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Drift Fishing New Zealand 

By Dave Hart May 2008

Last year on my 80th birthday, my wife, Marilyn, gave me a birthday card that said, “Let’s tour New Zealand where you can also fish!” We flew to Auckland from Los Angeles in November 2007 for a three-part trip arranged by AAA of New Jersey and Brendan Tours of California. We toured the North Island first, then left the tour to fish for the spectacular Brown and Rainbow trout near Wanaka; then resumed the trip touring the South Island before flying to Christchurch for a few days before the flight back home to Los Angeles. We started in Auckland and then went to Waitomu and Rotorua to enjoy many fascinating experiences such as the Bay of Islands, the Maori culture and other attractions. A flight for a few days in Queenstown on South Island completed the first part of our touring. We went to Wanaka to meet my fishing guide for the second part of the tour. Wanaka is a beautiful resort town on the shores of Lake Wanaka, and is surrounded by snow-capped peaks near the guide’s base of operations.

I hired Greg Dougherty last March because of a glowing account of his guiding in the Angling Report. His company is “Alpine Fishing Guides” serving the Wanaka to Queenstown area. The Website: www.driftfishingnz.com , E-mail: greg@driftfishingnz.com, and telephone 027-652-5617.

His service provides all equipment, flies, lunches and assistance to finding lodging, etc. He is one of the few guides certified to fish the Clutha, a large, very fast, deep and clear river. Most of the banks were overhung, so wading was seldom possible. We drifted close to the shore to cast under the overhanging willows and only beached the raft for lunch or to wade along some of the rapids and pools where stalking and sight fishing were often possible. We began the first day with a boat-safety session and wearing life jackets. Fishermen can expect to hook up to fifteen fish on average at 2 to 6 pounds and land 5 or 6. I caught more Browns than Rainbows. Most of the time we drift-fished which was better for me as my 81 years are beginning to catch up. We began the four days of fishing in the first week of December- the beginning of the summer season there.

Greg would pick me up round trip each day at the Bella Vista Motel. This is a very pleasant centrallylocated motel. While I was fishing, Marilyn spent time embroidering, reading, shopping for gifts for the grandchildren, in the Wanaka Library on the internet and locating one of the many fine restaurants for dinner. We always had a happy hour to review our day before dinner.

The first two days of fishing began with an overnight on the Clutha River for the famed Caddis hatch at dusk. After finishing on the water, pitching the tents and cooking an early steak dinner, we went down to the river for the Caddis hatch. The Caddis were hatching beyond the heavy currents in mid-river, but did not make their appearance on our side, so we decided to take a walk on the grounds along the side of the river. We noted many large holes about 8 inches in diameter dug into the banks and usually in pairs by rabbits that have overpopulated many areas, as the kangaroos have done in Australia. The rabbits kept the river banks clipped so short, it created a mowed lawn appearance in the wilderness.

I enjoyed Greg’s boat handling, a style of always keeping me in a casting position for the likely spots. While there were not many fish in each pool, there were enough to provide constant action. After being hooked, they jumped repeatedly and ran with vigor. We had times wading along a rapids or pool, where fish were clearly visible either singly or stacked up in rows of four to six in the few open and shallow areas. In most cases the river became very deep after a few steps from shore. It was a thrill for me when Greg would say, “You are going to love this pool, Dave.” I usually did.

Greg used a variety of size 12 and 14 flies, both dries and nymphs. Dries used included Elk Caddis, Big Humpys, Adams, Royal Wulff and the Patriot- a fly sent to me by Charlie Meck. It attracted a lot of big Browns. Nymphs consisted of Goldheaded Hare’s Ears, Goldheaded Pheasant Tails, Stoneflies, and Manuka Beetles. These beetles were so common that we were able to shake them off shrubs along the river where the fish loved them!

We floated the Makarora, another wide, deep, gin-clear river with many heavy fish the third day; and hiked the Hawea on the fourth and rainy day where we saw the first other fishermen of the trip. We were able to sight and stalk more fish on this day. Greg kept me into fish, often changing flies or adding a rig of dry and nymph trailing to my tippet. He seemed to anticipate what fly would work in the next stretch of water. For the summer season he charges $650 per day and $1400. for the overnight. (New Zealand dollars) That includes meals and everything needed for the overnight.

My fishing trip was very satisfying and successful. I have fished with many guides from Alaska to Belize, the Bahamas, Maritime Provinces, to many northeastern and western rivers and rate him as a top guide who kept the trip very interesting and a great experience.

Greg claims that fishing in the Wanaka area of New Zealand, nestled under the Aspiring National Park and the banks of Lake Wanaka, and not too far from the region where “Lord of the Rings” was filmed, is not just a fishermen’s paradise, it is a paradise for everyone.