The last few years I have spent a decent amount of time overseas getting a taste of what there is to offer on the fly fishing front, for both trout and saltwater species. Throughout these travels I have come across some glaring differences between countries and in particular the difference in what New Zealand offers as a fishery, more so for trout than anything else. Ive also seen plenty of social commentary about how NZ is special because of just the big fish or that it’s to expensive or far away to be worthwhile, all of which I find ill-informed at best.
So here are a few reason examples of what makes NZ a bit different to the rest of the world and why I believe it is one of the worlds most special fisheries.
1. The quality of water
Now this on its own is not unique, but the diversity and abundance of rivers in NZ is. There are a lot of rivers in NZ and for such a small country, I mean a lot! The most beneficial thing about these waterways is the majority of them are small to medium, with very pleasant flows. This is important because it makes the access, fishing and wading much more comfortable and means you can easily navigate your way up the river without crossing private land, (a big problem in places such as the USA). Also these rivers are set in amazingly diverse landscapes, you can literally go from a desert stream to a rainforest river within a couple of hours and everything else in between. Yes other countries offer this diversity but usually between much larger distances. Lastly but most importantly, the quality and clarity of rivers throughout most of NZ is either good or exceptional, especially in the South Island. Of course, there are certain places where this does not ring true, usually within larger agricultural areas but in general if you want quality water, it can be found.
2. The way we fish
Due to the types of water we have available and the ease of access, the methods of fishing are much different to those around the world. We approach most rivers in the sense that we choose a section of water to fish for the day (3-6km) and set off on the hunt, only turning around at the end of the day for the punishing walk back to the car. This upstream method coupled with the clarity of water means we mostly focus our attention of spotting individual fish before even considering a cast. This form of fishing is more akin to hunting, in that we actively stalk our prey and then go through a process of targeting, aiming and hooking our target. Although this is not unique to just NZ, it is actually the abundance of clear water and manageable rivers that means it has become a staple of what we do and is practised more times than not. This also means drift boats are almost non-existent, the rivers are generally too small and fish too wary for these behemoths, but why would you want to float when you can wade anyway!
3. The water access
Unlike in Iceland or Europe where you must pay for a specific section of water for the day, NZ has unfettered access to most waterways, especially if they are running through conservation land. You can purchase a very affordable season fishing licence and have access to almost all of the countries water for the whole year (except Taupo region). This is very different to most places in the world where licences must be purchased for individual states as in the USA, or for just a single river as in Iceland. There is obvious benefit to the NZ system for the travelling angler, but it also means you can be overwhelmed by options. The best way to get the most out of your trip is to focus on one or two regions, hire guides in each to get a feel for the area and then do your thing. One thing to note is the unfettered access does not mean you can just open a gate and walk across a paddock to a river, just as you would not walk straight through someones backyard. You can either access rivers at Fish & Game access points, public reserves/tracks, most road bridges or by requesting access from the landowners.
4. The Fish
New Zealand is famous for those big trout, some of the biggest in the world if you count the mutant canal fish, but this is only part of the reason its worth making the trip over. The thing to understand about NZ is there is not an abundance of huge browns desperate to take your fly, if thats all you want and you don’t care how you catch them, Iceland is for you! Yes, there are big trophy fish in NZ but the truth is these are not dime-a-dozen and there is a lot of work to be put in for each. I believe the best thing about NZ is the ability to consistently sight-fish to 3-6lb trout every day, with larger fish also present, whereas places such as the USA may have you blind fishing to 5000 fish a mile, most struggling to make it to 2lb. If you dream of going for the big fish you can expect much fewer per mile but the ability to visually hunt these beast is an experience unlike any other. I love big fish too but I never get sick of hunting down plenty of 3-6lb fish every day!
5. The Guides
Now this is an interesting one as it is just a personal opinion that has been forming over the past few years and one that was reenforced by client I had the other day. After receiving a booking from this client I was then asked if I could offer a cheaper price because he had fished with other guides around the world and was confident he could pick his own flies and fish the water if I just showed him where to go, an easier day for me but one that I knew would not be successful so I declined. He still booked the day and constantly remarked on how different it was to his expectations, no doubt he had thoroughly changed his mind by the end of the day. I find that the guides in NZ offer a much different product to those around the world, where usually the important part of being guided in other countries is the access to water and knowledge of flies, this is not so important in NZ. With the open access to rivers and fish that are not overly picky or keyed in on certain fly patterns, most think they could easily tackle it themselves. However the guides in NZ must focus the majority of their time on your technique, spotting fish and playing weather guru to get you into the best conditions possible. I have experienced fishing with many guides on my travels around the world and these things are the least of their worries. Its easy to underestimate the importance of these factors but they are things that will make or break your trip in what is a game of inches.
Well those are just a couple of points that I find are commonly misinterpreted by those around the world so hopefully they will help you understand why NZ can be as good as its cracked up to be.
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