Trip Report New Zealand - South Island

castsN2trees

The fish are calling.....
WFF Supporter
My wife (non-flyfisher) and I just returned from vacation in NZ... we stayed for 8 days at a fly fishing lodge and 3 days at a house in Montueka...though fishing was the primary focus for me, we chose NZ and this area specifically because it looked to have plenty of options for her as well...


Excellent: the people, the guides, the accommodations, the food, the wildlife, the general relaxed vibe and overall experience

OK-ish: the weather, lots of wind and clouds and rain.... not ideal for sight fishing...

Dreadful: the fishing.... and having the flu

This was our first trip to NZ, and I booked this trip through a well known fly fishing travel company....my purpose of the trip was simple and straightforward..... catch monster brown trout...

my impression was I would be tossing big dries to big browns and even though I knew I wouldn’t catch 20 fish a day, I was under the impression I should be able to catch a couple a day....

I trout fished 6 days guided and 1.5 days unguided.... in the Monteuka river and 3 or 4 surrounding rivers... and caught 2 fish total... the largest was 19”.... one was caught in a 15ft wide creek 1 mile from the lodge and the other was caught working seams ( blind nymphing) in a river, directly across from another guide with 3 other fishermen....

Instead of a detailed report, I think it may be more helpful to layout some of my pre-trip expectations vs what I experienced in NZ... my expectations came from trip info and discussions during the booking process... and instagram....and perhaps my own desires for the trip...

Expectation: lots of wading, walking, hiking

Actual: As expected, and more...in 7.5 days of fishing my phone showed I walked 98,000 steps, or just under 39 miles.... the rivers are slick and felt soles are illegal in NZ, so be prepared to be careful... All fishing is done upstream, so wading is upstream... I didn’t fall all week (miracle), but one of my guides did fall and another guest at the lodge fell 4 times in 1 day... this is pretty serious work.

Expectation: casting big dries on 12-15ft leaders...

Actual: casting #18-22 size dries and nymphs with super small wool indicators.... or no indicator at all.....on 17-19ft leaders.... in wind... this was ridiculously frustrating, especially when you are making 25ft casts....I don’t remember feeling this inadequate when fishing in a long time...and that includes Muskie fishing....

Expectation: presentation is everything, and fly pattern isn’t very important... get the fly on the fish... you get the fish...

Actual: It was much more difficult than that.... when guide finds a fish, you crawl up 25-35ft behind the fish...wait 5 mins for the wind to die down, cast 3 feet too short... make more casts... fly eventually drifts within inches of fish...fish ignores fly... guide changes fly... wait for wind to die down, cast 8 ft left, then recast, fish ignores fly... guide changes fly... repeat over and over and over again (up to a dozen fly changes)....then guide decides the fish must be put off by the tiny wool indicator (mostly olive), and takes that off.... repeat over and over... leave the fish feeding in the same spot you found him in....go try to find another fish.... repeat all day.... tell yourself this is fun....

Expectation: super intelligent brown trout

Actual: maybe these fish are smart... maybe they are lazy.... or maybe they are just over fished.... I fished multiple sections of multiple rivers... some sections twice...and there was a lot of driving around looking for empty water.... on one day, we waded a mile up a river looking for fish until the guide spotted footprints on the bank... since it had rained the previous nights, the foot prints were from that day... so the guide said we were wasting our time and we immediately left the river....

Expectation: “untouched back country rivers”

Actual: this was the biggest let down besides getting skunked repeatedly.... my experience was that the local rivers have too much pressure.... the backcountry is accessible by helicopter....a day trip costs an additional +$1500 USD..... but this isn’t exactly a guarantee to big, untouched fish.... there are 3-5 companies that take fishermen out to the backcountry... and they don’t talk to each other.... so there is no guarantee there weren’t fisherman in that river the day before... or there now....I‘m just not comfortable with this arrangement....

Expectation: “monster trout”

Actual: I did see multiple trophy trout(+6lbs)... all glued to the bottom of the river.... one day we saw over half a dozen.... the guide and I hiked/waded 8.5 miles round trip ( and I had the flu, Thnks sick kid on the plane ) to try to get one of these fish and to get away from anglers....12 hrs total.... 0 fish, 0 takes.... massive frustration...

Expectation: I expected to be a good enough flyfisherman to be able to handle whatever NZ could throw at me...

