New Zealand is, simply put, a fishing paradise. We have an abundance of lakes, high mountain rivers, and lowland spring creeks that ensure there’s something for everyone.
As with the rest of the world, the best fishing spots are kept pretty quiet. That said, there’s so much great freshwater fishing in New Zealand that you’re likely to have most spots to yourself.
I’m going to tell you about just a few of the best fly fishing spots in New Zealand. There are many lakes and thousands of kilometers of rivers and streams throughout the country just waiting to be fished. You can explore them with a local fishing guide or on your own, if you have enough time or just prefer the solitude.
Without further ado, here are my top picks for fly fishing on the North Island and the South Island.
The Best North Island Fly Fishing Locations
The North Island is primarily populated with wily Rainbow Trout, although you will also find plenty of Brown Trout. You won’t have to travel far between locations with multiple world-class fisheries within 45 minutes’ drive of each other. As a host to the 2008 World Fly Fishing Championships, you know you’re heading to a great fishing location when you’re on the North Island.
The Mohaka River is home to a good population of Trout averaging 3 pounds. You can easily access the lower portions of the river by car, in order to quickly get to large pools.
These lower reaches are populated by Rainbow Trout that are infamous for their fight. On the other hand, the upper reaches offer a true backcountry fishing experience. Access is only possible by hiking long distances, or via helicopter. Here you’ll find large Brown Trout and pristine water quality.
The Mohaka River is an easy 1 hour drive from Napier.
With Brown and Rainbow Trout typically around 4 pounds in weight, this is one of New Zealand’s most famous fisheries. The Tongariro River feeds into Lake Taupō near Turangi and is well known for the winter Trout spawning runs from April to November.
Thousands of visitors flock to the Tongariro every year for a chance to catch that large lake resident heading upstream. Due to the size and power of the river, you’ll need large flies, long tippets, and a sturdy footing to do well here.
The Tongariro River is a 2.5 hour drive from both Hamilton and Napier.
This is my favourite place in the world. This is the deepest North Island lake, and you can often catch fish that exceed 10 pounds here. There are a number of tributaries that offer excellent dry fly and nymphing. While difficult to get to, it’s surrounded by ancient bushland that provides a fishing backdrop that is second to none.
Lake Waikaremoana is a 2.5–3 hour drive from both Napier and Gisborne.
The Best South Island Fly Fishing Locations
The South Island is known for crystal clear waters and large Brown Trout populations. While the fish are very wary and difficult to catch, you’ll be rewarded with plenty of adrenaline rushes and memories that last a lifetime.
At the top of the South Island, we find the Motueka River. This is an exceptionally scenic river with all types of water throughout its length. The Brown Trout here average 2–5 pounds, and they are easily sighted.
As the vegetation extends right down to the water in most places, wading the stream is the best way to access the upper reaches. Due to this challenge, the upper reaches are seldom fished and provide a unique and wild experience.
The Motueka River is an easy 50 minutes’ drive from Nelson.
The Buller River is home to some of the best Brown Trout fishing in the country. The upper reaches of the river are fast flowing, with bush down to the edge of the water on each side.
While difficult to fish, it offers fantastic opportunities to land (or at least hook) numerous fish with an average of 2–3 pounds. As the river makes its way to the coast it opens up and becomes easier to fish. Here, the average size of the Trout is over 3 pounds.
The Buller River is around a 2 hour drive from both Nelson and Blenheim.
This river rises in the Southern Alps and provides truly world-class trophy Trout fishing to the accomplished angler. The gin-clear pools of the upper reaches of the Ahuriri hold large Brown Trout of up to 10 pounds. Not surprisingly, this does make them very difficult to catch.
Luckily, the number of fish increases dramatically and they average between 2–3 pounds as the river travels down through tussock plains. I suggest starting here before making your way to the upper reaches.
The Ahuriri River is a 3 hour drive from Dunedin and a 4 hour drive from Christchurch.
The Mataura is a supreme dry fly fishery. With around 150 kilometers of easily accessible waters, there is a lot of ground to cover here. The upper sections of this river hold large populations of Brown Trout and have much less angling pressure than the lower reaches.
A special feature of the Mataura is that the healthy insect population in this area make sure the fish regularly rise to feed on the surface. Just remember to pack your insect repellent and a face net, as this region is notorious for its population of sandflies (midges) which can be relentless in the summer months.
The Mataura River is a 2 hour drive from Invercargill and a 3 hour drive from Dunedin.
Preparing for Your Fly Fishing Trip to New Zealand
If you go fishing without a guide, there are a few things you’ll need to know before you head out and start catching fish in these fantastic waters.
Because of the crystal-clear nature of our streams and lakes, we have some of the best ‘sighted fishing’ (sight fishing) in the world. Water like this makes spotting Trout fairly easy. However, it’s equally easy for the fish to see you. You should always wear dull, earth-coloured clothing to ensure you blend in with the background and avoid bright colours or white.
Summer river fishing requires a good pair of wading boots with gaiters, to protect against gravel entering your boots. If you’re fishing lakes or river mouths, then you might consider waders that allow you to remain in the same location for longer periods of time.
If you’re bringing your own wading boots, they will need to be disinfected by the customs staff at the airport. New Zealand’s ecosystem is unique and highly sensitive to invasive species, so the customs officers need to know that what you’re bringing in isn’t a danger to the country’s natural heritage.
Remember that felt-soled boots are completely banned in New Zealand to prevent the spread of invasive weed. For these reasons, renting waders at a fishing shop near the lake or river is often a better option.
Pro tip: Bring thermal leggings to wear underneath your waders. These will help you avoid cuts from travelling through the low scrub surrounding the river.
A 6 wt rod will serve you well in just about every river system throughout the country. Match this with a 6 wt WF (weight forward) line that is as camouflaged as possible and you’re ready to go.
I typically fish a large stimulator pattern around 6–9 feet from the end of the fly line. This is used as an indicator, but does end up being on the menu quite often! Four to 5 feet below this, I tie a dropper (a beaded stonefly or hare and copper) and finally, 1 foot below that, a tailing nymph that matches exactly what you find underneath the streamside rocks.
With this combination, you’ll get a few tangles at the beginning but a lot of fish at the end of the day.
Finally, don’t forget to stop by a local fishing shop before heading out in order to stock up on flies and local knowledge before heading out on your first New Zealand fly fishing trip!
Have you ever been fly fishing in New Zealand? What are your favorite spots? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!