The South Island of New Zealand is split by whats referred to as the ‘main divide’. Named the Southern Alps, this majestic mountain range runs for 500km down the western side of the island, separating the east and west coast water catchments, providing a contrasting and diverse range of fisheries. Over 2 days I decided to challenge myself on several different waterways, observing and absorbing the variety of methods required to be successful in each.
It was the end of February when I had plans to visit Christchurch, so I thought I would seize the opportunity to travel home via one of the mountain passes that cross the main divide and explore some of the waters I had been hoping to fish for a while.
I met up with Matt, a previous client who was still in the country travelling and brought him along on the adventure. After a long and bumpy slog up a gravel road we reached our first destination to be treated by howling winds and some monster fish taunting us under the bridge. Being so tantalisingly close we put our bodies on the line to get to them, including a very borderline river crossing, only to spook them all away in the process!
After a rough night tenting in some strong winds we made a long hike up the valley to find some nice fish but struggled to tempt them with mirror like glare on the water. As the weather turned to a gale southerly we pondered the sanity in continuing and decided to make the long haul back, stopping at potential holding spots on the way. This resulted in a hook up to a stunning rainbow which moved a mile to intercept one of Stu’s Ninja Stonefly nymph, providing a heart racing battle to the net and weighing in around a chunky 8lb
It was looking as though the wind would not relent, so we packed up the cars and decided to head west, over the divide and spend a night on the coast before exploring a very different style of waterway which would prove challenging but rewarding.
We arrived at the desired spot to find a recent fresh had been through which got us perked up, only to find another anglers vehicle parked on the river and the place devoid of fish! All was not lost as we bailed further downstream where we began to find plenty of browns as hungry as they were spooky, with many sitting deep in the gin clear water and tough to access amongst the overgrown banks.
Persevering up river, the banks finally cleared and the fish became accessible. In relatively swift water a correct drift was essential so each fish took some work in order to fool, however we soon had several on the board. The first fish was taken on a size #22 (yes 22!) nymph behind a dropper which made for a challenging fight amongst the weed beds.
The west coast fishery, provided exclusively brown trout, all of a impressive size and condition, feeding in crystal clear spring fed glides. This was in contrast to our experiences on the east coast where browns were heavily outnumbered by the presence of large rainbows in a big, bouldery snow fed river prone to flooding and exposed to gale winds.
Both sides of the divide provide unique and challenging experiences in their own right, both hold a good amount of fish, but much is reliant on the conditions encountered on the day. The east hammered us with wind and showers, contrasting to the usually wet west coast putting on a stunning clear day and this showed in our level of success.
Regardless where you go in the South Island, expect the unexpected as things can change at the flip of a hat. But most of all be willing to tough it out, your never going to catch fish sitting on the couch reading the weather forecast!