The search for fish never ends
Fly fishing is a wonderful sport and one of the great joys of fishing is exploration. To an angler and guide, the mystery of exploration and discovery is an intoxicating experience where you go to beautiful places in search of beautiful wild trout.
Over the years I've made some amazing fishing discoveries and also found some real dogs.
In my younger years as a single man, I had the resources and opportunities to head off to all points of the compass at any opportunity. Having fishing customers that also enjoyed exploring only fed my addiction to fishing new rivers.
Back in the good old days when the world was awash in money, many fishing customers even willingly funded exploratory helicopter excursions in search of fly fishing's holy grail.
When you figure in exploration by hiking, 4WD, boat, raft, jetboat, mountainbike, and fixed wing aeroplane, there is much of the northern South Island that I have already seen, but there are still many places to go because one man couldn't explore the South Island fully in a lifetime.
I'm always looking for new fishing and hunting places to go and realised long ago that the journey is what I crave most and not necessarily the destination.
Anticipation and adrenaline are the real kick, even when the actual fishing may be disappointing.
I'm always planning the next trip, often telling my wife Aimee that it's the opportunity of a lifetime. Aimee usually has a different opinion, sometimes telling me that I have "trips of a lifetime" every week over summer.
The West Coast has always been the apple-of-my-exploration-eye and I just love it there.
Maybe it's because I'm of West Coast stock or maybe I just love the wild places, the clear rivers, gnarly gorges, swamps, rainforest jungles, sandflies and Monteiths beer. I'm getting close to having visited much of the West Coast but there are still a few valleys and streams that alluringly remain a mystery to me and continue to draw me back time and again. Years ago I even suggested selling up in Nelson and moving down the ‘Coast but Aimee told me I'd be very happy down there, on my own.
The people of the West Coast are part of the attraction too. You meet some real characters on your travels in the back blocks and West Coasters are some of the most genuine people you will ever encounter.
I love it when gas station staff address me by name when I'm passing through town, or when publicans joke with my anglers and when accommodation providers go out of their way to assist our adventures.
You meet some amazing people on the Coast, and these personal interactions add real and tangible value to every fishing experience. On the Coast surnames still mean something and it's probably not unlike the Highlands of Scotland where clan affiliation is everything.
One time we walked into the Ikamatua Pub, which was in full swing and packed with beer-swilling revellers. Heading to the men's room, a huge, rugged, bearded, inebriated man confronted me at the urinal.
"Who are you?" he asked menacingly. Apprehensively I told him I was a Mirfin. "I'm a McEnroe" my new friend exclaimed while changing hands in full flow and enthusiastically shaking my right hand. You never know who you'll meet on the Coast and that's always more than half the adventure.
My last trip down the Coast was another cracker. I'd been fishing with Fred Young and his 25 year old daughter Mindy up at Nelson Lakes for a few days before heading for the Coast.
I'd been hearing about Mindy from Fred ever since she was a little girl, but she'd grown into an intelligent and attractive woman, who is a talented professional photographer.
Fred and I have fished together many times over the past 20 years or so and have had some awesome adventures and fun together. One time Fred threw an apple and can of corned beef across a swollen Roaring Lion river to me when I got stuck on the wrong side of the river from the hut on an early morning deerstalking foray.
Fred even taught me about fishing his secret "leech" fly which has caught a lot of trout for us together over the years.
One time in a howling gale force nor-wester we took shelter in the truck as the trees doubled over and touched the ground. Fred reckoned he's never seen a vehicle rocking so much since his university days, but we went out and fished anyway into the crashing lakeside waves.
Fred caught a miraculous draught of trout on his "leech" and it's been part of our angling repertoire together ever since.
On our recent way westward to the Coast, the rain started to pour, and pour some more. We kept driving eventually ending up at Lake Haupiri, where it continued to pour.
Fred wasn't in any hurry to fish and we spent the whole afternoon in the vehicle with Mindy, while the boat filled with water on the trailer, regaling her with tales of fishing adventures past.
Eventually we gave up, decided fishing was a no-go, and headed for the Stationhouse Cafe at Moana for fine dining and cold beer.
The rivers may have been swollen and raging but the lakes were prime for fishing the next day and Fred had plenty of leeches in his fly box. We fished the flooded forest, swamps and edges with boat and electric positioning motor, stalking in on fish rooting around amongst the reeds and snags.
It was a stellar day and we caught trout after trout, by far our best day of the trip.
Soon it was time for Fred and Mindy to head over the hill to Canterbury, but I was honoured when Mindy hugged me like an old friend and thanked me for allowing her to become part of the fishing history too.
I'd been looking forward to staying down the Coast for a few more days and doing more personal exploration, something that's a lot harder to do these days with more work and a growing family to supervise.
I had a plan of where to go and what to do when Aimee rang. She had more guiding work for me and she was sending Daniel of Switzerland down the Coast to Brunner to meet up with me.
My exploration time on my own was now one day so I had to go turbo. I drove, walked, and fished.
At one new bridge I spied two fish from the vehicle. Grabbing my rod I was fortunate to catch both trout with consecutive casts.
One river I'd always wanted to fish was the upper Crooked, a tributary of Lake Brunner. The river was beautiful, everything I'd ever imagined, and I was all alone, until another angler drove up.
Christchurch ATV and watercraft dealer, Mike Phillips was a positive and affable bloke and we decided to share the water together.
The fishing on the short section before an impenetrable gorge was tough with spooky and angler-educated trout but Mike managed a nice brown on one of my small sparsely tied flies. As he dropped me back at my truck in his black Range Rover, we resolved to keep in touch and go fishing together again.
The night before I was fortunate to encounter the landowner on the upper Crooked out herding sheep on the back road.
As we shared a beer from my chillibin, he despaired the exponential growth of the dairy industry and told me how the Puzzle stream and its tributaries that we looked out across, once ran black with spawning trout when he was a boy.
Trout are just a measure of water and habitat quality, the virtual canaries in an environmental mineshaft, and like me, Bruce was very concerned for the future of many West Coast lowland rivers, lakes and spring creeks.
It's a complicated scenario of human causes, land use, and naturally occurring high intensity "weather bombs", but I was unable to name even one river that has got better over time when asked by a guest at the motel complex I was staying that night.
Unfortunately, as I grow older and wiser as an angler, there is increased urgency in my need to explore and experience as many rivers as I can before my dotage.
It's a difficult task to explain my passion for exploring new rivers, but maybe I just need to fish as many rivers as possible before they are degraded and gone.