Buggers and Beetles in the New Zealand Backcountry

Written by: Kendrick Chittock

Buggers and Beetles

This is what makes the long tramp into the wilderness worthwhile.

photo courtesy Kendrick Chittock

[Editor’s note: We featured a great photo essay by Kendrick Chittock last month, and he’s back with another tale of fishing the New Zealand backcountry.]

The stream below was not clear, but flowed a translucent turquoise around boulders and brush. Halfway across a narrow, bouncing swing bridge of wire and mesh built to hold one, the sun beat hot against my laden pack, putting ever more rhythm to the moving steps beneath me. I’ve never been much for “tramping,” as the kiwis call it, but an old friend and a river known to hold trout of renown were excuse enough for me to fill up my overnight pack and stuff it with my fishing supplies. A few hours later, with sweaty shirts and subtle sunburn, we came to our shelter.

Alone on the edge of a lightly wooded plateau above the river, we picked out bunks and busted out the rods and boots for a walk along the riverbed. Deciding to walk downstream from the hut on the first day turned out to be the best plan, as another angler had already fished directly upstream during our walk-in. As we turned to start back upstream, the wind made sighting a bit difficult, but the first fish that we saw could not be missed. A dragon of a trout, hulkingly fit, glided by in all its golden glory from somewhere upstream. Upon seeing us, however, the fish spooked off. With no chance of even a thought at casting, I steadied my heart and continued upstream. Bar none, it was the biggest trout I have seen in New Zealand.

Buggers and Beetles

Walking through the New Zealand wilderness offers some stunning vistas.

photo courtesy Kendrick Chittock

The wind was nice enough to blow away the sand flies but made presenting the fly on a 5-weight quite the challenge. I had to get creative and found myself crawling up the back of a boulder to drop in a chunky fly above a fish sitting in the forward eddy. My attempts resulted in naught but laughs from my friend and certainly no fish.

Had I not seen the stars that night, I would have surely awoken a lesser man. The Milky Way was bright enough to show its darker blemishes, and I lost count of the shooting stars after fifteen minutes. Of all the lights on the earth now and ever, none can substitute for the ones that come out at night.

Day two was set to be more successful, and as the sun burned away the low hanging clouds in the valley, the river was ripe. The wind had died, releasing the tiniest of tormentors that make tying a fly in cold winter steelheading weather seem like a beach. Despite my now red-freckled hands, I spotted a fish and for half an hour watched it feed on everything except my flies. Finally having had enough, it departed to find another angler, I’m sure. I, however, felt the pool was too good to be passed on and changed to a black Woolly Bugger. Only a couple blind casts in and a trout rose to take it from the middle of the water column and battled me enough before its capture to bend the hook. It was more yellow than gold, and set our mood right for lunch.

Buggers and Beetles

This dragon brown trout fell for a sparkly beetle pattern.

photo courtesy Kendrick Chittock

Towards the end of the day, we spied a fish lurking in shallower water over some larger cobbles. I took up position behind and out of sight and presented a few offerings to no avail. I would love to write down my justification or reasoning for choosing certain flies, but those inspirations are as random as they are pre-ordained. On this particular cast, a green Manuka Beetle, a seasonal favourite, glinted enough in the light for a neighbouring fish to pop out of the water and land in my net. It was a bit heavier than the last, and I was certainly more thrilled than my photo shows.

Our walk out of the valley that evening ended over the same swing bridge, but this time, a trout floated calmly through the pool sipping on something too small to be seen; another river for another day. If only I could have days enough for them all.

Buggers and Beetles

That’s a lot of fish for a 4-weight.

photo courtesy Kendrick Chittock

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