Fly Fishing in New Zealand | Recommended Fly Patterns
Fly Fishing in New Zealand is, for many, a once in a lifetime experience. It consistently provides giant brown trout along with rainbows that are more akin to steelhead on the West Coast of North America. The journey to the other side of the world is made worthwhile by the clear water dry fly and nymph fishing. The stunning landscape and plethora of non-fishing activities that can be done in New Zealand make it the ideal for family holidays or travelling with non-fishing partners.
Fly Fishing in New Zealand’s North Island
The fishing is not limited to any particular region of New Zealand. The North Island provides rivers that contain both brown and rainbow trout usually averaging 3 – 5 lbs, it is best fished during the Cicada season December – February where big fish can be tempted up to take large dry flies. There is also a winter prime time, June – July, when the trout are running from the lakes into the rivers to spawn. This is much like salmon fishing and big streamer patterns are favoured.
Fly Fishing in New Zealand’s South Island
The south Island can be split into two distinct fishing areas, on one side there is the west coast rivers which only contain brown trout but these fish grow big. These rivers flow in the shadows of the Southern Alps and regularly see fish upwards of 10 lbs caught when sight fishing with dry flies. In some years these fish can be caught on big mouse patterns fished in the dying light of evening, it is an experience that will get the adrenalin rushing. The east coast, like the north Island, offers rivers filled with rainbow and brown trout but they are wise and require stealth and delicacy. These rivers flow off the Southern Alps and out across the lowland plains of the east once home to good runs of quinnat salmon (king salmon) but in recent years numbers have declined. The South Island fishing is in its prime during the summer months, December – February, when the fish can be sighted and fished to with large dry flies.
Restocking the fly boxes for any season always involves an element of guessing what this season will have in store but here are a few of my absolute ‘must have’s’ for a season down under:
Olive Stimulator – #12
The New Zealand summer is alive with activity in the countryside. Most warm sunny days the forests are filled with the chorus of dozens of cicadas. This large terrestrial bug becomes so numerous that many fall into the water and become easy food for the hungry trout, the stimulator provides the right size and shape to deceive most cicada feeding trout. The fly also doubles up as an indicator when fishing ‘New Zealand style’.
Parachute Adams – #14
If ever there was a fly that you shouldn’t leave home without, it is the Adams. A generic dry fly, it seems to tick most boxes for the trout. It is a good go to pattern during summer mayfly hatches and at times when you cannot quite put your finger on what the fish are feeding on.
McPhail Red Tag Hopper – #12
This larger fly has the power to entice trout up from the depths to take a fly off the surface when they seem unlikely to rise. This is a great fly to use when you have sighted a fish in deeper water but would like to target it with a dry fly first before running a nymph through. Fish will often look at it when there are cicada and blowfly around. It also doubles up as an indicator when fishing ‘New Zealand style’.
Hares Ear Copper – #16
With trout, I have often found simple is best in terms of nymphs and they do not come any simpler than the Hare’s Ear Copper. This small fly looks buggy and the fish often agree. At times you can see fish move great distances in order to examine and engulf a Hare’s Ear. The tungsten bead is an important addition to help it descend through the water to the fish’s level quickly.
PTN Rubber Leg Tungsten – #12
Sometimes trout need a little more persuasion to move for your fly. Even in the clear waters of New Zealand that incentive can come in the form of rubber legs. As the fly tumbles down the flow the legs kick and jostle, often appealing to the trout’s inquisitive side.
GRHE Nymph Unweighted – #16
The Willow Grub is one of the trout’s favourite food items of the summer. The tiny little green worm can tumble from the tree branches into the river and during large emergencies, many of them fall. The trout hone in on them quickly and can often be found cruising in slacks under the branches. In this situation, a small fly trapped in the surface film is best. The Hare’s works nicely as it can have floatant added to keep it in the right place.
A wild card… Mini McMouseface – #2
In the fading light of the evening, the big trout come out to feed… some years they have one food on their menu and that is the mouse. During years of high mouse populations, many of them look for new feeding grounds by swimming across the rivers. This plays right into the fish’s fins, and with great ferocity, the trout soon turn onto taking the mice from the surface. This phenomenon only happens every few years but it is always worth a cast in the fading light with a skated mouse… the takes are explosive!
Alex Jardine at Aardvark McLeod arranges lodge stays and guided fly fishing in New Zealand. If you are considering a trip drop him a line for more details email@example.com or +44(0)1980 847389.
This post was originally published in 2017 and has been revamped in December 2019 for accuracy and comprehensiveness. Check out Alex Jardine’s other fly fishing blog posts.