by Tony Orman
If you’ve fished over the decades, you’ve probably stumbled onto one of those streams that gave you superb fishing, of such high quality that you cherished it and became possessive about it that you treated it as a secret. I’ve had several like that but one in particular was absolutely superb.
I found it in the 1970s. It did not hold large numbers of trout but they were big. One day on a Green stonefly nymph, I caught and took four browns on nymph, that weighed a total of 32 pounds. As shameful as that is by today’s ethical standards, I did release 5 other fish that averaged 6 to 7 pounds. Remember, catch-and-release was virtually unknown then.
In those days, I had imposed on myself a 4 trout bag limit despite the legal limit for most rivers and streams being 10.
No one else seemed to fish the stream. I never saw another soul or a boot mark and I kept it secret.
I shifted to the Motueka area and found other wilderness rivers in North West Nelson. But “Mystery Stream” pulled me back because of the fond memories based on great fishing. I took my daughter n a camping trip and there by our tent, I caught a superb 6.5 lb brown and we cooked it in a pan over the camp fire.
Then I was quizzed by a fishing guide about Mystery Stream. Somehow he had heard of it. After all, somehow I had heard of it in the first place. I played it low key to the guide, hoping to deter him by mumbling it didn’t hold many fish but there was the “odd good fish.”
However he went, sampled the fine fishing but unlike me sworn to secrecy by the trout and the deer, he boastfully and loudly extolled it’s virtues at a local fishing club. From then on, it got a thrashing. Anglers grouped together and with four a vehicle – often two vehicles – descended upon Mystery Stream.
Not only the trout suffered but the deer population too as the intruders not only killed every trout but spotlighted the river flats after dark, shooting every deer they saw. One angler was reportedly photographed with a wheelbarrow of dead trout at the farm house of the property through which access was gained. From then, with a 10 fish limit per person, it was a heavy build-up of angler pressure and slaughter.
Then the guiding business started up in earnest.
Aggravating it was the rise in tourist fishermen, particularly from the USA, the advent of the helicopter for quick transport for those who could afford it and the professional fishing guides.
Almost overnight, the quality wilderness trout fisheries, previously known to a relatively few, became the glamour fly fishing of New Zealand’s trout fishing. Trout changed habits under the intense pressure, forsaking their traditional shallow water lies, for the deeper water. The thrill of stalking big browns in water just knee deep was largely gone in many rivers.
The pressure resulted in ultra-spooky trout. It’s easy to blame tourist anglers or guides for the demise of wilderness fisheries. Perhaps the fault lay with Fish and Game who were slow to institute much needed low bag limits and still to this day, seem reluctant to consider measures like helicopter-free zones.
Indeed, the influence of American anglers has been beneficial in a number of ways. For instance, essentially they introduced “catch and release”. But even “catch and release” has its drawbacks as I might outline some time soon.
The American influence went to the fly box too. Out went the old English dries such as Red Tip Governor and Black Gnat to be replaced by the Royal Wulffs, Humpys, Adams, Klinkhamer Specials and others. Emerger fishing is now a vital part of the fly fisher’s armoury.
What do the changes in the fishery tell us as individuals?
Go Fishing Today
The demise of Mystery Stream was sad for me. I now wished I’d fished it a lot more. The one I toss into this post-mortem on Mystery Stream is “Go fishing today, it’ll never be as good tomorrow.”
And there’s been lots and lots of times over those 50 years, when I wished I’d gone fishing, instead of procrastinating and too often, putting it off to tomorrow. For example, I wished I had fished my Mystery Creek far more before the fish hogs wrecked it. And I never did fish the upper Wairau in Rainbow country or the upper Karamea or Mataura until more recent years. They must have been superb in the 1960 – 70 years.
Over the 60 plus years I’ve trout fished, I’ve inevitably it seems lost some grand fishing companions. That in turn reminds me of the Rule of Tomorrow that a very fine writer in the US “Field and Stream” magazine named Ted Trueblood, once put into print.
“Never say I’ll go tomorrow. When you get a chance to go fishing (or hunting), go. If you wait until tomorrow, tomorrow will drag into next week and next week will drag into next month and next month into next year and some day it will be too late.”
And remember the fishing will never be as good as it is today.
© The sport was memorable – sheer quality