The month of local leisure, January is by far the busiest month on most lakes, rivers and beaches around New Zealand as it is the end of the official working year. All the locals pack up their homes and relocate to their temporary base in a holiday park, house or campground for the few weeks following Christmas and New Year.
To locate and access un-crowded waters is the main goal of most anglers in January and if they do so they can experience some of the most exciting fishing of the season. As the warm temperates evoke life, fish begin looking to the air, hunting down terrestrials and anything else that may find itself on the water. The famous Cicada season begins as the distinct and sometimes deafening chirping sounds drowns out whole valleys and gives hope to those who venture into them.
In search of such early year serenity I headed deep into the forest with my mate Jakub in search of clear waters, big browns, clocking up some serious hiking miles along the way. Finding this precious river in the clip below was something I’ll always remember, the fishing is tough but it is so stunning you almost don’t care: https://vimeo.com/149845480
Negotiating access during January is the key, the further away you get from the masses the better fishing you will experience. Making good relationships with landowners surrounding rivers can become a real advantage as it allows you to access those harder to reach places, just be sure you always have permission to cross the land as it can become a very contentious issue. No one wants to be the one who may ruin it for everyone else.
In the past I have found gaining access into North Island waters is granted much more easily than in the South. My theory being that this is due to the larger number of anglers in the South and the much larger parcels of land that each farmer owns, meaning more apathy for anglers.
Backcountry rivers usually have one way in and one way out, so again it is important here that you are aware of your access rights and of other anglers that may already be in the valley ahead of you. It is not acceptable to just walk past these anglers and start fishing further up without first stopping to discuss your plans with them, although it is usually regarded as acceptable to begin fishing downstream from them. Also when in the backcountry, access to DOC huts is open to anyone who is paying the fee, just because you were there first does not give you rights to take over the hut and if there are spare beds it is your responsibility to make sure they are available for use.
In January I went on a backcountry trip to the West Coast. We had never fished this river before and were unsure of access so had a quick chat to the local Maori family living on the river and they mentioned to have a chat to the farmer across the road. As he was not home we just spent the afternoon walking up the river from the road bridge until we came across the farmer later in the day. I mentioned that we were keen to fish the headwaters the following day and asked permission to drive up his access road so to save us 5km of walking before we started fishing. Not only was he fine with this but he also gave us a ride back to our car and then allowed us to drive up the road that afternoon and camp so we were right there, ready to tackle the headwaters the next morning. Needless to say, this hospitality was well beyond expectations and resulted in a great day fishing the next day. I’m sure we will be back in the future, this time with a box of beer to say thanks!
This is an example that river access doesn’t have to be a hindrance to your trip, just make the effort to talk to the locals, plan well, investigate your options and discuss with landowners, you never know how they may help your cause and make your days fishing a whole lot easier!
At the end of January I went on another trip with Jakub, this time to a high country river. Our first day was blown out but then the skies opened and gave us a scorching hot day to chase good sized browns in beautiful water with dry, namely cicadas! It was an awesome couple of days with some decent action too, all captured in this great clip edited by Jakub: https://vimeo.com/151947001
Tips for January fishing:
Even though it may be busy, where there are sign posted Fish & Game accesses on rivers, make sure you use them. Ignoring these access points and jumping in between angling parties could result in a very uncomfortable conversation with the anglers who’s day you have just wrecked!
Match the Hatch (even with terrestrials). I have found high country tussock cicadas to be generally brown or even black and much smaller than the giant green ones found in the South Island beach forests. Surprisingly smart trout will even turn down the wrong cicada pattern!
Think outside the box, when planning a trip in January attempt to get around the masses by hitting those harder to reach waters or even those places that haven’t been totally explored yet.