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HEAVEN DOWN UNDER
Robert F. Jones
October 07, 1974
Planted way back in the mid-1800s, brown and rainbow trout have flourished to the point where New Zealand's waters now form a sort of celestial fish farm
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October 07, 1974

Heaven Down Under

Planted way back in the mid-1800s, brown and rainbow trout have flourished to the point where New Zealand's waters now form a sort of celestial fish farm

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That evening, after wading through the long dusk far up a side stream, we returned to a sheepherder's scruffy hut where we planned to camp. This was no Huka Lodge. The corpses of a few hundred huge, bottle-green bush flies adorned the windowsills, and heat was provided by a shocking-pink wood-burning stove. On the walls of the hut, ripped out of magazines, were black and white photographs of immensely obese people, among them one identified as Fran Fullenwider ("42-36-60"), America's answer to Twiggy. "Some sheepherders get jaded," explained Fred.

The country was bald and brown in the last light, bigger even than Montana, but with much the same sense of barren, impartial strength. We camped at the head of the Mararoa flowage, where two rivers snaked down from the cold, hard heights and a clump of virgin bush remained. "The Shirker's Bush, we call it," said Fred. "Back during World War I a bloke hid out up there; lived off rabbits and trout, he did. In those days the rabbits were so thick that at dusk, when they came out to feed, you would swear the mountain was walking away from you. The whole ruddy thing quivered and shook and stalked about. The shirker's family was Irish Republicans, you see, and they hated Britain. After the war, he came out of the bush and lived a normal life, happily ever after."

The next morning we cast to 34 fish, all clearly visible under the banks of the brightly lit lake. No more than six of them cased the offering; only two rose to the fly. One merely mouthed it, then spat it out. The other took the fly with gusto, but as the loglike fish sank back down to holding depth, I struck so hard in my frustrated eagerness that the fly flew 10 feet behind me, hanging up in the bush while the big, contemptuous brownie turned his back and sank out of sight. "He was a player, all right," said laconic Fred. Gentleman to the end, he made no reference to the angler's incompetence.

The situation was rectified later, on both the Upukerora and Clinton rivers, but that first experience with the disdainful brownies of Southland is perhaps the most realistic for an American fly fisherman approaching New Zealand with visions of plenty dancing in his head. The brown trout of Kiwiland are as wily as their relatives anywhere in the world, whether on the Test in England or the Yellowstone in Montana. They are, however, about twice as big on the average, thus no one should feel put-upon by having to exert twice the effort to catch them or to exercise twice the willpower to release them when and if the chance comes to do so. Thanks to the British Empire, which brought the fly rod and its unique sporting mystique with it, along with those splendid trout, a man could fish New Zealand all his life and never grow bored.

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