brief pause and a solid strike resulted in a good hookup. The fight was only a few minutes long but a reasonable conditioned brown of just over 3lbs ended up in the net. A few quick photo’s and a quick release followed. Signs for the day looked good with the first fish landed so quickly. As the day continued signs of a high number of trout diminished as we were spotting a lot less fish than we would normally expect to see while fishing this location. We were catching fish but were having to work quite hard to locate them in the coloured water. The odd blind cast into a likely location resulted in the odd fish but we were still encountering the occasional spotted cruising fish who was happy to take our nymph and dry fly offerings. We lost the odd fish to mistimed strikes but resulted in catching the least number of fish at this location with only 6 or 7 eventually landed for the day. A disappointing trip in terms of numbers but we still has a fun day out with some friends surrounded by spectacular west coast scenery on a beautiful sunny day.
Over the years I have become a big fan of exploring the various very scenic West Coast and Canterbury High Country lakes with my stand-up inflatable dinghy. The boat often allows easier access to more remote and less fished sections of lakes where foot access may be difficult or impossible. An inflatable is quiet (very little sound/vibration transmits from the hull into the water when moving or if knocked by something in the boat), and allows access into water only mere centimetres in depth without stirring up the bottom silt/mud. Being able to stand-up in a boat also allows the spotting of cruising fish from much further away. There are many benefits to owning an inflatable boat so if you are considering purchasing a boat I would really recommend considering choosing an inflatable.
Opening Week - The Next Outing
A shorter day mission to a high country stream was on the cards as the weather and time limitations of the day dictated we choose this location to fish. An early start put us on the river by 8:30am and after setting up the rods we ventured upstream in search of our quarry, some big high country browns.
The sunlight was variable and made spotting hard but taking our time stalking upstream, we finally spotted a nice cruising brown of between 5-6 pounds fining in the shallows in search of nymphs or bullies. I couldn’t resist presenting him with a small dry. The cast was good, 1m in front and just to the side and he slowly cruised over to inspect the fly. I’m sure my heart skipped a beat as he slowly declined the offering and continued to cruise upstream. Moving upstream a little further we found an actively feeding fish at the top of the run. It looked to be of a good size and several casts later we were happy to see him swing to the right and nail my friend’s nymph, causing the indicator to dip and his rod to bend over after the strike hooked up successfully. A mediocre fight revealed a not so great conditioned brown of 7 1/4 pounds. The fish was of a good length but lacked condition this early in the season.
A few pools later we found another feeding fish which from its length appeared to be a potential trophy (over 10lb) trout. Good commentary from my friend on the far bank guided me to place a good cast and get a natural drift to the big brown. I had chosen to fish a small size 14 CDC emerger indicator fly with a natural size 14 pheasant tail variation as a dropper, keeping things small and natural to avoid upsetting the trout. For a few seconds everything slowed down as my friend informed me that the fish was approaching my fly, having appeared to have seen it. The next thing a big head emerged from the water and inhailed the CDC emerger. A brief pause followed by a firm strike had me hooked up. The fight started out intense but soon downgraded as the fish tired and I realised that the fish, although large, lacked the condition to be a trophy fish. A brief fight had the fish ready to net and a quick weigh with the scales revealed a satisfying 7.5lbs of brown trout glistening in the net. A quick photo was followed by a quick release, sending him on his merry way. Once again the fish’s condition was a little disappointing and thoughts of the potential size of the landed fish later in the season was enough to make us contemplate coming back at a later date.
Alas time was not on our side on this day as we had to get back home a lot earlier than usual, and had a big trip ahead of us. It’s always hard to head home when there is still so much potential fishing available but at least we had had some success and in a few months when the fish have had the opportunity to put on some condition we will have to plan another trip back to tackle these potential monsters. Looking forward to it already! Stay tuned to a blog later in the season.
Opening day is an exciting time for many anglers and is like Christmas Day and my Birthday all rolled into one for me. As the main season begins, with it comes the opportunity to fish for trout that haven’t seen a fly or been disturbed by anglers for several months. Although temperatures are cooler and the weather can be a little less settled, the attraction of finding often naive fish ready to nail your fly is hard to resist.
A few days out from the 1st of October (“Opening Day”) and a check of the weather and river flows helped to make the decision that we would head for the West Coast for Opening Day. I usually try to get to the West Coast for most openings as the allure of the pristine scenery experienced whilst fishing is addictive, and keeps me coming back time and time again.
My friend and I drove the three hours from Christchurch the day before opening to greet our farmer friend who owned the property that the river we wanted to fish flowed through. After a brief catch up and the pitching of our tents, an initial scout of the river revealed trout on station feeding happily, unaware of the dramas that they would encounter tomorrow on Opening Day.
A little Opening Day paranoia associated with thinking that some other anglers would sneak ahead of us on the river as we slept resulted in a pretty mediocre night’s sleep. However, an early rise and set-up soothed the nerves as we readied to cast to the first sighted fish. It wasn’t long until my friend had his first opportunity. A healthy 4lb brown was feeding nicely at the entrance to a little backwater and happily nailed his weighted green caddis nymph on the second drift. It came to the net after a brief fight revealing a few presumably spawning related battle scars on its otherwise beautifully patterned skin.
My friend was understandably happy to have got on the board so quickly and I followed within minutes with another slightly smaller brown sitting further up in the backwater. A good feeling! We continued on upstream and encountered a reasonable number of fish for the day. Most fish were more than happy to engulf our offerings of a combination of tungsten bread heads and low profile trailing dropper nymphs. As the day warmed up we started to experiment with a few terrestrial patterns. Some CDC emerger and adult caddis patterns in smaller sizes were happily taken by the browns, however the odd mistimed strike and parting knot resulted in several frustrating fish losses. Most fish landed were in the 4 to 5lb range but a slightly better conditioned 6.5lb Brown was caught later in the day. Opening Day was all in all a success with beautiful West Coast scenery, good weather and reasonable numbers of fish landed.
The following day we were a little more limited on good fishing options as a lot of the nearby water had been fished the previous day by other anglers. The obvious angler footprints spotted along the water’s edge of our chosen section of water for the day left us with a little less hope of an eventful day ahead. However, we had clear water, fine weather and we were in a beautiful area so it was just great to be out on the water. As expected the fish we encountered were on edge and quite selective but despite this we were able to achieve 7 takes from the 10 fish we fished for. Unfortunately luck was not on our side as through a combination of missed take’s and snapping off on two nice fish we attained absolutely terrible stats for the day, only landing one fish. However despite little success we still had an enjoyable time on the water.
Welcome to my 2014 fly fishing blog where I share my experiences trout fishing throughout the various lakes, rivers and streams of the Canterbury and West Coast regions of New Zealand’s beautiful South Island.With luck you will find these both a source of entertainment and in some instances educational. Check back in periodically to see my adventures while fly fishing the scenic South Island of New Zealand! ~Thanks Chris.