Creasy's Column for Reel Life January 2018
By Hugh Creasy
The heat is on. So is the air conditioning. There are fierce reflections from boulders that hammer the suspension. It’s like driving on endless giant judder bars. Rabbits can hear us coming long before we’re visible. There are thousands of them and the rabbit-proof fence we are driving alongside has become a collander of protection, and the rabbits pass with impunity. This is the McKenzie Country and going off-road requires courage and a cast-iron digestive system.
The pursuit of trout has taken us from lake to river and back to lake. First it was Lake Alexandrina, where we saw a few fish, one of which was a monster, but our plan of rowing the margins and casting to cruising fish was upset by drought and seriously hot temperatures – hitting the mid-thirties – and sending trout to deep water to cool off. The fish we saw ignored anything cast to them, and we gave up.
Sitting in an open boat in the boiling sun became singularly unattractive, and was probably the reason we were the only boat on the lake. The locals had more sense. So it was back to the air conditioned coolness of the truck, and long draughts of water.
River ventures were also unsuccessful. We saw plenty of fish, but getting a cast to them required skill and patience. The best fish were in long pools overhung with willows and surrounded with briar rose. Wading was fine, but casting was a test of skill. Long rods and leaders soon had flies hanging from willow branches. Short leaders meant pinpoint accuracy of casting – a skill level we fell well short of. Fish after fish was put down.
Out of the willows and in open water we were able to cast to visible fish, but they lacked size and fitness. The best fish were in the hardest water. Briar rose is pretty, but making tracks through it left us with bleeding legs and torn trousers, and getting a back cast caught in it was a painful experience. So, when somebody told us try the Mary Burn because it was open water and good access, we were highly expectant.
It’s a pretty stream, running through pretty country, with good access, and you just follow the signs to get to it. It takes an hour or so to get to fishable water. In the meantime you pass pool after pool where bog and briar bar access. Hopes rise with time, until I caught sight of a fish in the open at the tail of a pool. A couple of casts and it was caught. Success at last, and I ventured to the next pool and another fish. Neither of them were of great size but the enclosed nature of the pools meant they were a challenge to land, and buoyed by success I sought a way to the pools we had passed on the way upstream.
I followed the bank and ducked for cover to avoid putting fish down. In good heart I waded through bog and valiantly fought briar before reaching a good casting position. A flick cast over briar to the water put my fly in the way of a big fish that gulped the fly. Of course, striking and playing a fish while standing in a bog with a wall of briar between you and the water was a circumstance I had thought of but dismissed as too negative to suit my mood. The reality proved the difficulty. The fish was soon lost, along with the fly and a good length of leader.
It was hot work. With no firm ground to stand on my legs were aching. It was time to return to the track and the truck, and gulp water in the shade.
Time was too short to test the possibilities of the McKenzie Country. We needed more than a few days to gain some knowledge of the rivers. A passing look at Irishmen’s Creek, the Hakataramea, the Tekapo and the Waitaki was not nearly enough and the giant trout of the Tekapo Canal we saw as they splashed and rolled in the powerful surge from the lake, well out range of a 5-weight line.
Some anglers were well set up for the challenge, with big rigs and complex lures, but canal fishing takes a different mindset for success and we were not prepared for it.
For entertainment there are tourists gambolling in the Russell lupins that form a colourful swathe alongside most of the roads around Tekapo. And the brides and grooms who flock to the church of the Good Shepherd on Lake Tekapo’s shores. There they display the cultural sensitivity of a drunken All Black in a rest-room for the disabled. A wooden fence was being built to restrain them as we watched. Tekapo Takeaways do a good hamburger and on the way back to Christchurch we stopped at the Fairlie Bakery for a pie. That was an experience in itself. Word is out about the excellence of their fare, and the small bakery was packed with a queue reaching the footpath and not a park to be had within a hundred metres. But the pies were well worth the walk and the wait.
What we needed most on this venture was more time. It’s big country, and wild and it takes some getting used to, but the rewards are huge, not just in the fishing, but in the endless possibilities offered for an outdoor experience in an atmosphere of huge freedom. All it takes is energy.