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Peter Bennett writes: My wife Diana and I have fished New Zealand for more than 10 years now and have probably seen more of the country and the rivers than most Kiwis. We have fished both the North and the South Island; we’ve fished with guides and without guides; and we’ve fished the backcountry by helicopter, as well as along some of the major highways. I can comfortably say we have seen it all.
While there are a number of different variables to be factored in, there is no question that day in and day out sightfishing will be more successful than blind fishing, assuming, of course, that one can cast reasonably well and that the guide can find and spot the fish. This is not to say that a person will not catch some good fish blind fishing. They will, but they will never know how many fish they scared and/or walked by in the process. The streams and rivers in New Zealand do not have a lot of fish, but what they do have are larger fish (four to eight pounds) and they are generally quite wild and spooky.
Admittedly, there are some rivers, like the Mataura on the South Island, that have a regular evening hatch, hold a lot of two- to three-pound fish and see a fair amount of pressure that can be fished like a typical US trout stream. However, the Mataura is not your typical New Zealand trout stream. More often than not, on most other streams in New Zealand, there is no hatch, at least during the day, and the fish are paranoid about any kind of bright colors or movement along the bank. New Zealand trout tend to react very negatively to things such as rocks being ground together under someone’s boots or a fly line landing on the water directly above them. What you have to remember is that these are wild fish that may only see a fisherman once every one or two weeks. Large flies and heavy tippets are generally not a problem, even with the larger fish, but bright clothing, the shadow of a line overhead or scent in the water from someone upstream definitely are.
All of this is to say that the more times you put your line in the water, both with fish you have sighted and those you have not, the less chance you have of a hook-up. More than once, I have seen my wife make several excellent casts in a row, each time with the line well behind the fish, only to see the fish stiffen up a bit more with each cast until it goes doggo, as they say in New Zealand. There is no question that your best chance of catching a particular fish is to put the first cast directly over it and with no drag. The kind of fly one uses is generally less important than the presentation, since most of the flies one uses, including the nymphs, are attractor patterns. In almost every case, the odds clearly drop, and usually quite sharply, with each successive cast, even when you are doing things right. Any kind of disturbance anywhere near a fish will put it on alert, and the more repetitive the disturbance, the higher the state of alert. This is why blind fishing generally doesn’t work very well in New Zealand.
To me, it is not a question of either/or but what is most appropriate in each particular situation. The better guides with whom I have fished will often say to me something along the lines of, You should probably blind fish this piece of water. It looks awfully good, and I know it holds fish, but I simply cannot see into it. Often, the light or the background isn’t good, or the surface is simply too wrinkled, either because the wind has picked up or because it just happens to be a choppy stretch of the river. As I indicated earlier, there is no question in my mind that sight fishing is more effective than blind fishing in most situations. – Peter Bennett.
Jeff Miller, Jr. writes: Several issues ago, a subscriber wrote about his trip to New Zealand. He was stirred up about the way his guides frowned on blind casting. You asked that other subscribers weigh in on this subject. Well, I recently returned from New Zealand and enjoyed fun and challenging fishing for big trout. I fished from Poronui Ranch on the North Island and out of Lake Rotoroa Lodge and Fiordland Lodge on the South Island. We made a few blind casts, but not many. And here’s why.
Trout in New Zealand are big, but not plentiful. While North Americans measure trout populations by thousands of fish per mile, the rivers of New Zealand have only hundreds of fish per mile. Maybe fewer than that. Imagine a pool here in the US that holds, say, a dozen fish. A similar pool in New Zealand will likely hold only one fish or none.
The trout I caught on my recent trip ranged from five to nine pounds. A fish this size commands a whole pool and maybe the pools immediately upstream and downstream. So, making a bunch of blind casts to what looks to be great water can be a complete waste of time. Nobody’s home. True, you might catch some smaller fish. But who wants smaller fish when there are enormous ones to be caught? New Zealand fishing is all about big, big trout.
In super-clear New Zealand water, you (or at least your trusty guide) can spot these big fish with relative ease. So, why make a blind cast when you’re almost always able to detect the presence, or absence, of your quarry? Because these big trout are so spread out, it’s necessary to cover a lot of ground as you move upstream in search of the next fish. Any significant amount of blind casting will slow you down and limit both the amount of water you can cover and the number of big fish you’re likely to see and cast to.
Seeing the trout of a lifetime, sneaking into position and making a flawless presentation is really fun and exciting. It’s much cooler than throwing a fly out there and hoping something happens.