Never Fail with Killer Patterns – Fly Fishing the Clutha with the “across and down method”
by Dick Marquand
It is a sad fact that the upper Clutha River does not fish as well as it used to. The massive caddis hatches and corresponding evening rises during the warm summer and autumn evenings are but a memory to the more elderly anglers. It is also obvious that trout numbers aren’t a patch on what they were a decade earlier.
Fisheries managers believe that more than one factor has caused the demise of this well known and once famous fishery. The introduction of dangerous pesticides such as DDT, the changing farm and land management practices, the variation of water flows caused by the impoundment control structure at the Lake Hawea outlet and water abstraction from important spawning tributaries are all factors affecting the upper Clutha River angling resource.
Some of the local anglers blame the black shags, birds they class as vermin. For sure, the trout ﬁshing in the upper Clutha is not as good as it once was, but it is a lot better than it could be. In more recent times, two of my better Clutha trout have been a 3.7kg brownie and a 2.9kg rainbow, both magnificent ﬁsh, and both taken on the dry fly. The truth is that there is still some excellent fishing available in the upper Clutha River for those anglers prepared to get off their backsides and go prospecting in this fascinating river.
To be successful, the ﬂy fishing enthusiast needs to be versatile; there are times when a dry fly is the best choice and there are other times when a weighted nymph is the secret of success. On occasions, when the river seems barren of trout, I dig deep in my ﬂy vest for my trusty old Mitchell 754 fly reel with its Cortland WF6S line.
The “across and down method” with a sinking ﬂy line is deadly on the upper Clutha rainbow population, particularly with the killer pattern flies such as the Hamill’s Killer and Mrs Simpson. Both work with equal efficiency and as far as the body colour is concerned, I prefer red, although I have also had success with the yellow bodied killer patterns.
I have found that rainbow trout tend to prefer the faster water and so when I decide to fish a pool, I start well upstream of its head. I cast at a right angle, directly across the water, allowing the current to swing the line 45deg before I commence a fast retrieve.
As I draw the line, I allow the slack to fall at my feet. When the fly is retrieved, I cast out again directly across the water and take one step downstream. By repeating this over and over again, it stands to reason that all the water in the pool is eventually covered. This is an efficient and deadly method
which ensures that every trout in the pool is given the opportunity of an engagement.
In the upper Clutha River is a pool that I call the “never fail pool.” Rain, wind or shine, this pool has always produced rainbow trout, and in some cases quite respectable fish. The pool has only one fault; the river must be in full flow, this usually coinciding with the control gates at the Lake Hawea outlet being open.
The “never fail pool” is the perfect water for holding trout. As the blue water of the Clutha River sweeps down the valley on its way to Lake Dunstan, a side channel diverts some of the ﬂow creating an island between the main river and the side stream. The smaller section goes through a series of short ripples and runs, before bubbling down a rapid to a long deep pool into which the mainstream of the Clutha flows. This pool is excellent holding water and on occasions has produced for me not only rainbow trout but brown trout and even the odd landlocked quinnat salmon. The lush submerged aquatic vegetation is clear evidence of a stable bed and a pool that is highly suitable for holding fish out of the main flow.
Recently, I found myself with little to do around home and with thoughts of hungry rainbows on my mind, I headed up the road and across dry parched farmland to this favourite stretch of water. Owning a Landrover has its distinct advantages, and I was able to park beside the mighty Clutha River. The day was anything but an angler’s day, the sky was a sombre grey and a strong norwester swayed the Lombardy poplars and threatened to tear branches from the creaking cracked willows.
“What the hell,” I thought to myself as I finished threading ﬂy-line through the snake guides on the 6 weight Loomis. I then turned my attention to the head of the pool. A great comfort about this pool is that it can be fished without getting wet boots.
The No. 8 Hamill’s Killer followed the buffeting loop of fly line and landed close to the bank on the opposite side of the pool. The first couple of casts did not bear fruit, but then I’d started well above the best part of the pool.
The first hint of action was a slight resistance on the line and as I struck hard with the IMX, a ﬂash of silver ignited an explosive leap as a fine rainbow cleared the water by half a metre. A long powerful run ended with another high flying leap, then the trout went deep to lug it out. A couple of minutes later, I eased a 1.2kg hen to the edge of the pool removed the ﬂy and sent the trout on its way.
Three casts later, another strike deep in the pool produced a colourful jack fish, a perfect partner in size and condition to the first. I sat down for ten minutes to let the pool settle and decided to replace the battered Hamill’s Killer with a Mrs Simpson. The blasting norwester eased off a little so I decided to carry on fishing.
It wasn’t easy to cast across the buffeting wind, but at least the evidence of the sloppy landing of both line and fly was lost on the rippling surface of the pool.
The next strike was heavy and as I struck, the line parted company with the ﬂy. I was left watching a respectable 2kg rainbow breaking free from the surface in a series of four or five leaps.
“Most probably the best trout in the pool,” I said to myself after realising that the fault was entirely my own, the result of either a damaged tippet or perhaps a casting knot.
A couple of casts later, a brand new Mrs Simpson was initiated into the ways of a hungry rainbow trout. This was a good jack, deep in the body with the width and weight to match. I estimated the fish to weigh around 1.kg. As the grey threatening clouds approached along the side of the Pisa Range, a distant clap of thunder had an ominous tone and threat. Not being a person keen to wave an electrode skywards during a violent electrical storm, I decided that there was probably time for only one more trout.
When I felt the familiar resistance on the fly line, I struck and the Loomis bowed to yet another rainbow, the smallest of the day yet still a royal opponent. A few minutes later, I released the well-conditioned hen of less than a kg. Four trout in forty minutes, the “never fail pool” had lived up to its name.
As I closed the last gate and headed out on to the highway, the first of the big raindrops started to fall.
My mind drifted back to the pool and I wondered, perhaps a big brownie lay motionless on the bottom, in the belly of the deep blue pool just behind the large clump of aquatic vegetation. If so, like me, it would have to wait until next time.