Challenges & Rewards of Southland

My Recent Adventures Fishing in New Zealand

Fly-fishing is hard. Fishing a new river for the first time can be very hard. Fly-fishing the South Island of New Zealand on my own is one of the most challenging tasks I have experienced in the sport.  

We are based in Te Anau in the Southland Region.  Within a 100 mile radius (kilometers to the Kiwis) there are literally hundreds of streams and thousands of miles of river banks to explore.  On average, each of these streams hold anywhere between 50-500 fish per kilometer and a large number of those fish could be the fish of a lifetime.  In a sense it could be compared to finding a needle in a haystack when first starting to explore all of this water.

While fishing over the last couple of weeks I have discovered that three scenarios are likely:

-After finding a random access point on the map you start blind fishing upstream from the car and within 200 yards of where you started, you hook and land one of the most stunning Rainbows that you have ever seen.

-While exploring a world famous stretch of river, you spot heaps of monsters Brown Trout, that you estimate could range from 6-10 pounds.  Unfortunately, you spook more fish than you have the opportunity to cast to.  

-You spend hours studying topo maps and Google Earth and discover stretches of river that are bound to be promising.  After hiking 5-8 miles of river with some of the most picturesque and idyllic pools and riffles you end the day with sore legs, not spotting one trout.  

Through the last month I have experienced each of these situations and anything in between. Funny enough, the first scenario happened on my first day fishing on the trip.  Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes!

Besides the vastness of the area there are a few other factors that add to the challenge of fishing Southland.  Given the trout populations, gin-clear waters and the behavior of Kiwi trout, sight fishing is the most effective technique to target these trophies.  Sight fishing is a whole new ball game for me after fishing the Blue Ribbon Trout Streams of the west throughout my life.  First, you have to approach the likely holding spots slowly, with stealth, so you don’t spook any fish that might be there.  You have to find the best viewing spot to leverage the angle of the sun, eliminating glare, giving you the most visibility, all while not blowing your cover.  You have to locate the fish, trying to identify any movement, every rock, any shadow or slight disruption in the pool.  After verifying the trout – which could take seconds or minutes of observation – you have to overcome the excitement and nerves to make a good presentation.  If you have no response to the pattern, Kiwis believe in changing the fly after 1 or 2 drifts, all while not spooking the fish with a sloppy cast or movement of your shadow.  

At this point of the process the next challenge lies in casting long leaders (10 up to 15 feet) typically rigged with a heavy nymph on the end while carrying 30-50 feet of line at some points.  After spending all summer and most of the fall holding a set of oars, instead of the rod, the learning curve with casting this rig has been steep.  By following the advice that I give to most clients – slow down the cast and to have a long pause at the back stopping point –  I have become more accurate and precise with presentations. 

Aside from these challenges, there are numerous rewards fishing in New Zealand.  Just like any fly-fishing outing there is much more to the experience than catching fish.  There is the reward of the do-it-yourself adventure, the stunning beauty and scenery in the landscape, the motivation of what might be in the next pool or day dreaming about a pint and fish n’ chips to end the day.  But for me the biggest motivation and reward are the big smiles of my wife and daughter that greet me after an overnight exploring the backcountry.    

With about seven weeks remaining in our adventure I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of Southland fishing opportunities, but I have already learned so much.  I keep telling myself that putting in the time will pay off.  I must continue to build on these experiences, continue to explore new areas and keep cataloging bits of information learned through chatting with other anglers on the rivers or talking to friendly locals.  All the while, keep reminding myself to drive on the left side of the road.  Cheers, mate!

How a Fly-Fish Guide & a Writer Spend their Honeymoon

Our honeymoon adventure was a road trip from Los Olivos, California back home to Philipsburg, Montana.  Following Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, up the California and Oregon coasts.  Nice hotel rooms, camping, great meals, seafood, wine tasting, micro brews, amazing concert, hiking, fishing, biking and over 3,000 miles on the road.

Tuesday November 8th

Los Olivos, California – Pismo Beach, California

-Wine tasting at Foxen Canyon Winery

-Great hotel room at The Cottage Inn by the Sea with amazing view of the beach and ocean

-Mexican food and Tequila tasting at Ventana Grill

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Wednesday November 9

Pismo Beach, California – Treebones Resort, Big Sur, California

-Wine tasting at Kelsey See Vineyard

-Arrive at Treebones for sunset and BBQ salmon dinner at our campsite

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Thursday November 10

Treebones Resort, Big Sur, California

-Hike to an amazing ocean view

-Reading and relaxing poolside & enjoying a bottle of gifted champagne

-Fabulous steak dinner at the restaurant at Treebones

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Friday November 11

Treebones Resort, Big Sur, California – San Francisco, California

-Quick stop at Big Sur Bakery for pastries

-Check-in to Courtyard by Marriott Downtown San Francisco

-Walk to Fisherman’s Wharf exploring the city

-Hilarious comedy show by Dana Gould at The Punchline

-Experienced the scene at the Tonga Room followed by stumbling upon great cocktails at Pacific Cocktail Haven P.C.H.

