Updated: Aug 4, 2019
Depending on where we hang our hat, most fly fishermen are guilty of daydreaming about transporting our flyrods to a faraway location. In saying that, some anglers will only ever get to fish the same waters they were brought up on. With the way social media is these days it's hard not to fantasize and live vicariously through the anglers we see on our glass screens. Since moving to New Zealand I’ve often heard Kiwi anglers say, “We really forget how privileged we are sometimes.” But what really makes for an angler’s paradise?
A little over two years ago I discovered a passion for fly fishing while living in the state of Colorado and after a year of attending University in Fort Collins I decided to study abroad down under. During my stay in New Zealand, although I was captivated by everything the country had to offer, what impacted me the most was discovering the differences and similarities between the two cultures and communities I was lucky enough to be a part of. Here are some of my own personal conclusions:
First, one of the things I always admired most about fishing near the Rockies was the chance of achieving a Colorado “grand slam” during a day out on the water. This meaning that an angler could catch the four species of trout that inhabit the surrounding lakes and streams; a brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout and finally the infamous greenback cutthroat have been found to co-exist not far from one another. On top of that, one can add a grayling, whitefish or even a tiger trout to the list. This reason alone is why Colorado, along with other states in the U.S. are highly regarded by fly fisherman wanting to tick off a new species and gaze upon some of the most colorful and vibrant trout in the world.
But unlike the States, New Zealand has a more limited amount of freshwater species an angler can come across when disappearing into the fern-infested countryside. Brown trout and rainbow trout make up the largest percentage of the fish caught in both rivers and lakes. Carp and salmon can also be found in a various locations, as well as the rare and endangered native species known as the Kokopu.
2. Lone Ranger:
Whether you are a laid back or serious angler, one can appreciate being the only fisherman within a 20-mile radius. Once while traveling the North Island, I decided to fish a river not far from where I was staying, and for the anglers in Colorado and other parts of the states you could only imagine that to my surprise there were no other cars, nor people nearby giving me a river all to myself on a Sunday. With both islands combined, 4.7 million people live in New Zealand and unlike the places I’ve called home in the U.S., the number of fly fisherman and anglers here is much lower.
On the other hand, whether you live in Denver or the small-town of Gunnison, 5.6 million people call the state of Colorado home and the number of anglers within a specified area is just as impressive. I once had a friend who would never fish on the weekends because even during the colder seasons of the year, favorite fishing spots and gold-medal stretches would be crowded with vehicles from 6 a.m. until well into the evening. Sometimes the only way to be a lone angler on the water was to hike into the isolated wilderness in search of wild fish who had never seen a fly, but even this has proven to be difficult.
3. Laws & Limitations:
In the States, most die-hard fishermen are well-acquainted with trout expeditions occurring in the dead of winter when the feeling of one’s fingers becomes scarce. In places such as Colorado, anglers are allowed to fish year-round and are asked to mind redd beds when fishing during trout spawning seasons. There is also a high percentage of private land throughout Colorado as well as fishing lodges that block access to rivers and because of the already large volume of fish in the state, plenty of trout can swim upstream without coming in contact with people.
But unlike the regulations in parts of the United States, in New Zealand there’s what’s called an off-season. This is the period of time between the months from July 1st to September 30th when anglers cannot fish certain rivers or lakes allowing brown and rainbow trout to spawn undisturbed. As for the people who start to go a little crazy after a few fishless weeks, have no fear! There are particular fisheries such as the rivers near Turangi on the North Island that an angler can cast a fly right through winter although there are limits as to how high up the river anglers can fish. These rivers have predominately more rainbow trout than browns, and anglers are encouraged to keep fish each trip. The numbers of trout are at such levels that the Department of Conservation for the Lake Taupō area doubled the allowable bag limit last year to 6 trout to try and drop fish numbers. This will hopefully lead to a higher amount of feed for the remaining fish leading to larger average sizes, time will tell.
4. Loch Ness Monster:
Growing up in America, it doesn’t take long to develop an awareness for danger when exploring the outdoors. Once while I was fly fishing in Colorado, I had the eerie experience of coming across a dead mountain lion in the snow. Another time I had the memorable encounter of fishing across river from a cow Elk. It’s true that in places like the
western United States a fisherman can never be too careful when checking their surroundings for an aggressive moose or a poisonous creepy-crawly.
As for the outdoor-enthusiasts and anglers standing knee-deep in a backcountry river down under, it’s best to watch your toes! The shocking experience of attempting to land a trout in New Zealand, only to discover a 5-foot eel at your boots is not always a pleasant one. These freshwater serpents, better known as the longfin eel are mostly harmless and on the rare occasion have been known to nip at people swimming in their territory. Normally the eels will stay hidden and won’t reveal themselves until feeling the vibrations and distress signals in the water caused by the hooked fish. To ensure that no harm will come to your catch, when releasing the trout make sure that it is revived and strong enough to swim away from the unwanted visitor.
These of course are only just the highlights as there are far more bullet points to be discussed such as trout size, fly selection and leader length. Overall, the experience of calling two different countries home is one I’ll forever be grateful for. The wonderful people I’ve encountered over the past few years have continued to influence and inspire me almost every day. It’s crazy that no matter where I’ve lived in the States, or internationally, all anglers seem to possess as a zest for life and an irrepressible passion for the water and all that inhabit it.
So whether you’re a guide in the Bahamas or a beginning angler in Utah, we all feel an appreciation and gratefulness towards the waters we’ve had the privilege of being guests on. Each fishery is unique and special in its own way, all having the ability to teach us something new every time a cast is made.
This article can also by found here: https://flylordsmag.com/2019/04/12/anglers-paradise-fishing-new-zealand-with-shelen-boyes/