Actual: I am not... I can’t accurately cast a dbl nymph rig on ab19ft leaderin the wind, directly to the spot in front of a feeding fish, with one false cast, while crouching down on a riverbank, under a tree branch... on the first attempt....the last guide I had told me that I was a good caster, but not good enough for the conditions we were fishing in.... and he was right.... he also told me this was the toughest season of his 20 yrs guiding.... and the week and a half was particularly trying....

Expectation: The right rod makes the difference in NZ...

Actual: Not really.... I took 5 different trout rods....and I switched daily.... it didn’t matter... it didn’t change my casting or any other aspect.... on the last day, I just used the guides 20yr old Sage.... didn’t matter... trout apparently don’t read marketing material from fly rod companies....bummer... That being said, I used 5 different rods (med to fast action) to try to find an advantage... and even over lined a 5wt with a 6wt line to try to cut through the wind.... but I couldn’t find a solution to solve the long leader/ wind problem.... if I were to go back and fish just one rod it would be the 6wt Scott G series... the reason is I think tippet protection is extremely important when you are trying to fight +5lb fish on 5lb tippet...
As a secondary rod, perhaps an 8ft 5wt.... in the smaller rivers, it was crazy how little room there was for a back cast....


Expectation: The biggest challenge would be finding the fish...

Actual: Finding fish was easy... there were far more trout in those river than “1 per quarter mile”.... we walked into one area were you could easily cast to half a dozen different fish.... from the same spot
Finding fish was easy and the guides are awesome at spotting them... getting them to eat was the hard part... but the second hardest part was fighting these fish on 5X tippet.... the first fish I hooked was the biggest fish of the week.... it tore off downstream with the guide yelling to me to chase it (I did mention these rivers are super slick, right).... I chased it 150 yards downstream, got under 2 tree branches hanging in the water, but couldn’t keep the fish out of a logjam, where he broke off.... I lost 3 fish that way.... gut punch...

Expectation: Can’t catch fish in NZ unless all your clothing and gear is super drab colors...

Actual: The first day I wet waded in a bright blue tshirt, with bright blue arm sleeves and buff... and I caught a fish in a tiny creek on a dry... less than 20 ft away....
One the same day I hooked up on the biggest fish of the week, wearing the same clothes, which were about as subtle as the “blue light special” at Kmart

The fish i caught on day 2 was while I was blind nymphing seams in a big river.... and I doubt that he cared what the color of my shirt was or even saw it....

After the second day, I switched to drab colored clothing and the skunks began coming out of the woodwork....

I don’t think that disproves the notion you need to wear drab clothing .... I think it points to the fishing pressure these rivers are under..... the same guide that was shocked that my Cookie Monster ensemble didn’t scare off the fish from day 1 also said he doubted anyone fished that area of that little creek.... and later in the week he was concerned about the color of my flyline putting off fish.... I bought/fished Rio Gold lines specifically because they were drab green .... if you have to question whether they are 2 shades too light to catch fish, then seems to me there are more reasonable explanations.... namely fishing pressure....

Expectation: I expected to be fishing in fairly remote areas, with a little bit of that “nobody’s ever been here before” feel....

Actual: About half of the fishing was right besides major roads....most of the other half was near houses, farms, and gravel roads.... and only a small portion was remote feeling.... a typical day may consist of fishing 3 or 4 spots.... and stopping by at another 2 or 3 that had fishermen or looked to be recently fished.... the only alternative offered to this was a +$1500 helicopter ride....

Summary: After being skunked on a particularly tough day (5 out of 7 days were skunks), my wife tried to encourage me by saying that it was luck and it was ok.... but it wasn’t luck....it was hard work and the results were brutal.... but somehow it ended up being a great vacation with my wife..... so I guess it was ok after all.....

Or, as a Eric Clapton put it.....

It's all wrong, but it's all right.
The way that you treat me baby.
Once I was strong but I lost the fight.
You won't find a better loser.

Perhaps I’m now in the proper mindset to start steelheading....

here’s a couple pics....




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View attachment IMG_1048.MOV
 
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Solitude

Active Member
Sorry to hear your trip was so disappointing. That sucks, especially when you prepare yourself for such an epic experience in a new place. It's nice to have such an honest and well written review though, as it helps guys like me, who are planning future fishing trips and may want to re- think our list of future destinations to fish.......
 

