I had in the past given some thought to being an expat – Dubai, Croatia, Japan, but an Aussie expat in New Zealand? Not really. As a fly angler having visited NZ on countless adventures, it almost felt like a second home anyway! All of those pre-planned fishing trips, most to the South Island, brought only good times as holidays always do. But, there was another side to making the not-so-anticipated-BIG move to New Zealand.
Settling into a new work contract, I found myself in a blissful situation taking as many fishing days off as I pleased (or so I thought!). What more could I have ever wanted? Adam – my husband – and I, moved to Central Otago in the South Island from a small suburb on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia in June of 2015. We chose to make our relocation to NZ mid-winter, so as to give ourselves a chance to settle in with as little “trout-y” distractions as possible. The weather was cold, most of the rivers closed, and our little gas heater was enough to keep us focused on organizing new drivers’ licenses, utilities accounts, buying a new car, opening new bank accounts, and the list went on.
Although I knew these chores had to be done, I hadn’t given them much thought in the first instance. The time I thought I’d be spending planning back country fishing expeditions – since this was now our backyard – was spent on the phone hooking up our internet connection. This was a small fall from grace and a reminder that I was still an adult - albeit feeling like a kid in a new playground - and there were other priorities to
We did make time to explore some new waters, systems we didn’t have time to visit during our three week NZ adventures visiting from Melbourne. We were astounded by the sheer volume of trout-holding water and fly fishing opportunity just begging to be explored and fished!
Our own back-door lake, Lake Dunstan has been mentioned in tales by the likes of Australian fly fisher and author John Sautelle; true to tale, this lake has brown and rainbow trout dying of old age! There are just not enough people fishing this lake. Lake Dunstan – more of a slow-moving section of the Clutha River between Bendigo and the dam wall at Clyde – runs along the highway and borders our little town of Cromwell. There are locals who sit in their boats trolling the edges with metal spoon lures, while they drink the local brew “Speights” from their “chilly bins” (coolers, or eskys). However, we’re always surprised at the lack of land-based anglers.
Lake Dunstan itself offers opportunity of willow grub feeding browns, mooching and tailing damsel fly nymph feeders, aerobatic dragonfly chasers, leisurely day time sight fishing … not to mention the morning and evening rises. So much water, so many fishing challenges and we haven’t even left our little town!
We did find ourselves in the ‘trap’ of packing our truck and driving two to three hours every weekend in search of fly fishing destinations. We swore to ourselves we wouldn’t do that, having such quality angling water so close to home. We leave as the sun is rising and drive past dozens of rising fish in Lake Dunstan on our way to somewhere else - CRAZY! After all, you don’t leave fish to find fish, right? Well we were wrong!
What we failed to remember was that as fly anglers, our fly fishing truly is about the journey we’re on, not about the volume of fish we catch. The journey and the challenges poised by the infamous South Island trout for instance - harder to catch than they look.
We’ve met some terrific people on our journeys to date, from the northern tip of the South Island to the very southern end. It’s true what they say about the south, southern hospitality lives on. Friendly faces always opening their homes for short-stays, just to share their little fly fishing slice of heaven with us. Our home base in Cromwell sees us up to three hours’ drive to many amazing waterways; truly spoilt for choice. The wondrous Fiordland, Southland including blue-ribbon streams such as the infamous Mataura, hydro rivers and lakes in the beautiful Mackenzie Country, just to name a few.
We have a back country river within one hour from our home, where the Big Browns grow; they are far and few between in the Nevis River and I am yet to land one of her trophies. But, I have seen the gifts this river so rarely gives up, and this in itself is enough to keep me improving my fly fishing ability, all in the hope of one day landing that fish of a lifetime.
Although it’s fair to say that the South Island waters we’ve seen or fished aren’t all back country blue ribbon rivers, they all hold their own trophies in their own right. Never underestimate the little pocket pool, in the narrow tributary you ‘accidentally’ stumble across on your way to your destination. I was completely floored after seeing Adam land a chunky 6-lb Brown in a small holding pocket of water. This trout was leaving small rings on the surface, sipping spinners like the small fish you’d picture in this size water. NEVER in my wildest dreams had I ever imagined the size of the fish beneath the surface from the size of the rings it was leaving. A pleasant surprise to say the least, and a thankful moment from the little river itself, all because we took the time to get out of our truck to explore.
Fly anglers from Victoria, Australia truly are a resilient bunch. Our fly fishing rivers are a tough ask in the best of times, and, as a result, they teach us to be skillful, gracious and thankful in our approach. In NZ’s South Island, these are the qualities that bring many joyful experiences, whether a fish is landed or not. I am thankful that I’m a Victorian fly angler, because even though we made the move to New Zealand, the fishing isn’t always easy and fulfilling. The journey always reminds us that the fish are just a small part of a bigger picture we had in mind when we made our move.
No matter what our future holds, our first New Zealand year will always keep the tales of our own little slice of fly angling heaven.