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Lowland Fishing opportunities

The obnoxious sound of the alarm clock fills the air with an ear piercing screech. A drowsy glance reveals it is 8.30am.

Consciousness kicks in and the realization that its finally a day off begins to set in. What better way to enjoy a day from a busy period of guiding than spend it fishing?

Thoughts of where to fish on this glorious sunny March day begin to flood through my pre-fishing cortex. An 8.30am start for me is very gentlemanly and I instantly know that I have missed an opportunity to beat the crowds to any of the blue ribbon backcountry fisheries today. This is a prime opportunity to take advantage of our wonderful lowland rivers.

The Northern half of the South Island and indeed all of New Zealand are blessed with many kilometers of trout infested lowland waterways. While these rivers may not have caught Sir Peter Jacksons attention for backdrops to his Lord Of the Rings series, they still have their Shire-like beauty. What they lack in Beech forest and Granite boulders they make up for in good numbers of willing healthy trout.

The exodus of anglers, both international and local along with guides have seen our backcountry fisheries become busy to a point where its only the top echelon of skilled anglers who can expect success regularly. We are at a point where we need to look at how to manage these fragile fisheries so everyone benefits.

Lowland fisheries are a fantastic alternative for anglers. They offer many benefits that are desirable for trout fishers. Ease of access is huge plus when it comes to anglers like myself who love a sleep in. No three hour hike in or helicopter required to visit a lowland river. Most of these rivers are in fertile valleys and almost always have a conveniently placed road running alongside. Bridges and reserves are all public access and most land owners in New Zealand are more than happy to grant access to anyone who is prepared to ask and respect the landowners rules. These rivers are often near to town and offer a great chance to take the family along to give them their first taste of trout fishing or even just to enjoy a nice picnic while the family fishers do their thing. A great aspect of these bigger rivers is that they can quite often be fished with spinning gear and sometimes even with a live bait. This is a fantastic way to get children involved in trout fishing. No need to be an athlete to fish the lowland either, large rocks and bush excursions are at a minimum.

A major attraction of these lowland fisheries is the high numbers of fish. In the backcountry we are often targeting low numbers of mostly large residential fish. These fish are sometimes hundreds of meters apart over rough terrain and are almost always hard to temp during the peak of the season. The lowland rivers are often so large that a good number of fish never see a fly all season.

Negative angler encounters are almost non existent. There is so much water its a simple case of moving to a new spot or crossing to the other side to keep both parties happy.

So there are many positives to fishing the large lowland rivers but in order to reap the benefits one must know how to fish big water successfully. Approaching a large river can be daunting for a lot of anglers. With all that water to cover it can be hard to know where to start. All methods can be successful but choosing the right technique at the right time will change the game. In my business as a guide I offer sight fishing almost exclusively to my clients. Sight fishing is what sets us apart from other angling destinations around the world. Our clear water and larger than average fish allow us to see all the action. So the ideal conditions for sight fishing these large bodies of water are bluebird days will little or no wind. With the sun high in the sky between 10am and 3pm, spotting fish is done relatively easily by careful anglers. Knowing where to find fish is a huge advantage here. There are certain places trout are more likely to be. These places include in front of prominent rocks, in the seams of currents between fast and slower water, the eyes of pools and anywhere else that a feature in the water creates a softer pocket of water near to a fast piece of water that will be bringing the fish food. On these sunny days these areas should be inspected carefully. Conversely, on gloomy cloudy days these places should also be inspected. Not so much by eye but with careful prospecting casts. rather than the term blind fishing we should incorporate the term imagination fishing. On cloudy days where the surface of the water is covered with glare I like to move out into the water and use the dark bankside vegetation to use as a backdrop to spot against. Wading needs to be done very quietly in this situation. It pays to look at the water as two rivers. Fish each half thoroughly rather than try to cover all the water poorly. Brown trout in particular will prefer the quieter flows nearer the edge in the main. I place little emphasis on fishing the pools while fly fishing. If there is a hatch on, then that's a different story but if fish are holding deep of not able to be seen then I casually walk by giving the water a cursory glance for easy opportunities.

In high flows or high water temperatures target areas where small streams flow in. These can provide cool, clear where trout should move into to feed during these sub optimum conditions.

Fishing braided rivers is another matter. It can sometimes come down to picking the right braid. Look for older more established braids, the algae on the rocks will be a clue. Also as you look upstream from the junction look out for any areas a channel may run up against a permanent bank. Fish need cover during high flows and permanent banks provide this.

Matching the hatch in the lowland rivers can be important. Observation in king here. If the fish are rising pay close attention to what is on or in the surface film. If you feel you are getting the pattern and size right then as with all fishing in New Zealand, examine your drift. With dry flies maybe bringing the distance you cast your fly above the fish back to a couple of feet. The fly only has to drift naturally during the time the fish can see it. Over leading a fish gives the fly every chance to drag before it reaches the fish. Generally when nymphing the bigger rivers you will be looking at smaller Caddis and Mayfly nymphs. On days where I am imagination fishing I like to fish a tandem nymph rig with one of each, just so I can work out flavor of the day.

There is much to love in regards to our lowland rivers. These are our bread and butter fisheries and need to be protected and nurtured just as much as our backcountry rivers. We are seeing dramatic changes to our lowland waterways in terms of water quality due to negative human interactions and extreme weather events. One of the biggest things we can do as fishers in their ongoing protection is to fish them. The more of us spending time on these waterways the more voices these rivers will have protecting them against dubious local and central government rulings. If we don't use them will will lose them. So get out there and enjoy fishing our lowland rivers and leave the stress of negative angler encounters and tough fish behind.

Anton Donaldson

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