Fishing for brown trout is a memorable experience in the stunning northwest of New Zealand’s South Island.
Ask anyone familiar with fly fishing and they will tell you that catching brown trout is a challenge at the best of times. Brown trout are tough and smart, and capable at eluding the most experienced fly fishing enthusiast. On top of that, the fish in the rivers of Nelson in New Zealand are usually wary and, when hooked, will put up a good fight by swimming towards rocks and logs, or anything that will help them get away.
Fly fishing trip
From October to April, which is fly fishing season, the northwest is a fantastic place to fish. The sun shines more hours there than anywhere else in the country; rivers are crystal clear and the scenery is spectacular.
I’m visiting in winter, when fishing is banned in most rivers. What’s more, I haven’t a clue how to catch a cunning brown trout. So, I set off on a fly fishing adventure along the lower Motueka River with fishing guide, Steve Greaney.
The water is not as clear as Greaney had hoped and our first obstacle to a successful fishing trip is finding the trout.
Wearing waders, boots and polaroid sunglasses, we wade into the river to a spot where Greaney thinks the trout are lurking.
Greaney whisks the fly into the air in a smooth movement and plops it into the water, then strips in the line to imitate an insect moving across the water. It looks so simple. But I’ve never done this type of fishing before and my first attempt at casting is embarrassing.
I hook some weed and the line ends up in a tangle around my rod.
Patient and encouraging, Greaney tells me to practice casting the fly into the water, then stripping it in. Cast, strip in, cast, strip in.
The rhythmic motion is almost mesmerising.
About 30 minutes later, a tug on the line breaks my casting and stripping trance.
“I think I’ve got one,” I shout.
From the look on Greaney’s face, I can tell he doesn’t believe me.
Seconds later, the fish jumps out of the water and his disbelief turns into astonishment.
“Keep your hands off the reel,” he says.
I follow his instructions and let the line run, reeling in the fish a bit at a time. The secret is not to reel while the fish is trying to get away or the line might break. When I’m not reeling, Greaney tells me to walk along the river bank with the rod tip held high.
Reel, lift, walk, reel, lift, walk.
My arms are aching by the time Greaney scoops the 3.5-pound (1.6kg) brown trout, a respectable size, into his net (fly fishing language in New Zealand hasn’t made the transition to the metric system).
“10 is the prized number. It’s difficult to hook a fish that weighs 10 kilos but a 10-pound trout isn’t impossible,” says Greaney.
Then, after kissing my fish, I lower it gently into the river and let it swim away. Encouraged by our success, Greaney heads further along the river and spots a large brown trout sitting in a shallow pool.
We sneak along the river bank, stooping to stay low to keep out of the trout’s line of sight. Crouching near the pool, Greaney throws in the fly.
A big brown trout can take up to 20 minutes to reel in and this one puts up a struggle.
It’s a jack (male fish) that has just spawned.
“He’s pretty pissed off,” says Greaney.
When we finally put it back into the river, the jack doesn’t swim away immediately. It hangs around floating in the shallows daring us to try catching it again.
Nelson, New Zealand
But we’ve had enough fishing for one day.
We drive around the countryside, pointing out favourite fishing spots at the Baton River and the Pierce River, where the water is so clear you can count the pebbles on the river bed.
The scenery is peaceful and immensely beautiful.
We drive through valleys past farms with fallow deer, goats and jersey cows.
Our destination is Stonefly Lodge, nestled in a picture-postcard landscape of rugged mountainous country on the banks of the Motueka River, 70km from Nelson.
Australian owners John and Kate Kerr, who previously managed the Cape Don Fishing Lodge in the Northern Territory, built Stonefly Lodge to cater for fly fishing enthusiasts.
Located near three national parks – Abel Tasman, Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi National Parks – the lodge is base for hiking, kayaking and nature cruises.
During my stay, a helicopter picks me up from the lodge’s back lawn and drops me off in Kahurangi National Park where I hike through wilderness.
For those seeking less active pursuits, there are 23 boutique family owned wineries around the region. And you could easily spend days visiting the hundreds of artists in the area, many of whom open their studio doors to visitors.
Lodge accommodation New Zealand
Stonefly Lodge is a cosy mountain chalet built from natural stone and timber acquired from the property. Its timber and stone décor has an open-plan design centred on an enormous double-sided stone fireplace.
There’s a library, snooker table, a bar area and a sun room. Upstairs are four guest rooms with ensuite bathrooms and balconies that have views of pine tree-covered mountains and the Motueka River.
Power generation, water collection and waste management are handled onsite using a variety of green techniques.
By the time we arrive for afternoon tea, Greaney and I have become firm fishing friends.
“To see you catch a fish within half an hour at this time of the year was unbelievable,” says Greaney. I’m pleased with my achievement but fishing aside, the region’s wild beauty and welcoming people have me well and truly hooked.