yourself a fly fisherman and not professing to the allure of New Zealand’s
trout waters is akin to calling yourself an art aficionado and then asking the
curator of the Louvre for the location of Leonardo Rembrandt’s paintings. 

New Zealand is a country blessed with a plethora of outstanding fly fishing opportunities,
and stories abound of trout so beautiful they break your heart when it comes to
letting them go. Understandably, most people associate the South Island’s
legendary trout with their breathtaking rivers and streams, and remain
oblivious to the world-class stillwater opportunities on offer. Glaciated lakes
like Wanaka, Hawea, Te Anau and Wakatipu, and remote irrigation reservoirs like
Poolburn, Manorburn, Dunstan and Onslow offer sport that ranks as some of the
finest sight fishing on earth.

I carried around with me for many years, a crystallised notion of what
stillwater trout fly fishing was all about. You stood up to your armpits in frigid
lake margins and cast the longest line you possibly could, only to strip it all
back in again at the speed of the fleeing minnow you were attempting to
imitate. If you were lucky, and several thousand casts later you might find
that a fish had got itself impaled by your Christmas decoration cum trout fly. To
say that New Zealand otherwise enlightened me on the merits of stillwater trout
fishing would be an understatement.

Antipodean introduction to lake fishing was in the hands of Craig Smith, a
Wanaka based guide who looked after us for a week in 2008. When, on our first
day, Craig suggested that we take his boat out onto Lake Wanaka, I was somewhat
skeptical. This was not what I had envisaged at all. Begrudgingly, we decided
to go with the flow (or lack thereof) and get it over with, so that we could
get on with some proper fishing on a river the following day. Before Craig had
even managed to get his boat onto the water, the morning’s tranquility was
shattered by the sound of a screaming reel. On his very first cast of the day my
brother Yuri had intercepted a cruising rainbow of well over 4 lbs, which had,
without so much as a hint of hesitation, hoovered up his dry fly. As soon as
Yuri had released his first ever Kiwi trout, Craig told us to reel in and get
into the boat as we were wasting good fishing time!

headed across the lake towards an otherwise inaccessible bay lined with a pale
gravel bottom over which literally dozens of fish lazily cruised in search of
unsuspecting dragonfly and damselfly larvae and windswept terrestrials. Having
walked no more than 30 yards from our tethered boat, all of us were soon
casting to fish that had been spotted in water barely deep enough to reach your
knees. With the sun still clinging to the mountainous backdrop and morning mist
still lying on the lake’s surface, three unsuspecting anglers had already been
converted to the Kiwi approach to Stillwater.

that afternoon, Craig had to once again firmly insist that we reel in and get
back onto the boat as our first day in New Zealand drew to a close. We had each
landed more than our fair share of stunningly beautiful, wild, fin-perfect
rainbows and browns, almost exclusively on dry fly. Those that didn’t fall prey
to dries were intercepted with #12 and #14 un-weighted Olive Damsels cast well
ahead of cruising fish and then twitched when the fish were within striking

is fly fishing on a visual level that would be difficult to exaggerate. The clarity
of the water is gin-clear so it is quite common to underestimate its depth by
more than a meter. At times, on certain windless days, the fish can literally appear
to be hovering in mid air. Observing an unsuspecting trout casually drift over
to your fly in such conditions, and nonchalantly lift in the water column to
envelop your offering, is an experience that leaves one’s limbs feeling a tad
wobbly. It is as though time itself slows down as the words ‘God save the
Queen’ come out in a flurry of nervous excitement. As a result, not striking prematurely
requires almost superhuman discipline. Surely not even the fiercest devotees to
rivers would suggest that this is fly fishing in anything but the purest and
most exhilarating form?

Cole, another well-known Wanaka based fly fishing guide is considered by many
to be a stillwater guru, a true pioneer of new innovative methods of targeting
lake-dwelling trout. Early one autumn morning a few years ago, Ian and I launched
his boat on Otago’s Lake Hawea and pointed the bow in the direction of the
Hunter River.

spring, when the Hunter is in flood with snowmelt and runoff, it deposits its
sediment load into the head of this vast glaciated lake. This annual process
has over many years, formed a large area of silt-bottomed shallows or flats,
where fresh water Whitebait or Inanga (Galaxias maculatus) come to
spawn each autumn. As a result, trout congregate at the mouth of the river and
gorge themselves on this highly nutritious and abundant food source.

crystal clear, shallow water and pale bed substrate, combined with an abundance
of wild trout of a world-class caliber, makes for some of the most exciting
trout fishing on earth. In such shallow water, the trout are easy to spot,
stalk and intercept and their alarmingly fast runs leave you grinning like the
village idiot.

trout were more than willing to take either baitfish patterns like Silicon
Smelts, or indeed large conspicuous dries like Cicadas or Royal Wulffs. Undoubtedly,
smaller and less garish dries would have been just as effective, but the need
to change down in size never arose as both rainbows and browns confidently rose
to these easy-to-spot patterns. However, several weeks later at the mouth of
the Greenstone River on Lake Wakatipu, the trout showed no interest in dries and
every fish taken fell exclusively to whitebait patterns fished on an
intermediate line.

employed during the autumnal congregation of whitebait at river mouths are by
no means standard practice. Throughout spring and summer, the most productive
method tends to be an ambush or intercept approach, where either a nymph or dry
is cast a few yards in front of a cruising fish. When fishing a nymph like a
damsel or dragon, it is often very effective to impart some movement into the
fly as the targeted fish approaches. Too much movement can result in refusals
or spooked fish, with a single twitch of your nymph usually being all that is
required trigger predatory instincts. Consequently, long leaders (12-18 ft) are
recommended, as line-shadow on sunny summer days is always an issue,
particularly in such shallow water.

been exposed to and enlightened by such extraordinary fly fishing, the allure of
New Zealand’s South Island is no longer centred solely around spectacular
rivers and streams. These days it’s equally about their lakes, remote dams and
reservoirs where magnificent browns and rainbows swim wild and free amidst some
the most beautiful scenery imaginable.