One week recently we had heat waves, urban water restrictions, low rivers and high water temperatures. The next week we had heavy rains and flooding further south, followed by high winds, cold blustery conditions, lightning, thunderstorms, and even snow on the mountain tops.
Everyone knows New Zealand has a volatile mix of extreme weather, partly due to a maritime climate situated on the edge of the Roaring Forties. But after choosing to work outside and stand in the weather and rivers for the past 27 years as a professional fishing guide, I'd have to say the weather does appear to be more extreme than we ever had to deal with in the past.
Climate change sceptics abound, but I'm not one of them because I've personally stood in the water, got wet and watched the changes. Watching the TV news and reading the paper reinforces the changes with floods, mudslides, hurricanes and snow storms regular fare in global media reports. Interestingly, 2011 was a disaster for insurance companies, with Lloyds of London especially hit hard by record catastrophe claims in a year of earthquakes, floods and storms. Personally I don't feel too sympathetic for the insurance companies though, because in the end it is the taxpayer, ratepayer and individual who always pays.
My belief is that Mother Nature will continue to challenge humanity and that extreme weather is here to stay. The best thing we can do into the future is to stay out of the way of our rivers and oceans. Fortunately, technology has allowed outdoor people to cope more effectively with the extremes Mother Nature can throw at us.
Accurate weather forecasting, satellite imagery and modern communications have allowed us to check out what's coming and allow us to plan where to go, when and what to avoid.
With experience you can hunt or fish in any extreme weather situation once you understand weather patterns, river catchments and wind directions. In fact, some of the best results can be obtained in extreme conditions when no-one in their right mind would be out there. You'll have no competition and the fish and animals will have their defences down, often making them an easy target.
Modern equipment also helps with breathable Gore-Tex waders, thermal clothing, waterproof dry bags and premium raingear all helping to keep you warm and dry even in volatile and inclement conditions.
Fishing in the rain is totally possible and I much prefer it to fishing in extreme wind conditions. Further south from Nelson and Tasman, there are often two fishing choices - cope with rain on the West Coast or brave the dreaded nor-wester wind on the east coast.
If you choose to fish in the rain you'll eventually get wet, no matter how good your gear is and you always need to exercise caution being near rising rivers. Often the best strategy is to avoid fishing in the worst of the weather and making sure you're in position to capitalise on the conditions as the weather improves and the rivers fall. During the absolute worst of the weather, game and fish often seek shelter as the barometer plummets and rivers rise, and it can be a big ask to produce miracle catches in low atmospheric pressure conditions.
Headwater fisheries are the first to clear. With steep catchments and forested slopes, they rise fast and drop fast. Lowland streams take longer to clear, but different catchments vary and there's always hope at the confluence of clear flowing tributaries, spring creeks, and backwaters. Lake fisheries are especially good after torrential rain, as flooded margins provide a feeding bonanza for hungry trout. A boat is best to access these places as you can avoid dangerous wading through mud, weed, and channels of unknown depth to access trout patrolling the flooded margins.
Last week we had a marvellous adventure with Swiss angling couple, Maurice Perret and Senta Eschler. Fishing around Nelson Lakes area we encountered bad weather, bleak conditions and high rivers, but the fishing was great.
Bad news then when Steve Anderson of St Arnaud showed us the weather forecast for following days. The Milford track had already been shut with trampers trapped by rising floodwaters and the rain storm was headed north with high intensity extreme rainfall predicted.
We had two fishing choices - either stay put and ride it out or to drive through the worst of the storm and position ourselves for clearing weather behind further south. We chose the latter and what a drive. Like something out of Mr Toad's wild ride, we headed west into increasing rainfall. The Owen was on the point of blowing out, the Mangles was full and black and the Matakitaki was high and muddy. Following the twisted and tangled gorges of the Buller gorge, we followed the route of explorer Thomas Brunner as rivers exploded before us.
The Inangahua river was huge, and little did we know that roads were being closed all over the South Island due to extreme flooding, slips and even bridges blowing out.
It was a real adventure to experience the full fury of mother nature as she threw everything at the environment. Rain splashed off the road, waterfalls appeared on hillsides and cascaded over the road. Hawks Crag on the lower Buller was especially impressive, with water surging off the hillside creating a virtual tunnel as the river raged below. Later the road closed behind us, with several large slips trapping motorists.
At Punakaiki we were the best dressed people around as our Gore-Tex waders and raingear kept us warm and dry, while the rain pelted down and the wind howled. The coastal storm surge was huge.
"Unbelievable" as Maurice kept repeating. The blowholes and pancake rocks were at their finest, as the rain being driven sideways forced surges of water into the limestone cavities.
At Greymouth, we marvelled at what we had experienced over a fine meal and beers at the Speights Ale House, while it continued to rain cats and dogs. Outside we debated the sanity of crossing the road to the vehicle in the torrential deluge.
Next stop was Moana township at Lake Brunner, passing by flooded farmland under sheets of surface water from rain and nearby creeks and rivers. Overnight my boat continued to fill with water and even though I had the bungs open there was still stuff floating there in the morning. But the worst had passed and we were in "the zone". Brunner was high, though we were optimistic as the sun came out but unfortunately so did the clearing SW gales.
We found sheltered water amongst the flooded kahikatea forest and sodden pastures. The fishing was awesome with cruising trout hungry for our flies. Perhaps the biggest challenge was avoiding all the fences, as I rowed and spotted trout about three paddocks back from the normal lake edge.
It was special fishing and later that afternoon we switched lakes for some variety, fishing Lake Poerua into the early evening as the trout fed on. Navigating the boat through narrow avenues of kahikateas, avoiding fences, and casting to visible trout capped off a classic day.
The floodwaters were dropping now and we would have great fishing over following days on headwater streams and helicopter access waters. Yet, my favourite moment of the week came at the boat ramp celebrating with a beer as Maurice enthused, "We have caught the golden beasts of the flooded forest."
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