Well well well, the first blood has been drawn. And second. And third. And fourth. And so on.
We set out last Saturday after dropping Justin off. After loading up with groceries on our way out of town, it was time to get some frickin' fishing done. We drove up towards Lewis Pass and stopped along the way for the afternoon, following the suggestion of a local in the fishing shop: Rumors of some Frenchman having bested seven, yes seven, DD fish. And that's double digit as in weight (ten plus pounds), not cup size, though either way it's the stuff dreams are made of... Absurd numbers we being thrown around in a sickeningly cavalier manner, 15, 13.5, 11, and so on. Granted this all purportedly took place last year, which was in a fact a mouse year, it was enough to convince us to take a look.
Upon arriving it appeared that the recent floods (I've heard different reports from 370mm to 1.3m overnight) had shuffled the rivers around a little bit. Apparently mother nature had new plans for the tributary as the entire channel had been moved about 45 degrees and now flowed exclusively through a big terrace of matagouri. I'm just gonna assume that confluence pool he was talking about ain't gon be dere no mo. We walked downstream several hundred yards and the trib was still a ways behind, and long ways off yet from converging. But we did what we could with what we had.
A fish was spotted on the way down, but spooked after a few casts. Oh well. As we were rapping that up I noticed a guy walking upstream towards us. I figured we had inadvertently cut him off, but we started chatting and immediately discovered he was from Jackson Hole, had grown up there, and knew my cousins. This family of my cousins' is proving to be an almost eerily common thread in orchestrating almost every connection made on this trip. Not the least of which was meeting Isaiah this spring, where I convinced him over keg beer and rounds of Crown that he should come down here. Later that evening we were on our way to visit the doctor that my aunt works for in Jackson, and of course, this new guy Ian we just met had run into the good doctor only moments prior a little bit downstream. So that makes three separate, mutually exclusive entities who all knew this family, the Watsabaughs, converging on not just a single river, but within a half mile section of it... Is it fate? Coincidence? Or Destiny. Yes, I choose destiny.
So we decide the three of us to work our way upstream together. I mean it's practically like we know the guy already and we all start chatting like it's been for years, too. I spot a fish. It's my turn in the hotseat. It's my time to shine. This is the moment for which I've been soo patiently waiting. He's active, and he was spotted before we were, so the odds were looking in my favor. I gingerly enter the water and get into position. I've got a blowfly on, and I nail the cast first shot. Drift. Drift. My bug's locked in my crosshairs. Drift. "Oh, he's coming up!" from Isaiah on the bank. Sip. Hairpin trigger and, Yoink! Staight. Outta. His mouth. Nnyep. So New Zealand draws the first blood. Dammit. Yeah, it sucks, but you know what? The I was just happy I made the cast and he came up first time, that was consolation enough. Feels good to know things appear to be in shape, ya know, aside from the obvious. Fortunately after that we didn't go more than fifty feet before we spotted another fish.
Isaiah's up, and on his way down the bank he even spooks another one out even closer still, so three fish close. After a few drifts and some fly changes it appears this guy's keen to us. Better news yet is that in the meantime Ian and I have spotted another active fish just a few meters upstream at the head of the pool. From our vantage point it looked bigger, but nothing's certain until you get them both on the scale, and that just ain't happening. Two casts later and BAM! He turns on a little beetle pattern and falls prey to the old bait and switch. Appears Isaiah's timing's a bit sharper than mine... The fish didn't give him as much of a workout as I was anticipating and we soon had him in the net. Again, the scale was up on the bank and not deemed worth the effort, but it a solid six pounds either way. Great success!
In the process of the whole grip-n-grin photo time I was readying one of my cameras for shooting the underwater release when PLOP! Somehow my strap slides free and off my neck into the drink falls my new Canon G12. Sure, why not? 'Bout on par for the course. New Zealand: 2, Me: 0.
