Forty years of guided trout fishing … who’d have thought? … BRING IT ON!
REVIEW OF THE 2018 – 19 SEASON
Simply stated … this was the Best Fishing Season in Years around the top of the South Island. It was also the busiest guiding season I’ve undertaken since before the disruption of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. As with the previous three seasons there continued to be plenty of interest from visitors in guided fly-fishing in New Zealand. During the 2018 winter, I decided that the ’18-19 Season would be my last ‘full-on’ guiding season before starting to ease back my guiding workload over the next few years. I was lucky enough to fill my book from early October right through until the middle of April, by which stage I have to confess, my body was starting to feel the strain and closed my book at Easter.
It was also the most productive season, catch-wise, that I have guided in over twenty years. Rivers like the Motueka and Wangapeka (and others) held increased populations of trout, reminiscent in some locations of my earliest days of guiding. Fish and Game attribute the healthy increase in numbers to the lack of big flood events in the late October – November time-frame when our brown trout young are hatching and most vulnerable.
The Motueka River continued its surge in fish numbers from previous seasons, and our average catch rate for the season was close to ten fish a day. While most were in the 1 – 1.5kg range, we did score good numbers over 2kg up until the New Year. By then the first impacts of what was to become an extended drought started to be felt and the bigger fish in the Motueka system became much harder to find. However, what we lacked in size in the latter half of the season was made up for in the healthy numbers of medium-sized fish, that came willingly to the dry fly on most days.
By late February the drought was in full swing and we were not to get any significant rain again until late March. River levels dropped and water temperatures climbed. Many of the smaller streams were hardest hit and our fishing focus mostly targeted the bigger rivers throughout January, February and March. The western drainages of the Motueka and Wangapeka catchments were lucky to sustain just enough valuable rainfall on their boundaries with Kahurangi National Park, to help at least moderate river temperatures and mitigate the full impact of the low flows. During this challenging period, the secret was to rise early and hit the rivers in the cool of the morning and aim to have the best of our fishing finished by mid-afternoon.
We had a brief period of cicada activity in mid-January to mid-February, but as in keeping with recent seasons, the ‘cicada fishing’ was again disappointing. Why this should be on a variety of rivers that generally produce reliable cicada hatches, I don’t really know, but I suspect, the drought may have played a role. We must be due a good cicada season soon!
It wasn’t really a season for finding trophy-sized trout on any of the rivers we fished, but while we didn’t land any coveted ‘double digits’, we did manage a smattering of bigger fish here and there, especially earlier in the season.
FORTY YEARS OF GUIDED FISHING
This will be my 40th Season guiding anglers around the top of the South Island. It has been an amazing forty years … and there has been a huge amount of change.
When I started out in 1980 there were only three guides operating in the region. Then, it was tough enough just trying to get overseas anglers interested in the Nelson fishing region. We had some of the best brown trout fishing in the world, but nobody outside NZ new about it. There was no regional marketing, no specialist lodges, scarce few restaurants and NZ was ‘infamous’ for its instant coffee! Most motels didn’t even have beds long enough to cater for your average American angler.
Slowly we captured anglers’ interest, especially in the challenges of sight fishing to larger than average brown trout. Initially, the industry was built around catering principally to US anglers, who at the time were seeking new frontiers in fly fishing and had the where-with-all and propensity to hire guides. It certainly helped our cause a lot that back then an NZ dollar cost only 50cents USD. By the mid-1980s the industry was on a bit of roll. We’d opened up a lot of the backcountry to helicopter fishing (for which our region is now renowned worldwide) and there was a growing need for more guides to meet the demand. There are now more than thirty guides regularly operating in the upper South Island.
Nowadays the region caters for anglers from all over the globe. The US remains our single most important market, but Australia, Europe and Scandinavia are also big contributors to our guided fishing industry. As much as 25% of my income even comes from Kiwi anglers wanting a guided fishing experience. The region is now well served by specialist lodges as well as a plethora of other excellent accommodation options, top-class restaurants, award-winning wineries and plenty of other activities to entice tourists here … we also now make some of the best coffee in the world.
The guiding industry has never been for the faint of heart and it’s certainly no way to make a fortune .. as I can well testify. It is, in fact, a bloody hard way to make a buck. Between various ‘disruptions to the economy’, the vagueries of our weather and the occasional self-induced ‘error of judgment’, there have been times over the years when it was a serious struggle, especially when Sharon and I were raising a young family. But as I was lucky enough to build a reputation and solved the fundamental issue of making a reasonable income, it has proved to be one hell of a fun way to make a living. When asked recently, “Looking back, if I had the chance to ‘do-it-all-over-again’, what would I like to come back as?”, it didn’t take much thought to concede that I’d probably still really like to come back again as a fishing guide … (or maybe a labrador dog)!
