Words by Jan Eckmann
Media by Jan Eckmann, Leif Stävmo, Álvaro G. Santillan
When you look at the trout scene and the people fishing in New Zealand there are a bunch of anglers that stand out from the crowd. Some are high profile guides with a solid reputation, some are media contributors with a large worldwide following, and some are just diehard anglers that live for the mission of catching trophy brown- and rainbow trout with a fly rod. Member of the Swiss parachuting special forces unit and Guideline Ambassador Jan Eckmann is one of those guys, and his long hard backcountry trips to the most remote valleys are almost mythical. Here are his words about his 2023 trip.
Where should I start. After almost 3 years of COVID-timeout I was looking forward to my upcoming NZ trip. Or looking forward is probably an extreme understatement. I really, really missed my long back country trips on my beloved rivers. Also good Kiwi friends and colleagues. So I planned my good 4 weeks New Zealand adventure carefully in advance to get the maximum out of it.
Since my first encounter with the beautiful rivers of New Zealand way over a decade ago my passion for sight-fishing has been growing continuously and I have returned to New Zealand’s back-country every possible season – between two and seven months on each trip. I walked the length of the South Island for over 24 months, experienced all seasons and fished more than 132 different rivers.
On my last trips to New Zealand I somehow got a bit lazy and forgot to explore new waters. But not this year. My goal was “get again out of the comfort zone!”. So I set myself the ambition to explore at least 10 new remote rivers to pursue my passion as a back country fly fisherman. One commitment – one plan.
People often ask me why I fish so intensively the back country of New Zealand and take on all the hardships. The answer is simple – because I love it. I love sight-fishing in remote crystal-clear headwaters where you find huge, both smart and skillful trout. I love being outdoors exploring and walking the extra mile while hoping to discover new rivers with good fish populations. But if you want to fish New Zealand’s back country you have to be willing to take the risk of the unknown and the price you pay is usually high: you have to hike, climb, and navigate through no-man’s-land, to cross threatening gorges, fight wasps while climbing and sandflies while resting – the weather unpredictable and you isolated – all that just to get to the one river you are expecting to hold marvelous browns. And this is unpayable reward.
I was pleased and honored that Leif Stävmo again asked me to fish with him for 2 weeks and share our experiences on the rivers of New Zealand. I enjoy to fish with Leif – for him no hike is too long, no bush-bashing to dense and no mountain too steep. Leif is back country experienced and the perfect fishing buddy.
Together and with the new ULBC equipment and the new NT11 trout fly rods we started our adventure on the remote rivers of New Zealand. The weather gods were kind to us and we spent two weeks continuously on the river, so to speak. We only went back to civilization when we were dislocating or ran out of food. This adventure was perfect to test the new Guideline material to the limit. If anyone needs good ultralight back country outdoor material and a precise and reliable trout fly rod, it’s me!
I was thrilled to see how the ULBC gear would perform in the back country. The idea of Guideline to design a ULBC line is ingenious from my point of view and corresponds the customers with the desire for adventurous fishing trips. Guideline has put a lot of thought into important details that are essential for ULBC trips. “Reduce it to the Max” was the motto and Guideline did a great job. In addition, I would like to highlight the new front mounted ULBC Waistbag 3 from Guideline. The compatibility with the ULBC Daypack but also with larger backpacks for longer trips is clever and very practical at the same time. The Waistbag is spacious enough for all the essential gear you need on a back country trip. I am excited to see how Guideline is going to complete the ULBC line. I will definitely test the upcoming material on my next New Zealand trip.
I was also flattered to be one of the first fly fishers ever to test the new NT11 on some of the best trout rivers in the world. My conclusion: probably the best rod Guideline has ever produced and a must-have for every passionate trout fisherman. Leif and I had a fantastic but very exhausting outdoor time. We experienced a lot, caught fantastic fish and in the evening we chatting about our experiences and plans. Our trip was all about one thing – It’s all about the experience!