So we continue on. We fish some water here, we fish some water there. All the while the endless pursuit of fish. I am fishless yet. We find some small water up a remote valley. It's small. Skies are overcast. It's just small enough though that we can still spot. I've seen some nice fish come from waters like this, so we remain optimistic. Walk. Walk. See some good looking holes. A willow over the water that looks enticing. "Whoa whoa whoa!" from Isaiah. "Brownie right there." I freeze. Just as I see him he comes up and feeds then banks hard downstream. Spooked? Hard to tell, maybe? I slide downstream while Isaiah's on lookout. "He's feeding man, I've seen him come up like three times now." I can't see squat, so I take his word. Apparently he's just cruising a tight circuit, making the rounds, swallowing everything in sight. I send a cast up with a Chernobyl ant on. "He just turned and sped downstream, did you cast?" Shit, did I spook him? "Yeah I cast." I watch. Then I see: the JAWS. That perfectly triangular shape emerges from the water and the soft cotton inside of the vomer. SET!!! I feel the strong pull of a fish that's hooked on the end of my line. Bliss. Ecstasy. Euphoria. Whoops and hollers! Take it easy, pal, it's not done yet. But it was. He dove for the bank once but I was keen to his tricks. The rest of it was textbook. First fish in the bag. Now I can revel in the sublime satisfaction of my success. That's all I need. That's all I've wanted. I didn't think I would get skunked this trip but that's not to say the thought didn't cross my mind. Everything's just gravy now that I've got that stigma out of my head. Great success!!! Me: 1, New Zealand: 2.
North to Golden Bay to catch some rays for the weekend. We kick around at a reservoir for a coupla days first. Fish the the trib one afternoon despite fickle weather. Spot some active fish, spook some more. It was a unique little river that flowed through a gorgeous valley close to the Karamea system, its character changing completely about every half mile or so. Gorgey down below, plunge pools and pocket water. We see some nice browns but to no avail. Then it opens up in the valley to more glide/riffle/run-type water. Walking along through one run when a fish rises right in front of us, like no more than a few meters away. I figured the pooch's done gone been screwed already, but I step back behind Isaiah and flip a green beetle up his way. Plop, float, SMASH! A frisky little rainbow torpedoes out from behind a rock and crushes my bug. I giggle. He comes to hand, I pop the hook, and off he goes. At least we won't be skunked by this river any more, great success! Me: 2, New Zealand: 3. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention how on the drive up the windy, dirt road my camera, which I so diligently worked to dry out and get back in working condition, took a spill off the dash and smashed the screen. Treats. I'm just a guy, doing what I can to catch up and even the score.
Into Takaka. Up to Wharariki Beach. We enjoy the sun, try to stay out of the wind, watch some seals, just taking it easy. What? It's not like we've got somewhere to be... Except the Mussell Inn. Off to there later that evening, which is only my favorite bar anywhere everywhere ever. They serve only their own brews and we spend the night drinking Captain Cooker's manuka beer, Apple Roughy feijoa cider, Golden Goose lager, Heat Rash chili beer. Mmmm mmm mmm mm mmmmmm. Love it! We met a guy from the West Coast who invites us to sit down and starts chatting us up. He happens to be a chopper pilot, and happens to have a private hut on a sweet piece of water, and happens to know lots of other chopper pilots and jetboat captains. We exchange numbers and make plans to drink beers again soon when we make it over his way. Fortuitous? Beyond measure. A sweet little bluegrass band rocks the stage long into the night, Fossett and Badger, and people are letting loose and bustin' moves on the floor.
Holy hangover. I 'ruggle. Isaiah drives us into town (What? It's not like we slept on the side of the road next to the parking lot...), buys us some sausage rolls, and I pop a coupla Excederin, wincing every time I even try to think. I take about two bites and realize even that's pushing it. We drive to a beach to find a shade tree and I pass back out in the van. A little while later I wake up, realize I'm not aching everywhere and demolish my remaining rolls. Wow, actually I feel pretty good. Great success! After a few minutes of putzing around we decide to roll back towards Ch'Ch and get in the van to make the eight hour journey. A little ways down the road we pick up a hitchhiker, Julian from Germany, who rides with us all the way down and even stays for the night.
And here we are, back at the Vanderties resting, recharging. We picked my friend John up a little earlier today, fresh off the boat from the States via Melbourne. I met John in 2009 while working on the Kwethluk River in Alaska. I was running the salmon weir there and John was working for his wife upstream doing research for her PhD from the University of Montana. He's here for about three weeks, and depending on what happens with this weather system coming through, we'll be out on the road looking to score him some Kiwi tail tomorrow or the next day. Only good things are to come!