Opening day in New Zealand is something that ever since I started to fly fish I wanted to experience. Due to the fact New Zealand closes the majority of its rivers during the winter months in order to let the fish spawn and to relieve angling pressure on the fish. This means these fish go four-to-five months without seeing an artificial fly or a person.
The day came October 1st, 2017, and the weather didn’t look very promising at all for the mission we had in mind. We wanted to go to river “X” in the high country of the north island in a very narrow canyon. The danger of going to this river during heavy rain is the possibility of flash floods. With that being said we decided to go check out the river anyway with intentions of not being able to fish (curiosity got the best of us) and had a backup plan of going to the Tongariro River to swing some flies.
After a two hour drive in the rain, we were convinced the river was going to be too high and dangerous to fish, but being stubborn and already fully committed, Gareth and I made the hike down into the canyon anyway. And to our surprise, the river was still clear and fishable so we made the decision that we’d only fish two holes that were close to our entry point because we knew the river was going to rise very soon.
If you haven’t fished in NZ, let me tell you as someone from the states, it’s the most challenging place to fish in the world. The rule in the NZ backcountry is you get 1 cast maybe 2 if you’re lucky because these fish rarely see people and the water is perfectly clear, every aspect of catching these fish is difficult, especially the approach.
Since Gareth is a local and he did all the driving he got the first shot at the river. We seen three fish feeding in the middle water column so I was fairly confident he would catch one, sure enough, Gareth made quick work of his first backcountry trout of the 2017-2018 season.
My turn, I’ve only been in NZ for about a year now, so every time I go fishing in the backcountry I still get very nervous that I’m going to ruin my shot at a stupidly big NZ trout. Luckily Gareth is a trout ninja and helped calm my nerves, we hiked up to the next pool and again found a feeding trout behind a big boulder. I make my first cast and of course, it’s too short and immediately I think to myself “f**k that was my one chance” thankfully my bad cast didn’t spook the fish so I cast again and this time perfect drift right where I wanted it and BOOM fish on!
Fishing here is incredibly special, not because you are catching enormous fish, but because of the visual aspect of watching these fish feed and knowing that when that cast is perfect you get to watch that fish move and eat your fly. It’s truly hunting for trout, not fishing.
After releasing the beast, it was Gareth’s turn. We slowly walked up the narrow canyon knowing that we had passed our safety spot and if a flash flood were to come we probably weren’t making it out but we kept walking anyway. Shortly after coming up to the next pool Gareth set the hook on another beautiful backcountry rainbow trout. Of course, he releases the fish we exchange a fist bump and move on knowing we should not be there. Trying to maneuver on wet slippery boulders isn’t the easiest but when your trout drunk with the potential of flooding in the back of your mind, you move quickly.
Once again it’s my turn knowing this was definitely my last shot of the day I made sure to make it count. Gareth climbed up the canyon wall and spotted two big fish feeding. Of course, my nerves started going again with the anticipation of potentially catching the biggest trout of my life. I made the cast right where he said to put it and sure enough, I landed my personal best rainbow trout to date. She was 30 inches (700mm) and 8 pounds.
With the rain really starting to pick up pace Gareth and I were fully content and decided to head back to the truck. If I told you this was a dream come true I’d be lying because my dreams aren’t as good as this day was, fishing in places like this with friends like Gareth are the reason I love traveling the world and pursuing my bucket list.
Be sure to watch the Vlog documenting their epic day in New Zealand:
Garreth Bayliss is an avid angler out of New Zealand focusing on big backcountry fish. @trouthuntingnz on Instagram!
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