Challenges & Rewards of Southland

My Recent Adventures Fishing in New Zealand

Fly-fishing is hard. Fishing a new river for the first time can be very hard. Fly-fishing the South Island of New Zealand on my own is one of the most challenging tasks I have experienced in the sport.  

We are based in Te Anau in the Southland Region.  Within a 100 mile radius (kilometers to the Kiwis) there are literally hundreds of streams and thousands of miles of river banks to explore.  On average, each of these streams hold anywhere between 50-500 fish per kilometer and a large number of those fish could be the fish of a lifetime.  In a sense it could be compared to finding a needle in a haystack when first starting to explore all of this water.

While fishing over the last couple of weeks I have discovered that three scenarios are likely:

-After finding a random access point on the map you start blind fishing upstream from the car and within 200 yards of where you started, you hook and land one of the most stunning Rainbows that you have ever seen.

-While exploring a world famous stretch of river, you spot heaps of monsters Brown Trout, that you estimate could range from 6-10 pounds.  Unfortunately, you spook more fish than you have the opportunity to cast to.  

-You spend hours studying topo maps and Google Earth and discover stretches of river that are bound to be promising.  After hiking 5-8 miles of river with some of the most picturesque and idyllic pools and riffles you end the day with sore legs, not spotting one trout.  

Through the last month I have experienced each of these situations and anything in between. Funny enough, the first scenario happened on my first day fishing on the trip.  Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes!

Besides the vastness of the area there are a few other factors that add to the challenge of fishing Southland.  Given the trout populations, gin-clear waters and the behavior of Kiwi trout, sight fishing is the most effective technique to target these trophies.  Sight fishing is a whole new ball game for me after fishing the Blue Ribbon Trout Streams of the west throughout my life.  First, you have to approach the likely holding spots slowly, with stealth, so you don’t spook any fish that might be there.  You have to find the best viewing spot to leverage the angle of the sun, eliminating glare, giving you the most visibility, all while not blowing your cover.  You have to locate the fish, trying to identify any movement, every rock, any shadow or slight disruption in the pool.  After verifying the trout – which could take seconds or minutes of observation – you have to overcome the excitement and nerves to make a good presentation.  If you have no response to the pattern, Kiwis believe in changing the fly after 1 or 2 drifts, all while not spooking the fish with a sloppy cast or movement of your shadow.  

At this point of the process the next challenge lies in casting long leaders (10 up to 15 feet) typically rigged with a heavy nymph on the end while carrying 30-50 feet of line at some points.  After spending all summer and most of the fall holding a set of oars, instead of the rod, the learning curve with casting this rig has been steep.  By following the advice that I give to most clients – slow down the cast and to have a long pause at the back stopping point –  I have become more accurate and precise with presentations. 

Aside from these challenges, there are numerous rewards fishing in New Zealand.  Just like any fly-fishing outing there is much more to the experience than catching fish.  There is the reward of the do-it-yourself adventure, the stunning beauty and scenery in the landscape, the motivation of what might be in the next pool or day dreaming about a pint and fish n’ chips to end the day.  But for me the biggest motivation and reward are the big smiles of my wife and daughter that greet me after an overnight exploring the backcountry.    

With about seven weeks remaining in our adventure I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of Southland fishing opportunities, but I have already learned so much.  I keep telling myself that putting in the time will pay off.  I must continue to build on these experiences, continue to explore new areas and keep cataloging bits of information learned through chatting with other anglers on the rivers or talking to friendly locals.  All the while, keep reminding myself to drive on the left side of the road.  Cheers, mate!