Mental Vacation, Reflecting on New Zealand

At this time I think we could all use a little mental vacation. It is just about a month since we flew back to the states, but with everything happening in the world it seems like a lifetime. There is no better way to be transported than by a talented writer, and in my opinion my wife has the amazing skill to paint a picture with her words that takes you to another place. This is a piece she wrote about half way through our trip and is a reflection on how we spent our weekends, me exploring the rivers and her and Jessie road tripping around the South Island:

A cloud of dust travels behind us on this early afternoon and I have a ceramic cup with tea on the seat console and a few perfectly ripe apricots, for a snack on the road.  Jessie holds her own bottle now, but has learned to prop it up on a stuffed bird doll so she can recline, hands free to practice waving, while the gold hills and dark mountains with the rainy mist just breaking up, go by.

More than halfway through our time in New Zealand, this is how our weekends have been spent. Dropping John off with his fly-fishing gear for one, maybe two nights, in the backcountry then retrieving him two or three days later, sunburnt and full of stories of fish stalking. Jessie and I come back to the house we’ve been staying at if we are needing routine and quiet – a reliable napping schedule, good reading spots in the sun, and a kitchen sink view of Fiordland as cherries the size of small plums, blueberries, peaches, nectarines and kiwifruit are chopped up and brewed for baby food – or we day-trip around this region of the South Island to see friends, on farms with bleating, newly-weaned lambs or in the beach towns with the smell of kelp and coal fires on drizzly mornings.

For two weekends in a row, I’ve taken Jessie down to the beach where I used to run, where the sea is three shades of blue under a pretty consistently grey sky with lighthouse in the distance. She loves books now, and will alternately turn their pages and gnaw on the bindings. But at the pub where I used to get my mail, Jessie and I propped ourselves against bean bags with our books-of-the-moment: Emily Perkins’ The New Girl, for me, and God Made Friends and Peek-A-Boo for Jessie. I had a mug of the same cheap beer I drank there in my late 20s and battered blue cod. Jessie had her bottle and the carrot banana teething rusks that taste like cardboard. We waited for a friend there, the sound of the sea on the other side of the pub, enjoying the shade of the flax bush and cabbage tree above us, but there was the ghost of myself there too, when we all went for a walk down the street to the old crib I once lived in, which was now in the process of being torn down.

I feel like I’ve been taking Jessie on these backward journeys of nostalgia, while John is forging ahead through new and fresh adventures, learning something new every hour, it seems. When I’d see him at the end of a day of fly-fishing in Montana, I’d hear his stories, and care because it was what had happened to him during the day – and I love him and want to hear about his day. But really, fly-fishing for him in Montana got to be a little bit like hearing how someone went to a buffet. It is plentiful, there is usually enough for everyone to go around, and it’s just a question of what and how much.

Here, John comes back to us with epic, heroes’ journey kind of fly-fishing stories. There is struggle. There is heartbreak. Reserves of patience and resilience are called upon. Ninja-like skills are used when approaching a creek. Sometimes there is strange and fierce competition with other lone anglers. Sandflies. Soaring beauty. Storms. Flooded rivers. New fishing buddies.

When I pick him up, I have a few beers stuffed in the diaper bag, a plum or two, and a salty bag of chips. I’ve loved baking again, and sometimes I’ve had ginger crunch slices and lavender shortbread – the farm cooking that my aunt used to do for us – in a cookie tin that I’ll bring along. I set Jessie in the grass on a blanket while John unloads his pack and throws it in the back of the car, so she can wave her arms excitedly at him and roll around before the journey back to the house. Then we take off. John always sits back in the passenger seat, cooing at Jessie for a bit, before taking a bite of any treats I’ve brought him. I drive, letting him slowly start his story at his own pace. But I can’t wait to hear how it went. In the beginning of the summer, there were weekends like this that were a complete bust. As he’s grown to know these rivers and master a completely new way of fly-fishing – which is more similar to hunting – there is triumph and awe in these stories. He is in one of the wildest areas of a wild country and he is making it his own. His stories thrill me.

The South Island has always been a place in my own history. It is where I spent most of my 20s and 30s and maybe because of that, there is a lot of looking back in places that are weighty with memories, good and bad, on my own.

When I pick John up with Jessie, there is this freeing exhilaration of growing and learning in a place alongside them. It makes this land that I used to know like the back of my hand, fresh and new to me too.

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


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


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


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.


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


Sunday November 13

San Francisco, California – Redding, California

-Dinner and beers at Woody’s Brewing Company

-Memorable Sturgill Simpson concert at the Cascade Theatre


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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