New Zealand rainbow trout.
Guide Brent Piri with a silvery New Zealand rainbow trout.

New Zealand at last - Part II

Part II of our look at South Island travel.

Maori Magic

After fishing with van da Loo, I caught an Air New Zealand island hopper to Wellington, the capital, and went on to Taupo. There, I fished the Tauranga-Taupo River with guide Brent Pirie, a spry 50-year-old who has been guiding in the North Island for 14 years. The freestone river, not as well known as the nearby Tongariro, gave up some really fat, healthy rainbows on the fly, my largest going over 6 pounds. I spied that one rising 2 inches off a rock wall in what is known as the Cliff Pool, and was able to plop my fly, a spidery looking thing called a Turks Tarantula, right into his feeding lane. His dogged fight, with hard runs up and down the pool, almost breaking me off on an underwater log, was just spectacular.

New Zealand rainbow trout.
Guide Brent Piri with a silvery New Zealand rainbow trout.

Brent and I had fished on Maori forest land, hiking to the river through a dense forest of fir trees and lupin and Toi Toi bushes, the latter characterized with white, streaming, brush-like heads. We hit many deep, fishy looking pools as we went. The Maoris, who came to New Zealand from Polynesia in 1280, before the Europeans even knew it existed, make up 14 percent of the country’s population today. Their rich culture is found everywhere, from the loud, exotic native dances (called “Kapa haka”), to haunting music performed with trumpets (“putatara”) and wooden flutes (“koauau”) that are played through the nostril, to native delicacies such as fish wrapped and steamed in peppery taro leaves in a “Hangi,” or pit fire.

Motueka River - New Zealand
Guide Paul van da Loo on the Motueka River.

New Zealand at last - Part I

A look at fly fishing travel to a top bucket list destination.

There was no denying it the day was going downhill. I was fishing the Wairau River, a pristine wilderness stream that rose in the evergreen-blanketed Saint Arnaud Range on New Zealand’s South Island, then wound and snaked its way through narrow gorges and valleys for 150 kilometres before reaching the Pacific. It was a gorgeous late-summer day, with temperatures in the 70s, not a cloud in the sky. I was standing in water so clean and pure you could drink it; 20 yards ahead, water was cascading through as pretty a riffle as you’d ever want to see, flowing into a deep, azure-blue turn pool. Such pools, as I’d discovered in the past few hours, often held at least one trophy brown trout, fish that averaged 4 pounds and went up to 8 or 9.

Motueka River - New Zealand
Guide Paul van da Loo on the Motueka River.

Behind me, my guide, Paul van da Loo, wiped a grimace off his face, and remarked, “Well, let’s hike up to the next pool. That fish you just missed isn’t coming back.”

And so it had gone that morning. In the first two pools, I had struck too slowly when my dry fly strike indicator suddenly disappeared beneath the water, the trout below spitting out my No. 18 gray nymph well before my reaction. Then, at the next pool, I piled up my 18-foot leader right on top of a trout sitting behind a midstream boulder, sending him fleeing from the pool as if the Forces of Darkness were attacking. Later, I lined another fish. When I finally did hook one, a monster that had to go at least 7 pounds, his downstream run out of the pool was so powerful that I broke him off in seconds.

Trinity River BigfootT

Half-pounders in Sasquatch country

"I want to report a bigfoot encounter."

It was a typically misty autumn night in October 1998, and I was busy putting the Times-Standard newspaper to bed along with handful of folks on the copy desk when the phone rang.

“Newsroom,” I answered quickly, annoyed that someone would be calling within minutes of the copy deadline.

Trinity River steelhead

“Yeah,” a shaky male voice on the other end of the line said, somewhat hesitantly. “Is this the newspaper in Eureka?”

“Yep,” I said, phone to my ear, eye on the newsroom clock.

“I want to report a Bigfoot encounter.”

Everglades Black Drum
The prom queen (photo: Dan Decibel).

An awakening in The Glades

I’m not a morning person. A 7 a.m. trico hatch? No way. Give me an evening Drake hatch any day. Tailing reds at sunrise? Not a chance. I’ll be there at sunset.

But my perspective on early-morning fishing all changed one Sunday when I met Dan Decibel for a late December trip to Flamingo.

Everglades Black Drum
The prom queen (photo: Dan Decibel).

I called him the night before from my hotel in Homestead. It was late. I asked what time we should meet. Thinking we’d meet at 7 or 8 AM, Dan suggested 5. I set the alarm for 4:15 and made sure the coffee pot worked. Four hours later, Dan’s silver truck pulled into the hotel parking lot, a Gheenoe Low Tide in tow.

Sustained by Red Bull and breakfast bars, we drove toward Florida City. About an hour later, we arrived in Flamingo, the southernmost point of Everglades National Park, greeted by hordes of blood-sucking mosquitoes.

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