Our destination would be a well-known central North Island river that hold a population of solid ‘bows and brownies. By Thursday I thought we were out of luck as the preferred accommodation was already booked, but Coch is ever-resourceful and came up with a second option. So then it was a matter of getting the gear together, shopping for supplies and making sure that we could get away at a reasonable time after work on Friday. And get away we did - remarkably the traffic was light, even the road that we had to take wasn’t suffering most likely as the ski season has ended. We hit Taumarunui by 10.30 pm and found our lodgings – a cool little hut at the local holiday park. Phil the proprietor checked us in and we got things ready for an early blast off – we got our fishing gear sorted, food ready for breakfast, beers in the fridge and then hit the hay.
As usual on the first night I slept badly. Road noise and a train blasting through didn’t help things at all but eventually I managed a few hours… so when the alarm went we staggered out of bed got fed and watered and then hit the road. We arrived at our get out spot in darkness – arriving first gave us rights to the beat so that part of the mission was accomplished – and then followed the access down to the river where we rigged up. Coch gave me the lie of the land; we’d each take a side and fish up.
|Coch in the pre-dawn|
With a fish on the board the relaxation kicked in so covering and working the water thoroughly came back as if by second nature. I watched Coch hook and land fish fairly regularly (mostly in the slow side water favoured by browns), so by the time I came abreast of him and we could yell across to each other I fathomed that he’d landed 3 browns to my 3 ‘bows landed and one fish missed. Coch was busy directing me to the next fish holding spot when upstream I saw 4 guys coming down the bank on the far side of the river – effectively trying to jump in ahead of us. I pointed them out to Coch then climbed out and walked 250m upstream to where they were setting up. At first they pretended not to notice me and then played deaf – buggered if I was going to cross at that point so I indicated that Coch was also fishing and that we’d be heading up. To be fair a couple of them looked sort of bashful but one was being an outright dickhead, I started getting a bit hot… Coch had a bit of catching up to do owing to the terrain on his side so I flicked a cast into the run 20m below the interlopers and dragged out a nice rainbow that jumped like a trained seal… couldn’t have done it better if I’d wanted it to! Landing and releasing the fish right where they intended to cross felt pretty sweet. In the meantime Coch caught them up and then gave me directions on how to access the pool upstream… when he caught me up he yelled across that they were carrying crossbows as well as rods, which may have explained some of their reluctance to communicate.
Over the next 40 minutes I landed 2 browns and 2 rainbows from a piece of water 20 x 10m; it was simply insane pocket water fishing. If I ever needed an injection to bring my love of trout fishing back, I’d just received it. We worked our way up together, the next run above a big pool producing the goods with some great fish for both of us. By this time, one of the river-jumpers had almost caught up, I figure that he’d had this run in mind. So he sat and watched us take 2 good fish apiece from it. We then crossed and Coch directed me to the rock studded edge on the far side of the run where dwelt a fish that had always eluded him. I picked my way up slowly, fishing the pocket water and completely missed what looked and felt like a strike! I swore until the air turned blue but kept working my way up, when the indicator twitched subtly and I hit a big brown that charged out into the current and thrashed on the surface. 2 or three times he bored out into fast water before thrashing on the surface, revealing his bulk and yellow gut, but with a team effort he found himself netted. Soon he was on his way back and after a few high fives we continued up. The fishing was technical enough to be super interesting and soon the nature of the water changed as bush met the river and both sides and the water narrowed.
|Whio - Blue Ducks|
The crossings became difficult so we linked arms and crossed together. The fishing just got better and better and we each hit fish that tore line off. One ‘bow that was actively feeding throughout the water column, drifting in and out of view finally ate my offering and promptly dragged me 50m downstream before threatening to exit the pool down the next rapid; So I gave it everything I had and pulled her upstream before netting a cracker of a bow; as fat as a house she’d have gone maybe 4lb but fought like a fish twice her size. By now I was tiring, the heavy water and tricky wading had sapped my energy so the next few crossings (including one that caused both of us to ship water into our waders) were pretty tiring.
But cross we did, and forge head we did – on a red letter day you have to keep going! Our final run had us fighting thigh deep water fishing pockets. Coch took a couple of pearlers before indicating a fine looking run on the far side of the river – I’d need to wade across and fight the force of the current while dropping in a technical cast and drift. The fish that hit smashed out of the water, a deep rainbow that simply charged downstream, and broke my leader on a rock – and that was enough for me. I moved down to the pool below and sat on a rock while I changed to a sinking line. We’d decided to plumb the depths with some of Coch’s articulated ‘meat pie’ streamers on our way back down. By now the sun had left the canyon we were in so I was feeling a bit chilly, not that it was cold, but having taken water aboard it felt cool.
We linked arms to move back over the deepest crossing and worked our way down, dropping the big flies into the deepest polls and dragging them back in fits and starts type retrieves. It was in the eye of a hugely deep pool that I had a heart stopping strike, the rod tip was dragged down with a thud-thud and I struck only for the line to fly back at me. My heart was in my gob as I realised that the 10lb fluoro leader had smashed… so I tied a new leader with 13.5lb, the heaviest I was carrying. I’d love to say that a monster brownie jumped on the fly, but not so. So that concluded our day, and we picked our way downstream on tired legs. 12 hours on the river, what a magic day. Back at base we got dried and changed, hung our waders and then fired up the barbecue. As we waited for our entree of confit pheasant legs to brown, we grabbed a beer and headed over to sit on the bank of the Whanganui River [just out of camp] as the small trout began to rise to caddis. Main course was fallow back steak with salad and mash – right then life couldn’t be better. Magic end to a magic day.