Finding the water
In the words of Roderick Haig-Brown, “I had to learn a lot on my own which is a fascinating process but a slow one.” But in New Zealand, the advantages are all there and waiting.
Known as the best sighted fishing grounds in the world, New Zealand has no shortage of pristine streams, rivers and lakes. Trout are big and plentiful all along the length of the country. The central North Island is primarily rainbow territory, while the top of the South Island has built a reputation as the prime brown trout fishery, and further south you’ll find our most diverse waters, from glorious rivers teeming with wild fish to monumental glacial formed lakes ringed by native forest.
An experienced local guide can design a customized itinerary to suit your tastes and ultimately bring in more and bigger trout at the end of the day. Better yet, base yourself at one of the tranquil fishing lodges around the country – these are magnificently placed for the dedicated angler, in close proximity to some of the world’s best fly fishing waters paired with legendary kiwi hospitality.
As for finding the “best” rivers in this fishing paradise, it’s easy. They will be the ones you love the most and that fit your style of fishing the best. Here are ten great ones to get your feet wet with.
With a high density of 2 to 5 pound browns, reliable hatches, and easy wading and walking, the Motueka River is a South Island favorite. If you are new to fly fishing or beginning your first trip, you’d be hard pressed to find an easier river to start your trip with.
Eglinton River - Fiordland
Lower South Island
From where it leaves Lake Gunn to where it enters Lake Te Anau, the magnificent Eglinton River is a joy to fish for both browns and rainbows and it would take several days to fish this stretch. Most of it flows through a very large meadow and if you feel like you are fishing in a park, it’s because you are - Fiordland National Park. Nearby Te Anau is a perfect place to base yourself and there are good rivers in all directions.
Mataura River - Southland
Lower South Island
From just above the hamlet of Garston to well below the town of Gore, the Mataura River would be the most popular river in Southland. With a gentle gradient, interesting tributaries, good hatches and an impressive fish density, it’s been patronised by generations of anglers and some would fish nowhere else. It would also be the most Montana-like river in New Zealand.
Nelson and West Coast
When it enters the Tasman Sea at Westport, the Buller is a large and formidable river. But upstream, above some of its larger tributaries, the Buller comes into its friendly best between the fishy towns of Murchinson and St. Arnaud. If you like fishing smaller flows, just drive further upstream, knowing that the summer nor’westers will always be at your back.
Ahuriri River - Central Otago
Lower South Island
The sleepy little town of Ōmarama is reminiscent of Ennis, Montana. But instead of the Madison River flowing through town, it’s the Ahuriri River, truly one of the most loved trout rivers in the world. From where it enters Lake Benmore (flats fishing) to above Ben Avon Station where it starts climbing into the Southern Alps, there is enough water to make a month fly by. Your camera will love the upper reaches as much as you will and tarns and spring ponds will pull on you as well.
Oreti River - Southland
Lower South Island
A small river with some strikingly large fish that have some ocean feeding in their background – that’s the Oreti River in a nutshell. Above the town of Mossburn, the average size jumps up and attracts the most skilled connoisseurs of fly fishing. This would make the Oreti a river best fished at the end of your trip after your abilities have been honed and tuned up.
Long known for the spawning runs that enter it from Lake Taupo from April to November, the incredible Tongariro River(opens in new window) has much more to offer. Summer fishing is ripe for both resident trout and fat lake fish that come into the river to stuff themselves on cicadas. After fishing smaller rivers with smart trout, you’ll appreciate being able to fish large rubber legged dry flies and heavier tippets. The historic town of Turangi sits right in the center of it all.
Fishing the mysterious river estuaries that enter the Tasman Sea on the West Coast of the South Island has been catching on with locals and visitors alike and the mouth of the Haast River would be as good as any. The estuary browns can be 10 inches or 10+ pounds and are available year round. But early in the season, when there are still some whitebait (smelt-like fish) around, is the best time to cast your streamers and watch for the swirls of feeding fish and feel the wonderful grab on a tight, swinging line.
Flowing into Lake Rotorua, the Ngongotaha has a year-round population of both browns and rainbows and a well-deserved popularity. But in April and May when the runs are coming up from the lake, it will be at its absolute fall best. This is when catch rates can go through the roof. It’s also a nice time to be in the Rotorua area after the warmth of summer has passed and fish are on the move.
With over 200 fish per kilometre above the falls, the Rai River is well populated with both browns and rainbows. It is often called a “purist’s river” and is a scenic and superb early season choice. From where it enters the phenomenal Pelorus River upstream to its little tributaries, this fly fishing only stream is easily accessible - just a short drive from Havelock from the south or Nelson from the north. It would be another excellent river to start a trip with.