August 28, 2005
TO:The Angling Report
In the August 2005 issue of "The Angling Report" a call was given for reports on lodges operated by Shackleton International. You may recall I submitted a report on the Alphonse Island operation in Seychelles which was published in the February 2004 issue. Well I have now had an opportunity to fish and hunt at another Shackleton property this past April, Lake Rotoroa Lodge in New Zealand. I'm certain that you have received many reports on this historic lodge over the years, but felt that perhaps interested anglers might enjoy an update. My hunting and fishing buddy, Pete Rieben, from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan; and I was very pleased with our stay at the Lodge. Our goal was to attempt a modified "cast and blast" expedition where the primary goal was to harvest one of New Zealand's fabled red stags with a bow and arrow, and at the same time experience the island's famed brown trout fishery. While we weren't completely successful at meeting our goal, the total experience more than exceeded our expectations, and with what we learned on the trip, we are more than eager to return for a rematch with both the stags and the impressive brown trout.
Lake Rotoroa Lodge is located on the South Island of New Zealand about a 1.5 hour drive from the city of Nelson. It is surrounded by 46 rivers that can be reached within a 1 hour drive or short helicopter flight, all of which contain considerable numbers of large and exceptionally wary brown trout. This is hilly, mountainous country, covered with dense bush with lush green hillsides that are home not only to the ubiquitous New Zealand sheep, but also to large numbers of red deer, wild pigs, feral goats and in the alpine regions, chamois, and a wild sheep locally known as a tahr.
The genesis for this trip was a conversation I had in Seychelles in December 2004 with Peter Rippen, operations manager for Shackleton International, which operates the Lodge. He described the brown trout fishery with considerable understated enthusiasm, and I enquired if it might be possible to combine a fishing trip with an attempt to take a red stag on a bow and arrow. He thought it might be possible and later confirmed that with Brent Hyde who manages the Lodge. After the exchange of several e-mails, Pete Rieben, who is a very experienced bow hunter (and a novice fly fisherman) and I decided to take a stab at it in early April when the deer are in rut and we might have a chance of calling a stag in close enough to get a good shot with a bow.
We committed the first 2 days to hunting and climbed and lost several thousand feet each day calling and stalking red stags on a private farm within 5 miles of the lodge. My guide and I actually got within 20 yards of a nice 10 pointer, but could not see him because of the interposed dense brush. Pete and his guide had a clear view of both us and the stag as they were high on a ridge about 300 yards away. We did manage to bag a couple of wild pigs, one of which was served up by the lodge staff as a fabulous appetizer prior to dinner one evening.
We spent the rest of the trip stalking the legendary brown trout of the area where we experienced considerably more success. First let me compliment the overall quality of both the guides and the fish. We fished with 2 guides and met several others who were guiding other fishermen at the lodge. Everyone was impressed with the ability, personalities and the enthusiasm of their guides. Their ability to spot the fish, set you up in the right position to make the cast, and then describe what they wanted you to do was uncanny.
We did not encounter large numbers of fish, but what they lacked in quantity they more than made up for in quality. We did not catch a fish under 3 pounds and most were from between 4 and 7 pounds. They were all brown trout which frequently made runs of 200 feet or more accompanied by wild acrobatic jumps. In describing the fishery, Brent told us that the average day here would see about 3 fish caught per fisherman. We did that and better but many of the excellent fishermen at the lodge that week did even better. Andy Wunsch from Simms was into 8 - 10 fish/day and caught several over the 8 pound mark.
The fishing was quite technical, requiring short but very precise casts with extremely long leaders. Most of the fishing was done with nymphs and strike indicators which required lightening fast strikes. I did manage to catch a couple of nice browns on dry flies, and here the strike has to be very slow and deliberate. The guides are excellent at talking you through all of this.
We fished several different rivers all with their own distinct characteristics. As mentioned previously, there are 46 rivers within an hours drive or short helicopter flight of the lodge. The rivers must receive considerable pressure, but we did not see another angler on the stream while we were there. We did take one helicopter trip and it did result in easily our most productive day of fishing. One factor fishermen should be aware of is the ubiquitous sand flies. They are everywhere, sometimes in great hoards. Many of the fishermen and guides wore gloves to protect themselves from these biting pests.
One last comment regarding the lodge is in order; the lodge itself is gorgeous with wonderful historical appointments, trophy mounts, photos of guests with huge brown trout, etc. The staff is first class and has been trained to look after your every need. For example, I am not much of a fish eater, and one evening when some sort of fish was the main course, it was noticed that I didn't eat much of the fish. That night, and for the rest of the trip, if fish was offered as a main or appetizer, I was offered an alternative without having to ask. The food is fabulous, and a wide selection of excellent wine is available in the cellar.
One factor that impressed us considerably was the flexibility of the staff and the whole operation. When we were hunting the first 2 days our schedule was necessarily quite different from the rest of the guests who were fishing. It didn't matter what time we left or came in, there was always a hearty breakfast or lunch waiting for us. When we came back prior to dinner there was always someone to meet you and help you in while you took off your waders and offer you a cold beer and snack while the first of many tall tales of the day's adventures were told.
In summary, we couldn't have been more pleased with our trip. While we didn't get our stag with a bow and arrow, we learned enough about the area that we are confidant we can succeed next time. We had a fabulous time stalking and catching the brown trout, and probably did better than expected. The excellence of the accommodations, coupled with the attention to detail paid by the staff, the beauty of the country and the quality of the fishery make this one of the top destinations on my list. The lodge can be booked through Frontiers at 1-800-245-1950.