The South Island of New Zealand is home to some of the best trout stream, and is visited every year by the countless keen fly anglers. It is a popular spot for South Queenslanders as it is only a three hour flight to Christchurch, however, the excitement of exploring a new fishing destination can often overshadow the pitfalls and traps for the unwary.
For instance, many forget the difference in time zones as NZ can be up to three hours ahead (including daylight savings). If you book a flight from Australia at 7pm, you will arrive at NZ in the early wee hours of the morning. It really pays to have some knowledge of the country.
New Zealand’s custom and quarantine service are ever vigilant to ensure their pristine waterways are not further despoiled by unwanted guests (which happened with the pestilent Didymo, an introduced invasive algae coating some South Island streams from bank to bank). Consequently, they will search items such as landing nets and sheaths as well as wading boots for any traces of seeds, grass or other hangers on.
By being prepared for authorities to make a thorough check of equipment will save time and angst for all concerned.
The general rule for the South Island is that if a stream is running clear it should hold trout. However, much the same as our own trout streams, some are easier to fish or simply hold more fish than others. I’ve laid fly line onto a lot of the South Island’s streams and if asked to nominate a couple of readily accessible areas, with ample fish, within easy travel time of Christchurch I’d nominate the Twizel and Kurow areas.
Twizel is around four hours south west of Christchurch and is arguably the better of the two areas with at least five rivers within an hour’s drive from town: namely, the Twizel, Ohau, Tekapo, Grays and Ahuriri. There are also lakes Benmore, Ohau, Pukaki and Tekapo as well as the Kelland Ponds on the southern outskirts. The Ponds sport a salmon farm and food exiting the salmon farm allows opportunist trout to grow big and feisty.
A high ground clearance vehicle will allow easier access along gravel tracks to the local rivers, particularly the Tekapo and tributaries.
Of the rivers mentioned, the Tekapo is regarded as the best. It is found due east of Twizel and with its main tributary the Grays River. Fish come and go from this braided stream as often as it suits them so there’s always plenty for everyone, ranging from 1-2kg in size. Trophy 4.5kg+ fish are encountered from time to time as well.
The Tekapo is easy to fish as it flows within a wide treeless gravel-lined bed with deeper holes, glides and braids (small channels) all interconnected. The Grays is somewhat willow-lined and features slower flows, weed beds and the similar.
South of Twizel is the Ahuriri River, which also runs within a wide gravel bed.
Moving to Kurow on the Waitaki River, around two hour’s drive from Twizel, is access to the Ahuriri River delta, with the Hakataramea and Merewhenua rivers also not far away from base. These latter two rivers can be flood affected from time to time but hold decent stocks of rainbow trout in deeper pools. The Waitaki is a massive river but finding a back water will be definitely worth while with big browns and rainbows present.
For the beginner, fishing large fast running rivers can be daunting but there are ways of reducing frustration and ensuring success.
Rising fish are never a problem; dun imitations – Dad’s Favourite, Twilight Beauty, Blue Dun – or the ever-reliable Parachute Adams or Royal Wulff (stay with size 16 all round) will take risers wherever they are found. If rising fish are absent, set up a dry fly/nymph rig with a 40cm length of leader material joining both flies and then work sides of faster runs, edges of back waters and similar for fish lying patiently for their next meal.
The key with this rig is to use a larger dry fly, a size 10 Royal Wulff is ideal, above a size 16 or 14 bead head nymph. The dry will bring a fish up for a look but the nymph will usually be taken.
Backwaters are gold. At any time of day never, ever, approach a backwater adjoining a main river without first having a very long hard look to see how many trout are cruising around. The rule is to ascertain the trout’s beat and cast the fly when the fish is out of the area; when he returns and finds it he will usually take it without hesitation. Casting to a backwaters fish will usually panic him.
A 6wt fly outfit set up with a floating line will be ideal for South Island streams. Options for holding all the bits and pieces a trout angler seems to need,include a vest or bum pack worn on the waist; both allowing quite easy access to leader material, fly boxes, fly floatant, hook removers, and the like.
Quality eye wear is also essential. The last trip I tried out a pair of Tonic Eyeware’s Copper Bronze photochromatic glasses and found them great for spotting fish and driving in the country’s ultra bright sunshine.
Fishing NZ’s streams usually involves wading to get at fishy looking areas; such as slower water between or on the side of much faster sections, edges of gravel bars where longish shadows are darting from side to side, a deeper area against the far bank or maybe one just need to cross to another section.
Gortex breathable waders are great, but only if you can afford around an airfare to buy a set, so there’s nothing wrong with simply wading wet. A pair of tights under quick dry shorts are ideal to protect legs from certain chafe and will dry quickly once out of the water. Foot wear can be as simple as joggers, or as involved as Tungsten studded boots; it’s your hip pocket’s call.
A landing net is obviously needed, as no net, no fish.
Even though Didymo is rampant, some streams don’t have it. Therefore it’s very important to clean and dry all tackle and footwear after washing in a 5% detergent solution before moving to another area. Felt-soled shoes are outlawed as they can spread Didymo. Likewise, ensure all gear is dry and totally clean on return home or AQIS will take it away to disinfect it while you wait.
Every town has a motor camp and these usually offer everything from caravans to cabins, deluxe tourist flats to really upmarket self-contained units. Larger towns have motels, hotels, all designed to cater for the tourist.
Lastly, a fishing license can be obtained online prior to a trip – check Fish and Game New Zealand’s website. The smart option for family groups is to buy a family license and save a lot of coin.
Be aware that streams open in three tiers, lowland waters on October, highland ones in November, some even in December.Reads: 1959