I’m lucky enough to have fished in New Zealand while living over there flying hang gliders in 2004. In my opinion, the scenery is better than anything you’ll find anywhere – clearly one reason why Peter Jackson chose it as the location for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit – and I can safely report that the trout fishing is incredible. However, I recently read about the near-record wild brown trout that was caught there and I couldn’t help feeling somehow cheated.
There’s no doubt that New Zealand’s rivers hold some truly spectacular trout. We regularly caught fish between 4 and 7lbs and very few ‘smallies’. It is truly fantastic sport. To give you an idea of the modus operandi, we usually drove from Queenstown (in the South Island) up into the nearby mountains, pretty much as far as our car would take us. From here we would hike to the river, then follow it upstream as far as we felt we needed in order to give ourselves a good day’s worth of fishing back downstream.
As we walked upstream, we generally stopped to observe a few pools and runs, and there usually weren’t many that didn’t hold at least one large dark shadow. It was exciting stuff and the water was crystal clear and icy cold. Given the long walks involved nobody bothered with waders – we simply donned walking boots and crossed the river like men (by my recollection the weather was always hot and sunny, so we soon dried out).
Despite many New Zealanders bumping a leaded nymph along the bottom, we tended to opt for a salmon-style down-and-across technique with a large lure. None of us liked the slightly awkward flick of the nymph, nor being so close to the fish, although there is no doubt it can be a deadly tactic.
Anyway, we fished like this covering every pool and run we thought worth fishing – occasionally swapping to a dry fly if we thought there was a chance. And boy was there. As you can see from the pictures, we had some lovely fish and it was truly a dream location to fish.
So why, I hear you ask, is this 42lb 1oz brown trout a disappointment? Well, there’s one reason. Just like the ‘stockies’ of many UK specimen trout venues, this trout was as big as it was because it had lived its entire life eating salmon pellets!
As the news reported, the “fish was caught in the milky waters of the Ohau B hydro canal […] near a salmon farm, where the trout feed on the pellets below.”
To my mind, although it is clearly a phenomenal fish, it doesn’t represent the wonderful trout to be caught in New Zealand. As its captor himself admitted, it’s an ugly brute! Still, despite my reservations, one cannot deny that catching such a fish is some achievement, and the fact that a trout can grow this big beggars belief. Speaking personally though, I’d take a wild fish from a clear, rushing river over a 40lber from a milky canal any day!
Interestingly enough, if you visit Queenstown, you can see some monster trout for yourself. In Lake Wakitipu, which Queenstown backs onto, there’s a conveniently located viewing platform, where the public can look out into the lake from below surface-level. For about £1, you can release a handful of – you’ve guessed it – pellets into the lake. And what should be waiting there to snap them up? Some very large eels and some damned big trout!!
If you fancy one of these monsters, however, like this 27lb brown caught in 2012 by Carl Frauenstein, head to the canals – somewhere downstream of the fish farm outflow.