Free Fly ambassador Jenny Tates emailed us a few hours after she landed back in the states. She was full of excitement and energy, and you would have never known that she just traveled back across the world from New Zealand for 26+ straight hours. "Being a kiwi for two and half weeks was one of the greatest experiences of my life." she said. And knowing Jenny, we knew that she had some great tales to tell. So of course, we had to hear more about her trip. Read on to learn more about Jenny's recent fly fishing expedition to New Zealand's South Island, the gear she took, and the species she chased (and caught).
Why'd you choose New Zealand?
My husband and I just had the opportunity to travel to New Zealand for our honeymoon in search of once in a lifetime brown trout. Both of us share a great passion for fly fishing. It’s something that brought us together when we first began dating many moons ago. With two passionate anglers and anywhere in the world to travel to for our honeymoon, NZ was high on our bucket list.
In choosing New Zealand, our hope was to get into some exceptional and challenging fish while sightseeing as much as we could of this beautiful country in a span of two and a half weeks. We did just that.
Did you connect with any guides or lodges?
During our excursion we first went to Owen’s River Lodge, where we fished with a seasoned guide for four days. I cannot say enough good things about this lodge from their fishing expertise to their lodging and hospitality. Without the knowledge that we gained during these four days, the rest of our trip would not have been nearly as successful.
Thanks to the guides at Owen’s River Lodge, we left dialed into the behavior of these fish and how to hunt for them for the remaining time that we were in New Zealand.
Tell us about Fly Fishing in New Zealand
Fly fishing in New Zealand should really be called hunting. These fish are so smart. They smell human hunger. But seriously, the second you cross up river of them, they can smell your scent and the pool isn’t worth fishing. We hunted for these fish. We tiptoed along the banks, crawled through the brush, and even used walkie talkies for communication. We constantly wore neutral colors, so the fish had a difficult time spotting us. We used 15+ ft leaders, so our fly line was inconspicuous.
We quickly learned that New Zealand brown trout fly fishing is cream of the crop. If we were going to catch these fish we had to lose our saltwater chuck and duck mentality. Everything had to come together perfectly. Once we “figured out” the program (I say that loosely because there’s still so much to learn), we started to land these fish. And boy, was it such a high. These fish go straight to the reel and take off running down stream. They are fighters. I stumbled down the river countless number of times in an effort to keep up with them. Both of us never gave up the fight. Fly fishing in New Zealand made me a better angler and hungry for more.
When you go to a new place to fly fish, what's the first thing you do?
You have to chat with the locals. Once we got to New Zealand, we were a couple of groggy newlyweds that quickly dropped off our bags and headed straight for the local fly shop in Christchurch, Fisherman’s Loft. Did I mentioned it took us 26+ hours to get there? While we were hungry and exhausted, we were even more hungry for local fishing knowledge. We had a long chat with one of the employees at the fly shop, Kerin, who could not have been kinder or more knowledgeable about the many rivers in the South Island. We discussed various flies that were good this time of year and the types of fishy water to look for.
There’s also an incredible book written by John Kent called South Island Trout Fishing Guide, that Kerin kindly lent to us for our time in New Zealand. This book looked like it had been run through the washing machine several times (or should we say river). It was aged, loved, and signed by John Kent himself. Kerin was incredibly kind to lend us his cherished copy. We found that kiwis love to share their passion of fly fishing and help outsiders like ourselves. During our two-week road trip, we referenced this book constantly as we passed hundreds of rivers during our daily travels that we were interested in learning about. This guide book provided great insight for tips, techniques, and access points for every river, lake, or stream in the South Island.
What gear do you travel with?
The right gear for fly fishing in New Zealand is essential. Neutral color clothing, neutral color floating fly line, long 15ft leaders, sunblock, and many many layers--are all essential for a successful day.
In terms of rods and reels a 5wt and 6wt are both great setups for fighting these fish. We always had one set up for nymphing and one as a dry fly, so that we were ready for both scenarios. We brought our 5wt fiberglass Wade Rod and Pelican Flight reel set up, as well as two 6wt Orvis Helios’ paired with the Cheeky Limitless 375 reel and Boost 350. Each set up provided success for different scenarios.
While we came prepared, nothing could really prepare us for the abundance of sand flies that were coming our way in order to fish these beautiful rivers. Fortunately I had packed two of my Free Fly bamboo Shade Hoodies that I seriously lived in for 2 weeks.
The Free Fly bamboo Shade Hoody provided the exact versatility I needed to stay out on the river for 9 hours of the day. Breathable in the heat, great for sun protection, and even better coverage from the sand flies that seemed to have no mercy on us.
I kept my hood up the entire time and sleeves rolled down using my thumb holes to cover my hands. While I packed a number of different quick dry shirts, nothing compared to my Free Fly bamboo shade hoody. Dirty or not, it was my go to top during my entire time in New Zealand.
Each day in New Zealand was unique and memorable. We spent most of our days getting from place to place in our campervan that we picked up in Christchurch. This allowed us greater mobility and as we explored as much of the South Island as possible. Being a kiwi for two and half weeks was one of the greatest experiences of my life. And, I feel very fortunate to have found a life partner to share these experiences with.