Back Into New Zealand

Back Into New Zealand

Where the reward for a backcountry slog, mate, is quite possibly the trout of a lifetime.

  • By: Barry Beck
  • and Cathy Beck
  • Photography by: Barry Beck
  • and Cathy Beck
Back Into New Zealand        

Click image for slideshow.

New Zealand’s South Island is a trout hunter’s dream. In this land of big fish and gin-clear water, Kiwi guides tell you to forget large numbers of fish caught—it won’t happen here. There can be zero-fish days that are thrilling, as you may spend hours stalking a 10-plus-pound brown trout that refuses every offering until it finally “stiffens” as Kiwis say about fish that are off the feed. No matter; we’re here, after all, to test ourselves against the best trout in the world. A friend presented a perfect toast at the end of a New Zealand journey when he simply said “To the Everest of trout fishing.”

In New Zealand, the biggest trout seem to be found in the most remote locations. To catch those fish, you could empty your bank account and chopper in—a few thousand dollars and a Kiwi heli pilot will quickly put you into the backcountry. Or do as we do and hike in. We’re not talking about a walk around the block, but a real tromp through the bush. Up and down banks, over boulder-strewn terrain, climbing, sliding, sometimes crawling but eventually getting where you want to be—in the Land of the Giants.

This is sight-fishing at its best and polarized sunglasses are as important as your fly rod. You must move slowly, studying the water for a fish profile, staying alert, as this may be the pool that holds the fish of forever. Your tapered leader may be 15 feet long, your fly may be a size 8 beadhead nymph or it may be a size 6 Cicada pattern. Your first cast may be your only chance and it may be from a crouch or a kneeling position. If the fish shows an interest in the fly but refuses to take, you’ll patiently change flies. You hope—no, you pray—that patience and perseverance pay off. If you’re bothered by rejection, you should not be here.

The next pool may be void of fish—the next three pools may be empty, as well. But you keep looking and pushing on. It’s a hunter’s game. You see a rise form at a distance, you stay back and watch and wait. The fish comes to the surface again and your adrenalin starts rushing. Your hands sweat as you move closer to the feeding fish. Finally in position and hardly breathing, you watch as your line rolls out. The fly lands on target and the fish slowly lifts to meet it. A giant head breaks the surface, your dry fly disappears. It takes all the discipline you can muster not to strike too soon: you know you must wait. When it’s time you lift the rod and set the hook. A while later you lay eyes on the finest specimen of brown trout. Carefully, you remove the fly and the fish disappears back into the depths of the pool.

This is the South Island of New Zealand, the Everest of trout fishing. And as a Kiwi would say, Good on ya, mate.

Barry and Cathy Beck travel the world hosting fly-fishing trips and shooting remarkable photos.