For live and premium content, sign up for our email newsletter and we'll send reports directly to your inbox
I made my ninth trip to New Zealand this past February, my eighth within the past eight years. Given that recent concentration of experiences it seemed like a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned, and how others might potentially benefit as they contemplate visiting and angling in that special country.
For the most part it isn’t necessarily an expensive affair. Yes, airfare from Los Angeles has essentially doubled in the past four years and guides there are still shockingly expensive (ranging from $675 to $775 NZ per day ($575 to 660 US, with the exchange rate having progressively worsened over the past several years). But once you learn your way around a bit, and if you are willing to do your own cooking, etc., you can fish New Zealand successfully and fairly economically.
Having made a pitch for going it alone, let me stress my firm belief that it is imperative, when you first go, that you use a guide, at least for a couple of days. In my experience New Zealand guides are very generous in giving advice as to where one might fish on one’s own, so spending several “educational days” with them up front gets you up to speed infinitely faster than if you jump in on your own. I’ll mention three guides at the end of this piece that I’ve had personal experience with, but I also encourage a first-timer to consider working with Mike McClelland at The Best of New Zealand Fly Fishing (www.bestofnzflyfishing.com). Mike knows New Zealand guides well, both those on the North and the South Island, and I don’t believe he would have any objection to helping you book a guide or two for a couple of days each and then leave the rest of your trip to your own devices. He also can, of course, steer you to a number of lodges but, if you are like me, those venues are budget busters. When and where to go: This first question is one that is eternally debated among New Zealand fishermen. On the South Island, which is where I’ve settled into going, the season generally doesn’t open until the first Saturday in November, and is later on some streams. Weather is always iffy (as is true of everywhere we fish), but it can be especially so in New Zealand in November (the equivalent of early spring in the U.S.). But the trout are fresh then, not having had angling pressure for six or so months. You also won’t have as much stream competition then, although that is seldom an issue in my experience in New Zealand.
February is the most popular month, and the weather is usually better then. Be aware, however, that wind, heavy rain that muddies streams, etc. are possible any time. My luck has run the gamut. This past February conditions were nigh ideal for 27 of my 29 days; on other trips, encompassing November, December, and February, I’ve lost as many as half of my fishing days to bad weather, howling winds, or poor water conditions.
Two caveats on the “when and where” questions: Do not plan on going between Boxing Day (December 26) and mid-January. Large numbers of Kiwis are on “holiday” (vacation) then and you will notice a difference with stream pressure, accommodations, etc. All that said, I’m personally pretty well lockedin to going in February,
That’s the “when” part. So, what about the “where” part? In truth, there is excellent fishing to be had on both the North and South Islands; I just don’t have that much experience with the former, and am comfortable with my “spots” on the South Island, so I stick with them. If you are reading this article, you are a subscriber to the best source I know of on what areas to fish in New Zealand: The Angling Report. Take advantage of their Trip Planning Database and check out some of the excellent articles about fishing on both islands. I especially recommend Dave Lambroughton’s piece in the June 2012 issue. He and I fish a lot of the same areas and have similar thoughts on how to fish New Zealand on a reasonable budget.
How to get around? There aren’t many choices here. That starts with your flight over. As far as I know, the only direct flights from the States these days are with Air New Zealand. They provide excellent service but, as mentioned, the current fare is quite high (about $2,100 US roundtrip from Los Angeles to Christchurch). You also will need to rent a car, but there are some excellent budget outfits if you get in touch with them well in advance. If you opt for my February time frame, keep in mind that this is not only the most popular time for anglers but for tourists in general. So rental vehicles tend to get gobbled up. One budget source out of Christchurch that a friend of mine uses is Apex rentals ([email protected]). He rented an older sedan for $495 for 11 days recently. A 4WD with lots of clearance is ideal and would give you more flexibility regarding access to streams, but this, again, adds a lot to your expense. I have made do with a Toyota Corolla, manual transmission hatchback, for most of my trips and didn’t find it too constraining. A year ago, I should add, I bought a 1992 Isuzu Trooper in New Zealand, and I now keep it there.
