All the questions you have about fly fishing in New Zealand, but were afraid to ask !

May 18, 2018

By Felix Borenstein

In this blog I shall attempt to answer all the questions about fly fishing in New Zealand - well at least some of them !

Firstly an overview of New Zealand !

New Zealand is a very small country, packed with ever changing geography, friendly people and some of the clearest rivers & largest trout you will ever encounter.

There are 2 main islands that make up New Zealand. They are the North Island (where most of the population lives) and the South Island, which has the two largest national parks in New Zealand and a population of less than 1,000,000 people. Us kiwi’s are just as parochial as the next guy, so I will focus this discussion on the South Island, which South Islanders call the “Mainland”.

There are 6 main fishing regions on the South Island; they are Nelson/Marlborough, West coast, Christchurch / North Canterbury, Central South Island, Queenstown/Central Otago and Fiordland/Southland. They offer dramatically different geographic scenery and slightly different fisheries that provide a different fishing experience.

I located Owen River Lodge, right in the middle of 3 distinctly different fishing regions: Nelson/Marlborough, West coast & North Canterbury. This enables our guests to fish 29 different rivers all located within a 90 minute drive of the lodge. It also means that if there is inclement weather in one region, we can easily drive to another. And then there is the wilderness rivers we can helicopter or catch a water taxi to……

What is the fishing season?

The fishing season in our region (Nelson/Marlborough & West coast) opens on 1st October and closes on the 30th April. So the rivers open in Spring and close in late Autumn / Fall.

When is the best time to fish New Zealand ?

The most popular time to fly fish New Zeeland is January & February, and if you love casting big terrestrial dry fly’s then that’s the time to be here. However, being totally pragmatic any time from October through to April will see you experience some of the world’s best sighted fishing to large wild brown trout.

When do your rivers clear due to snow melt/run off?

The thing is, in our region (top of the South island) most of our rivers are not badly effected by snow melt or run off. We don’t get the huge snow pack that places like Montana get, thus the vast majority of snow that can affect rivers has already melted prior to the fishing season starting.

I’ve heard in New Zealand that you guys use really long leaders, is this true ?

Absolutely, due the clarity of our rivers, especially on the South Island, we absolutely need to use longer leaders than most travelling anglers are used to. Typically we fish with a 12 > 15 ft leader plus a few feet of tippet. The secret to your success is practice casting with a longer leader a month or so prior to your big trip to NZ. I recommend you get yourself down to the park and practice casting and laying out that longer leader.

Colour of your fly line

Yep, you heard right, the guides here will not like your bright green or iridescent yellow fly line. We fish with dull coloured fly lines usually a pale green. RIO make a New Zealand camo version of their Gold & Grand lines – these are perfect, and available in our lodge shop.

Do I need to use a fishing guide ?

In a word – yes. Think about it, you’ve invested a great deal of time and money coming to New Zealand, why not maximise your investment and enjoy the fishing being guided by a professional fishing guide. And don’t forget, time is the one thing money can’t buy.

Do I need to bring my own fishing gear ?

We have the world’s best fishing gear for our guests use and its’ all included in our package rates. We have Simms G3 waders from small Ladies right through to Men’s XXL, combine this with Simms G3 guide wading boots from Ladies size 5 up to Men’s size 16 and you can see we have your feet covered as well ! As one of only two fishing lodges in the world that are fully authorised Sage dealers, we have your rod & reel needs covered too: we have the Sage X, Mod, Method, One & Foundation rods all paired with the latest Sage Spectrum LT reels.

What weight rods should I bring ?

If you decide to bring your own gear, bring a 5 or 6 weight rod. Typically, we fish with a 6 weight almost exclusively.

I hear you only get one shot at this fish is that true ?

There is no doubt that your first cast will provide you with the great chance of catching one of our wild brown trout, however we catch fish here every day of the season that may need 2, 3 or 4 fly changes to entice the fish to eat.

I’m not great with super long casts, will that be a problem ?

As our fishing is primarily to a sighted fish, most of your casting will be between 25 > 40 feet. A drag free drift is pretty much just as important as your cast, so practising your line management is an important thing to do.

How many rivers can we fish out of your lodge?

When it came time for me to choose a location to establish my own fishing lodge I spent 12 months scouting New Zealand for the perfect location. Murchison sits right in the middle of the very best brown trout fishing imaginable. From our location, Owen River lodge guests can fish 29 rivers & streams, most are within a 90 minute drive of the lodge, with a further dozen or so wilderness streams that we helicopter/water taxi to.

