“I'll check my seat first before I sit down. I don't want any more surprises. ”
Stalking New Zealand's huge trout
European brown trout, introduced to the crystalline waters of New Zealand in 1868, have thrived in this country, which is roughly the size of California. Wild populations have created what many well-traveled fly fishers believe are the finest river trout fisheries in the world today. These trout are large. They are beautiful. They are also some of the most difficult to catch. One does not go to New Zealand expecting to land lots of fish.
A typical New Zealand stream holds fewer and larger fish than the average American angler is accustomed to encountering in, say, Pennsylvania or Montana. In New Zealand, you become a trout stalker. You move upstream cautiously, toward the glassy pool ahead for the slightest sign of the five- or six-pound trout that has decided this is his territory.
An experienced fishing guide is mandatory. He moves stealthily in front, climbing ledges and trees, scanning the water through polarized sunglasses with astonishing acuity, picking out the body of a trout on the bottom of a stream in four feet of water from a shadow suggesting a quivering fin, or from what looked like its ivory mouth opening to inhale a drifting mayfly nymph.
Although half the world away from the U.S., Auckland is an easy overnight flight-12 hours from Los Angeles and 13 from San Francisco. When you arrive, you are at a jumping-off point for numerous scheduled daily flights all over the country, or for business jet charter. Magnificent glaciers, active volcanoes, deep fjords, rain forests and sweeping green panoramas await your exploration. And, of course, there are the trout streams, clear sparkling gems rushing over golden gravel.
The Nelson district at the northern tip of the South Island is an excellent place to begin your fly-fishing adventure. South Island is drier, sunnier and older than the more volcanic North Island, which was created, according to Polynesian-origin Maori legend, when a boy threw his magic fish hook into the sea and pulled up a huge fish that became rugged and mountainous land when the sun rose the next day. The South Island was his canoe, Nelson the bow.
Nelson is home to hundreds of artists: glassblowers, painters, woodcarvers, sculptors, potters, weavers. And a short drive away is the Marlborough district, where more than 70 wineries produce wonderful Pinot Noirs and Sauvignon Blancs. I confess I had no appreciation for the fine quality of New Zealand wines until I visited last winter and was treated to the good stuff.
December is an excellent time to go, because the fish have enjoyed months of high water and lack of fishing pressure while they have spawned, moved around a bit and forgotten about the parade of last season's fly lines over their heads. A trout stream for Christmas-why not?
International airport: Auckland
Tourist info and maps: www.newzealand.com
International and domestic air travel: www.airnewzealand.com
Private jet charter: www.pacificjet.co.nz
First-rate rural lodging, meals and guiding: Owen River Lodge, +64 3 523 9075, www.OwenRiverLodge.co.nz