Brown Trout Paradise

Brown Trout Paradise

New Zealand's South Island

  • By: Monty Montgomery
  • Photography by: Erik Argotti
FR&R's correspondent tells you how to do the South Island on your own First off, any trip to the brown trout paradise that is the South Island of New Zealand is going to be expensive. Heck, the plane ticket alone will set you back nearly $2,000, and then there are the costs when you are in-country. But you already know all this, and either you can afford it or you just don't care (student loans and 401K be damned!). You are going to stalk massive browns on the South Island, and that's that.OK, fine. Now, you have two choices for your trip: You can book a week at a lodge, or you can put together your own itinerary. There are many fine fishing lodges on the South Island--where the food, guided fishing and luxurious accommodations all come in one package--and a booking agent such as The Best of New Zealand(bestofnzflyfishing.com) can set you up at one. However, a week's stay at a high-end, all-inclusive lodge will cost you from $5,000 to $6,000 (with airfare), and that usually does not include the optional helicopter rides to remote headwater streams that run up to $1,000 a pop. This is a terrific option for the angler who wants everything arranged for him and can afford it. But you can save a little money if you plan your own South Island trip--with the additional benefit of experiencing a lot more of the local culture than you would by staying at a lodge. The 10- to 14-day itinerary described below is one that I have followed, and can recommend without reservation--although most anglers will want to improvise on it, either a little or a lot (in fact, improvisation is half the fun on a trip like this). My two-week itinerary costs around $5,000 (or more if you book guides often, and the airfare is not included). Do your homework Arranging a trip to New Zealand means a lot of Web research and e-mails. You could try and telephone, but the time difference is nearly insurmountable (they are 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, so it's already tomorrow there). After you've picked your itinerary, e-mail everyone and ask about available dates and construct your tour around the opportunities. Flights Airfare is the single biggest expense. Find the advance-payment discounted tickets first (they will be most available in October, November, early December, March and April, the Kiwi spring and fall) and then book your guides and rooms. Fly into and out of Christchurch. However, once you are in-country, you will want to book a flight from Christchurch to Queenstown to save driving time. Book early, and take the best deal you can find for flights between November 1 and April 1. I prefer to fly on Air New Zealand because their seats are more comfortable on the long flight than Qantas, although you might save a hundred dollars booking through the Aussie airline. In any case, prices will be high and the antipodean airlines are imitating domestic carriers in terms of penalties and restrictions, so read the small print. No matter in which order you choose to visit Canterbury, the West Coast and the Mataura Valley, plan on flying to Queenstown. It's a very long drive to Queenstown, and unless you spend overnights on the way and hire local guides there's not much attractive fishing for the visitor. Self-guided days will be spent much more pleasantly at each of the three destinations. Planes arrive in Christchurch in the morning from the US. Guides You'll need them, at first. Not to book a few days with a guide at each spot would be penny wise and dollar foolish. You don't have to spend big money on guides (currently averaging around $450US) every day. The guides will take you to a river, show you the access spots and what flies to use. They'll spot fish for you and help you adjust your tactics for New Zealand trout. But with a little help from your guide, you soon will be catching fish on your own. The guides know all the public water and they have their own secret places, which they will often share. Access Most (but not all!) New Zealand rivers have public access by foot to an area consisting of a rod's width (16.5 feet) along each bank. As with Montana's stream law, you must enter the "Queen's Rod" from a public way or with the landowner's express permission to cross his property. Asking for permission, particularly in farm country, is more than polite: You may be allowed to drive a farm road to reach waters not ordinarily covered by the walking angler. By and large, New Zealanders like Americans, especially Yanks with good manners. Obstacles The Sandfly Surely there must be a downside to fishing New Zealand. There is. It's called the sandfly. It looks like, acts like, and itches worse than a Maine Woods blackfly. If you can't bear biting flies, go to New Zealand in March or April, as the fall weather puts a brake on the sandfly express. Insect repellent works well, and I don't recall ever seeing a mosquito. And there are no grizzly bears or rattlesnakes. The only dangerous beasts are Kiwi motorists, and the farther you get from Christchurch, the less numerous they become. Driving Driving on the left side of the road is the legacy of Commonwealth membership, and disconcerting. You will get used to it, and then everything goes blank when you come to a traffic rotary. Yes, you go around the rotary counter-clockwise. Coward that I am, I don't rent a car in Christchurch (it's too busy) and I avoid driving myself over Arthur's Pass between Christchurch and Greymouth. There are plenty of flights from Christchurch to Hokitika or, if you're not in a hurry, the scenic Tranzalpine train over the pass is a sight-seeing delight. Most car-rental companies let you drop off at a different location than pick-up. What to Bring Gear Pack light. If you can wet-wade cold water, just bring wading boots, neoprene