Sunset with a Plonker – How NOT to fish in New Zealand

Read it! Sooner or later, it’ll happen to you too

How NOT to fly fish in New Zealand

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An excerpt from THE TROUT DIARIES, a Year of Fly Fishing in New Zealand

On the way back south I camped by the Motueka. The river flows through a stunning and fertile valley, Arcadian in its feel and landscape. Steep green hills guide the river, twisting it this way and that, creating attractive bends, structure and lots of fishy terrain, while the banks offer kaleidoscopic vistas of happily rustic lifestyle—orderly orchards and gardens, berry fields and tree plantations, and here and there unpretentious whitewashed homes presiding over this valley of plenty.

Yet for all this natural wealth and abundance, and despite what the trout guidebooks promise here, I have always found the Motueka a tough place to fish, at times so barren it seemed completely devoid of life. Over the years, I’ve put it down to my own ineptitude and unfamiliarity, the warm water temperatures and the fact that most pools double as swimming holes for orchard workers. After several uneventful attempts, I’ve given up fishing this river during the day.

But if there is an evening hatch on the Motueka, the fishing can be excellent for an hour or so, and so every time I’ve passed this way I’ve timed my travels to arrive well before the sunset, find a good pool, and wait and hope that the mayflies will hatch and the trout will notice. Occasionally, the miracle has happened. With the sunless sky casting the last of its golden sheen on the water, in the feed line against the willows, the fish rise, lining up in their hierarchical order. The bigger fish sip passing mayflies with stately economy, befitting their age and size, making only the tiniest dimples in the surface, while the gung-ho youngsters leap and splash, throwing their entire bodies at the insects, sending sprays of droplets across the river’s surface.

Experiencing such a rise is enough to make me forget all previous disappointments and no-shows. I watch and study, compare the rises and choose my fish, always going for the most inconspicuous ones, as more often than not they are the most worthwhile opponents.

Casting here requires the utmost precision, for in the prime zone of the feed line the fish are often packed closely one behind another, and you don’t want the fly to be snatched by an all-out half-pound youngster before it floats under that overhanging branch where an old patriarch fish is feeding with a quiet metronomic cadence. There is usually time for only one or two fish before it either gets too dark, or the rise peters out, or, more commonly, the entire pool is disturbed by the fight of the hooked fish. This, too, is an added attraction, a further distillation of the experience.

When the conditions conspire in your favor, and if you champion a sniper’s instead of a shotgun approach—one good cast over many hopeful ones—the evening mayfly hatch on the Motueka is dry-fly fishing at its best.

On this day, just thinking of the promised spectacle during the drive from Picton was enough to make my heart glow with anticipation and hope, the breath quicken and the hands sweat lightly against the steering wheel. By the time I arrived at my chosen pool I had a mild case of trout fever, the kind that makes you fumble with knots and drop tiny flies, and repeatedly fail to find the eye of the hook with the sharp end of the tippet because your hands tremble ever so slightly. Getting ready, I tried not to hurry, taking deep breaths and repeating an old Latin precept: Festina lente. Make haste slowly.

Over the tail of the pool not a whisper of wind ruffled the weightless flutter of slender Blue Dun mayflies as they broke away from the surface. A few smaller fish were already splashing in the feed line, a sure prelude to a full-on evening rise. I had come just at the right time. Everything was perfect.

Too perfect.

Presently, a nose of a red twin-cab 4×4 ute appeared in the access driveway, paused for a moment, its driver taking in the scene, then unceremoniously jolting and crunching his way across the rocky riverbank, going too fast, as if angry that the bank was so uneven, and that by driving fast against it he could flatten it. He came to a halt directly between me and the river, the truck’s front wheels almost reaching the waterline. The engine stopped, the door flung open and a pear-shaped man emerged dressed in gumboots, track pants and dirty work shirt stretched tightly over his beer belly.

He appeared to be avoiding looking at me, as if I were not there, halfway into my waders, with the rod rigged and resting against the snorkel of my camper. He walked around to the back of his truck and in the loose junk scattered around the ute’s tray began rummaging for his fishing gear. This did not take him long, as in the next moment he was splashing through the shallows and toward the rising trout. The trout which I had been anticipating for the past few hours, and whose every rise added an extra beat to my own heart rate.

I considered my options. What do you do? Confront the dude? This can be a no-win scenario. You fight, you’re a fool; you walk away, you’re a coward. Still, there was an unacceptable “this is my river so piss off” kind of meanness to the way he barged into my riverine dream and shattered it. This was no innocent mistake or ignorance; this was a premeditated affront. A slap in the face. Something that caused your blood pressure to spike and made you think: “Someone ought to teach this punk a lesson.”

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