For full-time Idaho guide Nick Price, traveling to the South Island of New Zealand in March 2015 was like a visit to the Promised Land.
“I trout-fish a lot, and if I was to call any place I’ve been my Mecca for trout fishing, that’s it,” says Price, 43, who is also a professional photographer and frequent contributor to Anglers Journal (nickpricephotography.com). “Sometimes the place is the fish. For me, going to New Zealand was kind of like the fish, if that makes sense.”
I get it. But was there one particular fish that stood out?
“Yes,” answers Price, who has been guiding for more than 20 years. “A certain brown in New Zealand, for sure. It was the day and the place. The water was stunning. Crystal-clear and cold. I was standing on the bank on big, mossy-covered boulders. Kind of a slowish fishing day. And I’m with a cool guide, Scott Murray, whom I’d spent about 10 days with. And we’re taking turns, essentially. And he saw a fish in fast water. And it wasn’t the biggest fish, by any means, of the trip.”
But it turned out to be the most memorable one. Price was fishing a tiny nymph about two feet under a wool indicator on a 5-weight rod. The fish moved up from about five feet down to eat the fly, and off it raced.
“I ended up hooking it, maybe on the first or second cast, and it was stronger than any trout I’ve ever dealt with,” recalls Price, who lives in Hailey, Idaho. “I couldn’t believe what it was doing. It was running up waterfall-like rapids. It was just all over the place.”
Price, meanwhile, boulder-hopped a couple of hundred yards upstream to keep pace. “Brown trout like to fight upstream,” he says. “I call it getting freight-trained. They just steamroll you. You can’t slow them down. And it just went and went and went. And it’s mossy, the banks are narrow. Just playing the fish was a challenge. Usually, hooking them is the hardest part. And we landed it.”
The fight lasted maybe 10 minutes. “Not super-long for a fish like that, but not super-short,” he says. “You learn kind of what breaking strength is. If you pull any harder, you’re going to snap the tippet. And I try and stay just below that point, so if the leader touches anything rough or abrasive, it’s bang, bye.”
The big brown weighed 8½ pounds. “I got fish up to 11½ pounds on that trip, but this fish was just …” he says and pauses. “A big-wave surfer has said it’s not the size of the wave; it’s the ‘teeth’ of the wave. This fish was just that much stronger.”
Price fished out of River Haven Lodge in Murchison, New Zealand, which is owned by Scott “The Trout” Murray and his wife, Leya (riverhaven.co.nz).
“Scott is a great guide,” says Price. “I said, Scott, we’re going to take turns. You fish, I fish, and we can go anywhere you want. If there’s a place you haven’t been that you need to scout, and you think it’s boom or bust, let’s go.”
Price adds, “This trip was a special. We caught big fish after big fish after big fish. I think it’s different when you have two guides together who can walk a lot.”
Price is returning to New Zealand in January. For the moment, that big brown is the fish that stands out in his mind. But it’s not the one that swims regularly through his thoughts.
“If there is a quest, it’s certainly the roosterfish in Mexico. And doing it on my own terms,” the guide says.
That means on the fly, from the beach, with no teaser. Price has already made four trips south of the border without a rooster to show.
“The quest remains.”