The initial adventure was exploring all the rivers, working out the best ways to guide them and evolving successful techniques to catch our ever-testing brown trout. But what has ultimately sustained me over forty years has been the many truly amazing people I have been privileged to guide. My anglers have come from all walks of life; from workers who have saved hard to afford a day or two of guided fishing through to influential heads of industry, from colourful characters to the elite of Hollywood, from average Joe Blows to innovators in medicine, law and the arts. All have had wonderful stories to share.
Some anglers have hung in there with me for over thirty years. That says a lot about their endurance, patience and love for our fishery. In that time I have looked forward to their visits (often every year) and enjoyed watching them develop their angling skills. Their support has been critical in helping me sustain a business long-term and I am eternally grateful for their patronage. I’ve guided long enough now that many ‘regulars’ are no longer with us, but the memory of the good times we were blessed to share, still inspires me wherever I walk the stream. At different times in my career, I’ve also been very lucky to have some wonderful mentors who have helped guide not only my business but a greater vision of how our industry could evolve and progress.
I’d particularly like to acknowledge the following people who’ve played a huge part in my guiding journey to date … I owe them so much; Gary Joll, Ron Spanton, Bob Soloman, Don Williams, Jack Dennis, Lynn Dixon, Skip Brittenham, Ken August, Dennis Butcher, Mel Kreiger, Pete Anderson, Mickey Schwartz, Tem and Nancy King, Keith and Mary Crane, Bob Bourdon, Dale Kinsella, Bob South, Bill and Robin Reid, Pete Rickards, Bob South, Graham Marshall, Ron Mackay, David Moate, Peter Carty, Zane Mirfin.
MEET THE REAL CHAMP
Throughout all the highs and lows however, nobody has played quite as important a role as my lovely wife Sharon … without whose unfailing support, forbearance and sunny disposition, this adventure would never have been possible. Special thanks are due too, to my three sons, Nick, Jono and Chris, who didn’t always see a lot of their father during the guiding season. I’m very proud of my boys.
SO WHAT’S UP FOR THE 2019 – 20 SEASON?
In keeping with the current trends in climate around the world, our winter has been a mild one, with modest snowfalls and no serious flooding. This bodes well for good water flows early in the season, but raises the prospect of low water conditions again during the summer. However, low water doesn’t mean poor fishing. While it is a fact that low water flows correlate with warmer water temperatures during late January, February and early March, anglers who are willing to rise early and hit the water in the cool of the morning, will enjoy some excellent results. The upside of low water conditions is that it makes accessible whole stretches of river that don’t get any fishing attention the rest of the season. Low water also tends to concentrate trout numbers into more defined areas.
Last summer was one of the biggest beech-forest masts (flowering) that I have seen in over 30 years. Often beech-mast events help generate huge increases in the rodent population, which while not a good thing for our native bird populations, is nevertheless a real bonus to our trout. As of the time of writing, there is only a limited sign of localised increases in the mouse population. Even so, it is highly likely that a greater number of trophy-sized trout will turn up in some places this season … and we want to be ready for them. Chasing trophy-trout is seldom predictable, but I am optimistic we will find our share this coming season.
As mentioned earlier, last season was my last full-time season. Starting this coming season I have cut my availability back to a maximum ninety days per season. Over the next five years, I may well progressively reduce the number of available days each season, depending upon how ‘the body feels’. Based on the amount of business that has been around the last few years it will mean that some anglers will have to seek out other guides. At the present time, there are still some dates available in most months … check out my Calendar of Available Dates here.
NEW TRAVEL RULES FOR NEW ZEALAND
From 1 October 2019, some visitors and tourists must have an NZeTA (New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority) before they leave for New Zealand.
- Travel to New Zealand without first applying for a visa — if you are from a visa waiver country, a cruise ship passenger or a permanent resident of Australia.
- Pass through Auckland International Airport as a transit passenger on the way to or from Australia.
- Pass through Auckland International Airport as a transit passenger on the way to another country — if you are from a visa waiver or transit visa waiver country.
THINGS TO NOTE
- From 1 October 2019, if you are from a visa waiver country you must hold an NZeTA before you travel.
- Allow up to 72 hours for processing, but it could take as little as 10 minutes.
- An NZeTA request costs NZD $9 on our free app, or NZD $12 if completed online.