Do you have any private water ?

One of the great things about living in a largely egalitarian society like New Zealand is the absence of privately owned rivers. New Zealanders take free & fair public access to their rivers, lakes & sea shore very seriously. In New Zealand the Queens chain is in effect on almost all rivers, this allows anglers to walk along the river; however it does not give you then right to walk through private property. Fish & Game New Zealand have done an outstanding job negotiating with land holders to provide fishing access locations on many of our rivers.

I understand you have to walk super long distances in New Zealand ?

The universal law that dictates the fishing will be better the further way from the car park you go is alive and well and living in New Zealand too. On an average day we can walk between 2 > 4 kilometres (1 > 2.5 miles) However, we can walk further or shorter distances, the secret is to be upfront about your mobility and fitness level when you book so we can plan accordingly.

Can we fish out of a drift boat ?

In a word – no. Putting a drift boat over one of our large brown trout will put that fish down for the day, combine this fact with the significantly fewer (but much larger) fish that inhabit our rivers and its simply doesn’t work. Many talented guides have tried, but almost all have given it a miss.

New Zealand trout have a reputation for being very big, why is this the case ?

Its not just reputation, it’s a fact. The average size of our wild brown trout is between 3 > 4 lbs. Almost every day our lucky guests will land a 5 or 6lb wild brown with quite a few double digit trophy’s being landed each season.

How hard is it bring fishing gear into New Zealand and dealing with NZ Customs ?

Its easy and painless; however there is a few things you need to take care of. Make sure all your gear is clean and dry and declare it all. New Zealand customs officials are friendly, polite and efficient; however if you bring any fishing gear and don’t declare it, they will give you an on the spot fine – delivered with a courteous smile. The big no no is non commercially sourced fur/feathers for fly tying, save yourself the hassle and leave it at home!

Can I drink the river water?

You could, but you also may get an upset stomach, with livestock living in close proximity to many of our waterways we recommend you stick to the bottled water we provide our guests. We have eliminated the use of plastic water bottles by providing each guest with a stainless steel water bottle, which is yours to keep.

Do we still fish if it’s raining ?

Fish live in water right ?

Can I eat the fish we catch?

Legally all the rivers in our fishing region allow anglers to take the odd fish to eat. The world is full of great tasting fish, however in our humble opinion, brown trout that live in rivers are not one of them. We practise catch and release, but if you insist you can take a small young fish back to the lodge and our talented chef’s will cook it for you.

I want to borrow your waders, what should I be wearing underneath them ?

The big question will be what is the weather going to do today. In spring we recommend you wear some thermals under the waders. The secret in New Zealand is to dress in layers. And don’t forget to bring some long sleeve shirts or the sandflies will have a field day with you.

I’ve heard you have to dress in Camo gear - what’s the story ?

We do avoid wearing bright colours and there is a couple reasons behind this. In New Zealand the only predator that our trout have is man, so its best to dress in a manner that doesn’t alert these wild fish to your presence. Additionally Bumble bees are attracted to white & blue clothes – trust me you don’t want heaps of bumble bees crawling all over you !

What’s the deal with Wet wading ?

In summer (December > March) we generally wade wet rather than wearing waders. I’d recommend you bring some light weight nylon cargo/hiking style pants to either wear wet wading or if you prefer to wear under your waders. Alternatively, a pair of thermals underwear/leggings and pair of shorts does a fine job. (We sell these in our lodge shop)
The weather in these parts of New Zealand can be changeable, so please bring at least one fleece, the secret here is wearing multiple layers rather than 1 bulky layer

My wife/girlfriend/partner/friend doesn’t fish, is there much for them to do at the lodge ?

Whilst Owen River Lodge is a specialist fly fishing lodge; there is an endless supply of “non fishing” things to do around the lodge, the local area and the greater Nelson / Marlborough region.
You can relax in the knowledge that the lodge absolutely caters for non fishing guests. Indeed the ambiance, décor and understated elegance of the lodge and the absolute focus of the team at Owen River Lodge ensures that our non fishing guests have a sensational time. We have a comprehensive guide of non fishing activities – ask any of our team for a copy of it !


Driving in New Zealand is pretty straight forward, as long as your aware we drive on the left hand side of the road, our roads are narrow, there are very few freeways and there are mountains everywhere!

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Awards & acknowledgements

Owen River Lodge NZ: “Fly fishing at its very best”

Ph: +64 3 523 9075 Address: Owen Valley East Road, Murchison, Nelson, South Island, New Zealand