West Coast Trout El Dorado

Fooled by a bead-head nymph. West Coast Trout El Dorado.
Fooled by a bead-head nymph.

West Coast Trout El Dorado

By The Piscator

History was far from my mind on this sunny Friday morning. Little did I suspect what fate had in store. I would soon discover a personal West Coast Trout, El Dorado.

Meanwhile, my thoughts were firmly fixed on the fishing weekend ahead of me. My spirits began to rise as I turned the car onto the Old West Coast Road. The snow-clad ranges stretched before me, topped by a Wedgwood blue sky.

I slipped the car into fifth gear, shoved a tape in the stereo and went into cruise mode. What a great feeling, heading off for a few days R&R. It seemed like years since my last break at Easter.

Alf fishing the rapids on the Arnold River. West Coast Trout Fishing.
Alf fishing the rapids on the Arnold River.

I resisted the temptation to wet a line at Lake Lyndon and made good progress until I ran into a mob of sheep in the Craigieburn cutting (well not literally, but close to it). I had a bit of a chuckle at the tourists in the car ahead. I swear they shot a whole film on our woolly friends.

By noon I was booked in at the Moana pub and on my way to check out the Arnold River at Kotuku.

The day was sunny and warmer than Christchurch. I found the Arnold lower than I had seen it previously and the water was clear enough to spot several good fish from the road bridge.

Large and Small Mayflies

As I watched, large and small mayflies left the water below me. Looking good, I thought! Tackling up with a small weighted nymph and indicator, I carefully approached the shallow edge at the tail of a nice-looking run and began working my way up.

Alf with a fish in the rapids.
Alf with a fish in the rapids. The Arnold River, “Tongariro of the South”.

I moved slowly and took time to cover all the likely water until I spotted a fish above me, feeding actively from side to side. I cast the bead-head nymph to him, but the expected positive reaction didn’t eventuate. Perhaps a Hare’s Ear, or Pheasant Tail, a Grey Darter, a Deep Sparkle Caddis, these fish are bloody fussy!

In frustration, I moved to cover the next fish a couple of metres further up.

My fly patch was beginning to look very colourful as he remained unimpressed. This continued for about an hour, spooking several fish, but attracting none. It was time for a move.

I decided to try a spot I hadn’t fished in the lower river below the dam. This was different, with medium to large rocks providing plenty of fishy lines. Where were they, I wondered? They could be anywhere in water like this, along the shallow edge, the line separating the flows and everywhere in between.

Obligingly a fish betrayed its position by rising. It at least was well out in the fast water and had me wading gingerly over the slippery bottom to get within casting range, a risky business was rewarded by a firm hookup to a lively three-pounder.

This brownie did a fair imitation of a Polaris missile as it left the water several times before I could side-strain it out of the heavy water and administer the coup de grace.

I admired the fish’s golden brown colour and red spotted flanks before sliding it into my vest pocket and setting off after another. It wasn’t too long before I netted an equally aerobatic two-pounder, followed by another which opened the hook and got away. Clouds had now rolled in and obscured the sun.

It was time to head back for a welcome shower and to meet a friend. We shared a meal of fish and chips, and a few beers in the Moana pub watching rugby league. It was a popular win for New Zealand. Later I fell asleep while a distant morepork called monotonously.

Not too early on Saturday morning, I pulled back the curtain to gaze at a tranquil sun-dappled Lake Brunner. Enthusiasm took hold and I hurriedly washed, dressed and joined Alf in the kitchen for breakfast, where we planned our day.

We elected to begin where I had left off the day before and began fishing, accompanied by a light northerly breeze, sunshine and some high cirrus cloud heralding a change ahead. Mayflies were coming off the water, so Alf started with a dry.

Without a visible rise, I stuck with fishing a weighted nymph. Casting a long line across and upstream into the swift water and mending line to give a long drag-free drift was reminiscent of Tongariro-style nymph fishing, I remembered I had read somewhere of the Arnold characterised as the Tongariro of the South.

The nymph proved its effectiveness once again. Two fish were landed before I spotted a persistent riser which refused the nymph. As far as I could tell, two fly species were emerging, small grey ones of Deleatidium species and larger Coloboriscus Humeralis, the beautiful mayfly imitated by the Kakahi Queen.

I tied on a size 12 Kakahi Queen and moved to cover the fish. When casting to rising fish in fast water, it’s well to remember that these fish often drop back to take the fly and may be lying as much as several metres upstream of their rising position. It proved to be the case here. 

I could tell it was a good trout from the breadth of its back. Any doubt was dispelled when it felt the hook and left the river in a spectacular head-shaking leap, followed by a searing run towards the willows.

With a lot of fly line out in the heavy water and only a 4lb tippet, I didn’t dare put any pressure on. The fish had the advantage and I feared to be broken off in the willow roots. Suddenly all went slack as my fears were realised, but no, there was my fly still attached! The hook had pulled out.

Reeling in, I made my way up to where Alf was fishing the riffled eye of the pool with a Royal Wulff. Several fish were rising within casting reach and he eventually hooked and landed a speckled golden beauty. While I tried (unsuccessfully) to get a good action shot, I managed a good one of Alf’s rear end.

Heading upstream, we landed a fish each between the willows until we came to open water on a big bend. We no sooner started to fish when the wind veered to the south and temperatures dropped. All surface activity ceased and a change back to nymphing elicited no response.

“Might as well head back,” suggested Alf.

“Nothing doing now.” I readily agreed, lunch was waiting in the car and we had enjoyed a good morning fishing.

Back at the car we had our lunch while trying to take photos of a Jersey cow calving in the nearby paddock. It was not a singularly rewarding experience for her as the calf’s legs had become stuck and she struggled to deliver.

