Field Report – Day 3 – Haast Trip – Mystic River

As we flew 300 feet above the tree line, a thick canopy of Beech Trees sprawled out beneath us for as far as the eye could see. The “wap wap wap” of the helicopter blades slicing through the air temporality silencing the chorus of the millions of Cicadas who inhabit this forest, where the males of the species vibrate their tymbals, a noise-producing organ on the side of their abdomen, in the hope of attracting females to mate. The flight in from the coast was spectacular, and as the chopper lifted off and faded out of view after dropping us off, the Cicada chorus enveloped us in a wave of sound that was awe inspiring.  

As with all exploratory trips, you never really know what to expect but anticipation was definitely running high on this third consecutive nearly cloudless morning.  As we were stringing up our rods for the day, I got my first ground level look at this unknown (at least to me) river. It was very different and unlike any other river I can think of in the country. It was more a jungle rainforest river, the kind you’d expect to find when tarpon fishing in Costa Rica or Honduras. Mist covered mountains crowded the river banks, with large dead trees, their massive root systems still intact, washed up on both sides of the river, or right in the middle of it where it got shallower.  

Once we got going, we started seeing fish almost immediately and within five minutes I’d been busted off on logs twice. As I learned the hard way, the deadheads were complex gauntlet, where the angler has to find the potential trouble spots for bust offs well before the cast to the fish is actually made. These fish were very spooky, with the lack of wind being both a blessing and a curse, in that while it was great for casting and sighting fish, the fly line hitting the water was magnified 10-fold, with at least a dozen fish spooking as soon as the fly hit the water. After my two hook ups first thing, we didn’t have another trout eat until after lunch.  Our entire morning was a series of one frustration after another, with the Brown Trout as spooky as I’ve ever seen. It got so bad that I started to think that maybe someone had been fishing this section of the river the day before. I kept a sharp eye out for fresh boot marks, which would indicate the presence of recent anglers, but saw nothing. Trout are just bastards sometimes!!! The river was wonderfully varied and I instantly loved its idiosyncrasies. It would narrow out in some fast runs and then slow down again, with deep pools every 70-100 yards or so. There were two exceptional long stretches that were flat, about 3 feet deep and with a clean sand bottom. Even a blind man could see a fish in this environment. After lunch, the fishing changed as only trout fishing in the mountains can. As nervous as the fish were in the morning, their aggressive feeding in the early afternoon was a sight to behold. And those trout ate virtually every cicada that we threw at them. The eats were all slow as molasses and for four hours I got to witness one of the great dry fly experiences I’ve ever seen. My friend Kevin and I took turns casting big cicada dries to willing fish and after a couple of hours we’d lost count as to how many fish had been brought to net. For as difficult and frustrating as the morning had been, the afternoon was pure Cicada dry fly ecstasy. Nothing too big and most fish averaged about 5 pounds.  

How your fly-fishing day starts often has no bearing on how it finishes.