New Zealand Fly Fishing Essentials, By Lani Waller

The Essential Perspective and Choice of Tackle

New Zealand trout fishing can be easy, or difficult, depending on your abilities, weather, the mood of the trout, whether or not they are feeding, and whether they are browns or rainbows.

The brown trout are usually tough, challenging, and rewarding! This has nothing to do with anything other than the temperament of browns. They are always tougher than rainbows. It is possible to have six to eight fish days on the browns, but conversely you can go all day and not get a single one. The most difficult fishing for browns comes when you choose to stalk large fish in clear water. There are fewer of those around and they are large for a reason!

The north island fishing, which by contrast is mostly about rainbows, can be easier for the simple reason that rainbows in NZ are a lot easier to catch.  Normal catch rates on the north island usually range from three to six fish, per angler, per day. Here again, it is toughest if you focus only on the larger trophy fish of eight to twelve pounds.

Casting and Presentation

Most stream fishing is done by wading and casting upstream. The fly is then “dead-drifted” over the back of the fish. NOTE: you do not have to be a genuinely expert caster as you usually get several chances on each fish. It is mostly about accuracy and it helps if you can cast twenty feet of line and at that distance, put the fly close to a dinner plate sized target.

If you can do this on your knees, or when you have a tree limb in front or behind you, or when it is breezy, so much the better. No one gets it right all the time and you will get some easy shots and some not so easy shots, each and every day. There is good wet fly fishing “on the swing” in the north islands for both browns and rainbows, especially on the Tongariro River. Sink tips or shooting tapers are good for this.

Tackle and Equipment

Bring two rods in lengths of eight to nine feet. Most experienced New Zealand anglers prefer a 9’ rod for a # 6 line, loaded with a seven weight forward taper. Here’s why: Sometimes it can be windy, and you may be casting two flies on the same leader. In addition, the leaders tend to be long, from 12-16 feet. For this kind of fishing the SAGE 691-VXP, or the SAGE 691-4 ONE are hard to beat. Fishing and casting like this is tougher with a short, light rod in sizes four or five. And don’t worry – those three to ten pound trout put a very nice bend in a six-weight rod!

Anglers fishing smaller lakes and streams with “less complicated” terminal tackle will love the SAGE CIRCA series. They are extremely light and responsive and a four pound trout feels very good on them. If you pay close attention you can feel the trout breathing in the cork handle. (Well, almost.)

Larger and longer rods are handy on some of the larger rivers, and lakes like The Tongariro River on the North Island, and “Lake O” for example. Some anglers like a Nine to Ten foot rod for a # 8 line, to fish Wooly Buggers etc.  “on the swing,” in rivers, or “on the retrieve” in lakes for really big fish that can reach ten pounds or more.

Reels and Lines

Bring two reels with a weight forward floating line on each reel. Do not bring brightly colored fly lines, they spook fish while you are waving the line back and forth in the air. The RIO Gold trout lines seem made for New Zealand trout waters. The Gold line loads quickly and smoothly, even on short casts, with relatively long leaders and two flies, a great advantage. Reels do not need a drag but a smooth reel is necessary, as the leader tippets are small and the fish are big.

If you want to fish on one of the lakes you would be well advised to bring a third reel with a sinking line. RIO’s new InTouch Deep Series is ideal, and with the ultra-low stretch core, these lines really help anglers catch more fish

Leaders and tippets

Bring at least a dozen RIO Powerflex Tapered Leaders, 12 feet in length and tapered to 5X. Bring two spools of RIO Powerflex Tippet: one of 4X and one of 5X. Most of the time you won’t use your own leaders or tippets, but have a few with you in case your guide is up a tree spotting for you, and you have to tie a new one on, or if you decide to go it alone and give the lock-jawed ten pounder a few more shots while your partner and guide go on to the next pool.


Bring a small assortment of dry flies and nymphs and a few Wooly Buggers. One dozen dry patterns and one dozen nymph and wet patterns are usually enough. The best dries are Adams, Humpies and Royal Wulffs in size 14, and cicada patterns in sizes 8 and 10. The best nymphs are caddis and may fly nymphs in sizes 14-18. Bead head nymphs in sizes ten to sixteen are a NZ standard. Weighted Black or Wooly Buggers in sizes #6 and # 8 are good for lakes.

You will keep these in your shirt pocket and will only use them when the guide is spotting for you and you have to change flies after a refusal or if you lose your fly in a tree limb….or if you simply want to use one of your flies. In every other circumstance the guide will normally use his flies only.  Don’t take it personally. They live there, and fish over one hundred days a year. They know what is best and they have it with them.

Waders and Wading/Walking staff

Bring your favorite lightweight breathable waders and wading boots that fit correctly. You will not do much deep (waist high) wading, but we do walk our butts off at times with multiple stream crossings and a good staff is a necessity. Most of the time I prefer wading wet but mornings can be cool, and lightweight waders are good for that, or if the day stays cool and cloudy.

“Kiwi Waders” 

These are nothing more or less than a pair of dark colored polypropylene long johns and a dark pair of quick drying shorts worn over the long johns. You wear your regular felt soled wading boots with this outfit and it is the easiest way to wade and walk. This is the New Zealand favorite and it is the best except when air and water temps are cool.

Clothing and Miscellaneous Must Haves

Camp and lodge wear is informal; shorts, Levis, tee shirts etc. will do. No coats and ties are needed because no one dresses up. For fishing bring a dark colored, lightweight, long-sleeved fishing shirt with good front pockets for your small box of flies, a few leaders and tippet, and extra pair of glasses. A handkerchief, any medications and some bug spray should also accompany you. Fishing vests are optional, but some anglers like them, take yours if you like it.

In addition, bring a lightweight pull-over fleece “sweater” for mornings when it might be cool for a couple of hours, a rain jacket, hat with a brim, and polarized glasses so you have a chance of seeing what the guide sees. I prefer rain jackets a bit longer than the typical “shorties,” because the shorties tend to concentrate cold water around your kidneys and you get cold even in mild temperatures. No matter the style, always use good quality breathable fabric as you do perspire when walking even if it is cool and rainy.


A fanny pack or small daypack is nice if you don’t wear a fishing vest, as you will need a place to store your rain jacket and a lightweight pull over etc.

Camera and film

RIO Agent X Line Kleaning Kit

Cash, credit cards or checks. They take all three.

Proof of citizenship, this means passports.


The bugs can carry you off in the South Island when the sun comes out, after a shower, and if the air is calm. So it can be a problem at times. Use your bug spray, stay calm and don’t scratch any bites. That only makes them worse.

Guides and strategies

New Zealand guides are superb, gracious and patient companions who have forgotten more about this kind of angling than most of us ever learn. The guides prefer to stay with the same anglers, as they need to know not only your strengths, but your weaknesses as well. Usually there are two anglers per guide and the two fishermen take turns fishing the pools.

Driving and Flying

Most of the time we drive to the rivers. Most are privately owned and there will be no competition or other angling pressure on them. We also take helicopter fly-outs if the backcountry rivers are fishing well and flying conditions are good. We will decide that once we are there. Fly outs are expensive – around $600 US per person or more, per day, so careful planning is essential.

For More Information


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2 Responses to New Zealand Fly Fishing Essentials, By Lani Waller

  1. Clark Reid says:

    What a great article… as a guide in NZ for more than 27 years (Retired) i wish more people had the benefit of such advice before.

    Well done Lani!

  2. Pingback: fly line color - curious, don't want to argue - Page 3 - The North American Fly Fishing Forum

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