Read this Fly Life Article written by: Scott "The Trout" Murray
Murchison guide Scott Murray offers advice on fishing his home rivers.
Doug Monnig from Colorado is a very keen angler. When we first met, 11 years ago, he had heard a lot about the challenging browns of the top of New Zealand’s South Island. On the first day we flew by helicopter to a remote little stream where Doug fished very hard, all day long. Alas, by the end we were fish-less, bar one take. He was mortified.
Back at the lodge I immediately got Doug to the bar and made sure he got a double whisky down before he could get a word out. I knew what he was thinking, having paid a lot of money for no fish. After downing the whisky, he said, “I’ve lost it! What happened? What do I do now?” All I could say was, “Get another whisky down ya!” So he did. When Doug got around to asking what we were doing and where we going tomorrow, my brilliant answer was: “We’re going fishing again!” His face dropped in horror, as I added, “We’re flying again as well!”
The next day was beautiful—nowind, sunny, and a totally different river. After starting out rather tentatively, Doug returned to his former glory and set a new lodge record for the number of fish landed over three pounds!
The moral of the story is that, when fishing for browns in this district, the circumstances differ markedly from one river to another, and from one day to the next. Basically, you need to be prepared for all that is chucked at you.
After landing my first trout on a fly rod 45 years ago, and guiding for 21 years, I’ve come to recognise the importance of belief. It starts with you, then travels all the way to your fly, and finally to your presentation, establishing a total connection. Without this basic conviction, everything else will be more difficult, and result in less fun and fewer fish landed.
Most folk who come to fish the top of the South, hang their hats on sighted fish. I can totally understand—so did I, for my first 20 years. But in reality, there is so much more to fishing for browns in this area. These creatures love to hide, and hide they do! Even after all my years of fishing, they still blend into some amazing places and fool me. Sight-fishing-only can be a dangerous trap.
You need to be prepared each day to be multi-dimensional, as this will help you to become a better angler, improve your accuracy, increase your patience and improve your catch rate.
To me there are two forms of blind fishing—‘having a go’, and reading the water. The first form is just blind, hopeful speculation and quite often does nothing but warm up the casting arm. In the second form, you read the water as if you are sight fishing.
This was probably one of my more successful trips to fish the Northern part of New Zealand’s South Island. Eleven days’ fishing for 91 brown trout. The biggest was just over 10 pounds, but in truth rather a ratty specimen that would have gone easily 14 or 15 pounds in his pomp. There were another 7 over 8 pounds.
But what sets this fishery and my guide apart among even the best brown trout fishing is the consistency of opportunity in the face of poor weather and water conditions. This October the weather see-sawed. There were day after day of grey skies and cold southerly winds, and one night of torrential rain that turned most rivers unfishable, but curiously left untouched others in neighbouring valleys. Only one day of bright warm sun when we had our best day’s sport, on a local river with 20 fish, two over 6 pounds, and three over five.
In this part of New Zealand a good guide is the key to great sport. I reckon that at least half of my fishing fun is due to Scott’s work before we even leave his lodge. There are early morning calls to other guides, consideration of water flow information and wind direction. These are the obvious components to the alchemy of deciding where to go each day. Luckily I learned years ago to cast a fly into a stiffish breeze. Scott has over the years improved my technique, though I still cause him moments of near despair. This gives us free rein over otherwise promising water that other guides avoid. I leave the lodge each day confident of his choice of river and beat.
On the water, Scott sets me to searching the most promising parts of likely runs. Often he’ll spot a fish as he takes the opportunity to study the water. At my age I have no taste for walking miles to fish only for the trout that can readily be spotted - ‘sprint spotters’ as he calls those guides who cover long stretches of river. By all accounts Scott and I take more fish. Some days nearly all we catch are fish he spots first. On other days, most of our tally are fish he sees only after they are hooked. But he constantly points me to the likeliest lies.
We even had great dry fly fishing, a rarity in October. Fun, but for me not important as I love nymph fishing. After all, most fish, and particularly the bigger boys, get their bellies filled with nymphs. One day of dour light Scott had me wading up a hundred yard stretch under some overhanging trees. He found seven nice fish lying near the bank, feeding well. We got six of them and I stuffed up the seventh. My only job was to stop them running upstream to alert the others. That stretch looked much like a dozen others, but it was special. Scotty used to find fish there when he was a kid!
So I’m already looking forward to my return. Simple advice to anyone fishing those parts of New Zealand. Get the best guide, and put you trust in him - or her.