- You pay an International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL) at the same time as your NZeTA. This costs NZD $35.
NZeTA MOBILE PHONE APP
FOR MORE DETAILS OR TO APPLY FOR AN NZeTA GO TO: Immigration New Zealand
BUY YOUR NON-RESIDENT FISHING LICENCE ON LINE
The Non-Resident Licence category is now a well-established requirement for anglers visiting from overseas. A Non-Resident is defined as a person who is neither a New Zealand citizen nor a permanent resident (more details here). The cost of an NRL Full Season licence for the coming season will be NZD$165.00 and is required by anglers wishing to fish for more than 6 days. They cover all of New Zealand except the Taupo Region. For those fishing for less than 6 days, purchasing the appropriate number of 24-hour licences is a more cost-effective option but I suspect most of you will be keen however to support Fish and Game New Zealand, as the only funding they receive to manage our great fisheries is from licence sales. In fact, many of you over the years generously previously purchased a Whole Season Licence, even when you were only fishing for a few days.
For all anglers anticipating fishing any of the following rivers; Travers, Goulter, Upper Wairau, Upper Matakitaki, Karamea Catchment or Mokihinui Catchment ( i.e. those planning to do any heli-fishing), you will also need to apply online for the Backcountry Licence Endorsement to go along with your fishing licence before we can fish in these areas.
SOCIAL MEDIA … GONE
Some of you will have noted that I have discontinued my use of Social Media, in particular, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
On March 15, 2019, New Zealand lost its innocence. A terrorist shooter killed 51 men, women and children while they were peacefully worshipping at two Christchurch mosques.
That this terrorist evil manifested itself in my country, in a city where I enjoyed so many good times and only a few blocks from where Sharon and I flatted as young students, is unconscionable.
To say I was (and still am) conflicted is an understatement. The fact that a supremacist loser like this could pedal their poison on FB and other social media with impunity is utterly wrong. I simply cannot condone social media’s indolence in helping provide a platform for the spreading of such hatred and evil, under the mantras of ‘free speech’ or ‘personal responsibility’.
Accordingly, I have stopped using these platforms, at least until I feel the rules that facilitate this aberrant behaviour have been sufficiently tightened and improved.
“I look into my fly box and think about all the elements I should consider in choosing the perfect fly: water temperature, what stage of development the bugs are in, what the fish are eating right now. Then I remember what a guide told me: ‘Ninety per cent of what a trout eats is brown and fuzzy and about five-eighths of an inch long.” – Allison Moir
Winter is highly overrated … roll on October 1st and the upcoming New Zealand trout fishing season.
Water, water everywhere …
In my 2017 newsletter I suggested that good river levels and a benevolent 2017 winter would probably mean a great start to the 2017-18 trout fishing season in our patch of New Zealand. So it proved to be. When asked how things were progressing up to the New Year, I replied unequivocally that, “it was our best trout fishing season in years”. Rivers were holding plenty of well conditioned trout and turning on some great catches. A long spell of beautiful weather from late-October saw water levels dropping steadily. By early-January the rivers around the Top-of-the-South Island were running at more like ‘mid-summer-low-flows’. We actually started praying for a decent rain.
That all changed on January 12th when we got way more water than we’d asked for. The first of a series of cyclones arrived and played havoc with our weather … and our rivers. From mid-January through until late-February we were battered by three different cyclones and several other significant flood events. Around the region rivers flowed full for the rest of the season, at times making for super challenging fishing conditions. The climate-change soothsayers absolutely got my attention!
When the going gets tough, the tough get going …
However, ‘Trout Fishing’ is what we do and I truly admired the spirit my anglers brought on occasions when the prospects for the day appeared far from perfect. Despite the horrible weather, they fronted with resolve and mostly we caught fish in spite of some testing conditions. It’d be fair to say we didn’t always ‘knock ’em dead’. In-truth we experienced more blank days in the latter half of this past fishing season, than I’d expect from a couple of full seasons.
However, even with all the high water, we found some surprisingly excellent dry fly fishing and regularly caught our share of very fine trout. Compared to most years, double-digit trout were few and far between around these parts. However, while we didn’t quite crack the magic ten-pound mark, we still managed to land some big, healthy and beautiful trophy fish.
… all’s well that ends well
As the weather settled in late March and April, the plentiful flows and cooler temperatures prompted a lot of late season fish movement, particularly in the Nelson rivers. Fishing mostly dry flies and nymphs we managed to put together plenty of fun days with a regular flow of feisty trout to the net. We often had the water completely to ourselves, which was a bonus.
