The world's best flyfishing site.

Trout Flats

New Zealand has a certain type of fishing that is hard to find elsewhere; extensive clear freshwater one to three feet deep with cruising daytime trout. I've done well in the UK in such areas but only very early in the morning or late at night. In Montana last summer I took some fish over flats but they were the exception. Tasmania has lots of this type of fishing, according to Hair who guides those waters, but he thinks it's better in New Zealand. And he should know.

This afternoon while flats fishing, in less than ideal circumstances, I landed 15 fish (give or take a few – I lost count, it's hard without a movie camera) mostly between two and a half and four pounds. With one fish touching five. That's not exceptional for these waters – my best day was 35 fish – and best of all, very few people fish the flats.

There are two sorts of flats in NZ, one is sandy shelves with steep drop offs – fish cruise the drop and zig zag the flats. The other is boggy river mouths/lake heads. Fish here cruise the guts/troughs, feed around willow trees/beech trees/stumps and zig zag the flats.

If the light is good or in your favour fish spotting is the most interesting approach. It's usually easiest to spot fish working with a backdrop of trees – wade out – but if it's really bright you're probably better off looking for moving shadows in the open. Of course it depends what the fish are doing, during bright days they sometimes rest under the trees. If they are laying up – doggo – which must be some form of comatose sleep they can be incredibly difficult to catch – try dropping a small (#16) nymph a long way in front and wait for him to wake up. Otherwise drop a zonker on his head (and expect to spook him!).

Most Kiwi anglers I know fish the hedged bet – I assume this is because it's what they do in the rivers – and it certainly works. If you are spotting fish mid-summer the Hedged Bet (dry/nymph combination, with the nymph on the point) is a deadly tactic. Basically you are fishing the drop with an indicator fly.

I catch a lot of flats fish on the drop, but instead of the Hedged Bet I prefer a couple of slow sinking nymphs on the droppers with a skinny nymph such as the Cove on the point. This is a great method, not least because you can work it – unlike the Hedged Bet – but also three flies allows you a better shot at zig zagging fish. Good flies on the droppers are ungreased Shipman's and Bob's bits.

Remember you are fishing in only a couple of feet of water so no lead! The only time I'd drop a lightly leaded fly is when the fish are looking down. Flats cruising fish are often swimming and picking up darting/disturbed nymphs and corixae. There are times when the effective method is to drop a nymph hard on the bottom on its path and give it the tiniest twitch as the fish approaches. This is a fascinating technique but for it to work well the fish need to be on regular beats or else you need exceptional visibility.

In high summer, especially during overcast days or early morning, a team of dries can be great fun. Same scruffy flies as above but greased up. It is essential that your leader is dressed to sink. If you don't carry mud you can't fish the flats, it's as simple as that. If there's wind always try the calm bank first and if there's nothing cruising try fishing the edge of the ripple. Fishing flats during a wave generally isn't very productive and never if it colours.

I do very well with the damsel nymph in the Member's Section all over NZ. For flats you need an unweighted version. Many fish will follow the fly without taking. The first thing you should try is pausing the retrieve. In fact you should do this randomly when fishing blind too. If that doesn't work change direction on the dibble. With pulled flies it's particularly important to watch for following fish at the end of the retrieve, always change direction and pause before you send the flies out again. Changing direction not only induces a take but also brings the flies out to your side so there's less chance of the fish making you.

Another excellent fly, especially late in the season, is the plain black marabou lure. I try not to make long searching casts because I'm spending my time searching for fish and it's better to make lots of short casts than a few long ones. It's a little bit like loch style on the wade.

When a fish rises it can be quite difficult to be sure of direction, as they often change it on the way down again. You have to be quick on these moving targets but hopefully you'll be able to spot the fish and lead him. Otherwise take the shot where you think the fish went, assume he's there, and if he's not quarter in the other direction with more lead. If you haven't spooked the fish he'll be around and so it's worth plugging the area a few more times.

As you wade the flats it's important to fan your casts to cover more water. Just like when loch style fishing there are times when one direction seems to work best for pulled flies, but for everything else covering more water is best. There are some flats large enough for two or three anglers, if that's the case work the flats together in a line. Then you won't be wasting shots on spooked fish or covered water, you'll spook less and fish more effectively.

A couple of the places I fish are boggy beyond belief. Crossing old streambeds can be a challenge. Some places allow for the use of waders and when it's cold this is advisable, especially if you're wading above your nuts, but if you're wading above your chest then polyprops are the way to go. It's quite possible to wade over mud that's effectively bottomless… just keep going and hopefully you'll come out the other side. Incidentally I didn't know this worked until the first time it happened to me. [Disclaimer: don't blame me if you drown; it might not work everywhere.]

Always fish methodically and slowly, carefully covering the water before you wade it. When it's muddy I slowly shuffle through the mud trying to keep disturbance to a minimum.

Pay attention to troughs and structure, and as with all of New Zealand making the first shot count is critical. This applies not only to sighed fish, but also when searching the water. If you aren't thinking about your casting position then you are not tactically fishing. If it's working, try figuring out how it could be better. If it's not working, try something different!

When the fish are hugging the drop offs a good tactic can be to wade out and cast along with a leaded damsel or even a slime line. Bunnies can be useful, yellow, olive and black are my choice. Interestingly, yellow can be very effective on browns. I've only recently discovered this.

My next investment is a sit-on kayak which will open up more flats fishing and protect my nuts.

For members only: link to the black marabou. Also check out the damsel, Bob's bits, Cove PT, Shipmans and the small leaded nymph.

More PoDs follow this week.


PS that was different!

Essential Bush Skills

The start of any flytying good flytying sequence involves squirting The Light of Apgai on your polyprops
Both alarm and curiousity set in when the polyprops start melting
Putting the lid back on the jar to stop *that* happening again
The flytying proper is underway
Notice the composure, that's true class that is
A difficult bit, you can tell that from the vacant expression
Essential bush skills: the third hand
Notice my hat here, it's quite daring
Snip, snip
I'm not quite sure what I'm doing here, but it's cool
Trimming an oversize hackle that appears to have become trapped in the whip finnish manoevre
Delicate precision work, the hallmark of any good flytyer
A sexy catch...

Return to whence you came
Return to home page