Those who read/peruse/study/absorb/ignore these reports more often would know the answer to the thorny question TRM get asked so often by overseas anglers.
Which is the best river for trout fishing in NZ? And why?
The obvious answer always suggested for pragmatic reasons by TRM is the mighty Tongariro? You know all the reasons why.
But today I am going to confess. This is not easy. It was only a reminder from my son (JimTim) that has made me so honest. If I had to name one river in NZ that has stamped its indelible mark on me for one most memorable fly fishing experience, it would have to be the Clinton. (This is difficult as I can hear certain South Island fishos cheering from here.)
But there was much more to it than just the fishy river characteristics. It was spiced by the element of competition from a ‘professional’ guide leading two overseas anglers who were following us and rubbishing us in particular at every opportunity as having the wrong gear, the wrong flies, the wrong approach. In front of my son I was too sensitive and annoyed. Meanwhile my son was so impressed with the guides total professional demeanor and worldly wisdom that he almost gave up on me.
But first we need to acquaint you with the Clinton. The best feature of the Clinton is the old real estate rule – location, location, location. It is remote. Trout anglers cannot just climb in their 4WD and go there. That is most important to discourage any other aspiring trout anglers. If it was easy they would hammer it to death. Secondly, there are no dairy or grain farms nearby which would benefit from irrigation. Therefore, apart from more tourists, it is much the same as it was 100 years ago.
Particularly for ignorant strangers from the North a trip to the Clinton needs preparation and planning to book a space on the ferry ride across Lake Ta Anau to get to the Milford Track – the first stage of the finest walk in the world according to the publicity from you know who – to tramp to Glade House.
The usual track booking routine may have changed since I was there over 20 years ago but we – my son and I – were part of the younger enthusiastic group known as the “Smellies” – a mixed bunch of intrepid trampers who were staying in the much cheaper army barracks style self serve dormitory huts and had to to carry everything needed such as tucker, sleeping bags, etc.
At the same time on the trip was another large group who were – remember this was a long time ago – reverently referred to as the “Strawberry Bums” who stayed at DOC fully serviced huts. They were more worldly mature tourists who arrived to find a lamb roast had been prepared for them and their sheets turned down etc.
Needless to say the “professional guide” was staying in the DOC huts with his clients. I tried to chat him up but was correctly dismissed as a typical North island incompetent. I only asked whether glo bugs would work? He almost choked. He rabbited on about size 18 stone flies or hares ears, but if we wanted to be successful we needed to think dry flies like Adams, Royal Wulff, Twilight Beauty, etc. His preferred sizes were smaller than anything in my miserable fly box.
Firstly, without getting too technical after 20 years of failing memory, I think he had at least 6 metres of 2 pound leader on his exquisite split cane 4 wt. rod. All we had was tried and tested reliable Tongariro gear – weighted PT’s & glo Bugs on 6 pound leaders with cheapest 7 wt. rods, everything on a much much larger scale than anything they had? So obviously we were hopeless unworthy novices who should be banned from spoiling the fishing in such exquisite lush surroundings.
We understand he had to show off as was leading/escorting two tourist anglers of the old school, aristocratic elderly overseas fly fishos fully equipped with every possible attachment that the local tackle shop could fit on them. (They did not have to carry provisions or bedding – their gear was ferried between huts) Their attitude was that if they had ‘invested’ enough on gear the trout would have to submit… So we had a sneaking suspicion we were in for some interesting competition.
Secondly I have to impress upon you I am not a competitive angler. I am one who prefers my own solitary company to witness my own deficiencies in private. I am and have always been a novice angler striving to improve. I have never entered into any manner of trout fishing contest in my life. But sometimes competition just happens… We couldn’t avoid it.
So here we were, shorts and T shirts, two bumbling Tongariro junkies, competing with the most professional fishing team imaginable working our way up towards the junction of the Clinton, spotting huge brown trout sulking away in the depths without a chance of being hooked. I had tramped and fished the Clinton about ten years previously so vaguely knew what we were in for.
Meanwhile their guide was sticking it up us so effectively, advising his clients (well within our hearing) that we intruders really had no right to be spoiling the water for his clients as obviously we had no idea… That is what cultivates immense competitive spirit.
Having failed with various Tongariro combinations by then I was getting a little edgy as every offer had been ignored. The trout usually ignored us as we were no threat. One false cast and we spooked them. We were forced to revert to some desperate last resort dirty Tongariro techniques.
Eventually we reached the North Branch of the Clinton which was our intention. This meant an adventurous crossing up to and beyond the level of their chest waders where we knew we had it to ourselves. There was no way their guide could subject them to the excitement of a soggy cold wet crossing.
By this time another attraction was a keen young angleress from Scandinavia who joined us in our hopeless quest – image on right. I had to stay close with her to protect my son you understand. Eventually we stumbled across what we would regard as a likely run where trout might usually feed, a typical noisy frothy bubbly riffles reaching into gloomy deep gliding pools, gurgling ripples at a more rapid speed where nothing could be spotted. It looked almost as good as Tongariro water.
Anxiously I tied on a – wait for it – you guessed it – our secret weapon of mass destruction – a typical showy Tongariro glo bug under a H&C ‘bomb’, aka standard Tongariro rig.
You know the rest… First cast BANG! etc….
Three fat Rainbow trout later we returned to the main river where the guide and his clients were still fishless floating tiny dainty thingies across deep holes. Of course they were speechless at our brutal ‘North Island’ audacity to catch and keep three trout. We tried to explain we needed them for dinner to survive but they were not impressed.
So we returned to our friendly noisy crowded ‘freedom walkers’ dorm hut where we were approached by a keen German chef who never traveled anywhere without his 20 special spices so he had to demonstrate to everyone how wild trout should be prepared and cooked to perfection. There was enough for everyone. Better than roast mutton…
When we caught up to the guide and his clients the next day they still had not hooked into anything and were casting into a stagnant lagoon where the old lanky browns go to die. It was so sad. But they still made our trip so memorable and enjoyable.
Our joy and satisfaction was nothing at all to do with the fishing or wonderful scenery or crystal clear river characteristics of course…
Photo on right of JimTim following a hook-up on another more popular river closer to here…