gravel guards, a pair of shorts and poly-pro leggings, which are more for the brush and the flies than for warmth. One rod (and a backup) will do you fine. Ideally, bring an 81/2- to 9-foot, 5-weight that has the guts to throw a 6-weight line. You'll want to be overloaded for the short casts (and they are the most common) but still be able to reach out 50 feet without killing the cast. You must also bring rain gear and bug spray. Flies Two fair-size fly boxes of all the usual suspects will do: Pheasant Tail Nymphs and fat, fuzzy Caddis nymphs; Adams and Irresistibles; mayflies and lots of attractors--everything from size 18 Royal Wulffs to size 6 Chernobyl Ants, and Stimulators and Madam X's as well. You can also pick up locally tied flies at most of your stops. Maps Order online (mapworld.co.nz) 1:250,000 topos of the areas you will fish. The service from Map World is spot-on and brilliant. For the trips described here you will need three 1:250,000 maps: Christchurch, Grey and Te Anau. Your South Island Itinerary New Zealand's fishable season runs from October 1 to April 1, with January and February being the most popular (and most crowded) months. November, December and March offer some fine fishing without quite as much competition from other non-Kiwi anglers. Now, here's how to spend two weeks in brown trout paradise: Part I: Classic South Island Brown Trout Rivers (4-5 days) Fly directly to Christchurch. I stay overnight in Christchurch to shake the jet lag, then fly south to Queenstown in the morning. In Queenstown I rent a 4x4 vehicle, which can be had for less than $100NZ per day. From there I drive to Athol, a town that I use as a home base to fish the rivers in the region. Once I arrive and get settled at a bed&breakfast or motel, I inquire at the Brown Trout Fly and Tackle store about which of the nearby tributaries of the great Mataura River are fishing well. The Mataura itself, beginning at the foot-only access at Nokomai Station and working downriver, is a moody stream, often excellent for large trout, but occasionally frustrating. It has perhaps the most prolific fly hatches in New Zealand, with selective trout on those occasions. Local, real-time information is what you need while here. A dozen miles south, the Oreti and its tributaries give the town of Five Rivers its name, and the Oreti from Lumsden (just downstream of Five Rivers), is accessible, fishable and reliable when the wind isn't howling. Another option for lodging and fishing here is to stay a couple days at Nokomai Station (a "station" is a large sheep ranch). The station offers reasonable and comfortable lodging in a clean cottage for $220NZ a night. Ten miles of the Mataura flow through the station, and as a guest you will be able to drive your vehicle to some of the less accessible upper reaches of the river; if you are not a paying guest, you'll have to hoof it. Part II: Canterbury High Country Freestone Waters (3-5 days) Fly from Queenstown back to Christchurch (again, it'll save you a couple days of driving), rent a car at the airport, and drive to Methven. This will be your home base for some very good, but challenging, big-river fishing. This is bizarrely beautiful country, whole mountainsides of nothing but scree with huge Kea parrots on patrol, deeply cut gorges, and scores of small spring creeks and freestone tributaries in the high country. The nearby Rakaia and the Waimakariri rivers to the north are fly-fishable, but you need to know exactly where access is possible and fishing is practical. For example, just off Highway 73, which parallels the Waimakariri near the village of Cass, walk-in is possible across the valley from the Wilderness Lodge. The Lake Sarah turn off on Highway 73 west (uphill) from Cass leads to a series of small lakes, including two walk-ins with light pressure. These are best fished in the morning before the wind comes up. Plan on doing some driving (or being driven). Given weather and conditions, you may want to pop over Arthur's Pass and fish in the foothills toward Greymouth. If this is your first time to this region, I recommend hooking up with Backcountry New Zealand guide service (backcountry.co.nz). Plan two days guided fishing, and at least two days on your own. They'll mark up your map with directions to rivers (and some amazing lakes) that you can fish yourself without worrying about access or crowds. In New Zealand, one is a crowd. Part III: The Wild West (3-4 days) The third stage of your trip will take you to the West Coast, which even by New Zealand standards is considered quirky. West Coast fishing is a mix of big rivers and spring creeks, with more water than you could fish in a decade. You can drive from Methven to the town of Hokitika. Using Hokitika as a base, you can ealsily reach dozens of trout waters--from tiny spring creeks in Whataroa to the south or the massive Grey River to the north at Greymouth. On the Grey, a few miles upstream from the sea, just before the small town of Blackball, a long shingle beach sometimes provides amazing blind-fishing. The famous LaFontaine spring creek at Harihari just north of Whataroa is hard fished by New Zealand standards, but is only one of dozens of trout-infested spring creeks near the Wanganui River. The only downer to these lowland spring creeks is the New Zealand farmer's delight in electric fences. Here's a quick way to find out if the juice is on: Take a stem of green grass and poke the wire for a few seconds. If it steams and sizzles, figure out a way to get under. (Never, ever, step over. Do I have to explain that?) For guided fishing, and advice about where to go on your own, contact Dean Trolle at flyfishingwestland.com. He will set you up for a couple nights at Larry's Rest in Hokitika, as nice a B&B as I've ever stayed. From here, drive back to Christchurch, board your flight back to the US, and kiss paradise good bye.