Graeme Marshall column for Reel Life September 2017
South Canterbury Report
With the new season just a week away as I write this, I find myself day dreaming about other opening days stretching back well over 40 years. This has been an incredibly wet winter over much of the country and if rivers are not exactly in flood come the big day, many will not be in perfect condition either. My reminiscences though confirm that this is the norm rather than the exception. Front after front bashing the western shores means that a certain amount of ‘spill-over’ is inevitable. Eastern areas are not exempt, with easterly and southerly systems prevailing throughout winter and early spring.
It can be a daunting prospect, arriving at the river on October 1, to discover that it’s running high and fast with significant discolouration. I recall one such day near the confluence of the Wangapeka and Motueka rivers in the Nelson district one year. The Wangapaka, originating from native forest only rarely took on a really muddy look but ‘dark tea’ would be a more appropriate description this day. The Motueka, running off recently disturbed pine forest, was just liquid mud.
The mixing of the flows meant that there were options immediately below the confluence and in fact for some distance downstream. Not everybody had flagged the game away. As I approached the gravel beach at the confluence I noticed that a ‘local’, Ted and his 12 year- old son were concentrating on the ‘eye’ where the two substantial rivers merged. I was puzzled by the technique they were using at first, but it quickly dawned on me that they were employing the art of worm fishing. And artful it was. Ted was using a fly rod, a floating line and a short trace. A number of pieces of split shot were crimped to the line. With a delicate and much practised ‘lob’ the worm plopped into the water. Following it down the current with the point of the rod I watched, fascinated as the leader slipped under the surface. With a deft flick the rod tip came up and a very upset brown trout thrashed on the surface.
It was soon slid up onto the shore and duly dispatched with a rock before being slid into a shallow grave alongside two others. No catch and release for these boys. Fair enough, they didn’t waste fish either. No, I didn’t start hunting for worms on the nearby cow paddock but I did fish with a little more conviction than I might have. My black and gold toby accounted for a couple of nice specimens that morning.
Sometimes there is a way even when conditions are not quite what we would wish for. In South Canterbury a flooded stream provides lots of opportunities even when it looks hopeless. Being a dyed in the wool fly fisher, means that I will always explore fly fishing options first; perhaps a woolly bugger or Mrs Simpson fished slowly through a quieter stretch or dragged up alongside a grassy bank. A San Juan worm allowed to drift into a backwater has proved successful for me on countless occasions. But the ‘go to’ method for me these days after enjoying so much success on the MacKenzie Country canals is the softbait. In really dirty water a dark-hued one will do it. Back waters especially are wonderful locations.
But what of the prospects for the season? Despite a seriously big flood that changed the playing field almost beyond recognition my pre-season forays have confirmed that there are reasonable numbers of fish in all the main streams. Despite the much ravaged look of the rivers, they’re already settling down nicely. You might scratch your head wondering where that nice stretch from last season has gone, but rest assured there will be another nearby even if it’s on the other side of the river bed. I was heartened to see evidence of a good sea-run population at the Opihi mouth while whitebaiting recently. Given that water levels should remain healthy right into summer, I see a bumper season ahead.