Fly Fishing New Zealand: Where, When and How

November 17

New Zealand fly fishing is some of the best in the world, with salmon and trout filling crystal clear waters across the country. The willow-lined rivers and glacial lakes are just asking to be explored, rod in hand. Add a bottle of crisp white and a crunchy baguette and it’s all terribly romantic, but for a fly fishing trip that’s as successful as it is whimsical, you’ll need some local intel. New Zealand fly fishing is world renowned, so it’s worth being prepared.

Salmon can be found on both coasts of the South Island, but it’s trout fishing that the country is really famous for, with brown and rainbow trout found throughout New Zealand. Rainbow are found mostly in the north, whilst the top of the South Island is famous for its large brown trout. Further south, in the rivers that course down from the Southern Alps, you’ll find the country’s most diverse waters.

New Zealand trout are famously big, there are an abundance of excellent fishing lodges and guides, and the country is a pleasure to travel. If it’s a fly fishing mecca you’re after, get New Zealand to the top of your list – it’s delightfully unexplored and the NZD bodes well for most visitors. First things first, then, lets cover the best spots to get your feet wet.

Where is the best fly fishing in New Zealand?

If you’re looking for salmon, the best place to be is the East Coast of the South Island. The Rakaia river in Canterbury boasts the most consistent salmon runs in the country, with the best time of year being January through to March.

However, it’s really the wild trout fishing that earns New Zealand its fly fishing badge of honour. Across both the North Island and South Island, you’ll find gin clear streams, rivers and lakes just full of trout, making fly fishing New Zealand a must for any angler serious about their pursuit. To take your trip to the next level, there’s no shortage of excellent guides ready to share all there is to know.

So where is the best trout fishing in New Zealand?

In the South Island, the rivers snaking down from the Southern Alps are a trout fishing dream. They’re clear, which means they’re fantastic for sight fishing, something that makes New Zealand fly fishing so unique. The waters are the most diverse in New Zealand, and the glacial lakes and rivers of Fiordland, Southland and Otago are shrouded by prehistoric native bush. The best time of year to travel to the South Island to fish is between October through May, with February being the most popular month for overseas anglers. January is also a great month to fish, with the rivers low and clear and the trout surface-oriented.

From Fiordland’s Eglinton river to Southland’s Mataura river and Oreti river, and up to Canterbury’s Ahuriri river, there is no shortage of waters with a great density of both rainbow and brown. Combined with the solid hatches, peaceful solitude and jaw-dropping surrounds, it’s easy to see where New Zealand fly fishing gets its name. It’s well worth getting a guide for your fly fishing trip – the local knowledge is priceless, even if you’re an experienced angler. As any fisherman (or woman) knows, a tip from a local is priceless.

Meanwhile, in Nelson, Marlborough and the top of the West Coast, world class brown trout are ripe for the picking. For every lover of wild places, big fish and stunning surrounds, you’ve found paradise. For those new to New Zealand fly fishing, Nelson’s Motueka river has easy wading and is a great place to start. The Open Season in the top of the South is from October 1st until April 30th, with good nymph fishing throughout and dry fly fishing peaking from January through March.

For the anglers amongst the crowd who want to take back the big ‘un, trophy trout are best here from mid November. There’s no shortage of great guides in the area who know the water intimately, too, and can engineer the best possible fishing for your trip. Every angler knows there’s both good days and bad days, but whether you’re wanting to explore for a day or travel for a month, a guide will certainly help train your eyes and finesse your technique, especially if you’re new to sight fishing.

Further north, the abundant lakes and rivers of the the North Island’s Central Plateau are legendary. The rainbow trout have made a real name for themselves here, but while the spots might be popular, they’ll never feel overcrowded. In fact, the light angling pressure is part of what gives the fish a chance to get so big. Trout here have been known to reach 5kg, whilst the average size is more like 1-2kg.

The great Lake Taupo is where fly fishing in New Zealand first began, and where anglers from all over the world still make the trip to reap the same fruitful rewards. With its many, many streams and tributaries, it’s a prime spot to lose yourself in the soft flow of the waters. The Tongariro River in particular is every angler’s dream, and is a popular place to fish through winter, with the run of pre spawning Rainbows appearing from the month of June through until September.

To truly make the most of your New Zealand fishing trip, there are many expert guides in Taupo well worth their salt. For those with a craving for the deep wilderness, take a helicopter or hike out to find the best back country rivers with the help of a good local guide. The NZD performs well for the Euro, USD, Canadian dollar and the Aussie dollar, so you’ll get premium value for money.

