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New Zealand Report 2017

Feb 16, 2017 | Mike Lawson Releasing_a_big_brown.jpg

I made my first trip to New Zealand in 1981 as a guest of the tourism department sponsored by the travel company, Fishing International. I joined Frank Bertaina, one of the partners to visit a couple of new lodges. Mel and Fanny Krieger joined us later in the trip. We had a great trip and I got a real education on stalking wary trout.

After that initial trip I hosted a number of small groups, mostly couples, on trips to New Zealand over the next 25 years or so. The members of these groups fished with guides while I was usually on my own. I mostly learned about the fishing in New Zealand through the school of hard knocks and hard they often were. Sheralee could never join me on these trips due to budget restraints and young children at home.

Sheralee was finally able to join me with three other couples after our children were raised. We fished out of several lodges on the North and South Islands. In 2015 we decided to wing it on our own. We spent a few days at one of my favorite places, the Riverview Lodge, sampled a wide variety of other accommodations, employed a few guides, and spent the remainder of the time fishing and exploring on our own. We had a great trip doing our own thing but we also learned some valuable lessons.


We got home from our latest trip a few days ago. We spent some time on the North Island fishing with a great friend, Simon Dickie. He took us to a few of his private places. We learned a lot while fishing with Simon. We brought our lightweight sleeping bags and camped three nights in the backcountry. We are ever indebted to him for sharing his camp, providing and cooking all the food, and most of all, outstanding fishing for big hot rainbows.


After that we took a flight to the lower part of the South Island where we met up with an old friend I’ve known since his guiding days in West Yellowstone, David Lambroughton. Dave took his first trip to NZ about the same time I took my first trip. The difference is he has spent all winter, every year since, in New Zealand. We arrived at a small cottage we had reserved to find all of the major rivers in the region were in flood stage after a week of heavy rain. David gave us some good recommendations for some smaller streams and we had some great fishing. However, we never did have a chance to fish the larger rivers in the region such as the Mataura, Oreti and other legendary rivers.

One of the highlights of our stay was hooking up with friends Robert and Kelli Dotson. Robert is a master photographer and former chair of the Henry’s Fork Foundation’s board of directors. You can check out Robert’s work on his website Robert Dotson Imagery. Robert and Kelli split their time between their residence in Utah and their home on the Henry’s Fork near Ashton. We scheduled a boat to take us across one of the lakes to a remote backcountry river that has been one of our favorites over the years.


The Southern Alps feature some of the most rugged, spectacular and picturesque mountains in the world. The east side of the Alps includes plains dotted with ranches and farms that transcend from foothills to the steep mountains, not unlike Western Montana and our home in Eastern Idaho. The West Coast includes some mighty glaciers and encompasses a magnificent rain forest. There are great trout waters on both sides of the mountains. Our travel took us from the eastern plains through Queenstown and Wanaka to the West Coast where we were quick to understand why it is a rain forest. Recent rains had blown out all of the great rivers.

We settled in at a small lodge near Hokitika. Our hosts, Doug Jones and his wife Sam, took great care of us. We fished part of the time on our own where we found some great spring creek fishing that was not impacted by the heavy rain. Sam also arranged a guide for us, Tom Hodge, who drove all the way from Christchurch to fish with us. He took us to a small river on the eastern edge of the Alps where we found a good number of hot, heavy rainbows.


After spending a second nice day with Tom we moved on to our final destination near Mount Somers. Our accommodations were provided by Nigel Birt and his wife Myrium. Nigel guides fly fishing as well as big game hunting and he is one of the most respected guides in the business. We employed him for our first day and he didn’t disappoint. He took us to two different spring fed streams where we caught a couple of good sized browns as well as a number of hefty rainbows. Access to one of the streams required driving through a large river, something you should never try at home. Nigel had a diesel vehicle with a snorkel for the air intake. It was like driving all the way through and across the Madison River.


We also spent some time hiking, sightseeing and enjoying the summer season even though it was New Zealand’s wettest summer in the past 40 years. We had great fishing but we wouldn’t have if not for the help of some great guides, friends, and our own past experience. I don’t have space to go into all of the details required for your first trip to New Zealand. If you plan to go we highly recommend working with a travel agency. You can’t go wrong with the Best of New Zealand Fly Fishing. They can customize your trip to fit your interests and objectives. Yellow Dog Fly Fishing has earned the reputation of the best all-around travel company in the business. They have also built relationships with some of the top lodges and guides in New Zealand.


To get the most out of the fishing in New Zealand you need to be fit. Most of the fishing requires hiking up rivers that are sometimes strewn with rocks, trees and boulders. There aren’t many fish but in most streams and lakes they average at least 2 pounds. New Zealand offers the ultimate in sight fishing and stalking wary trout where you’ll likely have an opportunity to cast to one of the largest trout you’re ever likely to see in a trout stream. They are very skittish requiring accurate casting and precise line manipulation.

One of the best articles I have ever seen on how to plan and what to expect in New Zealand was written for Fin Chasers magazine by David Lambroughton entitled “That First New Zealand Trip.” When you read the article you’ll also see that David is an exceptional photographer. He also publishes an annual calendar, Fly Fishing Dreams that captures all of why we fly fish.


While at Henry’s Fork Anglers we don’t plan on hosting any group trips in the near future, we can provide plenty of advice if you have any thoughts about New Zealand. I always have thoughts about rugged mountains, clear water and monster trout whenever I look out over the snow fields from my office window. I don’t have to wait for summer. It’s summer now in New Zealand.