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ON THE FLY DOWN UNDER FISHING IN NEW ZEALAND CAN BE A REAL ADVENTURE.

Byline: Bill Becher Special to the Daily News

NEW ZEALAND - It was the best of fishing; it was the worst of fishing. I looked forward to the trip to New Zealand, reputed to be the finest fly- fishing spot on earth. But it's different there, and the key to enjoying fly-fishing in New Zealand is, as guide Dean Bell says, ``to manage your expectations.''

We rented a car in Auckland on the North Island and drove south, taking the ferry to the South Island. We saw farmland, glaciers, mountains and lots of sheep, beautiful beaches and coastline. Along the way were ads for fly-fishing, scuba diving, bungee jumping, mountaineering, tramping (backpacking), skiing, kayaking, white water rafting . . . virtually every outdoor activity of which I've heard.

We met fishing guide Pete Fordham at Carric, a delightful bed and breakfast in the Lake Taupo area where we were treated to rack of lamb on the barbie.

Lake Taupo harbors large trout, and there are many tributaries that fish well. Because we were after wild fish that spooked easily, we were instructed to wear drab clothing and no shiny objects that could flash. I had actually dyed my fly line a dull brown - or you can purchase a dark green stealth line.

We headed toward Hawke's Bay and fished a section of the Waipunga River. Pete spotted fish, and my wife and I took turns casting to the healthy rainbows. These descendents of California 'bows fought well, some exploding straight out of the water like silvery Poseidon missiles. My wife landed a couple of nice fish on a large deer hair dry fly that looked a bit like a drowned mouse. I fished dry flies and big pheasant tail nymphs, landing eight fish. We didn't realize it at the time, but this was an extraordinary day by New Zealand standards.

The next day we were due to hike in and fish a creek where our guide knew of a big brown trout that lived in a pool below a waterfall. We spent 3 1/2 hours crashing through the semi-rain forest brush following a small creek. In the U.S., fishing guides tend to stand at your elbow. In New Zealand, they often walk ahead and spot fish. You then have to sneak up on the nervous wild fish the guide has found for you.

Our guide spotted three fish - I managed to nick a small one, but that was it.

Skunked. We spent some time at the pool at the bottom of the waterfall trying to catch the 10-pound brown trout clearly visible cruising his pool. Double hauling directly into the wind created by the fall was a reminder that I needed more casting practice. Fishing in New Zealand will definitely expose any defects in your technique.

When we got back to the car we found that it had been broken into. The stereo was wrecked and the gear I'd left was gone. Apparently this is a common occurrence on the North Island near Taupo. Our guide's car had been broken into five times in five years; others at the tackle shop where we went to replace the stolen items had similar stories. One local had gone as far as to weld ammo boxes to the bed of his truck.

We drove south to the Lake Brunner Lodge where the fishing guides were all booked, which was probably a good thing as fishing was tough. The guided guests were averaging a quarter of a fish each per day. Despite this, one guest was on his 20th trip to New Zealand. Even though he lived in Montana - a great fishing territory - he preferred to hunt the big New Zealand trout. We tried the Grey River and the Crooked River on our own but saw only one fish and no takers. We drove to Lake Moreki a pretty spot on the West Coast and had fun paddling a canoe. We saw a few fish jumping and one cruising the banks, but again couldn't hook anything.

We had booked with guide Dean Bell for two days. When we met up with him, he suggested a helicopter fishing day because the weather was good, but was forecast to get rainy and blustery the next day. I decided it was time to spend the money and give this a try.

After a fairly long drive to the famous Milford Track, we hopped aboard a helicopter, which took us into a beautiful valley. Large brown trout lurked in the runs and pools. I managed to spook the first few in a glassy smooth run. Fortunately, the water farther up was more riffled, and the fish less nervous. Our guide was walking ahead, fish spotting, while my wife and I tried not to get eaten by the sand flies. Bell pointed out a nice brown; I managed to cast a dry into his lane, and was rewarded with a take. If you are used to fishing where trout are seven or eight inches long, and a 12-inch fish is a good one, New Zealand will definitely surprise you.

I lifted my rod and suddenly was attached to a living thing that ran and pulled and leapt in its efforts to escape. Our guide netted and weighed the fish - it was more than five pounds. We admired and photographed it and then released the trout.

We carried a five-weight rod rigged for dry flies, and a six-weight set-up with indicator and heavily weighted nymph. If the fish didn't take the dry after a decent presentation, we tried the nymph. I managed to land six browns out of eight or nine takes that day, all big fish in the five- to six-pound range, larger than anything I'd caught at home.

All too soon (but not for my wife who was a tasty morsel for the hard-bitting sand flies) the helicopter came to pick us up. Bell says the average catch rates per day for his clients peak at nine fish in November and drop to a low of three in February before climbing a bit toward the end of the season. (The antipodal New Zealand fishing season runs from November to April, with November being the spring opener.) These numbers would panic a trout guide in the States, but the total weight of fish caught in New Zealand would be hard to beat anywhere.

New Zealand is a tough place to fish on your own. The guides have an amazing ability to spot fish. About half the time I was able to see the fish, the other times it was a ``cast three feet to the right of the yellow stone.'' If two people are fishing, you need to take turns, as all presentations were upstream to avoid spooking fish.

While it is possible to blind-fish the water, the classic fly-fishing adventure in New Zealand is to helicopter or hike into a remote area and wade quietly in clear green streams as your guide looks for fish. When one is spotted, you may only have one cast at it before it spooks. Matching the hatch with tiny flies that are exacting imitations of what trout are eating at the moment is not an issue in New Zealand. Stealth and patience (and good theft insurance) is what it takes.

If you go with reasonable expectations, enjoy hunting for trout instead of just fishing for them, are a decent caster, are reasonably fit and have the time to hike into a remote, less pressured areas, can hire helicopters, and bring lots of bug repellent, this is trout-fishing heaven.

IF YOU GO

North Island Guide

Peter Fordham

P.O. Box 954, Taupo, New Zealand 2730

Fax 64-7-378-8494; Telephone: 64-7-378-8454

Email: pfordham@reap.org.nz

Web site: http://www.reap.org.nz/[broken (vertical) bar]pfordham/

South Island Guide

Dean Bell

P.O. Box 198 Te Anau Fiordland, New Zealand

Telephone: 64-3-249-8330

Email: deanbell@xtra.co.nz

Web site: http://www.masterguides.co.nz

Guidebooks

We liked the Lonely Planet guide to New Zealand. Also the Friar's Guide to Nez Zealand Accommodations, which lists many nice bed and breakfasts and lodges. Available in NZ in printed form or on the Web at http://www.friars.co.nz/

The most comprehensive guides we found for fishing were the North and South Island Trout Fishing Guide(s) by John Kent.

Gear

Pete Fordham has a good Web page on what to bring at his site. Gortex waders, drab clothing, five-and six-weight floating and sink tip lines in stealthy colors, wading boots are the basics. A daypack to carry extra clothing against the changeable weather is a good idea. If you want to fish like a Kiwi, bring your boots and a pair of long polypro underwear and wet wade. Bring lots of insect repellent if you plan to fish on the West Coast, especially the southern part, because the sand flies are a plague. Don't leave anything visible in your car when you pack, lock it in the boot. On the North Island, especially around Lake Taupo, don't leave anything in the car.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) New Zealand has the reputation of offering some of the finest fly-fishing anywhere.

(2 -- color) Helicopters are one way fly-fishermen can get to the remote spots.

(3) A New Zealand guide shows off a trout.

Bill Becher/Special to the Daily News

Box: IF YOU GO (See text)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 7, 2000
Words:1571
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