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New Zealand’s South Island
  |  First Published: December 2010



I’m basing this article on 16 years experience to give beginners a heads up on how to access and enjoy an area that offers relatively easy fly fishing for trout in New Zealand’s South Island.

The chosen area is Twizel, three and a half hour’s drive south west of Christchurch simply because it has so much to offer. Lakes, ponds, canals and most rivers are accessible via ordinary motor vehicle and can be easily fished by expert or tyro angler alike. A big plus is that the streams in this area clear rapidly after rain making it an ideal destoination that is unlikely to be totally written off by rain.

Travel considerations

Christchurch is the usual destination for a trip to Twizel but when booking air travel remember that from October to April clocks in the South Island are three hours ahead of ours and that streams around Twizel are closed until the first Saturday in November.

When packing for the trip have all fishing gear handy and accessible when arriving in NZ in case it needs to be inspected. Declare all flies and fishing gear on the entry card and it will be unlikely any issues will develop. I put all fishing gear, waders and accessories in a separate bag.

Transport

A hire car is essential and I rely on Renny Rent a Car for my needs these days. Renny offer 4x4 and conventional vehicles at quite reasonable tariffs. Most importantly, for the traveler who has just spent a couple of pre-dawn hours at the airport then several more in the plane, a Renny representative will be there at the arrivals area at Christchurch holding a sign with your name on it even if you are delayed. Email contact details are --e-mail address hidden-- .

Twizel Bound

The most direct route to Twizel is via Geralidine and Fairlie. Heading south out of Christchurch towards Timaru on SH 1 you travel through Ashburton and will come to the town of Rangitata after crossing the Rangitata River. A turn west onto SH 79 will see Geraldine passed, Fairlie being where SH 8 is entered with a right turn. An hour and a half’s travel on SH 8 will take the traveler to Lake Tekapo and Twizel. Have a look at the Twizel River as you come into town. This is a rainbow stream with plenty of 50cm (or better) fish to be had.

Staying in Twizel

Comfortable accommodation is important when far from home and Twizel’s Mountain Chalet Motels right on the east side of town in Wairepo Road offer a mix of self-contained motel style units or backpacker style units with share kitchen and bathroom facilities. Email them on --e-mail address hidden-- for bookings.

Virtually all grocery or other needs are on hand at Twizel. A fishing license can be obtained from the hardware store or at the Outdoors and Photo store in the mall. Fuel is available at the Shell garage. While a lot of mundane items seem more expensive than home, the difference in the dollar works to our benefit.

Climate

Cool nights with hot days are the norm. A temperature of 10C at dawn followed by 27C later in the day is common. Do remember that if it’s a clear summer day sunburn will be rapid and unrelenting courtesy of the hole in the ozone layer. Take good sun protection but pack a light cardigan or similar in the backpack because things can change rapidly. Nights will be beautifully cool after a warm day on the water.

Fishing Needs

A backpack is useful to carry food and water, clothing and the like for a whole day on the water, which is how most anglers fish. Guardia is possible in the rivers so a personal water supply is important. Most rely on a dark green or khaki coloured long sleeve shirt with tights (yes, quick dry tights!) worn under shorts while wading about and fishing. Tights can be purchased at Twizel incidentally. Shorts alone are not much good as your legs will get burned and chafed by wind very quickly. Been there: done that.

Rivers in the area are infested to some degree or other with Didymo, which means that wading in fast waters is a slippery business now that felt soled boots are banned. Thigh or full length waders don’t afford sufficient grip and will offer too much water resistance resulting in a spill.

On my recent trip I trialled a pair of Snowbee metal studded XS Wading Boots. With their heavy duty rubber sole enhanced with columns of metal studs and strong lace up system for ankle support I felt very secure while wading. The Snowbees also gave excellent performance on river rocks and gravel.

Remember to clean all fishing gear (boots, nets, the rod) after fishing in Didymo infested waters to avoid spreading it to other waters. There’s a dedicated cleaning station in Twizel for cleaning gear and boots.

Fly tackle

A 5wt or 6wt rod is ideal for the South Island’s waters and a floating line for all trout fishing pursuits is all that’s needed. Backing on the reel will be essential. A rod length store bought or home made leader with 2.5-3kg tippet will see most beginners staying connected to their fish.

Dry fly fishing is the best of it and if fish are rising, a size 16 Dads Favourite, Royal Wulff or Adams will take most trout around Twizel. If fish are not rising they can be caught readily enough by setting up a size 16 pheasant tail or hare and copper nymph on a 40-50cm dropper under a well hackled Royal Wulff or Humpy size 12 dry fly.

Fishing the rig involves no more than casting it upstream and watching for the take as the fly drifts back, keeping slack line under control. There seems to be no small trout around Twizel: 50-60cm fish are common so you must take time and care while playing them.

Where to Fish

The Twizel River is easily accessed above and below town, plus where it joins Lake Benmore, east of Twizel. Expect fish to be laying in holes at the head of pools. Lake Benmore and the lower Twizel River are accessed via a bitumen road running east along the hydro canal which, like all others in the area, contains plenty of fish. Park at the lake and walk across to the river nearby or fish Lake Benmore itself.

In summer trout will be cruising the shallows chasing damsel fly nymphs, so a damsel imitation or large green nymph fished on a greased leader will pay dividends when cast near a cruiser.

There are two large ponds (The Kelland Ponds) adjoining the aforementioned hydro canal, plus a salmon farm and these ponds also hold some quality fish.

Another very significant local river is the Tekapo. A 4WD will access the river via a gravel road which commences on the southern bank of the Ohau canal 8km north of Twizel on SH8. The road deteriorates to a track fairly quickly and heads east for 20km to eventually meet the strongly flowing Tekapo River with its many braids. Follow the riverside tracks up or downstream for as many kilometres as you like as there are no issues with access. The dry fly or two fly combination I’ve described is useful.

There’s a week or more of fishing in the areas I’ve described but if you have more time on your hands look at the magnificent Ahuriri River near Omarama south of Twizel. Walking up or downstream from the road bridge is fantastic as access is not an issue.

Coming home

Clean all fishing equipment scrupulously, including boots, waders, nets and anything else that has come into contact with the water. AQIS will want to inspect these items fastidiously to prohibit the entry of Didymo to Australia.

If gear is not squeaky clean, and preferably dry, long delays are likely, or worse it might be confiscated for return at a later time after treatment at your cost.

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