For many anglers, New Zealand is known as a mecca for once in a lifetime size wild brown trout. My husband and I made the decision to go here for our honeymoon in search of these fish. For months leading up to our trip, my father repeatedly asked me, “have you practiced casting a 15ft leader yet?” Each time I quickly responded with a “nope” and moved on. I thought to myself, I’m a saltwater angler that constantly casts into chop and winds. I’ve got this. Boy was I wrong…

The Big Picture

Fly fishing in New Zealand should really be called hunting. These fish are smart. With such clarity in the water, the second you spot them they’ve likely spotted you. They smell human hunger. 15+ foot leaders and inconspicuous colored fly line and clothing is a must.

Big Picture Tips:

  • Always stay downstream of these fish. They can smell your scent if you cross upriver and then the pool is no longer worth fishing.
  • New Zealand fly fishing is all sight fishing. Look for gray moving shadows in gin clear waters. Like any type of sight fishing, once you spot a couple they become easier to find.
  • Because New Zealand trout have no real predators they can often be found out in the open in shallow waters.
  • Fish are easier to spot when the sun is high giving you a better glimpse into the river.
  • Walk the banks as quietly as possible as to not spook the fish… one noticeable thump and the fish you’ve been peeling your eyes to spot for the last hour is gone (made that mistake one too many times).
  • If unspooked and content, these fish will continue to feed happily giving you the time you need to properly set up for the perfect shot. Spend time observing their feeding behavior.
  • If dry fly fishing, the fly should lead the fish by roughly 2ft, nymphing by roughly 6ft.
  • Have a nymphing rod and dry fly rod set up so you’re ready for both circumstances.
  • 5wt/6wt should cover most situations that you encounter. 
  • Presentation of the fly is key for success meaning proper controlled drifts and no drag.
  • Practice turning over a 15ft leader before fishing these rivers. It’s all about stopping high on your backcast and as few false casts as possible to get the length you need to reach the fish. Waving a fly rod above their heads is guaranteed to spook the fish. Forget about double hauling.
  • Once you hook into these fish, get ready to move. New Zealand brown trout take off almost immediately and staying stagnant will cause the fish to break off.
  • Turn over rocks along the river to see what they’re feeding on.
  • At the end of the day, we’re all sipping flies. The sand flies are so bad along the river that there’s just nothing you can do about it.  A few flies a day never hurt anybody.
7lbs of New Zealand Gold

We quickly learned that New Zealand fly fishing is a mecca. We hunted for these fish. We tiptoed along the banks, crawled through the brush, and even used walkie talkies for communication. We wore only neutral colors so the fish had a difficult time spotting us. We used 15+ ft leaders so our fly line was inconspicuous. It’s easy for an instagram photo of a chunky brown trout to make this look easy but the truth is, it’s not. It takes a tremendous amount of patience, skills, determination, and understanding to land these fish. It took time for us to become dialed in. Definitely give yourself a few days if you’re planning on fishing New Zealand.

South Island

Without giving away any secret spots, the South Island of New Zealand is known for its tremendously fishy waters. We spent a lot of time fishing the Nelson area (northern part of the South Island) which proved to be incredible fishing and gorgeous scenery. The blue pools really do exist. During our trip, we constantly referenced John Kent’s South Island Trout Fishing Guide for guidance, tips, and access points.

Most valuable to our fly fishing success was our 4 days of guided fly fishing at Owen’s River Lodge at the beginning of our trip. This helped us get acclimated and our feet wet with local knowledge. We learned from our seasoned guide at the lodge, Paul, how to hunt for these fish. He was one of those guides that had a story about everything. He pushed us to become better anglers. I happen to love guides like this. My passion is just as intense when it comes to fly fishing.

Our Kiwi Friend Paul From Owen’s River Lodge

Each day in New Zealand was unique and memorable. We spent most of our days getting from place to place in our campervan that we picked up in Christchurch. For those interested in going to New Zealand this is a great way to explore the islands. The campervan allowed us greater mobility and to explore as much of the South Island as possible. Being a kiwi for two and a half weeks was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

You can follow along with Jenny Tates on Instagram at @jenny_tates.

Check out these other great articles about fishing New Zealand:

Angler’s Paradise: Fishing New Zealand with Shelen Boyes

The Fence Fight

Video: New Zealand Brown in Spring Creek

10 Things to Remember While Fishing in Variable Weather