Fair Chase – By Greg Morton

Fishing With Greg Dougherty

The Dougherty family of the Maniototo Basin are a well-known Central Otago outdoors clan. Hunting, shooting, and angling are in the DNA. The home farm is Garrawaye Station, near Wedderburn, but the Dougherty sons are now sprinkled throughout the province. Over the years I have met most of the family, but the two I have had the most trip dealings with are Steve (Doc), who is the owner/outfitter of Doctari Safaris (hunting), and Greg who is the owner/outfitter for Alpine Fishing Guides. Both offer a quality product, and are great blokes as well

Greg Dougherty lives in Hawea Township, which to the uninitiated is on the shores of Lake Hawea, near Lake Wanaka, near the Clutha River headwaters, and near the fabulous Haast Pass mountain rivers such as the Makaroa, and Young. In short he is based in the middle of some of the South Island’s best fishing waterways. He is a skilled fly-fishing guide, and has landed some impressive fish over the years. I remember seeing a 4.5kg brown trout trophy mount on Steve Dougherty’s Hunting Lodge wall caught by Greg in The Great Moss Swamp.

Greg differs from most New Zealand fly fishing guides in that his company specialises in offering float fishing packages to mostly international clients. That last fact surprised me, as I believe many kiwi anglers should save up and experience the pleasure of a day’s fishing with him. It is that good an experience.

I have fished with him twice now and will readily go on record as saying he offers one of the best fishing trips available in New Zealand. Compared to other guides his prices are in New Zealand dollars, and are affordable to those fishing in pairs (share the day cost), while the adventure is particularly good for those whose age, health, or time restraints place obstacles in their fishing path. Check out the packages page on his website: www.driftfishingnz.com

Being a local, he knows his fishing patch extremely well. He knows in which month and where to target big fish, when and where to experience the best dry fly and nymph fishing, and lastly how to drift in a manner that allows all types of anglers numerous fish catching casts.

Fresh from my downstream Clutha River taster last issue I was interested to see what Greg could put me on in the headwaters of the same River. The Clutha is but one of many rivers he accesses, as he has local council permits and Department of Conservation concessions to drift down kilometres of some of the most pristine and trout rich rivers found in the South Island of New Zealand, and regularly does so. Drift fishing on the blue waters of this part of the South Island is spectacular, though Didymo on the Clutha River is blight on an otherwise perfect scene. Target species on the Clutha are both brown and rainbow trout. Clients have the best of both worlds in that they can fish from the raft as it drifts along, or stop and fish from the shore. Greg knows where to stop and most hotspots have names bestowed on them.

On my trip I caught four trout off one beach that also had wild red deer tracks on it so maybe a new name there could be “Freezer Beach”, though we let our trout go. The rafts are fitted with comfortable seats and rowing frames. This allows anglers to not only fish as they drift but also lets them cover up to 16km of wild New Zealand River per day. A lot easier on the legs than boulder hopping and bush bashing to fish a couple of pools. My visit was in early October so the weather was iffy to say the least. There was still snow on the tops, and only the day before sleet had actually fallen in Hawea Township. My father had to cancel at the last moment so I had all the fishing to myself. While this was great, it meant I was the main deal, and couldn’t sit back and watch the other angler ply his trade. Unlike fly anglers who can dead drift a fly, spin anglers are cast and retrieve exponents, and gee over 16kms of prime fishing habitat you do a lot of casting. Hundreds of casts I reckon.

To my casting credit I finished the trip with the same 13gm lure attached though its treble was bent and twisted. Not bad when most casts are angled in under the overhanging willow trees, and towards the bank side vegetation. A hook-up on a snag behind you poses real problems for Greg, as the current isn’t going that way. While I was trying to catch the trout, Greg made the rowing look effortless, and switched from side to side depending on where he thought the trout might be. Numerous times he anticipated the strike by telling me where to cast and bang, it happened.

Well, how good was the fishing? By trip’s end I had hooked 16, and landed 12, with a few other good strikes thrown in. Of the 12 trout, 7 were rainbows and 5 were browns. None were kept, the average was better than 1kg, and the best fish was a big rainbow, well over 2kg. In short the fishing was magic, and having a guide with you in the boat meant lots of photographs taken, all fish quickly netted, and all fish easily released back into the River. Greg has no problem clients taking a maiden fish or two home to eat, but does like to see the bigger breeders released to fight another day.

The biggest rainbow followed my lure out from under a tree, tracked it right up to the raft, and only took when I jigged the lure under the raft. Jigging was all I could do, as I had no line left to wind. He put up a great aerial display, and definitely earned the title of fish of the day.

Halfway down the River stretch we stopped for lunch, and wow some good tucker came out of the chilly bin. Greg’s wife looks after that part of the package, and like everything else it is top shelf. We arrived at our destination in mid afternoon, and soon after I was on the road back to my base in Alexandra. It had been one of the most enjoyable day’s fishing I can remember. Contact addresses are: Alpine Fishing Guides: Greg Dougherty:  Phone +64 3 443 1023: Mobile: +64 27 652 5617: Email: greg@driftfishingnz.com

Web: www.driftfishingnz.com