Trout and about in New Zealand's South Island

Photo of Mark Thornton

For the keen fly fisher, big fish and even bigger scenery await. 

New Zealand is reputed to provide some of the best trout fishing in the world. 

Even the English and Americans, accustomed to their own beautiful rivers filled with native trout, concur. So New Zealanders, who had the foresight to stock their streams and rivers with trout from British stock in the 1860s (they’re not native to the country), are now only too happy to lure foreigners to wet a line.

The South Island, with its high mountains, spectacular scenery and — according to the locals — rivers with bigger average weights of fish than in the north, drew Gary Potts, a friend who owns Rusty Fig vineyard near Bermagui in southern New South Wales.

Gary booked the trip through Will Spry, a renowned fishing guide who knows the rivers and where to catch fish. 

Gary credits Will with his being able to land so many fish he lost count of the number. All were returned unharmed to the water.

This is his account of just one day’s fishing a pristine river in spectacular surroundings, where the air seems like it’s never been breathed before, and with Mt Cook looming magnificently 30km to the north west.

Spectacular setting

The day dawned without promise. The sky was overcast with rain threatening. Thankfully, where they were based in the rain shadow east of the Southern Alps, there was neither rain nor sign of the strong winds that often barrel the mountains. Will had already scouted the area and had a plan to fish some favoured water, which offered a number of fishing options and therefore better prospects on such an uncertain day. He set out with Gary for a notable braided river half an hour away. 

During the day, Gary was to catch a mix of rainbows and browns, with an average weight of 2kg, the ideal size for a fighting trout. By lunchtime, he had caught 15 fish and hooked another 10 that had “bent the rod” but escaped. That afternoon, he landed 12 fish, but derived greater satisfaction from having caught them in very difficult conditions.

Gary’s story

“We arrived at the Tekapo, which drains into Benmore Dam, to find that the weather had turned for the better with a clearing sky, light breeze and warming conditions,” Gary recalls. 

“Our stocks for at least a good day’s fishing had risen considerably. We left the vehicle not far from the river and walked downstream about 250m, but still some metres from the water so as not to disturb the fish, before moving quietly nearer. Little did we realise that we would not make it back for lunch for nearly four hours.

“The fishing was spectacular almost immediately. The fish were holding in riffled water behind larger rocks, waiting for passing food. Punctuated with occasional flashing rises, they were feeding actively and all too ready to move on well-presented flies. They were not easy to see, being well camouflaged by the rocky stream bed and the broken water surface.

“Will advised a set-up of a size 14 Parachute Adams, a dry fly, with a trailing nymph. These appeared to be just what the fish were looking for and they moved eagerly on both flies, rising to the surface to take the dry fly while others picked up the trailing nymph.

“This sort of fishing requires taking great care to get the speed of the strike just right. It means controlling a natural reaction to strike as soon as the fish takes. With a wet fly, sometimes you can see the fish move on the fly, other times just a hesitation in the drift of the line tells you. But with a dry fly, you see the fish rise, often in a leisurely manner, and suck in the fly. Resist the temptation to strike — wait until the fish has turned down into the water again or you will just pull the fly out of its mouth.

“Stalking a fish, you can see clearly in the stream and watching it take a well-presented dry fly is one of the most exciting forms of fishing there is. On the Tekapo, once hooked, the fish immediately show their superb condition, powering all over the stream, often leaping completely clear in a shower of rainbow spray and frequently taking me well downstream. It’s then that patience is needed, for trying to force a strong, good-sized fish to turn before you’ve tired it somewhat often means losing it because it sheds the fly or breaks the line. A good fish needs to be played for a while before it can be brought to the net and duly released. The adrenalin rush and excitement gradually subsided over lunch and on-stream cappuccinos (thanks again Will) but we did not linger long, knowing that with conditions like this there must be a lot more good fishing in store. As we moved upstream, the water slowed with more overhanging trees along the banks. We saw plenty of fish but now they were less accessible, demanding better presentation of the fly and more controlled handling of the hooked fish to bring it to the net successfully. I had to make difficult back-hand casts and other improvisations to reach the fish.”

“By the end of the day, it was hard to believe that we had moved no more than 500m along the one river, landed 27 fish averaging 2kg and lost half as many again. 

“It was an extraordinary day’s fishing, better than anything I’d experienced in travelling to the area in 15 years.”


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