As you would expect – fly fishing in the South Island of New Zealand was an incredible adventure. Even though the fishing was very technical and I haven’t been fly fishing for that long, it was still worth the trek to the other side of the world. I definitely recommend everyone who loves fly fishing and traveling to visit this truly magical place.
My friend, Emily Petrie, and I were lucky enough to spend 5 days at the Owen River Lodge in the South Island of New Zealand with New Zealand’s only female guide, Hannah Clement. The Owen River Lodge, Felix (the owner), and everyone associated with it, are absolutely amazing. The fishing, the service, the food, the company was out of this world. The lodge is made up of beautiful white cottages along the Owen River. The Owen River is famous for holding big Browns and being extremely technical to fish. There are over 25 fishable rivers/streams that are within an hour and a half drive of the lodge, not to mention lakes. We had a super rainy day that caused the rivers to blow out, so we visited Lake Rotiti nearby to throw streamers. It was one of the most gorgeous lakes I have ever seen. But when we were pulling up to the river, Hannah asked us if there was anything that we were afraid of. I was expecting her to say there were big spiders or something around the lake. I was totally shocked when we saw a bunch of fresh water eels. They were huge, black and would swim by you while you fished. It was eerie and scary!
Fly fishing in New Zealand is about quality over quantity. If you are looking to catch 10+ fish a day, New Zealand is not the place to go. You are sight fishing and you do not see that many fish a day actually, especially ones that are feeding. New Zealand Browns are wild, huge and very hard to catch on the fly. Expect to cast 40+ feet perfectly with relatively few mistakes. New Zealand has the clearest water in the world, so fish spook very easily. So, you need to be able to cast pretty well with a dry fly long distances. We fished mostly dry flies during our trip. My favorite fly that we fished was a cicada pattern. Watching those big browns come up for that big bug, was so exhilarating and incredible.
There were a wide variety of casting situations during our trip. Sometimes, we had to roll cast because we were in a very tight area with bushes and trees everywhere. Other times you were casting super far upstream to put a fly in front of the Brown. You want to stay behind the fish while it is feeding, so that you don’t spook it. Hannah, also, taught us the bow and arrow cast. You pull the rod back and hold the fly and let go to fling it into the water in the very dense areas. It was pretty sweet.
One of the things that I loved most about fly fishing in New Zealand, was that there was no one on the river. I am used to fishing in Colorado where there are people in every hole. Here, it was just Emily, Hannah and I and the river. There were a few cows, though from time to time. There are so many rivers and options with big Browns on the South Island, as long as the river is not blown out. I, also, enjoyed all of the walking that we did. You never stayed in the same place for more than a few minutes. You are constantly on the move hunting for those big, bucknasty Browns walking though the most beautiful landscapes I had ever seen.
If you do decide to travel to New Zealand to fly fish, do some other adventures around the South Island, too! I would highly recommend renting a car. Things are very spread out and you will want to explore the rest of the island. You will have to drive on the wrong side of the car and road, though! I was nervous to do it, but it was a lot easier than I expected. I spent a few days in Nelson and it was beautiful. It overlooks the ocean and you can even get into some saltwater fishing there. The town is quaint and there are amazing restaurants and the friendliest people. Emily took another week to travel around the South Island. She ventured to Milford Sound and did an amazing kayak tour. You can, also, take helicopter rides to the tops of glaciers out there!
New Zealand not only made me a better angler, but intensely deepened my love and passion for the sport. It is an insanely beautiful country where everyone is overwhelming nice. I cannot wait to go back to fly fish the South Island again, but this time I am going to stay longer.
Tips for Fly Fishing New Zealand:
- Practice your casting and make sure you can cast 30+ feet and that your flies lay out perfectly. Practice casting from your knees, too. Sounds weird, but there were times where I was casting from my knees so I would not spook the fish.
- Practice sight fishing. Be able to recognize when a fish is feeding. Your guide will be spotting fish for you, but it would be nice to have more than one set of eyes!
- Your clothing color matters. Wear neutral colors like light green to avoid spooking fish.
- Go with a guide. You do not need to stay at a fancy lodge, but hire a private guide to help you find the right places to fish. The big fish are few and far between, so make sure you aren’t wasting your time.
- Practice dry fly fishing. Timing is everything and you do not want to be learning the timing of when to set when you are there and miss a chance at that huge New Zealand Brown.
- Practice streamer fishing. If it is raining, the rivers blow out and you will streamer fish in a lake or blown out river.
- Make sure you go during the summer months, otherwise you won’t be able to fish.
- Practice fighting and landing big fish. I lost a couple of big fish fighting them. It is so heart breaking and everything has to be perfect. The more experienced you are fighting big fish, the more of a chance you will have landing it.
Guest contribution by Vail Valley Anglers Ambassador, Kinsey Durham. Check out more of Kinsey’s adventures here!