Thomas & Thomas Pro Staff Member Cam Chioffi is living every young trout bums dream. Given the opportunity to take a college semester abroad in New Zealand, Cam quickly packed his bags and booked his plane ticket. As a result, he's been learning a lot more calculus these past few months as he explores the glorious landscape and all the fishing opportunities NZ has to offer.
Follow along with Cam on his adventures as he shares what it's like fishing with his buddies in this wild place in his new blog series, The New Zealand Trout Diaries.
All It Takes Is One
So after a long week of school, it was finally Thursday night. Friday we had off, and Saturday and Sunday we were obligated to volunteer for an event planning class. Ideas rolled around for what we wanted to do, and Google maps started lightning up our laptops. It had to be local (an hour or so away) because it was just going to be a day trip.
We found a decent location not far from home and decided to head out the next morning. There was evidence it had fish in the lower reaches, brown trout to be precise, and they were sea run.
Around 8:00 am Will pulled up in the Nissan Joy (beloved fishing vehicle) outside of my flat, and we rolled out. The forecast for north of Christchurch looked great, clear skies and low wind. On the way, we stopped at McDonald's, and Will slammed a mega Breekie burger that had an egg, ham, hashbrown, BBQ sauce, and onion. A traditional NZ McDonald's breakfast staple. “Any good day usually starts with McDonald's” we joked on the way back home from the river after this outing.
A beautiful country road took us to the foothills of this lush forest. We stepped out of the van in awe of the surroundings and sound of rushing water over the hillside below us. Birds echoed out among the intimate trailhead that presented itself in front of the van. A quick walk took us to the river's edge. It was a stunning picturesque New Zealand river. Shadows from the steep hillside cast over the gin clear water while a Spring waterfall emerged out of the dense trees across from us. The stoke was extremely high, as we both thought about what we might find up around the corner. We ran back to the car, threw two packs of chicken ramen, a jetboil, and Camelback in my bag, laced up the boots, grabbed my Avantt, and hit the trail. We hadn't gone more than 300 meters before we stepped off the trail and began walking the riverbed.
As we both smiled ear to ear looking at our surroundings, we noticed mayflies and caddis dancing in the morning light. This was a good sign. We knew nothing about the river. There was an angler access sign so that told us there might be some fish in here, aside from the fact we're in arguably the most scenic and renowned trout fishing country in the world.
It wasn't long before we came around a bend of flat shallow water to see our first long glide pool topped off by a huge teal blue rapid. The pool was enclosed on the river left side by a steeply sloping bank, only about a meter high, but composed of mostly uniform round rocks. It made a great little trough where the river bottom met the bank. I slowed my pace and said to Will, “we're gonna see one in here” optimistically. This would happen about 50 more times throughout the course of the 7 hour day, and I would only be right four times. This is New Zealand. The fish are scarce but they rule their environment, and it's all the more rewarding when you do find one.
No more than 30 steps after that I spotted the first trout, clear as day, swaying back and forth picking off drifting nymphs as it's mouth flickered white with every bite.
We strung up the Avantt 9’ 5wt, and I added about 5 feet of tippet to the end of a 10’ 3x Trout Hunter finesse leader. There was a light downstream breeze over the fish. I tied on a CDC caddis followed by size 14 beadless pheasant tail about a foot below it. I gave Will the rod because up until this point had yet to land an adult fish in New Zealand. He wound up for the first cast and dropped it a foot above the fish and on the inside of it about 3 feet. The water between the fish and the bank was scarce, but his cast was a bit too far inside. His fly line caught on the rocks beside the end of his leader and the drift dragged over the fish. As he tried to finesse his line off the rocks, it's shadow flashed over the water, and the fish busted him. Simple as that, and onto the next one we went.
We would soon find the Trutta God's to be forgiving towards Will's now defeated soul. New Zealand has been a combination of humbling encounters and extreme heart pounding highs. What it really comes down to is being at the right place at the right time, with a happy fish, a good cast, and nerves of steel. Stealth has been equally as important as any other factor too. These fish blow up at the sound of a voice, too hard of a footstep, the reflection of your glasses, anything you wouldn't think could spook a trout probably has compromised a keen angler at some point.
As we continued, I've never seen geological structure so appealing for the entirety of a river. Literally every pool the whole day was as sexy as the last one. 10-15 foot deep bends with huge granite moss covered rock faces leaking spring water into the river.
We walked up on the next good pool and slowly scanned the depths. I didn't see anything about 10 meters up this 30-meter pool. Right near the top, there was a big black slab of rock in the middle of the white sandy bottom. The surface was covered by hydraulics created by the steep lip and large back eddy at the top of the run. I stopped my stride, and for a moment the surface cleared of churning water, and I barely spotted the outline of fins near the bottom. The fish had a greyish light blue hue to it as the sun lit up the giant pectoral fins. I pointed it out to Will, and after some short instructions on where to put the fly, he was ready to give it a shot. The fish was deep, 5-7 feet down, so we weren't worried about spooking it.
Directly downstream of it about 40 feet stood Will, with a rubber legged blow fly with a blue tinsel underbelly in hand. Below it, sinfully, a beadless pheasant tail. He squared up, made four false casts, drove it forward, and let it drop. A perfect cast about 10 feet upstream of the fish: the drift followed the slow inside seam down nice and steady. Will stripped in his excess line as the fly neared its fate. I was taking a video right before the fly reached where we thought the fish was and I peered around my phone screen to see the light colored fins of a massive brown trout turned sideways. As it moonwalked backward and breached the surface with its massive head turning 45 degrees downstream all I could think was “God, please wait to set the hook Will.” With flawless execution and nerves of steel he watched the biggest trout of his life engulf his dry fly, waited for it to turn back upstream, and easily lifted into a hookset. I shouted out “oh my god Will! You got him”
The fight only lasted about 40 seconds to a minute. He controlled the fish and pulled hard on it as it searched for a rock on the far side to rub the leader on. Eventually, the fish dropped out into the middle of the river and started death rolling on his leader. I told him to backpedal with the fish and get downstream of it.
Meanwhile, I hopped into the river with the net, as the fish settled I was in disbelief he had given up. I made eye contact with the brute, and came around above his head, scooped him head first and it was over. Will had just bagged his biggest wild trout ever and it was on a dry fly. We brought it to a side channel a few feet from the main river to unravel the line from it and snap a picture.
My first big trout in New Zealand was memorable don't get me wrong. Sharing the experience with your buddy leaves a lasting impression on both of you, which for me is way more meaningful than a PB fish solo. As we sat on the gravel next to the pool after releasing Will's brown, I looked upstream and said, “Well, we can keep hiking but I'm pretty content with that."
The rest of the day is history, we saw some of the most insane water we've ever seen. I had shots at three more fish, but let's just say the Trutta God's know when you're satisfied.