Oreti River – ”If it is over your ankles fish it”
by Bryce Stupples
“Sometimes ﬂicking a ﬂy or spinner in water that looks a waste of time but hasn’t been flogged may recoup unexpected rewards.”
Whilst being brought up amongst a family of ﬁshermen (the males anyway), I was taught how to read ”fishy” water. This typically involved the traditional long slow deep hole, the calm patch to the side of where the rapids enter a pool, and the good old rainbows preference, the long bouldery run.
All the above generally required a substantial ﬂow/volume of water. These early impressions of “fishy” trout water stuck with me and saw me concentrate all my time and energy on these “ideal” pieces of fish holding water. The problem with this, as I have come to realise, is that these are where the majority of other anglers also tend to concentrate their efforts. In these the days of the diminishing wilderness due to ease of accessibility and either incredibly wary or non-existent trout due to angling pressure, these stretches of water that used to make me drool with anticipation often result in a degree of bemusement and leaves me pondering ”surely there must have been a good fish in that stretch”. The reality is that there probably was at the start of the season and since then a dozen other fishermen have probably also drooled in the same anticipation.
Since moving to Southland, a lot of my trout fishing has been centred around the Oreti River. This river originates in the Thomson Mountains and makes its 130km journey to meet the sea just west of Invercargill.
It has good access available through-out its reaches and holds large numbers of Brown Trout whilst targeting my ideal fishy water for the first few years anticipating a trophy fish, I became incredibly adept at catching ﬁsh of about 1-2 pounds, but too often I was left with that bemused feeling.
This changed a couple of years ago whilst out with a fellow fishing buddy Chalky and his son. These two guys always seemed to catch fish and good sized ones at that. One particular day on the Oreti just below Dipton, I was halfway across this shallow rapid on a side stream (about shin deep) drooling at this magnificent hole over in the main current. Chalky’s son came up behind me had two casts and was into a fish. I was gutted. Here was this lovely little trout that had been sitting in a piece of water I deemed in my mind and experience to be a waste of time. This fish hadn’t even been spooked by me splashing through this shallow water of its lie.
”Oh well,” I thought and continued to drool in expectation of my “fishy” water in the main channel. Needless to say half an hour later I still had no joy and was left to ponder that “useless” piece of water I had waded through earlier.
The following season I was out with Chalky again on the Oreti but further up on the way to Te Anau. Chalky had caught some big fish up there the previous week so I was keen to get out and catch something worthy.
When I got to the river I needed to put a bib on. I was drooling so much. What magniﬁcent “ﬁshy” water this was. After two hours of fishing and now with an extremely dry mouth and wet shirt, I had only managed to get a pull out of one fish. Bemusement was setting in.
Earlier I had looked at a small side stream and had decided that it didn’t look “fishy” as it really was only a trickle about 5-10cm deep, about 2 metres wide and it branched off a long way from the main water.
I then recounted my lesson from last year and further justified it as just having an explore. Off l set across country albeit without a lot of enthusiasm.
When I got to this side stream, I nearly turned around and walked straight back. It was still the same trickle as I had seen when it entered the main water. I decided to walk upstream anyway, putting odds on the fact there was probably a traditional “fishy” bit of water where the side stream left the main channel.
But hang on something was wrong. There was no urgent tugs and no splashing around on the surface. This fish was staying on the bottom. I applied some side strain and instantly got a response.
The biggest trout I had hooked into for probably 20 years took off downstream and after only a few metres ran out of water. It turned around and went to go upstream only to encounter the same problem. After doing this a couple of times it then came back to its original spot and sat. I was in a dilemma as I felt my 6lb line would not be able to drag this fish out and due to the lack of water, it would still have plenty of fight in it.
After about five minutes of putting some weight on it, I decided to go in after it with the net. Next problem. This fish was significantly larger than any trout I had caught for a while and I started to question if my net was large enough. To get in the net the fish would have to go in straight either head or tail first!
I waded into the water behind the fish (it was just over my ankles) with my arms outstretched and the rod tip taking the pressure directly in front of the fish (hardly textbook fish playing strategy).
I then positioned the net behind it and gave the line some slack. The fish drifted back slightly as I moved the net forward and up. I had it!
My initial excitement saw me predicting 10lbs plus, however, the scales said 8lb even. Still, I let out a whoop and a holler and allowed myself a celebratory cigarette. This fish was bigger than my son David born a week earlier at 7-1/2lb, so definitely another proud moment for me.
As I drew on my cigarette and looked at the shallow water the lesson was clear. On this river, you need to fish ALL the water. Indeed that day on that side stream I saw another two good fish of similar size and caught a fish of 7lb in the hole at the head of the stream in the main water. Subsequent visits to this location have all seen me catch fish over 5lb in this unlikely side stream and still no sign of anyone else having fished it.
The point I am trying to make is that “fishy” water will hold fish but will get pressure and that sometimes ﬂicking a ﬂy or spinner in water that looks a waste of time but hasn’t been flogged may recoup unexpected rewards.
The Oreti now occupies more of my time as I now have a lot more water to fish. I continue to be surprised at the fish I catch in the most unlikely water.
The motto therefore when fishing this magnificent river must be ”If it is over your ankles fish it”.
The beautiful Oreti River was home to Southland Fish and Game staff recently as they conducted their annual drift dive of the river. Drift dives are a crucial part of the management of sports fish in our rivers as it allows staff to not only check on fish numbers but also habitat variations.