Fly Fishing New Zealand

Nymph and Dry Fly – New Canterbury Water Surprises by Paul Corliss

Nymph and Dry Fly – New salmon anglers will learn a lot reading between the lines!

by Paul Corliss

It was a side channel of the main river. Not so wide as to cause concern, but comfortable. A good bit of depth without being too imposing. Shingle fans and slow glides made access to the best casting positions a reasonably safe and uncomplicated exercise. At first glance, it didn’t appear to be promising nymph and dry fly water!

Big braided snow-fed rivers with their weedless unstable greywacke beds don’t usually inspire my angling efforts. However, this particular braid had an air of permanence absent from the main flows. A low grass-matted bank held together by willow and lupin bordered the south side while the north
edge was encroached on by the character of the flat featureless gravel plains I usually associate with the main river.

The chill hint of winter in the air was heightened by the irregular bright yellow drifts of remnant popular leaves. The overall day, though, I was softened and chastened by the cloudless blue Canterbury sky and faint touches of an easterly breeze. A caressing and elegant wind that brought whispers of salt-laden air and attendant gulls into unfamiliar territory.

Not since 1978 and the landing of my first salmon had I seriously thought to fish up here. That day had been exceptional for many reasons. A casual drive to visit camping in-laws had produced an offer of “a cast with my new rod” from Les. I had no idea of such angling niceties as a licence let alone what freshwater fishing was even about. I succeeded, on the third unfamiliar and awkward cast, in being taken by a twelve-pound salmon, that bewildering moment, I could sense the devastation of Les’ notion of a benign angling god. He’d tramped mercilessly up and down the riverbed for a week or more, fishing constantly, expertly and fishless.

With a desperation born of ignorance, I ground the reel relentlessly, giving the struggling fish no quarter. The line must have hovered an ounce from the break. I hauled the disbelieving salmon up some thirty metres of white water and raging froth. Partially drowned, the fish still had the sea-run power to make a despairing lunge for freedom just as I lifted him straight from the murky backwater. Les‘ frustration and fisher-fury were compounded as he, mouth agape, watched me on my hands and knees wrestling with the now furious fish amongst the mud and debris of the shallows.

I marched back to camp as proud as punch, salmon swinging casually by my side, comforting thick wetness dampening the side of my trousers and entirely convinced that not only was salmon fishing easy but that the fight was pretty tame compared with the stories told.

A small hatch of mayflies was being plucked from the air by flights of the welcome swallows. Nymph and Dry Fly.

Two and a half salmon-less years later (though by now licenced) I was beginning to revise my opinions, specifically in regard to their abundance, there had not been a lot of opportunities to test their fighting mettle. My first approach to this water was therefore casual, none of the usual partially feigned stealth of the eager trout stalker. I wasn’t anticipating too much joy here and past experience and angling memories didn’t give me those new-water dreams most anglers have that are filled with hopes of potential bounty. Countless nor’ west dusty days combined with the slipping and thudding of heavy
legs over greywacke shingle and boulders had not endeared me to the river.

Constantly fishless for a couple of years as I learnt my trade had also clouded my views. But then the quarry had been different and the tactics cruder, endless casting of heavy metal as I search the likely holes for slumbering salmon. This water was, in a word, sweet. It held the merest touch of milk but, where it dropped into the long deep pools or coiled its way slowly through smooth reflecting glides, it was a delightful and enticing blue. This braid’s channel looked stable and should hold water in even the lowest of summer flows. An oasis among the unstable fury of the main flow.

I pulled to a sudden stop. In only two feet of water wavered grey shapes, shimmered through water-filtered light. Faint mid-water shadows swinging suspended, ephemeral. Rainbows, faint olive-green heads barely flickering in the current above the shingle fan, poised and on the feed. Three of them, and all seemingly eager. The unbridled pleasure, the joy of anticipating the first trembling cast. If it all froze at this point in time, the delight of it would be enough.


A long leader with a small hare and pheasant nymph landed too far to the left. Before I could commence the retrieve for a more accurate cast the trout at the end of the queue peeled off and raced after it. Drag took hold as the nymph tumbled over the drop-off and the trout gave up the chase and returned to its station. A second cast, this time purposefully pitched too far to the left, and she had it in a flash of her wide mouth. The instinctive flex of the wrist and she ran in fury.

She scattered the other two as she peeled the fly line in an upstream flight and it was only a risky palming of the reel that slowed her sufficiently to turn her back. An impressive above-water display took energy enough to bring her into the shallow water and I opted for a quick netting rather than have her take to the deep fast rapids above the lower pool. I steered her purposefully over the net and swung her quickly high into the air. A fresh sparkling 3-pound hen quivered and thrashed as I slipped the nymph from the corner of her mouth and made quick time speeding across the shallows and into the depths beyond. A small wake, rippling softly where her back carved the water in her rush, the only sign she had ever been there.

There are nymph and dry fly opportunities on Canterbury’s big braided rivers. Look for side channels with a good bit of depth.

Nymph and Dry Fly New Water Surprises

Spotting and taking good trout on the nymph in this water had been beyond imagining before this and now a whole new perspective had been opened up. No preconceived ideas had found me unprepared for this and I now needed to look anew. My original thoughts of a casual blind flick through likely lies were quickly shelved and now I approached the water in a new light.

The day held well and the easterly continued to be kind. By the time I had added a Royal Wulff to my armoury and retired the hare and pheasant as a dropper, a small hatch of mayflies was being plucked from the air by flights of the welcome swallows. They were sparse but encouraged me to fish on upstream for a further three hours. In that time fourteen further trout were spotted and five of these were persuaded to accompany my flies to the bank.

Three took the nymph and two thrashed the dry from the surface. It is not often new water surprises as much as this had. Generally, fellow anglers give hints and extend rumours, angling books lay out the possibilities such water should offer or our own experience gives us an idea of what to expect. To be caught out so nicely enhances further the joys of fishing with the fly. The yellowed popular leaves drifted softly down and the hint of milk in the water remained but my outlook had changed completely. I had fished with enthusiasm and keen anticipation that would stay with me whenever I returned, and return I would.

This post was last modified on 13/03/2024 4:04 pm

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