In a world that seems obsessed with specialization, versatility is an under rated skill. It’s been my approach to fishing for as long as I’ve swung a fly rod—to do what ever it takes to ‘get a bite’ regardless of species and conditions. I’m no purist and to be versatile requires a certain mindset, the preparedness to alter your tackle and to deal with changes, to make things happen when specialization fails. It also requires the tackle to deal with this diversity.

Although its only a 3 hour flight from Sydney, it had been a few years since I’d last visited New Zealand and I’d really missed a good dose of some hard core ‘trouting’, involving light rods, small flies and the joys of long sun and wind burned days on the rivers, and getting back into a groove defined by a feeling that you can only recognize when you hit it.

Early summer had seen huge floods rearrange many of the rivers of the South Island, but by the second half of summer the country was in drought. Late summer and early autumn is a great time to be on these rivers. Long warm days are followed by clear cool nights and although the landscape was dry, the rivers were in magnificent condition. By now they’re teeming with mayfly nymphs ready to burst into the world, and the last of the summer foods are still hitting the water. The fish know instinctively what’s coming too, they know they’ll need to pack on some condition, so on most days they feed hard all from dawn to dusk, and evenings are long.

The lowland rivers of Southland teem with browns and some have rainbows as well. The slower backwaters and the best smooth water lies, especially those in deeper sheltered water with distinct bubble lines and feeding lies hold the bigger, older fish that spawned last winter, the ones that can afford to defend territory. The fitter maiden fish are usually found feeding in the faster water, and the smaller fish fit in where ever they can find a safe space.

As hatches come and go the fish move around to take maximum advantage of what’s available, they can’t afford not to. For my couple of weeks of non-stop 10 hour days on the water if I want to really make the most of my fishing time I couldn’t afford not to adapt to their movements and changes, because for me this really is precious time that’s dense with expectation and endless small linked events; sometimes even the seconds seem to count.

This is when my quest for versatility becomes paramount. When the fish are nymphing in the shallow riffles a #16 gold bead head nymph under a wisp of a wool indicator is the rig. A deeper riffle might require 2 bead heads, a #14 and an #16 and there may be a few fish also prepared to rise to the surface so an indicator dry fly is a better bet. When they start rising freely in the riffles its back to a single dry. Before the hatch a deeper narrow fast water slot with a clearly feeding fish might need a #12 ‘bomb’ nymph with a trailing #16 under a bigger wool indicator on a 20 foot leader. When the #16 and #18 duns start coming off the long slicks are dimpled with rising fish that won’t look at anything presented on tippets thicker than 6X – and then in the next slow swirling backwater you find a log of a fish lazily sipping spent spinners, or accumulated defunct duns, or the last of the summer willow grubs. At the end of the day, on the long exhausted walk back to the car in the near dark the temptation to swing a little bead head woolly bugger through some great water you walked by earlier in the day is just too much to miss.

I fished the 590-4 ONE most of this trip and all of these scenarios presented themselves in the course of a single day. We had touches of tough weather too, it was often windy but the demand for drag free drifts with long leaders and fine tippets doesn’t just go away. And the fish were fit and powerful. This rod was just brilliant, and ‘versatile’ should be its middle name – Sage “Versatile” One.

I fished other rivers on other days with lighter rods, heavier rods, and longer rods. The Waiau is a mighty tailwater fishery where fit rainbows are jumbled into the riffles and big browns are on the edges scoffing down cicadas. The #790 ONE was my rod for that water, then on a more exposed southern tributary where the wind blows off the Southern Ocean and there’s hundreds of meters between fish the #691 ONE proved its worth. But it was that wonderful versatile #5 ONE that really stole the show for me. Thanks Jerry.

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