I have been dreaming about a trout fishing trip to New Zealand for at least the last 10 years. Finally, this year the dream became a reality.
Our journey started Easter Sunday when I picked up a rental car in Carlsbad, and my wife Judy and I drove to Los Angeles airport, where we turned the car in. This is by far the most economical way to go if you have a flight out of L.A. The rental fee is a fraction of what it would cost to leave a car at airport parking for three weeks.
We arrived in plenty of time to catch our Air New Zealand flight that night at nine. The trip to Auckland takes 13 hours on a 747, so I had made our reservations over a year earlier to make sure we had exit row seats. The extra leg room makes a big difference on such a long flight. We lost a day when crossing the international dateline, so we arrived at 5:30 Tuesday morning.
After clearing Customs we went right to Avis where we picked up our Honda CRV, and headed for Tongariro Lodge, which was about a 4 hour drive south. It took me a few minutes to get used to driving on the left side of the road, but two years ago, on our trip to Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, we had driven for almost three weeks, so the knack came back to me pretty fast.
We were met at the lodge by our hostess Di Christie, who got us settled in the 2 bedroom, 2 bath chalet that would be our home for the next three days.
The next morning I was picked up at 8 by my guide, Ken Drummond, and we headed for the Waimarino River, only about a 20 minute drive. Our target, big North Island New Zealand rainbows. We parked the truck and for the next 8 hours walked the river, sight fishing to fish Ken was able to spot feeding in the shallows.
It was too late in the season for dry flies (April in New Zealand is heading into fall, as the seasons are reversed), so we nymphed a big bead head, with a body wrapped in very fine copper wire, size 10 or 12 hook.
It took a couple of hours before I had any success, but by afternoon I had four nice fish, with the big boy at 5 lbs. All of these fish were bigger than anything you would routinely catch on the San Juan, or at Lee's Ferry. It was rare to hook anything less than 3 lbs.
I would like to share with you an interesting note on what New Zealanders call "Rainbows". They were originally Steelhead eggs, brought over to NZ from Sonoma Creek California over 100 years ago. Maybe that explains why they are so big and strong. They are wild native fish now, hard to hook, and harder to land.
One of the great things about New Zealand is the lack of fishing pressure. We walked the Waimarino 3 to 4 miles that day, and never saw another angler.
The following day Ken suggested we try another river where the fish might be there in greater numbers. The Tauranga-Taupo River was a bit more of a drive, but Ken was right, the rainbows were a lot more numerous. That day I caught and released 9 fish, all bigger than anything I had ever caught in our western rivers.
The next day. After saying goodbye to Tongariro Lodge we spent a couple of days in Rotorua, and then turned in the car and flew to Queenstown in the South Island. We picked up another car in Queenstown, spent a couple of days there, then headed up the west coast of the South Island for the 2 day trip over the Haast Pass, by Mt. Cook, through Franz Josef, and on to Rotoroa Lodge in the middle of the famous NZ brown trout country.
Our host at Rotoroa was Bob Haswell, and that evening he introduced me to my guide for the next two days, Paul van de Loo, who proceeded to tell me the New Zealand, South Island brown trout would be the toughest fishing I would ever do, and he was glad I had practiced on the North Island rainbows.
The next day Paul loaned me a hat. It seemed that my off white Tilley hat was too bright. The browns would spot me immediately and take off. What followed was a long tough day on the Matakitaki River.
By afternoon I was convinced I didn't have the skills to outwit these fish. Time after time I had cast, without success, to fish Paul had spotted in their runs. If they sensed me, or saw my line, or if the nymph splashed, or was off line they would either take off, or simply stop feeding. If a rainbow did that you could come back to him a half an hour later and he would be up feeding again. But not these browns. Once you screwed up that was it for that fish for that day.
I was about to give up for the day when Paul suggested we change tippet. We went to a 5X tippet, which is rated at four pounds test. On what might have been my last cast of the day I hooked what we thought might be a 4 to 5 lb. fish. Each time he jumped or ran we had to let him go because of the light leader. I finessed him around logs and over rocks, and finally got him in the net after about 30 minutes. At this point Paul slapped me on the back and shouted "Good on you Mate!".
The New Zealand guides have a great innovation. A big net with a scale built in the handle, so you don't have to touch the fish to weigh it.
To our surprise it tipped the scale at 9 and 1/2 lbs. Only 24 to 25 inches long, but with a girth of a good 14 inches. The next day I caught 3 more nice browns, but nothing that came close to that size. These big fish are the offspring of two different strains. The original German brown, and another type transplanted from Scotland, which has a few red spots along the belly along with the brown ones.
We finished the trip with a stop in Christchurch, and then back to Auckland for two days.
We took a night flight back to L.A., and because of the international dateline, we arrived home before we left, gaining back the day we lost going over.
Following are a couple of notes about New Zealand. Their dollar is really weak now. Only worth about 42 cents American. So with the exception of lodges and guides, which cost about the same as here in the west, or up in Alaska, everything else is dirt cheap. We came back with money left over. For example, a great dinner for two, at a top restaurant, with a bottle of good NZ wine would run about $40 U.S. (and there is little or no tipping).
When we first started to plan the trip I contacted by buddy Bob Marriott to have his travel desk lay it out for me. Bob said, "I don't do New Zealand any more, I turn my customers over to Mike McClelland, who has a company called 'The Best of New Zealand Fly Fishing.' He's the expert, and he does a great job."
I let Mike plan the whole trip, and everything turned out to be top notch. Of course the best two lodges in NZ, but beyond that great hotels, and some absolutely beautiful bed and breakfasts. For example, in the Marlborough wine country, we stayed at Old Saint Mary's Convent, a former nunnery that had been converted into a bed and breakfast with four suites.
If you are considering a trip to the land of the Kiwi, by all means give Mike McClelland a call at "The Best of New Zealand Fly Fishing" -- 800-528-6120. It's a wonderful country, friendly people who really like Americans, and the best fly fishing for big trout I have ever experienced.
Contact us to plan and book your NZ fly fishing adventure.