Do yourself a favour and hire a professional fishing guide!
One way or another, my life has always been substantially linked to the world of rivers, trout and fly fishing. I first started trout fishing with a worm as a seven-year-old and it wasn’t long before I was seduced by the pleasures of fly fishing. I have held a fishing licence every year since. By my early twenties, I was teaching other anglers the skills of fly fishing and have now taught hundreds of anglers how to cast a fly and enjoy the amazing sport we know as fly fishing.
After a stint as a secondary school teacher, I started my first guiding business in 1980, based at St. Arnaud in Nelson Lakes National Park. I helped pioneer heli-fishing into many of the magic wilderness streams that characterise the northern area of the South Island. Now, these streams are established names in international angling circles.
I am a Life Member and former President of the New Zealand Professional Fishing Guides Association and was a founder member of the NZ Fly Fishing Team to several World Championships from 1987-1992. From 1990-1999, my wife Sharon and I owned a specialist fishing and shooting store in Nelson. For seven years I was a councillor on the Nelson Acclimatisation Society and then the Nelson-Marlborough Fish and Game Council. I have actively lobbied for the protection of New Zealand’s sports fisheries for most of my adult life and have been a regular contributor of articles on fly fishing in New Zealand for more than thirty years.
The complete experience of fly fishing for trout, the magnificent surroundings in which we indulge our passion for the sport and the wonderful people I have met as a consequence, remain very much the central pivot of my life … my reason for being.
I guided full-time from 1980 – 2020, before retiring in March 2021.
THE CHALLENGE OF THE NEW ZEALAND’S SOUTH ISLAND FISHERY
The challenges of New Zealand’s South Island fishery are ‘infamous’. Its complexities have been compounded in recent years as NZ’s popularity as a fishing destination has grown. Compared to many fisheries around the world, trout fishing in New Zealand is quite difficult. Trout here have never been exceptionally plentiful, (we don’t measure them in 1000s of fish per mile), and are not always easy to catch. NZ fly fishing can be tough even for experienced anglers. You need to be ‘on your game’!
The surest way to ‘level the odds’ is to hire a good professional guide. The key to consistent success rests in your guide’s ability to spot and stalk the trout and assist with the best flies and techniques to catch them. However, there is much more to your enjoyment of the New Zealand fishery than simply finding and catching fish. Your guide should be a good companion, a patient teacher and have sufficient experience of the weather, safe river-crossing and travel in the New Zealand back-country to ensure your personal safety and well being.
As our trout are pursued by increasing numbers of anglers, New Zealand can be a very humbling fishery. Those who choose to fish by themselves and whose skill levels are not up to the mark will find the challenge ‘confronting’ to say the least. In New Zealand, trout fishing is seldom a numbers game and our biggest trout are not fooled easily … you learn the ropes, refine your skills and ‘go often’ to the water if you are to succeed.
It’s a fact that the more you fish in NZ the greater the personal satisfaction you develop as an angler … and the greater the rewards in the quality of fish you’ll land. For those anglers who can ‘get it in perspective’, fly fishing for New Zealand trout quickly becomes a life-long addiction.
Fishing options with guides generally include local river day trips, day helicopter fly-outs, remote overnight back-country helicopter or hike-in camp-outs.
CATCHING TROPHY TROUT
The New Zealand trout fishery originally became famous for the regularity that anglers could catch trout averaging around 4 lbs … which is a big trout for most anglers. On any trip an angler can also expect to be presented with the opportunity to catch some trout bigger than that … however fish over 8lb are not as common as some visitors may believe.
The legends of giant trout in a so-called ‘Year of the Mouse’, stir the blood of any hot-blooded angler but are very often overstated by those promoting the New Zealand fishery. Certainly, in those years when rodent populations increase dramatically, we do see a corresponding increase in the number of trophy trout … but they cannot be considered the norm and are to be treasured when they occur. Large trout over 8lb are definitely out there on any given day and could be landed from nearly any stream we fish (in this part of New Zealand anyway) … but they are less common than ‘some promotional material’ would have you believe and are definitely considered special fish.
If you specifically want to chase trophy trout you should talk things through with an experienced guide before you arrive. While visiting anglers have over the years landed plenty of ‘double-digit’ trout … those big trout didn’t come easy.
Your guide will do their best to help you, but you also need to be realistic about your casting abilities, your experience with landing larger-than-average trout (5+ lb) … and your physical ability to move around some of our roughest waters. Many more trophy trout are lost than landed.
Before getting fixated on catching only big trout, you should understand that ‘chasing trophy trout’ generally means you may well forgo opportunities to fish on other more productive waters which still produce smaller, but quality trout … Big fish and lots of fish seldom go together.
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