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Saturday November 12

San Francisco, California

-Walk to Kate’s Kitchen for amazing breakfast and exploring Haight Ashbury neighborhood

-Rented bikes to explore Golden Gate Park

-Our first Lyft experience back to the North Beach area of the city

-Sampled great Italian food with salads at Calzone’s, pizza from North Beach Pizza and Tiramisu and coffee at Stella Pastry

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Sunday November 13

San Francisco, California – Redding, California

-Dinner and beers at Woody’s Brewing Company

-Memorable Sturgill Simpson concert at the Cascade Theatre

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Monday November 14

Redding, California – Calistoga, California

-Truck maintenance; oil change and tire rotation

-Shopping at Trader Joe’s (Gwyneth’s favorite store)

-Beautiful drive into Napa Valley area to our yurt at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

-Another great BBQ salmon dinner

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Tuesday November 15

Napa Valley, California

-Wine tasting tour of the valley

-Visited Del Dotto Vineyard, Miner Family Winery & Trinchero Napa Valley

-Received a nice bottle of wine by a couple we met at the Trinchero tasting room

-Appetizers at Napkins Bar and Grill in the city of Napa

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Wednesday November 16

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, California – Fort Bragg, California

-Back to Highway 1 and onto the Lost Coast area

-Stopped at Cafe Aquatica in Jenner for some great coffee

-Sampling beers at the North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg

-Recovery night: Pizza from Piaci’s and watching the epic movie 2012 in our motel room

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Thursday November 17

Fort Bragg, California – Mattole River Campground, Lost Coast, California

-Entering the Redwoods and followed a long, rough, crazy road through northern California to reach the coast

-Walked on the beach at sunset and discovered a group of Sea Lions

-Finally had a good fire with the help of driftwood instead of soggy wood from Napa Valley

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Friday November 18

Mattole River Campground, Lost Coast, California – Crescent City, California

-Made breakfast burritos at the beach

-Visited the Redwood Curtain Brewing Company in Arcata

-Seafood dinner at North Coast Ocean Sports & Grill in Crescent City

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Saturday November 19

Crescent City, California – Ashland, Oregon

-Rainy hike through the Redwoods on the Stout Memorial Grove Trail

-Settled into our VRBO rental in downtown Ashland

-Dinner and cocktails at Taqueria Picaro

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Sunday November 20

Ashland, Oregon

-Guided Steelhead fishing trip on the Rogue River, floated Shady Cove to Dodge Bridge

-Landed my first two Steelhead on a fly rod

-Beers at the Caldera Brewery and great dinner at Smithfields Restaurant

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Monday November 21

Ashland, Oregon – Grants Pass, Oregon

-Amazing breakfast and mimosas at Morning Glory in Ashland followed by a few more hours on the river

-Wine tasting at Cliff Creek Cellar heading towards Grants Pass

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Tuesday November 22

Grants Pass, Oregon – Yachats, Oregon

-Headed back to the coast and stumbled upon the cool little town of Yachats

-Appetizers and micro brews at Yachats Brewing

-As the rain settled in we splurged for a nice room and dinner at The Adobe Resort

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Wednesday November 23

Yachats, Oregon – Manzanita, Oregon

-Quick hike on Cape Perpetua outside of Yachats

-Visit to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport

-Sampling at the Pelican Brewing Company

-Being rained out, we booked a room at the Sunset Surf Motel overlooking the beach

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Thursday November 24

Manzanita, Oregon

-Happy Thanksgiving!  Enjoyed locally made Pumpkin pie for breakfast

-Caught up with family on the phone while watching football

-Great evening with friends who happened to be visiting the area in their yurt for homemade Chicken Noodle soup

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Friday November 25

Manzanita, Oregon – Astoria, Oregon

-Explored Cannon Beach, Oregon with brunch at the Lazy Susan Cafe and walk on the beach

-Found a nice room at the Astoria Riverwalk Inn that included bike rentals

-Brewery tour and great bike ride visiting Rogue Ales & Spirits and Buoy Beer Company

-Final seafood dinner at Bridgewater Bistro

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Saturday November 26

Astoria, Oregon – Spokane, Washington

-Lunch at the Astoria Coffee House & Bistro

-Followed the Columbia River gorge away from the ocean heading inland towards Washington

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Sunday November 27

Spokane, Washington – Philipsburg, Montana

-Stocked up at Trader Joe’s before heading back to Montana

-Greeted by falling snow as we arrived at home