Mark Walker

Active Member
Nice report. Bummer it didn't go better for you.

Better half and I went a couple of years ago in mid Feb. and spent 4 weeks fishing the South Island rivers from Nelson to Queenstown. Fished with an outstanding guide for 1 full day out of Gore, NZ. Incidentally, he threw in another 6 hrs with no charge.
Were shown good fishable places and told we could fish any of the places where we fished or were shown without problems with landowners.
Advice was if you wanted to catch fish just fish the rivers as you would at home. We caught plenty of fish (some quite large) on our own.
Sight fished one day with a local that I knew from another website. Walked/boulder stumbled miles. Saw few fish; caught zip. Lots of beautiful scenery.
We'll go back.
 

Chucker

Chucking a dead parrot on a piece of string!
Sorry to hear about such a disappointment. It’s been quite a few years since I was in NZ, and from what I hear, some of the trends that I saw then have continued unabated. At the most basic level, that sort of fishing is very sensitive to fishing pressure, and fishing pressure just continues going up.

Having said that, there are some things that are not really advertised about NZ. It was always hard to catch fish there. I don’t think I used a leader less than 16’ in NZ. Casting was always demanding. Most of the fish are caught on small nymphs, even when sight fishing.

And finally, just like everywhere, some of the people who guide in NZ shouldn’t be guiding anywhere.
 

Driftless Dan

Driftless Dan
WFF Supporter
Your experience was different than mine. I'm sorry for the lack of luck. Reminds me of the year I went up to the Kenai and got skunked for 3 days.

I've been to NZ twice and hired local guides, who were great guys, the kind you'd want to have a beer with. My favorite among them started out by asking me, "Do you want big trout, or do you want a lot of trout?" My answer, was "a lot," so that made a difference in the places we visited. I first had him for the afternoon, because that's when I called him and he was free. We went to a small creek that you could walk across in most places without getting your 'nads wet, a 5-minute walk from the road, and I caught about 20 fish in a couple hours, 16-22" During the 2 1/2 days I had with him, we visited probably 6 streams, none of which involved more than a 10 minute walk, and I caught my share of 20"+ fish. I was ecstatic. This was on the South Island, near Wanaka.

I also did a lot of fishing on my own, and did well enough to know that the reputation of uber-spooky trout there is not necessarily accurate.

I never did the helicopter-fishing thing that some do, but I didn't have the funds for that, but he regaled me with tales of guys he'd guide up in the mountains that would sniff at 5-pounders, not deigning to cast for anything under 10! That'll never be me, but I understand the concept.

Both times I visited were right around Christmas, sort of the springtime here up north. We had some rain, but most times the weather was great. And the people are awesome, as was the food. And wine!
 

Bowbonehead

Active Member
Its not for everyone for sure and you were there in the busiest and hottest time of year Dec/Jan are like July/August here its hot and everyone ones on summer vacation. The Montueka area is a busy place for tourists and the stream its self sees a lot of pressure from both guides and locals so the fish are educated. In the summer one needs to be up and walking before first light or you may well have someone ahead of you which translates to tougher fishing. You are also a bit early to see any significant hatches ie Cicada's which make their trout just as dumb as ours during the salmon/stonefly hatches I spent a month there last year on a Road Side Attraction Tour with the family last year so my fishing was limited by their schedule as I was the chauffeur so I only fished 7 or 8 times but managed to find willing fish each time by being on the water early and putting the boot leather to the ground. All my fishing was sighted long leader nymph fishing with tungsten flies ie.... pheasant tails and hares ears. Most of the trout took on the first good drift over them. I used a very small dull wool indicator as the water was gin clear and generally twice as deep as it looked. I did run into a few guided folks on the way out a couple days and while the fisherman said hi the guides did not...... The South Island streams are not for everyone but are beautiful and do have some great trout and challenging fishing. The North Island streams seem to hold a lot more fish and both Rainbows and Browns which are easier to catch but its harder to catch the biggest ones as the smaller trout are more aggressive and take first ie... you see a lot more trout in each run. Sometimes I caught multiple fish out of the same pool mostly Rainbows. Hope to go back again soon and do some hut to hut trips with my son who is over there working and has not had a chance to explore the South island yet. Of course then you have to worry about the heli guides
 

Driftless Dan

Driftless Dan
WFF Supporter
My favorite two NZ fish:

I was sitting with the guide along the side of a smallish stream. At that place there was a "bay" of some sort, less than knee deep. As we're munching on apples, a big rainbow swims within a yard of my outstretched toes, and goes into this bay. "He's going in there to look for bullies," my guide said. Apparently these are sculpin-like fish. The guide had me pull out just enough line so my leader was outside of the guides, and told me to set the emerger pattern I had right in front of the entrance. Along comes that rainbow and slurps the emerger up. Of course I struck too soon, but the fish never felt the hook. The fish swirled around looking for the emerger, and the guide said to put it back down but count "One Mississippi" before setting the hook. Bam! 22" rainbow.

