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My Old Friend – The Story of an Old Trout & His River

Read Time: 8 Minutes. | Published: 23rd November 2022 | Author: Ronan Creane

About 17 years ago, my friend, Paul Arden and I went to fish a high county river during one of our NZ trips. Paul had heard that it held some big fish so we needed to check it out. While Paul stayed at the truck writing a front page for Sexyloops, I ventured up the river. In a pool quite low down I saw a monster trout which I couldn’t catch. I continued up the river to find lots of lovely water but no fish. The river got harder and harder to navigate as the gorge got tighter. When I turned to come back down I vowed to go back to explore it more. Little did I know that my old friend was in there somewhere as a tiny fry… 

2015

I didn’t get back to the river until 2015, mainly due to its location. When I did get back it was quite good. I saw a number of trout and they were all large. Late in the day when fishing a large and lovely pool I hooked a big fish blind fishing a streamer. This was my first fish off the river. A spectacular trout with his green back, yellow flanks, striking spots and a brilliant orange glow in the tannin water. It was a real high. He weighed 9.25lbs. From that second visit on, I tried to get up there at least once every season. It fished well for the following few years but the fish numbers were dropping as each year passed. Only once in that few years did I see my friend in the big pool, but I didn’t catch him. 

2019

In 2019 during my annual pilgrimage I caught him again. It was just over 4 years since I first caught him. This time he was in the next pool upstream but by the end of the fight he was back in his original pool. He was still a beautiful looking fish and still around 9lbs. It was amazing to see him again. I recognized him immediately due to his unique shape and colouring. The only sad thing was that I didn’t see another fish all day. I had a feeling that he might now be the only fish in the river. 

2020

In 2020 I went back up there in the hope that I was wrong and that I’d find more than just my old friend. I fished the river by blind fishing the water I knew to hold fish in the past with streamers, as I usually do. I also fished a lot of generally fishy water and of course sighted it all. Once again I only saw one fish – my old friend – in the same pool as when we first met.

I cast my hotspot nymph to him and once again I hooked him. Before long I had him in the net. This pretty much confirmed to me that he is indeed the only fish in the river. If there were others I’d surely have seen them over the last two visits. Once again he was about 9lbs but this time he looked like he was getting a little soft. Maybe he was loosing condition? It was lovely to see him again and I released him carefully back to his home…

I left the river with mixed emotions. Happy to have caught up with my old friend but feeling a little sad. Why have the fish numbers steadily declined since 2015? The following year I decided not to fish it. I didn’t want to see just one fish. I felt no desire to catch my old friend again. 

2022

In 2022, just a couple of weeks ago, I decided to go back to check it out. By now, having missed a year I thought my old friend would have further declined in condition or maybe even died. I was really hoping a new fish or two would have made their way to these upper reaches. With some excitement I ventured up into the gorge. I streamer fished all the likely water to no avail. When I got to my old friends home I watched it for a while but saw nothing. I decided to sit down and have something to eat – just wait and watch – nothing.

I got up and tied on the Bruiser streamer to search his lair but as I did I saw the flash of his greenish gold tail. To my surprise, the desire to catch him was the same as ever. I backed off, put the hotspot nymph back on and waited. About 10 minutes later, there he was. I made a quick cast and the hotspot settled in front of him and he moved to intercept it. I saw the eat and struck into weight. He was as strong as ever as he made a deep powerful run up the pool. A short time later I got my net under him and I was truly surprised by what I saw. He was bigger than ever and looked as spectacular as ever. He hit the scales at 10.5lbs.

Once again, this same fish has given me one of my greatest highs in fly fishing. Literally, one of the highest highs. He’s done this 3 out of the 4 times I’ve caught him. 1st, 2nd and 4th. 1st because he was such a spectacular big fish from a new river, 2nd because I was seeing my old friend again, 3rd was certainly a great moment but not one of the greatest highs because it was pretty much the same as the previous year – and the 4th – because he surprised me so so much. I would never have expected him to get to over 10lbs or even put on condition, I expected the opposite. True surprises in trout fishing are now rare but this was certainly one.

Once again I carefully put him back after getting one snap with the 10 second timer which thankfully did him justice. After that I fished to the waterfall, beyond which I think there are no fish but I saw no more. Walking back down I felt great as I bounced over the rocks – a ten pound trout will do that – but once again I felt disappointed by the fact that my old friend is still the only fish in the river. In 3 visits he’s the only fish I’ve seen. I don’t think I’ll fish it next year… but I might!

More to the Story

There’s more to this story. About trout as a species. A good friend of mine, Rasmus Gabrielson, has done studies on high country Otago trout and his results show that it takes 9 to 12 years for a high country Otago trout to reach 9lbs. So what age is my old friend? If he was 9 when I first caught him in 2015 that makes him 16 now but of course he could be older. It’s also amazing that he hovered around 9 to 9.25lbs for 5 or 6 years before putting on 1.5lbs to reach 10.5lbs.

This after a terrible winter which has left many fisheries with fish in poorer condition than usual at this time of the season. Another thing that Rasmus told me is that it’s likely that some big old fish actually stop spawning. This makes sense to me. Spawning is very hard on salmonids and claims a high percentage every year. I just can’t imagine my old friend bouncing up rapids to find a mate – especially since there aren’t any!

Tight Lines, Ronan.

For guiding enquiries on the lower South Island of New Zealand you can contact me ronan@sexyloops.com or visit my website.  

To read more from Ronan on our blog, check out his articles here.

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