If you want to immerse for a few days, there are some fantastic fishing lodges to be found in the Rotorua/Taupo region that combine the best of New Zealand fly fishing with classic Kiwi hospitality. On the mighty Tongariro, for example, the Tongariro Lodge sits on the banks of the river at the southern shores of Lake Taupo – for those who like to be parked up right where the action happens.

The best time of year to come fishing in the Central Plateau is October through to April, but with warmer water temperatures, October and April are both considerably better months to fish than in the south.

Does New Zealand have wild salmon?

Yes, sea-run salmon are well established in rivers on both the east and west coast of the South Island. The salmon enter the fresh water and travel up to spawn between December and May, making summer and Autumn the best time to come fly fishing. To the west, the salmon will often run all the way up into lakes – get yourself a guide and you’ll know every secret spot in no time.

Are trout indigenous to New Zealand?

Certainly not, though the conditions in New Zealand waters mean the trout here are large and good quality. Brown trout, now the most common type of trout in the country, were first introduced into New Zealand in the late 1860’s.

What about rainbow trout? Are they they native to NZ?

Another negative – they are native to west draining rivers of North America as well as the Kamchatka Peninsula, and were introduced around 1883. So not indigenous, but they’ve been long here enough to call themselves Kiwis.

Bonus fact: there are two small NZ towns that boast statues of trout

New Zealand small towns love erecting large tributes to their favourite things, which explains why New Zealand has two giant metal trout: in Taupo and in Gore.

Where can I go fishing in Auckland?

While inner-city Auckland may not offer the best of New Zealand fly fishing, there are plenty of options around not too far away, and actually some of the most underfished fly fisheries in the country are close to densely populated Auckland and Hamilton. Plus, you’re spoilt for choice on where to buy flies and find a good guide before you wade off into the wilderness.

Rivers in the Waikato region between Auckland and Hamilton often have fantastic fly fishing – in fact, some of the spring creeks in the central Waikato region are known to have over 900 fish per km. Their easy access make them well worth the trip, too – in most spots you can drive right up to the side of the river.

There are plenty of places to get your feet wet and your record broken close to the big smoke, like the gorgeous Whakapapa river,  Whanganui River, Waihou River or the Waimiha stream, which is renowned for being one of the best dry fly fishing spots in NZ.

Where can I go fishing in Hamilton?

The South Waikato is a highlight of North Island fly fishing, with rivers and streams full of rainbow. Lake Arapuni is one of the best spots, with the Tumai and Mangawhio streams at the southern end both popular locations. Hamilton is a great place to find a guide, too.

Can you fish in the Waikato River?

The Waikato is New Zealand’s largest river, and on a good day is a fantastic place to fly fish. While it’s fished mainly by boats trolling, there are open areas for casting that work well with both dry and nymph flies.

Do you need a License to fish in New Zealand?

Yes, to fly fish for trout or salmon, you need a sport fishing license, and there’s a specific type for non-residents. A different type is needed for the Taupo region, and remember, you cannot sell what you catch in New Zealand. All licenses are managed by Fish and Game New Zealand, and if you have a guide, they’ll make sure all your t’s are crossed and i’s dotted. This way, the abundant fisheries are kept that way, and New Zealand retains its fly fishing magic.

What kind of fish can you catch in New Zealand?

The ocean waters surrounding New Zealand are filled with Snapper, Kahawai, Hoke, Blue Cod – to name a few. For freshwater fishing, it’s salmon and trout. This is a place with abundant fisheries and unspoilt primeval wilderness, where time flies and travel is easy. What’s not to like?

Why do trout get so big in New Zealand?

The temperature and oxygen content of many New Zealand rivers lets trout conserve energy, digest food easily and grow in size. Combine that with little angling pressure and plenty of food, and you’ve got some of the biggest trout in the world.

Is there Bass in New Zealand?

Bass is a deep water fish species, so while you won’t catch one on a fly rod, they can be found over the 200m mark all around New Zealand’s coastlines, and often in the Bay of Plenty area. It’s a pretty different experience from a a day spent on the river casting for trout, but for a taste of a different flavour of fishing, the deep water offers an epic adventure.

If you want a fly fishing trip to take you back in time to when the fish were large and the wilderness pristine, New Zealand is your place. The travel is rewarding, the streams are clear and the local guides have fishing in their blood. What are you waiting for?


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