A Toast to the Everest of Trout Fishing - By Cathy and Barry Beck
It’s a long way from our cabin in the endless mountains of north eastern Pennsylvania to the doorstep of the Owen River Lodge on New Zealand’s South Island. We come here each year to host a group of fly fishermen from the USA for Frontiers International, a sporting travel agency located in the western part of the keystone state.
Our first day starts with breakfast at the lodge and as we enter the aroma of fresh coffee and warm bread fills the air. There are fresh fruits and cereals of all kinds to start with, quickly followed with hot eggs and bacon. It’s an anglers table for sure with a one-sided conversion about the weather and trout fishing, but that’s ok, that’s why we’re here. Our host and lodge owner Felix Borenstein is always busy being Felix; serving breakfast, handing out guide assignments and doing everything to make our group welcome. His forecast for the day is fine weather and good water conditions and of course he mentions the 12 pound brown that was caught last week by one of his guests.
The guides begin to arrive one by one, lunches are loaded up and the excited clients and guides are introduced while plans for the day are made. It’s a routine that goes amazing well and in short order there are four wheel drives full of anglers and guides headed in every direction. With our clients taken care of, Felix introduces Craig to us. Craig will be our guide and we tease Craig suggesting that he must have drawn the short straw to get stuck with us.
Craig’s Toyota is amazingly well organized with a place for waders and boots, ice coolers, fishing vests, rods and reels and everything else that we need for our fishing day. He tells us that it’s a mouse year and the trout have put on extra pounds from the bounty of mice that they have been feeding on. Craig talks about all of the double digit fish that have been caught in the past month. At home we think double digit means inches, while here its pounds. This is nothing but cool. Our journey takes us to a farmer’s house where Craig picks up a key that will give us access to the water we intend to fish.
With the first gate behind us we travel through three more until Craig parks the Toyota within sight of the river. As of yet, we haven’t heard the name of the river so we ask. “Stony Creek” Craig says and his smile tells it all. We understand, enough said. The cow path down to the river is easy to navigate but once we hit the water we quickly realize that our new rubber bottom wading shoes are a far cry from the stability of felt bottoms. We agree that God certainly has blessed New Zealand with and abundance of round river rocks, so we slip, slide, trip and curse these new boots, but eventually we find ourselves on the other side of the river.
Craig, like all Kiwi guides, takes off like a mountain goat while we move at a slower pace. One thing we learned long ago is that guides here will do almost anything to find a trout; they climb banks and trees for a better view of the river’s bottom. You name it they tried it. They are, in our humble opinion, the best in the world when it comes to seeing a fish in the water. This is trout hunting at its best.
Ahead we see Craig stop, he reminds us of a bird dog on point. Slowly and deliberately he moves one foot at a time in a backward direction until he ducks low to the ground and motions us toward him. When we meet, Craig says the trout he’s spotted is a good one and is happy. That’s the trout that’s happy, not Craig. He’ll be happy if we catch the fish. To a newcomer in New Zealand a happy trout is busy feeding. An unhappy trout has spotted you and will often stiffen up, simply ignore your offerings until you leave the area or just vacate the pool to who knows where.
Ladies first, so Cathy moves into position while Craig crawls to a higher position to watch the trout and direct Cathy’s presentation. Her eighteen foot tapered leader turns over as the bead head nymph slowly sinks into the trout’s view. We all watch the drift and the small yarn indictor attached higher up on the leader. The cast looked perfect but the trout showed no interest so we change the fly. Next try finds the same results, as does the third. Craig says the fish is still happy try another fly. The next cast pops the fly on the trout’s head and he’s no longer a happy fellow, neither is our guide as he informs us that the trout is gone - so we move on.
We walk and walk some more. Craig sees a fish but he’s stiffened up, Craig stares at the gravely bank as he moves forward, still looking down he points to a set of boot prints. “Two days old, maybe three” he says, meaning that another angler passed by here but the prints are old and Craig feels that the stiffened up trout should have forgotten and be happy feeding. Some fish are just slow learners so on we go. Finally, Craig goes into his bird dog routine; he’s spotted another trout. Cathy moves into a casting position, here we go again. Craig says the trout’ happy.
Every once in a while things just go right. The cast was on the money, the drift brought the fly to the trout, the “welcomed up” is heard (or whatever that word is that Craig shouts when the trout has eaten our fly) and the battle begins. Most American anglers never get to see the backing on their fly reels, but in New Zealand your backing is there for more than just filling up your reel spool and this trout was determined to show Cathy hers. When the 8 pound brown was safely in the net, we both breathed a sigh of relief. It was a great way to start our stay at Owen River Lodge. After a few quick photos, the trout was happily released back into the river. Craig and Cathy were both smiling and happy. Hey, everyone’s happy including the photographer. All’s well that ends well.
Lunch along a South Island river is always a treat and this one is no exception. We share stories of past trips to New Zealand with Craig.
Then we talk of favorite fly rod lengths and line weights. It comes down to any 9½ foot rod for a 5 or 6 weight line, as long as it’s a Sage. Since we also work for the Sage Rod Company, we like our guide even more. Our afternoon moves along and we manage to scare a few more fish. We then land a smaller five pound trout before we start our walk back to Craig’s Toyota.
Our fishing day ends as it began with four wheel drive trucks pulling into the lodge parking lot. Felix is there welcoming everyone home. Soon anglers, and guides included, stand at the bar and share a drink and the day’s adventures. Art Rorex, a long time friend and client, tells all that he’s had a fantastic day. We ask how big and he replies with “oh no I never landed a fish but we had some great chances”. We can just imagine an American angler at home coming back skunked and saying how great his day is, but that’s how it goes in New Zealand because it not always about the catching but the sheer experience of just being here. For Cathy and I who are blessed to travel the world hosting fishing trips, there’s simply no better place to be than the last best place, the South Island of New Zealand.
Dinner is beyond good and a pavlova for desert rounds off the perfect day. Life is good here at Owen River Lodge. It’s everything we could ask for in a fishing lodge and that’s mostly due to the hard work and dedication of its fly fishing owner, Felix Borenstein. With an after-dinner drink in hand, we propose a toast to the Everest of trout fishing - the rivers of the South Island of New Zealand. We hope you agree.
Cathy & Barry Beck will be hosting a group of anglers at Owen River Lodge, 9-17 February 2013. Please contact us for more information.