Fishing the West Coast with Serge : Tuesday, July 19, 2005Opening day, 1st October and it is almost 10.30 am when Duncan and I head up 40 kms north of Franz Josef Glacier.
The rainy previous days had worried us enough to decide that if we wanted to avoid any disappointment for our first day of the season, we had to make a big decision. Choosing the right river around here is never an easy task as their potential is always remarkable.
Big rivers were running high and most of them dirty, so our choice became limited to the one very best stream on the West Coast. "La Fontaine", meaning spring in French, is our destination and at this time of morning we take the risk of being the tenth or twenthieth ones to try our luck; we will see.
A quick stop on the way up at the local takeaway shop of Whataroa, then through Mt Hercules and we are already at the entrance of Hari Hari.
The stream itself rises in the middle of a swamp and has no name at this point.
If you have a map in hands you eventually locate it under a bridge that you cross on SH6. For the next 5kms the stream runs through farm private land and wherever you decide to access it, ask for permission from the owners.
They are those nice fellows you meet on the West Coast, the kind of guys difficult to approach but in fact ready to help, as long as you do not disturb cattle and sheep.
This is an exceptionnal section that I would reserve to the expert.
The water is generally very clear (not that day though) and a series of deep pools are the ideal location for numerous fish.
The access at this point is not always easy, very often over marshy land, where it is not unusual to be followed by dozens of cows.
The stream then runs north and then west towards the sea and access is getting better along the "Lower Wanganui Flat" road located at the west end of the Hari Hari township.
The river becomes quieter too.
You easily walk along the banks and casting is without any risk.
The water alternates long and shallow runs, with deeper pools.
At all times your approach will have to be very cautious, slow motion is required if you want to get a chance to throw a line to one of the fish you will spot.
Their number is important, but even so early in the season La Fontaine trout are very spooky. Fishing blind is not necessary as you will be able to spot 20 fish on a normal day. Catching them is another story.
They are pretty much all in the 1.5-1.8 kg bracket, well conditioned and magnificiently coloured in gold, red and black spots.
But I will get back to our fishing session later on, as the aim of the article is to tell you how to get there, where to park and what to find.
More access points . . .
Once you leave Hari Hari heading north on Little Wanganui Flat Road, about 3 km on your left handside you will pass a gate.
Walk for 500-600m and you will find the river, which is at this point running over a fine gravel bed.
This is a very good spot and fishing conditions are exceptional. A floating line is necessary, as most of the time depth is only a couple of feet. Leader must be at least 3m and even longer if the water is gin clear.
Do not fish too heavy as you will deal with well educated fish, but beware of snags and the fact you might have to pull hard to get your fish out of the way.
A well-presented traditional pattern, such as Hare & Copper, Pheasant Tail or Olive Nymph, as long as the size remains 14 or 16 will prove to be deadly.
Dry flies like Kakahi Queen and Coch-y-Bondhu, again in smaller size, will catch you fish.
I've also tried on any combination of dry as an indicator and a small bead head 25 cm below; it works well.
500m further there's another gate, and you can walk to the river. Here again fishing is pretty good.
Another 600m there's an unsealed road on the right handside.
Just stop opposite of it, get through the fence on the left handside and walk across the paddocks to the river (can be pretty swampy).
If you meet W. Levett, who is the owner there, make sure you talk to him. He is a lovely man.
Just avoid disturbing his cattle.
From that point if you walk upstream, you will have the choice in between La fontaine itself and a smaller piece of water which is a spawning stream where fish just abound. The water there is even clearer than La Fontaine. Then throwing a line is more difficult because of overhanging trees and snags. Fish can be big. But SPOOKY.
The next section of the river running for 5 km also offers good access though fishing is not as good. La Fontaine Road will take through farmland and the river will be visible all the way down on your left handside. Numbers are not so great but what a place for dry flies experiments.
No need to match the hatch.
The fish are rising on every pattern as long as it remains drag free, small in size and attached to a 2 kg max tippet.
Fish will be found in the shade of overhanging branches or at the end of small ripples. Be patient and do not hesitate to swap over patterns.
You will face quite often 3 or 4 refusals, then the 5th one will catch you two fish in a row.
It is not exceptional to find 4 fish 3 metres apart from each other.
I caught fish on Royal Coachman, Blue Dunn, Dad?s Favourite, as well as Twilight Beauty.
Once more stick to small size, 16 being a maximum.
The last part of the river you must fish is now located another 3 km futher down the road. Again ask to access. Deeper pools are holding nice fish. Try the banks and not necessarily the opposite one.
You will scare more than one fish at your feet as they are hidding under the grass banks and the trees.
You will need to be accurate on your casting but nothing comes easy.
This is most probably the only section of the stream I would recommend to fish blind, as it seems that feeding fish are spread through the all water flow.
I fished this section with a dry on the top and a size 18 bead head. Great results.
Since the opening day I went back to La Fontaine 3(4!) times and it seems the river improves with time.
The fish are now in exceptional condition and the pressure on this magnificient piece of water does not look like having a huge impact as numbers remain quite high. But once more practice as much catch and release as you can.
You will have then the feeling you fish for the future, either yours or your kids.
If you ever drive down our West Coast, indulge yourself in spending half a day on one of the jewels in the fly fishing crown of New Zealand.
Give me a ring on 0212113462 if you need more details. 7 days a week. If I can help, I will.
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Spin and Fly Fish in the New Zealand Wilderness. Your Fishing Guide to Rainbow and Brown trout, Sea run Trout, Salmon, and Kahawai