The roads in New Zealand are good, especially the main highways, and even some of the back tracks can be negotiated in a sedan if you pay attention and keep your speed moderate. The scenery, of course, is stunning!
Accommodations and meals: New Zealand is very visitor friendly and has excellent services to support tourists. Pick up a free “AA Travel Guide” at the airport (there are separate volumes for North and South Islands) and you’ll have abundant information, plus some useful free maps, to find a place to stay. You can also access their information at www.aatravel.co.nz.
Every New Zealand motel I’ve stayed in has had a kitchenette facility with stove, fridge, and basic cooking and eating utensils (including a French press for coffee). You also get a bonus pint of milk when you check in (and one even gave me a free beer!). New World is an excellent grocery chain in most of the towns of any size. Just be sure you get their discount card when you go. I get by on cereal, coffee, and juice for breakfast, and make a peanut butter sandwich for eating on the stream. If you are there in February, an added bonus is fresh fruit everywhere. Most nights I cook something easy like spaghetti. A pub meal, with a pint (they call it a “handle”), is typically $20 to $25 US, again not part of my budget other than for an occasional treat.
What to take: I travel light, as all the motels have laundry facilities, some free, but most for a nominal charge. Bring a ziplock bag of laundry detergent with you and you’ll save that expense. As for fishing equipment, you probably know that New Zealand does not permit felt wading shoes. Beyond that, it is all pretty much as if you were going to any U.S. stream where wind and large trout are in your future. I take two 9-foot rods, a 5 wt. and a 6 wt. And I always make sure I bring a sizeable net.
How to fish: Yes, a lot of the fishing in New Zealand is sight fishing, but I also do a lot of “reading the water.” Much has been written about this in The Angling Report. If I had to guess about my total experience, I’d say it has been about 50-50. I’ve written much more specifically in previous submissions to The Angling Report about technique, flies, leaders, etc., plus I have provided details about the Omarama and Darfield areas that I concentrate on (See the July 2012 issue in particular), so there is no point in duplicating that information here.
Guides: I promised to recommend three. All are on the South Island. The first is Wayne Grafton ([email protected])—Omarama area, midway down the South Island. The majority of my guided New Zealand fishing has been done with Wayne, so I’m obviously quite fond of him. His standard rate this season was $675 NZ (about $575 US) but that does not include the rate he charges for an exceptional experience he offers on a lake two hours south of Omarama ($750 NZ; about $640 US) where, if the weather cooperates, you get an amazing cicada hatch and vicious takes of cicada imitations by two- to four-pound rainbows. Towing and operating his boat, not to mention what adds up to a 12- to 14-hour day for him, more than justifies the higher fee. Beyond excellent fishing and fine companionship, if you fish with Wayne, I can promise you the best streamside lunches you’ve ever had, thanks to his wife Jill.
The second guide I recommend is Peter Carty ([email protected])—Murchison area, northwestern part of the South Island. I only fished with Peter three days a couple of years ago, but I could see right away that he, too, is a very knowledgeable and affable guy. He is also renowned as the best fly tier in New Zealand. His fee two years ago was $775 NZ (about $660 US).
The third guide I recommend is Martin Langlands ([email protected])—Darfield area, less than an hour west of Christchurch. Martin specializes in brown trout waters. He is probably the best person at sighting fish I’ve ever seen, even in discolored and/or wind-disturbed streams. He is also an accomplished photographer and innovative fly tier. I haven’t fished with him in several years, but I went online as I wrote this and noted that his fees this season were $650 NZ for one and $695 for two. He is the first New Zealand guide I’ve seen to follow the U.S. practice of varying the fee per the number of anglers.In sum, there are a lot of ways to “skin the cat” when it comes to fishing in New Zealand more or less on your own. Just make sure that you add New Zealand to your trout fishing designations. Good luck with it!— James Hendrix.