New Zealand Backcountry

This is what makes New Zealand so unique and special: the backcountry, and the chance of finding the fish of a lifetime in a small stream. After a 3 hour hike, covering 7.5 miles, I reached the wee headwaters of one of the local rivers. As I first started stalking the banks there was not much sign of life, but I remained optimistic. Eventually I found a juicy looking pool and as I approached I spotted an enormous shadow swinging back and forth in the heart of the pool. On my second drift with my cicada the fish turned, rose and began to inhale the fly; and with all my adrenaline I yanked the fly out of the monsters mouth. After regaining my composure, I tried a few more drifts with different patterns but the fish was spooked. I headed back to my camp, with that pool bookmarked for the next day.

The following morning I headed up stream. After walking a few miles without spotting a fish I had reached a turnaround point. At this final pool I made a blind cast into the riffle and was shocked to see a fish inspect my fly. Instead of recasting, I sat down, changed to a smaller tippet and fly and went back for another shot. On the first cast I lost the fly in the shadow, I noticed the tail of the fish move toward the surface, and set the hook. After chasing down the frisky rainbow 50-75 feet downstream, I eventually steered the 6-8 pound beauty into a slow enough spot to land the fish.

After breaking the ice, I headed back downstream to try and fool the fish that schooled me the day before. As I approached the spot, I noticed the enormous shadow was still there patrolling the pool. My first drift was with the fly that enticed the first fish, but no response. I switched to the cicada that he chased the day before, but was not interested. I then decided to give him a rest, ate a snack and figured it would be worth a shot with a nymph. After re-rigging, I ran the heavy pheasant tail down the center of the hole. At first I thought that my indicator had been sunk in the splash of the riffle, but my instincts told me to set the hook. The line came tight and I could feel the weight and power of the trout pulsing through the fly rod. Instead of running downstream, this fish was so powerful that he ran upstream about 50 feet into the next pool. Finally, I was able to corral the monster rainbow, barely able to grip him around the tail. Before I know it, the fish flexed its muscles again and I watched him swim away. The perfect rainbow had to be pushing double digits and is definitely a personal best for that species.               

Satisfied, I headed back upstream towards my camp. As I walked past the next attractive pool, I figured it was worth “one last cast.” On the first drift I saw the sway of the fish and my indicator disappear. After a quick fight, I landed this beautiful 4-5 pound rainbow and it was cordial enough to cooperate for a few pictures. Regardless of pictures, I will have these great memories to take home in a few weeks.

Five Reasons to Experience Winter Fly-Fishing

Why wait till spring to get back on the water? There are plenty of trout to be caught throughout the winter when conditions are right.

First, you need open water. You can fish tailwater rivers with flows, and ultimately temperatures, controlled by a dam; or fish streams that are fed by natural springs where temperatures are consistent through the year.

Plus, winter fishing is much more enjoyable when temperatures warm up above 20 or 25 degrees. You can still get out on colder days, but you then start dealing with chipping ice off of the guides on your fly rod and struggling with trying to keep your feet and hands warm.

Here are some reasons to give winter fly-fishing a try.

The Crowds

Winter is the best times of the year to have the river to yourself.  This gives you the ability to explore more water and cast to fish that are not spooked.  Last week I visited $3 Bridge, one of the most well used access sites on the Madison River, and I did not see another soul. I was able to move freely and fish every prime hole or run in solitude.

Sleeping In

The best times for winter fly-fishing are usually between 11AM-4PM; once water temperatures have increased.  This can be a nice change from the summer when the best fishing is typically either at the beginning or end of the day.  You can take advantage of the extra time in the morning by sleeping in, making a hearty breakfast, or tying flies for the day.

Fly Selection

Since there are few bugs hatching in winter it is much easier on the angler to answer the eternal fly-fishing question, “am I matching the hatch?”.  The most commonly hatching insect through the winter months are midges. Outside of that, most trout are filling their diet by feeding on items that pack the most bang for the buck (i.e. Stone Fly nymphs, worms, eggs).   Most of your standard nymph patterns will do the trick; Pat’s Rubber Legs, Prince Nymphs, Copper Johns, San Juan Worms, or Zebra Midges.  Typically, I end up rigging a large Pat’s Rubber Leg followed by a small San Juan Worm or Zebra Midge.

Reading Water

Reading water can be one of the most difficult things to learn in fly-fishing. Trout will hold, and feed, in different types of water throughout a river depending on hatches, water temperatures, oxygen levels or time of day. During winter months trout will tend to hold in very specific types of water. They are looking for spots where they can feed without expending much energy and where the water is warmest. This will force trout into congregating, and schooling, in the deepest and slowest holes and runs, that in most rivers are easily identifiable.


Dry Flies in January

Nothing shakes a case of cabin fever like landing a fish on a dry fly in the dead of winter. As mentioned earlier, the main insect hatching at this time of year is a midge. Even though they are a small meal, size 18-24 flies, trout will still actively feed on them through a solid midge hatch. Get a nice dead drift with a midge emerger pattern, or midge cluster imitation, towards a group of rising fish and you will definitely find some action.

That dry fly eat could be just enough to hold you over until the prolific spring and summer hatches.