After another 3 day expedition into the heart of Fiordland backcountry I feel both bruised and battered yet utterly privileged to have experienced such a fly fishing adventure in paradise! The Clinton river drains into Lake Te Anau's north arms a location so remote it's only accessible by a 1 hour ferry ride or float plane journey. The river meanders down from the glacial valley though dense rainforest and runs parallel to the infamous Milford Track one of New Zealands most famous tramps. The river runs over greenstone rock and is a crystal clear river hosting many rainbow and brown trout. Fishing this river can make any fly angler speechless at every turn of the river and to spend several days camping and chasing those unparalleled Fiordland Trout just makes you feel alive and grateful that you are able to experience such a natural beauty.
From docking at the mouth of the river I began my 6 mile hike up the milford track to my proposed camping site, a small clearing a little way up the north branch completely remote and amongst some spectacular fly water hosting some old friends of mine... mr trout. Once here I pitch my tent and had a cast in what I now refer to as my house pool and duly landed a beautiful rainbow which always take you by surprise by the sheer energy these fish have when hooked and the absolutely perfect condition these fish are in here. From here I continued to hike up the South Arm where I stopped at the occasional pool and sighted some fish and managed to fool a couple, but my aim was to get to the upper south arm above the dead lake. I arrived here early evening and as I approached the much smaller river up here I was left totally speechless, words cannot describe the feeling you get as you bush wack through the dense rainforest understorey to stumble of the clearest stream you have ever seen with the snow capped mountains towering above and the sun setting ahead in the steep valley. The amount of mind blowingly stunning trout up here is phenomenal, all be it very spooky due to the shallow clear water. After re rigging my leader to 15' tapering down to 5lb fluorocarbon I proceed to fish upstream casting to many fish some of which spooked and some of which I was fortunate to land. Every fish here that you get in, you are breath taken by the condition of the fish all perfectly proportioned fat body's large heads and up here all willing to come up for a carefully placed dry fly.... dry fly magic!!
As the weather was forecast to turn bad, I ambled back to camp at around 10pm about an hours hike and momentarily fishing the odd pool on the way back. By 12.30am the heavens opened and I sought shelter in my tent which appeared completely minuscule to the dramatic surroundings it was placed. After a good nights sleep of which it rained heavily all night I woke at 6am looked outside and the river had risen by 5ft in just 6 hours. I thought to myself I may be stuck here a while as I attempted to ford the river on the route where I would need to wade back with all my gear back to the Milford track and home, as I got half way I realized the current was too strong and my solution was to wait it out in the tent. It proceeded to rain until 1pm and I took refuge in my fort reading Derek Grzelewski's new book 'The Trout Bohemia' a great account of life the soul and trout fishing in New Zealand.
By 6pm I check out the river again it had dropped two feet since 1pm and was falling although slightly coloured and still rather big. I rigged up my 6# rod with a 7# line and some 10lb fluro and proceeded down to some pools that I thought may still have a chance at hooking a fish. With a tungsten streamer tied on the end I proceeded to cast the small fish imitation upstream and stripped it back through the current as fast as I could so it traveled faster than the current. To my surprise 2nd cast I saw a very large fish rocket out of the depths and smash my fly and dived straight back to the depths with my fly lodged firmly in the scissors of its jaw. After a ten minute battle of which mostly he was in control, I was able to land the trophy brown trout of around 8lbs and safely release him. Now feeling completely alive and thrilled and another hundred emotions that surroundings like this and trout of this caliber can induce I continued fishing for the day where I was able to catch 4 more beautiful fish including another 8lber and loose a few also. By 10pm I decided that I didn't want to venture too far from camp as the river crossings were still pretty hairy and to ford these in the dark alone may be more silly than bold, i got back into camp and rested until the morning.
I awoke at 6am ventured outside to be met by a hord of sandflys that have been waiting patently like zombies for their next feed I was once again stunned at the speed the river had dropped. Once again the river was low gin clear hosting that beautiful greeny blue tint that the greenstone gives the water. I packed up camp making sure there was no evidence of my camp at all, I continued my hike back towards the mouth of the river and my boat pick up point with an eta of 4.30pm. My plan was to meander down the river and fish along the way exploring some pools and fish that I have never fished before. I am totally glad I did, the sun was beating down and the river in perfect order. As some of the Milford trekkers passed they were often surprised as a body would be appearing back to the track or disappearing off the track through the undergrowth what would appear totally impassable, but to a fly fisher that is aware of what is behind that thick under story nothing is impassable, crawling on hands and knees to explore new pools and sections of the river was a great feeling and the humble trout rewarded my efforts with lots more dry fly sport and once again the sheer beauty and the whole experience just kept zinging back home after each fish weather it just came up to the fly, took it or even shy'd away from it, it surely didn't matter as just being here casting, wading, looking, swimming, just makes a guy feel on top of the world.
Bruised and battered but ecstatic and content with the outcome of the trip I boarded the boat at 4.30 and ended my trip... until next time. Now as fly fishing guide for Fiordland Lodge I am able to share this kind of experience with others for which I feel very privileged as in my eyes all fly fishers really should experience what this paradise has to offer, marvel at the nature at its finest, immerse yourself into it and of course chase some challenging but ever so rewarding trout of Fiordland.
A video diary will follow in a few days...