As I write this we have been in New Zealand for about 2 weeks. Our trip is about two-thirds over already. New Zealand is known for it's difficult technical fishing. Here on the South Island there aren't a lot of fish, at least not a lot compared to the well-stocked trout streams of Pennsylvania, our home state. That said, there are no stocked trout on these rivers. Each one is a wild fish and each one has survived floods of astronomical proportions, some each year. They are the strongest, smartest survivors. All the others are long gone.
On an average day of fishing, we probably walk 5-6 miles. Some days are shorter hikes, most are longer. Some days if we're lucky we may see a big fish about every mile. Once in a while we might see a couple fish within a short distance of each other but more often than not they are spread out with a lot of water and rocks in between. As if getting to these fish weren't difficult enough, once we find them it can really get technical. Someone once told me that a poor cast doesn't catch any fish and it's more true here than anywhere else.
Our go-to rods this trip are both Sage Rods, a 9' TCX and a 9-1/2' Z-Axis, both 5 weights loaded with Rio Grand willow floating fly lines. We usually keep one rod rigged for dries with a Chocklett cicada, parachute Adams, or Chernobyl beetle. The second rod almost always has two nymphs and often one or both will be a tungsten bead head. Most of the time our leaders are about 18 feet long. Add a pretty stiff breeze, sometimes gusts, and most of the time it seems that the wind is coming straight at us making the cast difficult to turn over and put in the right place.
There have been a dozen times (perhaps my guide would say more) when we finally find a fish, he's moving around feeding, and therefore "catchable". I get into position, get the line out, false cast out to the side of the fish carefully measuring my line only then to drop it either too close or too far upstream, too far right, or too far left. On occasion when I do drop it exactly where I want it, the current grabs it and it either pulls it out of his feeding lane or it drags. If everything is perfect (and I do mean everything), then the fish will usually eat the fly. If I continue to be lucky I will strike at the right nano-second and hook the fish. Then it's a contest to see who is the fittest - him as he races upstream and down or me as I try to dance across the rocks both wet and dry trying to stay connected. Once in a while I win, once in a while he wins.
One of the problems is that first cast that didn't quite work out the way I wanted it to. Probably with trout everywhere, but especially here, if he doesn't eat the first cast he is put on alert and then becomes much harder to fool. It's not to say he can't be caught, but you've just stacked the odds more in his favor and less in yours. Making a good first cast is so very important. It's bad news if it lands wrong or if the leader doesn't turn over and turning over a 18' leader with tungsten bead head nymphs is not for the faint of heart, however there are a couple things that can help us get the job done.
The first thing is to be sure of the amount of line you're casting. This much I've learned the hard way. Thankfully there is usually a white wool indicator on the leader. By casting out to the side of the fish you should most of the time be able to judge how much line you're casting and know when you've got the right amount. Then move the cast back to where the fish is and present it. If you false cast over the fish you will run the risk of him seeing the cast, the indicator, or the shadow of the line.
The second thing that helps me is to not watch the fish but concentrate on the spot up in front of him where you want your fly to land. Your cast will have the tendency to go where you are looking. If you're concentrating on the fish you may hit him on the head with the flies and trust me, they don't like that.
If you're not comfortable casting such a long leader and most of us aren't, get 3 or 4 feet of fly line out beyond your rod tip before starting to cast. When walking from one spot to another, hook the bottom nymph in a snake guide pretty far up the rod and then bring the leader back around the reel seat and reel in the slack. When you're get ready to cast again, pull a couple inches of line off the reel and drop the line from around the reel and while still holding the leader, tap the rod blank and the fly will drop out of the guide. Before letting go of the leader pull some extra fly line out beyond the rod tip with your free hand. Then toss the leader into the water, do a quick roll cast to get it out in front so you can then pick it up and start to cast. This is also a good trick for fishing streamers or nymphs back home with split shot or a sink-tip.
It's important that you remember to lengthen your casting stroke as the amount of line increases that your casting. In other words, as you shoot line thus increasing the amount of line that your casting, lengthen the stroke. Take the rod further back in the back and in the front. Many times, just a couple inches in each direction will smooth out the cast and make it more manageable. Remember the quick stop with the rod tip at each end of the casting stroke so you don't sacrifice line speed.
Another thing that will help a lot is a good sharp single haul at the end of the forward cast to help increase line speed and turn over the long leader and heavy flies. Whenever you need more line speed, it will be easier to get it from a good haul (in the right place) then to try casting the rod harder which can result in a tailing loop. In this example, it's important to put the haul at the front end of the forward cast. Don't spread it out over the entire casting stroke because you'll waste most of it. Wait until the rod gets in front of your shoulder before starting the haul.
The last thing is to make sure you're far enough behind the fish to make a cast using some fly line. It's easy to sneak up behind the fish and sometimes we can get so close that we don't have much line to cast. This is especially true in rough water or when the fish is deep. By getting back a bit further we put more distance between us and the fish, therefore using more fly line to reach the fish which makes the cast easier to execute. It is much harder to cast just the leader when you're close then it is to cast a few yards of fly line and leader. Simply backing up may make the cast easier in the long run.
Places like New Zealand make us become better anglers. So much of the time, it's little things that we can do that make us better fishermen. That said, I think my guide is waiting for me. We'll see what today brings! Cathy.
Barry and Cathy Beck
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