Waipahi River – In The Wrong Place Twice

Ross Dungey with rod and a nice brownie ready to be released and Selwyn Shanks with another brownie taken at the same spot. Waipahi River.
Ross Dungey with rod and a nice brownie ready to be released and Selwyn Shanks with another brownie taken at the same spot.

Waipahi River – Mataura, Waikaia – In The Wrong Place Twice

By Monty Wright

A few years back I ventured out on the 2nd of October heading south from Dunedin with the intention of fishing the Waipahi River. We had heard of course that the Waipahi River was very low as South Otago had had very little rain during the later part of the winter.

But I did not expect the Waipahi River to be as low as it was when we reached it. It was more like a mid-summer flow than the spring flow that we were used to. Although the water was nice and clear it meant that a lot of the early season’s good feeding runs had gone because the water was too shallow.

We had no sooner got out of the car than the wind realised we had arrived and tried to blow us all the way back to Dunedin again. Why is it that that happens as soon as you arrive on a fishing day?

After persevering for a couple of hours and seeing virtually no fish at all I was fishing a long slow glide with a considerable weed bed on the bottom. Most unusual for this time of the season. Walking upstream I was casting out a Gold Bead Head Nymph and just retrieving it slowly back over the weed beds when whack, a fish had a go at it but missed the hook.

His second attempt was better but he was only there for a few seconds and gone. At last my first adrenalin punch for the season. Three or four metres up and another couple of casts and a similar fish did the same thing.

This time a bit more fun but I lost it at the bank edge. Looking upstream I could see my fishing buddy for the day having lunch so headed up to see what success he had had. Very little he informed me but he had talked to anglers around the corner who were there first thing before the wind got up and had caught five fish on the dun.

The day by this stage had become slightly overcast. We decided to leave the Waipahi River and head further south to fish the Mataura. When we reached it it was high but clear and there were no fish rising.

Sorting ourselves out a pozy we persevered for a while but could see some heavy rain showers coming. Sheltering from one of these for a few seconds we spied a sheep stuck amongst some willow branches so the most exciting thing for the day was about to happen. We released it from the position it had been in for some days. Back to the water and we noted that it had risen considerably from where we left.

Twenty minutes or so went past and some duns poured off the water but no fish to be seen at all. Then suddenly like someone snapped their fingers trout rose everywhere. I quickly changed from a small unweighted hare’s ear nymph to an emerger but by the time I had it on the rise was over.

I noted an angler on the opposite side of the river catch a nice fish and yelled out to enquire what he had caught it on. A hare’s ear nymph he informed me.

Just then the rain started and my friend for the day hooked into a nice brown trout on the hare’s ear nymph in a run. As he started to play it the rain became heavier and heavier and by the time he had landed it, picked it up and we started charging back for the vehicle. We were soaked to the skin. Sitting in the vehicle looking south we thought we would call it a day and head home as it didn’t look as if it would improve at all.

For the next day of the season, we were out on the road and doing some work down south. Three of us decided after the day was over to head to the Waikaia River to stay in Selwyn Shanks’s crib for the night.

It wasn’t an early start as it was a late night and by the time we were on the water it was about 10 o’clock. The Waikaia was high but a little green, but still very fishable. I put on my chest-high waders, thought I’d be smart and crossed to the other side of the river.

There was a little backwash downstream which I wished to look at and a run that I’d caught some fish in late last season. But low and behold the backwash was empty and I spent an hour fishing the run for no return.

I noticed Ross was barely moving from where he was casting and obviously changing flies and casting again. So I moved on upstream spying one fish. Sitting behind a small willow I spent half an hour on it but couldn’t get it to take a thing.

Around the corner, into a little side braid, I spied another fish but the undercurrent from where it was sitting meant that any nymphs fished would end up in some dead branches. What the hell, we came here to fish, let’s do it.

I attempted to catch the fish with several nymphs losing three of them in the willow stumps and still haven’t touched the damned fish. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be my day. Catching up with Selwyn he’d informed me he’d had a ball. Caught and returned four fish for the time we’d been fishing.

We moved off back downstream and I showed him where the fish was sitting. After having several attempts again at it he cast the nymph up from a different angle and caught it. Don’t you hate that?

It was time to move on and we moved downstream to where the vehicles were parked across the river and met up with Ross who had had an excellent time catching and releasing three fish all on different nymphs. He had the same problem as I had had. The fish were very fussy.

Where a small stream ran in where the vehicles were parked we spied some fish feeding. The competition was on. We all had a crack but unfortunately never caught one but the photo with this article tells the story of the other two. Sometimes some people have all the luck. Well, I guess there’s a lot of season to go, hope my luck changes. 

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