Written by: Dave Jensen
On our second-to-last day of this year’s New Zealand trip, Amelia and I decided to head way south on the South Island. We committed to doing a serious day of driving and bush bashing, and that’s exactly what we got. In all honesty, it wasn’t a great day. A southerly wind had come through, the sky was cloudy, and the sighting poor. It was cold. Nothing rose.
I shouldn’t leave it at that: We couldn’t actually get close to much water for the flax and toi toi swamp. We had to bash through from a distance away from the water or wade chest deep in spots. It wasn’t friendly.
Late in the afternoon, we did open up to one run that was made for fishing. And there, true left on the tail-out flat, was a nice fish that looked to be 5 or 6 pounds. . .but it was a little deeper. It was Amelia’s turn, so I set up the camera and she then pitched her big caddis. The fish swung for a look but didn’t commit to the “up,” as many New Zealand browns don’t on such cooler, cloudy days. As I had the flies in my pack, she flipped her dry over to me, and I added a dropper. She cast it two or three times. The fish looked, no take.
We changed the nymph twice more. On video, the fish was certainly moving to look, but no takes. As she fished to hers, a much, much larger fish rose on my bank, five yards across and four yards upstream of her fish. But hers would not take, which was so odd, given where we were. It should have been a gimmie to hook up. After four nymph changes, I turned the video camera off, tied on another fly, and she was good to go.
The sun began to sneak through the clouds. As I turned off the camera, she cast the same dry fly yet again, with a new nymph. Naturally, the fish turned, rose, and smashed the caddis up top. The “5 or 6 pound brown” turned out to be a 9-1/2 pound brown. Given that Amelia had broken her shoulder blade and collar bone on her bike accident less than two months earlier, it was a great, tenuous fight. After the photo shoot, we both thought to change the tippet for the next fish. That decision turned out to be important.
Not to be too selfish, I was thrilled that her fish took and fought downstream, as the other fish that rose earlier had to be around. We caught a lucky break, as the sun snuck completely free of the clouds for the first time all day and beamed into the run. There, under a submerged log, was a nice, fat brown. And just as soon as I saw it to get my bearings for a cast, the sun went back behind the cloud for good. Instant glare. I was a little Winnebago-Man-ish at the lighting change, but while my first cast was a wee short, the second was spot on. And I can’t begin to tell you how the water erupted on this one.
When the fish came to net after a fight in which I truly never had control nor had any hope nor expectation of landing the trout for how strong it was, I knew it was a monster. But it was only when I tried to raise the fish for the photo that I realized I could barely lift it. Our new scale on the net bottoms-out at 14 pounds, and this fish absolutely crushed the scale. Easily add a few more pounds to that.
The caudal peduncle was as thick as my forearm, and I’m 6’2 and 210 pounds. I couldn’t do the typical fish hold because the body simply draped over my outstretched hand and wouldn’t balance. I literally had to lean the fish’s body against my fore arm and tuck it back tight to me. Its head was the size of my face. The body was as thick as my thigh. For wild, non-mouse-year fish, in that location and in those conditions, these were spectacular to say the least.
Our trip was over right then and right there. I’m not sure what you do for an encore after landing two fish like that in a matter of minutes, in a small stream, on the same fly, from the same pool tailout, with one on epic video. So, we packed the rods up and enjoyed our last day back visiting our friends across the island. It was a hell of a bush bash out.
Dave and Amelia Jensen run Fly Fish Alberta, 2011 and 2013 Orvis Endorsed Expedition of the Year.