Flyfishing New Zealand on a shoestring

Ralph Giant NZ rainbow

…When I say flyfishing New Zealand on a shoestring I mean it. There is such great fishing in New Zealand that you can literally catch them with a shoestring! Well maybe not quite…

I’m known as Louie The Fish. I now live in Hawaii but from 1980 I was a trout fishing guide in New Zealand, doing that and raising my two kids over about 20 years. As children they were kind of overloaded – growing up in a fly fishing-mad household. Even my lovely wife, Sasa, an American Samoan, quickly learned the art of fly fishing, and she went on to become a licensed guide herself. The genes were clearly transferred to my son Joaquin, who is now Captain Joaquin, 25 – a Honolulu bonefish guide.

In New Zealand, we ate a lot of trout! And we ate all types of great NZ seafood, fishing all over that amazing country. And each year we go back to our 3 bedroom “batch” in Turangi, North Island, Lake Taupo area, to basically fish our brains out! Well actually my wife spends most of her time gardening…

Anyway, for the past 6 years I have made my NZ trips affordable by inviting guests to stay with us and fish with me. I call it “Hosting”, because I don’t really want to be the guide (someone who stands around pointing at fish but not actually fishing). I try to make sure that my guests are capable fly or spin fishers, and before we set off each day, I make sure they have all the right tackle and know how to use it. Most of my guests are fly fishers, since my area has many spots that are fly fishing only, like all the Lake Taupo feeder streams. So we tie flies at home, or go to any of the 4-5 fly shops in my small town and stock up, then we hit the water.

We spend a lot of our time fishing a nearby lake called Otamangakau, NZ’s premier wild trophy trout fishery. I have a small 12-foot tinny with motor for my guests to use, and three pontoon boat and float tubes. I can hitch up the boat, and stack pontoon boats on top, and at times I launch a virtual flotilla of my guests on the lake! This lake allows spin fishing, and I have a few killer techniques, like using flies on spin gear, although most guests prefer to fly fish.

If you are a fly fisher, we use floating lines the most, nymphing or dry fly, but also fish deep with a Scientific Anglers Type 4 fast sinking shooting head on Amnesia backing, to use Glo-Bugs, a deadly fly, right on the bottom. This is a killer technique when all else fails. Some guys bring slow sinking lines also for stripping woolly buggers. Summer weight chest waders can be handy, and NZ has a ban on Felt sole wading boots, so rubber soles with cleats are best. NZ fly fishers are masters of disguise, so the key is not to wear bright colours….blend in!

I tie many great flies myself, and that’s how I spend my evenings, and often my guests enjoy tying flies with me. Since we go to NZ only during the southern summer, January till March, I love to use dry flies the most. My NZ cicada dry fly is my go-to, number one dry fly. I also tie a popular small #14 red wire pheasant tail nymph that is deadly at Lake O. In the streams tungsten bead head nymphs, about size 12 to 14, are most effective.

Rainbow trout in Lake Otamangakau are big, from 4 to over 10 pounds, and fight like mini marlin. Browns can be even bigger. A mate caught one recently 36 inches long. I caught some last year over 10 pounds, and some free diver buddies last year swam around and reported seeing hundreds of trout in the very spot we were fishing, including a brown they said must have been over 25 pounds! I have had 15 to 20 fish days on this lake, and get broken off all too often!

New Zealand Rainbow Trout

We also fish another small lake, Lake Kuratau, also 30 minutes away, that has so many trout there is no bag limit. It is possible to have 50 fish plus days there, but they are not quite as big. The bag limit in the Taupo fishery is 3 trout per day, and we often get them smoked. Most of these trout have orange meat, just like salmon, and guests can come back with a cooler-full, if they can afford the excess baggage charge!

Lake Taupo has many feeder streams, all fly fishing only, and the biggest is the famous Tongariro river, only a 10-minute walk from my house! It has great rainbow trout fishing, most of which are over 4 pounds, and much bigger brown trout. Stream mouth fly fishing can be really productive also, day or night. This last season the Taupo trout have been coming in big and fat. These are all wild trout by the way. And at times we drive about an hour away to fish wild backcountry streams, right in the heart of where they filmed Lord of the Rings!