A landrover pulled up across the road and a burly figure approached us. An honourable ranger, no doubt, asking to see our licences. We pointed out the distressed bovine and after giving us valuable access information, he took off to notify the farmer. Shortly after the farmer arrived with a length of stout cord. We saw the calf’s bloody tongue hanging out the corner of its mouth and concluded rightly that it was a goner.

Pulling out the calf.
Pulling out the calf.

With an ease of practice and well-conditioned muscles, the farmer soon had the calf out. We then exchanged pleasantries, including a potted history of that particular cow and the farmer’s opinion of the present government, most of which was unprintable, but little we found to disagree with. After presenting him with a trout to sweeten angler/landholder relationships we went on our merry way, to fish the Arnold River.

If anything, the next stretch of river, to my mind at least, was even better than that fished in the morning.

A long run at the base of rapids and above it a length of bouldery pocket water which could shelter hundreds of fish, culminating in a swift, deep rapid with huge boulders and looked about halfway to being a waterfall.

A sneaky weka.
A sneaky weka.

Sneaky Weka Pinches Trout!

We started below the spot where we had parked the car, and by the time we had fished back to it I had released several golden-hued brownies, and Alf had killed two, which rather than carry, he stowed under the car whilst we continued upriver.

More fish were caught and released, the most memorable being one I hooked behind a large boulder. It shot straight upstream powerfully, leaving me standing, rod held high, reluctant to follow over the treacherous slimy rocks. With a feeling of helplessness, I started to scramble after it, when two heavy thumps transmitted themselves up the rod and the line went slack.

“He’s gone,” I yelled to Alf and began reeling in the loose line.

”He’s snagged me in the rocks,” I cried, as I felt resistance. ”Bugger me, it’s still on!” It was duly landed and weighed. Only 3.5lb, but what a scrapper. Returning towards the car in the gathering gloom of
evening, Alf remarked, “Don’t let me forget those trout under the car.”

“They’ll be flattened out all ready for smoking if we do,” I replied.

On reaching the car, we found the trout were gone! Both of us searched under all the wheels. We came to a unanimous conclusion. Those fish had done a bunk! While we speculated on stoats, cats and fish-eating sheep, a harsh call came from the surrounding scrub.

”A bloody weka!” exclaimed Alf.

I grabbed the torch from the glovebox and shone it around. There lay one fish a few metres away on the grass. I followed the Weka’s calls into the scrub and discovered the second fish propped up against a rock. Beside it stood the weka, guarding its treasure trove. Fearlessly I snatched the trout from beneath its wicked beak and bore it triumphantly to the car.

Back at the cabins we dined sumptuously on T-bone steak, baked jacket potatoes, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes, washed down with a couple of jugs of dark ale. What a perfect end to a fabulous day!

The next morning we awoke to a typical damp coast day. Rain lashed the lake surface as I peered bleary-eyed through the ranch slider.

After breakfast, a few breaks were visible in the clouds, and the steady rain had broken into showers. Certainly not enough to dampen the spirits of a couple of good keen men! “Where to today?” I asked. “Why not carry on where we left off yesterday?” said Alf.

I won’t bore you with accounts of all the fish we landed and lost, but a few stand out, like the one Alf hooked at the top of the rapids. When it went down he was in trouble, being unable to follow.

I waded in below it and luckily netted a fresh and feisty 3-pounder, which tried to demolish the net in its frustration.

Above the rapids, I hooked a good fish which waved goodbye with its tail as it leaped. I turned in disappointment and began reeling in the line as l waded back to shore. That’s when a small fish jumped on my nymph. Surprised, I started laughing as it jumped all over the place.

“You look like you need a hand,” said Alf, wading up with his king-size net held before him, like some latter-day Neptune. The fish must have been charmed by his appearance because it skipped across to him and threw itself in his net with gay abandon.

We returned to the car for a late lunch and resolved to fish the wet fly after eating. This didn’t turn out to be very successful, probably because the fish were lying too deep, apart from one which took Alf’s fly as a souvenir. I weakened and changed back to nymph.

“Come and have a go up here,” called Alf, motioning to the hot spot of the previous day.

“See if you can get a couple more to take home.”

I availed myself of his generous offer and within minutes was attached to what I thought must be the fish of the weekend. It took off for the far bank and didn’t stop until it had all my line out and a considerable amount of backing. I ran to the bank’s top with the rod lifted high above my head.

I thought it would have weighed at least 5 pounds as my heart beat against my rib cage and the adrenalin surged. I regained some line only to lose it again, but everything held together and Alf netted a fish of barely 4lb. What magnificent fighters these Arnold fish are!

Arnold River brown trout. West Coast Trout Fishing.
Arnold River brown trout.

“See if you can get another one,” said Alf.

I glanced at my watch. Only a few minutes and I needed to be heading back to Christchurch. ”I’ll give it a go,” I replied, but I wasn’t too hopeful.

I moved into position and began searching the hot spot for a fish which hadn’t yet felt one of our hooks. Nothing!

I scanned the water looking for any sign of an area not yet covered, and saw what could have been a small depression out further. Lengthening line I cast over it and bang! Down went the indicator and off screamed the fish in the same manner as the one before.

At the end of its run and with all my line out, it jumped and broke off. We could see that it was no larger than the previous one. We saluted the fish and turned for home.

Cortez never did find his El Dorado the famed Inca city of gold. But I had discovered a personal West Coast Trout Fishing El Dorado in the shape of the Arnold River and its precious treasure – beautiful ruby-spotted, golden-hued trout, fit to grace a king’s table.

A pretty 4-pound Arnold River brown trout. West Coast Trout El Dorado.
A pretty 4-pound Arnold River West Coast brown trout.