AS TO TORRENTIAL RAIN PELTED down, the boat was backed dow down the ramp at Iveay Bay
o on Lake Brunner, ready to be slid gently off the trailer. As Chris and I leant down to unhook the boat, a four pound brown swam lazily under the tow bar inches from our hands and not four feet out from the shoreline.
As it continued on its beat, I said to Chris: “That fish is either giving us the fingers, or inviting us out for a special day.”
We laughed then, but six hours later, and not a single fish to the net, we understood that first trout had indeed been giving us the fish fingers.
Not all flyfishing trips go well, despite impeccable planning. I undertook this ‘old boy’s trip’ at least partially on the inspiration of an Issue 88 feature by Zane Mirfin (Golden Beasts Among The Kahikateas). However, this weeklong adventure unfortunately coincided with a weather bomb that hit the Westport/Brunner area with all the ferocity of a typhoon. A region that annually can get up to seven feet of rain copped just under five inches in one night.
At one stage I contemplated rounding up a pair of weka, a pair of swans, a pair of mallards, a couple of wood pigeons, a ram and ewe, and a Moana maiden, and make like Russell Crowe (aka Noah in the blockbuster Noah) and start building an ark.
Lake Brunner is renowned for its summer cicada fishing to sighted trout along lengthy shorelines, the backdrop of which is a thick, primeval podocarp forest of rimu, kahikatea, miro, matai, and totara. When it’s on, the cicadas hatch that is, trout slash and hit imitations with a vengence. Fourteen to 20 fish days are not uncommon. When it is off – as during our trip – the lake edges are usually too warm for the fish and they head to deeper water. Even our best efforts at spinning softbaits and quick retrieving Woolly Buggers proved fruitless. To be fair, Chris did hook and lose a fish on his spinning gear, and I played a brown for a minute before it dug deep into windfall and broke off. But that was it – for three days.
So why is this trip so memorable, so worthy of mention here. The RAIN. Man did it rain. Rivers, that a day earlier were running desperately low, were suddenly in raging flood everywhere. The Arnold rose several metres. The Crooked was up and filthy. Nearby Moana township was drenched. Further away in Westport, whole streets were submerged following the worst flooding in 20 years, with excited kids kayaking in overflowing gutters. Roads were closed to slips. It was flippin’ WET.
This was not pleasant news for me, a staunch fair weather fisherman. But we did have a reprieve for part of one day, gave the lake a miss, and headed to nearby Bruce Creek, a spring-fed gem not far from Inchbonnie that remained relatively unaffected by the bucketing monsoon bar the diluted cow shit that trickled into the stream. And as is the case often, out of bad weather and bad fortune came enough good fishing to allow three fish to be hooked, two landed, one a 4+lb West Coast beauty.
The irony of the debacle did not escape me. Last issue Hamish Carnachan wrote about fishing the big dry in Wairarapa. The West Coast, while not in the midst of a similar serious ‘big dry’ before our rainy experience, was still more than dry by its own standards. Not for long though. Overnight that changed. And while the trout may have burrowed deep in the lake when the heavens opened, the Coast’s blue pheasant (pukeko) and ducks came out in force, feeding on the idle water that flooded paddocks. And the mallards, unlike my ‘trout’, weren’t giving anyone the fingers. Loafing happily on sodden farmland, they were oblivious to anything else around them and their presence was a heavenly reminder of the West Coast’s wing shooting potential. With the fishing wiped out, it was comforting to know that on the Coast, if the trout are down and the land drowned, the ducks can brighten your spirit when a game bird season is just around the corner.
Meanwhile, I have taken the decision, made in late February, to retire this year, on August 1 to be exact. After 22 glorious years at the helm of this publication, after putting to bed 130 issues, another 14 issues of Fish & Game Kids, and three Fish & Game how-to books, it’s time to pass on the baton. I am proud to announce that one of our most valued contributors, Hamish Carnachan, will assume the editor’s role after I sign off this issue and Special Issue 41. In anticipation of my departure, may I sincerely thank you readers, one and all, for your devoted following. I hope it’s been as enjoyable for you as it has been for moi.