Fishing guide New Zealand

In these streams, and other areas, we do release a lot of our catch, which is probably part of the reason why all of the North Island and South Island has great trout fishing. You might fish several lifetimes and not taste it all. But there is also fabulous sea fishing all over the coasts. As fly fishers, we love to catch kahawai, a fish about 4 to 8 pounds, that fights like a bonito, but also jumps. These are in vast schools all summer, along with huge yellowtail kingfish, snapper, and many other species. Sometime I take my guests sea fishing, but we usually would need to hire a boat guide, around $600 a day.

New Zealand Brown Trout

My son is a keen spearfisher, and we have camped on the East Coast, around Te Kaha, so he and I can spear fish off the rocky bays. Kingfish over 50 pounds can often swim right up to a diver! I love to use a tiny bit of bait, usually skipjack, on a small hook, with my fly rod, and catch blue maomao, a hard fighting pan-size fish that is great eating, and can be easily chummed up in big numbers standing right on the rocks! Of course there are many other tasty snacks if you have a mask & fins, like paua (abalone), big mussels, kina, and lobster. The water is colder than Hawaii, but I can stay in about 30 minutes. My son uses a wetsuit!

Shore fishing can be great also, and at some places, like famous Lottin Point, anglers hook tuna and marlin right off the rocks! NZ snapper, actually not a true snapper, but a squirefish, are highly prized table and sport fish, and can be caught on bait or soft baits like Gulp jigs. Kingfish will strike poppers and other lures, and kahawai jump on any spoon, lure or fly with gusto. Grab a copy of New Zealand Fishing News when there and you will learn a lot.

NZ has very strict laws on what you can and cannot catch, size limits etc. It is heavily patrolled, so if you’re fishing without a guide you need to get a copy of the regs at a fishing store.

Some things in NZ can be a bit pricey, but it is an easy country to visit on a budget. Rental cars, if rented online, can be picked up at the Auckland airport and are often the best way to get around. There are campgrounds called Holiday Parks all over, with tent sites, bathrooms, cooking kitchens etc, that are not too expensive, and many places you can camp in the wild. The New Zealand Tourism Department prints a guide to all the Holiday Parks.

My rates for my guests are, as far as I know, the most cost-effective fishing deal in NZ. The average guide in NZ charges $500 to 600 a day, plus your hotel, food etc. I charge $150.00 USA per day for a single guest who wants me all to himself/herself, $125 per day per angler for two anglers, or $100 per day if you come as a party of three. I try to limit it to 3 guests. For this you get a bed, maybe even a whole bedroom, and as much fishing as you could want. All guests share in the cost of food, cooking etc, and top up my SUV with diesel. We all fish together, me as well, and expect long days on the water, and possible night fishing too.

A Lake Taupo area season license last year was NZ $80, but you can buy a one-week license also. You will also need another license to fish outside of the Taupo Fishery.

Now that Hawaiian Airlines is flying to NZ, the airfares have come down a bit. My guests land in Auckland, and some pick up a rental car and then drive the 4 hours to Turangi. Some prefer to pay a bit more, catch a domestic flight, and land in Taupo town. In those cases I will drive the 30 minutes to pick them up at Taupo airport. Alternatively you can take the shuttle to downtown Auckland, then catch the InterCity Bus line direct to Turangi – a 5-hour bus ride. The timing can sometimes be a problem. If it is too late in the day to arrange a collection, you may need to stay overnight in Auckland. I know Air NZ arrives at the crack of dawn, not sure about Hawaiian flights.

If you want to come down, I will be in NZ all January, February and March, and if you email me at <a href=””> or call me on my cell at 808 741 5622, I can give you lots of info. I have some guests who have come back 2 or 3 times. Some stay a few days, some stay for 2 weeks, and many will combine their trip with travelling to fish other areas in NZ, or sightseeing. You can find more details and photos on the fishing tours page of my website.

Hope to see you, fishing down under in Kiwiland!

Tightlines, Louie the Fish!

P.S. In the photographs you can see, in order of appearance: my buddy Ralph from Kauai with a giant 32lb NZ rainbow – he’s been fishing NZ for over 30 years; Donna and Deane from my Honolulu Trout Unlimited club; David Seidler, who wrote the movie, “The King’s Speech” with a nice rainbow; and finally me again with a 12lb Tongariro brown trout, which I caught on a tiny nymph.