Later, on the big outflow tributary to Lake Wanaka, the Clutha, we were on a small island fishing into the channel between it and the mainland. There were lanes of weeds and sandy bottom, and the guide said fish would cruise those lanes looking for whatever might pop out of the weedbeds. We saw a big brown coming from about 30 feet away, so again, I put my emerger out and just let it sit until that trout swam up and casually slurped it up (this time I didn't pull it out of his mouth too soon!). That was a solid 24" brown, my biggest of the trip.

Both fish were within 10 feet of me when hooked. That is a thrill not to be missed!
 

castsN2trees

The fish are calling.....
WFF Supporter
Thnks for sharing all y’all’s experiences... my intention in sharing mine is to accurately recount my experience... that’s it .... truth is I will probably go back to NZ at some point to fish, but I will definitely do it differently than I did the first time..... for one thing, I won’t spend more than a couple days in one area...I don’t have an axe to grind with anyone, it’s just the experience did not live up to the expectation, so you make adjustments and move forward...

The experience to learn this cost me a good bit of time and effort (not to mention cash).... and I thought it may be helpful to others as they plan their trips.... when I was researching this area to fish, I didn’t run across any information that challenged the “monster browns grow in trees down there” vibe that is commonly spouted ... and that was the most frustrating part...

Not saying my experience is the norm.... just offering to anyone that cares to consider it...

to quote G’n’R “take it for what it is”

Y’all have a good evening.....
 

dbk

Active Member
Appreciate this report. Spent two months on the South Island in 2015 and your experiences reflect the challenges of fishing there given all the variables which are constantly changing while managing one's own expectations of "success ".. U was fortunate to have 2 months which helped a lot, but the frustrations of weather (wind), fishing pressure, and ultra spooky and selective fish definitely left me feeling beat down. Never had any epic days but was usually able to get a fish or two to eat a fly if everything came together just right as there were very few "easy" fish. Numerous trout were spooked crawling on hands and knees ever so slowly 20 yds upstream of a fish behind streamside foliage.. or when making a perfect cast to the "dinner plate" spot only to have the fish spook on the subtle plop of a size 18 tungsten beaded nymph.. or worse have the fish spook when the nymph drifted right to its nose off 6x tippet... and casting 16-20 ft leaders was the norm..there were many frustrations and I remember vividly after 5 straight days of not touching a fish (the longest of the trip) how defeating it was.. yet at the same time it was the best fishing I've ever experienced because of how challenging it was.. the when and where to fish is everything and given the variables which determine that it's difficult especially when fishing alone on a DIY trip.. perseverance and having no expectations is key.. focusing on the bigger picture and process involved to catch fish helped keep it fun.. and each fish caught was memorable as were all the fish hooked and broken off.. even the refusals were memorable.. it's an amazing place and this report captures it well..

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Steelhead

Mykiss Member
Damn. 6 days guided on the South Island would cost a small fortune. I would expect results with the amount those guides charge. Do you think it was the weather/season/bad luck or the lodges fault? I’ve been blanked in the Keys on guided trips so I feel your pain.

Do a lot of research before going to the South Island. Some research will pay off and some research will be a bust. But do your internet studying or you’ll get overwhelmed. The fishing is hard and the island is huge- focus on a couple and learn from time on the water.


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Freestone

Active Member
WFF Supporter
Thank you for sharing your report, @castsN2trees! I loved how you wrote it up. I think it is an important report for people to read as too many times, we only read about great days and see pics of spectacular fish, whether we are reading about NZ, MT, or Belize, etc. I guess bad days aren’t fun to write or read about (except OMJ’S useless ones) and most people only post their best fish pics. Probably because of this, it is easy to think that when we go somewhere, it will be like all the stories and we’ll have our own monster fish pics. However, I do hope that you return and have better fishing next time - and that it exceeds your new expectations!