The latter half of the 2017-18 trout fishing season won’t go down as my favourite, for sure! Ultimately it rated as probably the toughest fishing season I’ve guided in 38 years. However, even with the terrible weather and challenging river conditions, this tough season proved to me that our area can still provide plenty of fishing opportunities and a pretty damn good angling experience, whatever nature throws at us. The key to catching some stunning trout was in the angler’s attitude and determination … always has been … always will be.
“A trout is a moment of beauty known only to those who seek it.” – Arnold Gingrich
Booking Opportunities for the 2018-19 Trout Fishing Season
So, how’s it all looking here for the new season commencing in only a few weeks? It’s been a wet winter in the upper South Island and while many rivers are all still running high, the weather in the last few weeks has finally started to settle. Thankfully there have been no truly serious floods and the high water will have helped the recent spawning season. Trout are now returning from their spawning activities and some nice fish are being caught in the lower reaches of the likes of the Motueka and Pelorus rivers, which are open to angling all year. There’s still a good snow pack on our mountains which will ensure reasonable flows well into November. Once again I’m hopeful for a positive start to next season. I can’t wait to get back into some of our more remote and beautiful backcountry streams.
My guiding calendar of Available Dates is looking pretty full through until the end of January. However, there is one really good pre-Christmas time-slot still available from November 25 – December 5. Get in quick if you are interested … this is prime time for the Coloburiscus mayfly hatch. Throughout February and March I still have heaps of good space and I’m really looking forward to filling most of that over the next couple of months. Give me a call (+64 274 732483) if you want to come and fish during what many anglers consider the ‘peak of the season’.
“The solution to any problem … work, love, money, whatever … is to go fishing, and the worse the problem, the longer the trip should be.” – John Gierach
Important Licence Information for Non-Resident Anglers
The Non-Resident Licence (NRL) category is now a well established requirement for anglers visiting from overseas. A Non-Resident is defined as a person who is neither a New Zealand citizen nor a permanent resident (more details here). The cost of a NRL Adult Full Season Licence for the coming trout fishing season will be NZD$169.00. This is the best option for visiting anglers who intend to fish for five or more days.
Anglers anticipating fishing any of the following rivers; Travers Rv, Goulter Rv, Upper Wairau Rv, Upper Matakitaki Rv or the Karamea or Mokihinui River Catchments, will also need to apply online for the Backcountry Licence Endorsement. This costs nothing, but is in addition to your Full Season fishing licence before we can fish in these areas.
This coming 2018-19 trout fishing season sees the introduction of Non-Resident One Day Licences. The cost for an Adult has been set at NZD$34.00 per day . This is a good option for anyone who anticipates fishing for less than five days during their visit to New Zealand. Day licences are valid for a specified 24 hour period only and are not transferable to other dates.
Non-Resident Licences are available for Adult, Junior and Child categories and Fish and Game Licences cover all of New Zealand except the Taupo Region.
Outstanding Motueka River
The Motueka River is our most important local fishery, providing easy access from Nelson to productive waters along most of its fishable length. Recognised as one of New Zealand’s premier brown trout fisheries, Fish and Game drift-dive surveys this last summer showed that trout populations in the ‘Mot’ have rebounded to levels not seen since the early 1990s. This bodes well for anglers visiting this upcoming trout fishing season.
The following is an excerpt from the Nelson-Marlborough Fish and Game Councils Annual Fisheries Report for the 2017-18 season:
” The Motueka fishery was outstanding this season, which didn’t surprise Fish & Game staff, but certainly did some of the anglers who fished there on a good day. It was commonplace to hear of anglers attaining highly respectable, and in some cases exceptional, tallies of fish – particularly in the medium sized cohort. The hype was verified in our annual drift dive count, which, despite the ravages of Cyclone Gita on the lower river, saw the best counts since the halcyon days of the mid 90’s when some say the Mot was last in its prime.”
A Significant ‘Milestone’ … Cheers
It’s hard to keep a good Toyota down. The 6th March 2018, marked a significant ‘milestone’ (… well kilometres actually) for my faithful Toyota Landcruiser. The old campaigner ticked over 500,000 kms. Fittingly my angler on the day, Andrew Tillard from the UK, was a good mate of old friend and past customer Philip Farrer, who originally sold me the ‘cruiser. Benchmarks like these call for a small celebration in recognition of many respectable trout fishing kms and a ‘job well-done’. A host of good memories … and the odd occasion when we got stuck trying!
Cheers to the next 150,000 kms at least … that might even see the both of us out!
“It is impossible to grow weary of a sport that is never the same on any two days of the year.” – Theodore Gordon