New Zealand Overview
General information for the fly fisher

A bit of geography

New Zealand is a couple of islands in the South Pacific. Mountainous, volcanic, temperate. Brown trout were introduced to the South Island from England (via Tasmania) in 1868 (which is interesting because they weren't introduced to the USA until 1883!), however they didn't find their way to the North Island until they were introduced to Lake Taupo in 1886 (there was a bit of a war going on up there). Rainbows came from a steelhead run in Sonoma Ceek in California and were brought in in 1883 (good year for trout that one). Although many talk about North Island Rainbows and South Island Browns, this is misleading: in general there is a pretty good spread of both.

A variety of other fish have been introduced: such as grass carp, catfish, fontinalis (Brook trout - from New York in 1887), Atlantic salmon (1868 from Tay and Severn) and Pacific salmon (quinnat 1875). Only the Pacific salmon could be considered a successful introduction (although there are a few big brook trout around). And then only in the East coast of the South Island.

Anyway that's all very interesting, but not particularly exciting. What is exciting, however, is the size of the trout. Trout in the backcountry average 4,5,6 lbs and more. Growth rates are typically 2.5lbs per year. Water clarity is spectacular: you can see through to depths of 20 and 30 feet. The combination of large fish and crystal clear water is what gives NZ it's well deserved high reputation.

Enormous trout !

By world standards NZ trout are large. The obvious question is 'why are they so big?'

Basically it is due to a combination of factors: most importantly water temperature is ideal for feeding for about eight months per year (UK is approx 2-3 months). This combined with poor spawning conditions (Backcountry rivers are notoriously unstable) leave a few very large fish.


Apart from license costs, fishing access is free!! (OK there are acknowledged problems with guides buying the access to the rivers -in one sweep giving the entire NZ guided market a bad name-, but throughout most of NZ there is the 'Queen's Chain' which is public access along the river banks).

Vast areas of NZ are National Park (also free access). In general if you can get to the river without crossing private land, you are free to fish. And if you have to cross private property, permission is usually forthcoming.

Fishing Licenses

There are two districts in NZ with regards to licensing:

  • Taupo district

  • Everywhere else!

A little surprising perhaps, but half the Taupo fee goes towards a Maori educational trust. And as yet they haven't incorporated them together. However the fees are the same. It's $75 NZ for the season. Check out Fish and Game NZ for the latest prices.

Each region has it's own regulations with which you'll have to familiarise yourself. Mostly it's pretty straightforward, reasonable catch limits (often one or none in the backcountry), a maximum two fly leader set up, etc.

Interestingly it is illegal to buy or sell trout in New Zealand. Their are no trout farms in NZ only hatcheries and they exist only to provide fish for introduction. Trout in NZ are considered to be a sporting fish. If you want to eat trout in NZ, you either have to catch one or have a friend catch one for you. It works well (I think).

Gold strike

The NZ gold rush has left many tracks all over remote parts of the country. Even the most remote rivers often have hiking trails alongside. Many of these tracks are famous, such as the Milford Track, and the Abel Tasman.

Deer and huts

The deer (another introduced species) have leave tracks of their own making access alongside rivers easier when no other route exists. Deer are considered to be vermin, causing great damage to the indiginous plant life (although there is the view that they fulfil the same function that the now extinct moa bird once did... just to give you a bit of a feel for the argument). Anyway during the late 60's the huts were built across the NZ backcountry (in some amazingly remote places) to provide shelter for hunters. These huts are a most marvelous part of NZ backcountry 'culture'. As well as this they provide warmth, and shelter for all users.

The huts come in three categories: you can check the latest prices at the (extremely s l o w) DoC website. The huts cost anything between $5 and $15 per night.

Also available is a back-country hut pass for cat. 2 & 3 huts which used to cost $62 per year (it probably costs more now but life's too short to find out). All huts are first come first serve basis, apart from some of the 'Great Walks' which have a bed allocation system. You can camp for half the hut price at most of the huts. Or for free so long as either you are 500m away from a track, or nobody finds you. Sometimes there is no hut, so you'll have to camp, or stay away. All huts are free for day-users.

And hey just to prove that NZ has their share af bureaucratic problems (as well as slow websites) the DoC is knocking many of these relics down, because they do not consider them to be financially viable. So they kind of suck really.

In order to shoot the deer you will need a permit, which is freely available from the DoC, and a gun (of course). Camo-guy

Secret sandflies

The one thing I have failed to find reference to in any tourist brochure is sandflies. It may well be that reference is made to them, and that I have just not yet discovered this fact, but even if it is so, I do not believe for one minute that the true hell caused by these nasty sadistic vicious bastards is stated in full. You need insect repellent (with the bite of a crocodile) and clothes (chiffon scarf anyone?) to fight them off. The problem with repellent is that it washes off through wet-wading. The problem with clothes is obvious: who the hell wants to walk around in wet trousers all day. Most Kiwi trampers wear polypropylene longjohns. This is not for warmth: this is for the Superman look.

Some regions, especially the West Coast district, are prone to mosquitoes. In some huts you can spend an enjoyable afternoon hunting them down and squashing them before their evening entertainment begins. Of course it depends if you can risk the bad karma.

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