After reading the posts in this thread though, my desire to return to NZ has been slightly diminished, just slightly. But now, more than ever, I am really glad that I was there 20 years ago this month. I spent a total of 5.5 months fishing and backpacking and it was pure heaven! I fished a total of 42 bodies of water and except for the famous rivers like the Mataura and Tongariro, I rarely saw another angler and never more than 1 or 2. Now, I am worried that I will be sorely disappointed in the changes. Except for the famous rivers, the fish weren’t picky and I fished a sz12 Royal Wulff more often than not and rarely nymphed. Yes, it was challenging fishing, especially with the wind, but I loved stalking fish and sight casting. I had no humongous fish and most days, just a few decent fish but it was sure fun and the scenery was fabulous. For 20 years, I have been dying to get back. Thanks to your report and the other reports in this thread, I know to expect a different experience than I had last time. That’s ok though as the country has so much to offer.

@dbk Nice fish! I think of you often and am still grateful for your kindness and support.
 

JayB

Active Member
Thanks for sharing your story. I think that whenever you take a big "Ultimate Everything" trip, no matter if it's skiing, surfing, or anything else that's conditions dependent the sad reality is that you're left rolling the dice and crossing your fingers even if everything you've heard about the place is true.

I lived on the North Island for six months, but we did take a 10 day trip around the perimeter of the South Island.

The South Island was spectacular, but on the rare occasion that anyone has asked for advice I've given them something that's a variant on Mark Twains line that he'd "Choose heaven for the climate, and hell for the company." I'd hit up the South Island for the scenery, but I'd stick to the North Island for the fishing.

Having said that, even in the rivers that I had the best luck in, if I'd only been in the area for a week or two I could easily have gone entirely fishless due to the rivers being blown out, even the more remote spots getting over-run by tourists during the peak season, etc. It was only the fact that I was a "local" and plowed innumerable hours into exploring, chatting up fishermen that I ran into on the trails, etc that I was able to turn things around and start consistently connecting with fish.

Hopefully this just stokes the fire a bit and motivates you to keep after it until you find yourself in the middle of a trip that lives up to all of your expectations and then some!
 
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PV_Premier

Active Member
This trip report nicely summarizes many of the common misconceptions about fishing in NZ. It is hard work, there are not a lot of fish, and they are exceptionally spooky. There are certainly places where you can have to do a lot of walking. There are other places where you can walk in a quarter mile from the road and have a slay day. It's fishing.

That said, I would say my experiences are quite different than the report. I've been pretty successful, but certainly had some rough days...that's fishing. I tend to stay away from the lodges and rent a camper van. This gives me ultimate flexibility in where I go and how long I stay, which is important given the varied weather, flows, etc. discussed in this report. There is almost no place on earth with a more varied climate for its size than NZ.

When I arrive, I hire a guide for my first two days in the region of the island I intend to be targeting, so that I can get a quick beat on what's hatching, what's not, and some intel on what rivers might be worth exploring on my own. Never has it not been worth the money.

I try to go in October or November. Its been a few months since the fish have seen flies, there are fewer visitors, and personally I prefer fishing in slightly off colored water because you can afford to make more mistakes and still be successful.

I do not fish 20' leaders. I accept that this means there are fish that I will not catch, but fishing a 12-15' leader allows me to make better presentations, and spook fewer fish, which leads to more success. Some guides don't like this. I don't care. I would rather be confident in my ability to place the fly where it needs to be, when it needs to be there, than to fight with a leader all day and have that get into my head.

I read, and read, and read before I go. Study google maps carefully. Have a plan A, B, C, D and E. And then be willing to scrap plan E and make it up as you go.

My first trip to the South Island I had two amazing days of fishing and four pretty frustrating ones. My second trip, about the same ratio, although the trip was longer. Next time I go, I'm gonna try to stay a month. This amount of time virtually guarantees you can align weather, flows, fish behavior, and where you happen to be for at least one day of success per week.

NZ is an amazing place. Even if I went for a month and got skunked, I'd never regret the trip or spending the time.

[edit to add] - and by the way, your guide was right about this being the toughest weather/flow season in 20 years. All my friends who live down there and guides are saying the same thing on social media. It's been a tough spring, things seem to be settling down now and fishing getting a little more routine.
 
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