|What I expected||What really happened|
|Few fish||No - lots of fish|
|Huge fish||Maybe, but I didn't catch them|
|Long hikes between fish||No|
|One chance per fish||No|
|Casting accuracy important||Yes, yes, yes!|
|Lots of people fishing||No, never saw another person fishing|
|Warm January weather||No - summer was late this year|
|Long flight||Yes - but took drugs|
I set off for Christchurch, New Zealand, on January 9th and arrived the morning of January 11th, due to losing a day. Women taxi drivers. Spent the day in Christchurch buying a hair dryer, which I didn't need as every place, I stayed supplied one. Christchurch is the most charming "English" city outside of England and is known as "The Garden City". I stayed at Cathedral Square close by the Avon River, which flows through Christchurch, and was only in town for a day before and a day after my fishing. The food was great everywhere, and I recommend the Arts Centre for shopping. All of the vendors and products must be from New Zealand and I thought the prices were good and the quality of merchandise excellent.
On the other (west) side of the South Island is Greymouth and I recommend the Jade Gallery for shopping and they have an excellent cafe where you can wait for the train. Also highly recommend the TranzAlpine train trip. It runs across the island between Christchurch and Greymouth and is rated one of the 10 most scenic train trips in the world.
Before I get to the fishing, a little about how this trip came about and was planned: My friends, Rachel and Jim Andras from Redding, were planning to lead a trip of 8 people to New Zealand in March 2005, but they bought a house, got married, Rachel no longer works at The Fly Shop, and life happened - so they postponed the trip to 2006. Undaunted, I still wanted to go so I went online and pulled up 20 or so websites about flyfishing in New Zealand. From this information I was able to formulate the decisions I needed to make. The North Island is primarily rainbows and the South Island is primarily browns. I wanted to maximize fishing, which meant cutting down on travel time, so I needed to pick an island. Since I have lots of opportunities to fish rainbows in California and I love to catch browns, it was the South Island. Then I needed to pick areas to fish. I chose a few of the best websites for content and tone - thinking that the guides wouldn't have done their own sites. The next logical step was choosing the region and then the two guides that appeared to be the best in the areas that I wanted to fish - the belt across the South Island. Finally, I had to shuffle dates so that the schedules of both guides would coordinate with mine. It turned out that I picked out excellent guides who gave me a wonderful experience - and they had each done their own websites. I highly recommend both them and I have included all of their information below. Check out their websites as they are most informative.
I didn't want to rent a car because it would be a major expense and it would be sitting around for most of the trip while I was off fishing. Moreover, I wanted to take the train in at least one direction. Steve, Ben and Tony (more formal introductions below) worked out my transportation between them. Steve picked me up in Christchurch and, after my last day fishing with him, drove me up to Arthurs pass where Tony picked me up and drove me to Ben's for the second half of the trip. After my last day fishing with Ben, he drove me into Greymouth where I caught the train back to Christchurch. This way I also didn't have to worry about driving on the "wrong side of the road." I was good and almost never screamed when the guides turned into the left lanes with oncoming traffic. The biggest problem was that I kept trying to get in the driver side door.
The entire trip, everything, was booked through the internet and all communications were email except for faxing my credit card info to Steve. Ben uses PayPal.
The people that I met in New Zealand were universally friendly, kind, and charming. Their accent is delightful, but a bit difficult to understand in casual conversation. They speak quickly and don't always articulate the last syllable of their words. When you do understand what they said, you don't know why they said it. A common expression is to "rattle your dags". It is actually Australian, but New Zealanders use it informally and it means to hurry up. The rear end of sheep gets pretty crusty and these are called dags. When they run, they make a rattling noise. I did notice that people started to speak to me very carefully and very slowly.
Ben's site has lots of excellent information about equipment. You will want your 6wt and 5wt rods. I also brought and fished with my 4wt. I took my vest and all of the stuff in it. Fishing equipment is very expensive in New Zealand so take what you will need with you. You will want 9-foot 1x and 2x leaders and 3x and 4x tippet. Take a lot of tippet as you will be fishing 16' - 18' leader + tippet and it gets used up fast. I did not take any flies, which worked out fine as the guides like to use their own flies. Parachute Adams and Caddis were familiar. Their other flies were all a little different and bigger than what I normally use.
When they tell you neutral colors for clothing, they mean everything should be gray, like wet putty. Maybe a little gray-green. They also recommend poly long underwear with shorts over. I never did this and only one of the guides wore this combination. First, you are hiking through pastures and because you are pushing through thorn bushes, the underwear gets ripped. Second, it gets hot. I fished either in quick-dry pants or, when it was cool, waders. I got a great buy on some Cabella's quick-dry zip-leg overalls that were featured on their website just before I left.
You must protect yourself from sunburn. There is no ozone layer and you can get a bad burn incredibly fast. I found a sun block that also discouraged the sand flies. Sand flies were not much of a problem except for one day on the west side. They tend to get active in humid weather just before or after rain and they like to target thin-skinned areas like your hands. Problem is that you have to be very careful because the DEET ruins your leader, tippet, and fly line. I came back with several bites on my hands, which itched for a few days but are just now starting to fade.
Steve's website has good information about casting, especially in the wind. I really wished that I casted better before I went to New Zealand. My best advice is to pick a windy day, put on 18 feet of leader and tippet and then practice casting 60 feet with a quarter as your target. Because of the long leader-tippet, any breeze is a problem. And, when the guide says land the fly a meter in front of and just to the left of the fish, that's the easy cast. It's when you have 4 inches in front of a fish who is snubbed up under overhanging willow branches, and you need to cast in and under other willow branches, and there is a breeze blowing that it gets technical.
Steve arranged for me to stay with Pam and Roger Callaghan at their 80 acre venison farm, Tyrone Farmstay, outside of Methven. Methven is primarily a winter ski resort area for Mt. Hutt but it's beautiful in the summer and very agricultural. There used to be 70 million sheep in New Zealand but now it down to only 40 million with farmers switching to cattle. Pam and Roger were wonderful hosts along with their pet deer and cat, 10:30. Pam is a great cook and I felt very spoiled and pampered. Dick Cabella and his wife have stayed with Pam and Roger when Dick hunted for chamois and Himalayan Tahr. Roger spotted all of the Cabella's tags on my fishing bag and Pam commented that she owed them a letter. I told them to tell Dick that I was wearing his pants.
My guide for the first five days of fishing was Steve Gerard and he can find fish like no one else. Fishing with Steve (and Ben and Tony) is like fishing with a bird dog. The guide walks ahead of you watching the water and then there is the pause. If he takes his backpack off, that's going "on point" and you catch up so he can show you the fish. If you see a fish in the water, it's a stick, rock or weed. The fish are smudges of very slightly different color and very difficult to find, and you must find them before you can cast to them. I didn't find the fish that spooky and, despite what I read before I went, the fish allow many casts and keep feeding. Steve said that my flies landed very lightly on the water, which allowed multiple casts.