Fishing New Zealand’s North Island

By Jan Heidel

My first trip to New Zealand was 14 years ago. I went there to look at schools and to learn from what they achieved. I stayed for a fortnight, and having red several books on fly fishing in the NZ, I managed to invite myself to a teachers cabin down in Turangi over the weekend. She knew a good guide, and it was done! One full day of fantastic fishing in a small stream resulted in 12 Rainbows from 3 to 5 lb.

The stream and my guide Peter Fordham and me.

Turangi is a small town an hour’s drive from Taupo in the central North Island, and home to the world famous river Tongariro.

NZ is, in my opinion, the ultimate country for fly fishing. Over the past 14 years I have been there 7 times, and I’m going back! From Norway it is, more or less, all the way to the other pole and the effective time on planes are 24 hours. In my age that is 24 hours with a huge risk of getting blood clouts, but what the heck, I’ll risk that any day to go fishing in NZ.

In the spring, October – November, the scenery is astonishing. The countryside is green, and most of the mountains too, even some of them are active volcanoes with snowy peeks, the rivers are packed with large trout and you can probably make a personal record every day going to the right places.

Live snow capped volcano

Green New Zealand country side 

I’ve only fished in the North island around Lake Taupo. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in NZ and is really a big caldera, but it holds large numbers of big trout. Lots of rivers are connected to the lake. As mentioned, the most famous one is the Togariro river, probably the best trout river in the world. Author Zane Grey fished the Tongariro in 1925 and he is most likely the reason that trout fishing in NZ spread to fly fishermen all over the globe. The fish (live trout) however was brought from UK with sailing ships in 1861. The English gentlemen would definitely keep up their sports even back then.

Tongariro River

When going to NZ to fish you’d better hire a guide. The rivers are numerous and the only problem you have to deal with is that nearly all land is private and you often have to cross private land to reach the rivers. All water is state owned. Guides know their way around and how to get to the best places to fish. Helicopter, rafts and quad bikes are often used to reach the best places, and the guides often carry a trailer with a quad bike in case you have to go off-road. The guides cost around 400 US dollars a day (8 hous), but that includes lunch and transport. Heli-fishing starts at around 750 US dollars a day. Actually the guide is the expensive part of this experience. Plane fares from Norway and back starts on 1200 US dollars, food, car rentals, house rental and booze is relatively cheap, and the fishing license is 33 US dollars for a whole year.

Pete, my guide. A great guy! The Trout is mine.

Most guides bring flies as well. Early in the season it is mostly nymph fishing with indicators, but people are all waiting for the hatch and the dry fly fishing. The rivers are all gin clear and spotting for tail flicks in the stream is great fun. The guides are good at this but try it out yourself. It gives great pleasure to have spotted the trout and then hooked it. The rivers come all shapes and sizes, from the big ones which are hard to wade, to small streams not more than a meter or two (4 – 8 ft) wide. The smallest stream can hold the biggest fish!

My guide spotting my catch

Whanganui River

New Zealand small stream

When I first came to NZ I was under the impression that Rainbow trout was a specie that grew up in fish farms and were fished on by people with “disabilities” – somewhat lousy fly fishers. The story is of coarse that both brown and rainbow are tough and fun fish to catch. I’ve had so many great fish on in the rivers of NZ, and I would believe that it’s a 50-50 result between brown and rainbows. Some of my best fights I’ve had with rainbows, but my personal best is a brown on 4.8 kilo (10.5 lbs). There are much bigger fish in the rivers, but I haven’t been lucky / good enough to get them yet. The worst / best experience I’ve had down there was 22 rainbows from 2 – 5 lbs before lunch. This was at the Tongariro. I never use a heavier rod than a 5#, and my 10 ft Sage One is great for both nymph and dry fly fishing.

Rainbow, one of the 22

WOW brown

So, to sum this up: NZ is the ultimate trout fishing country in the world!

I suppose many rivers around in the US are just as good, but in NZ one can fish a new river every day for a fortnight within driving distance from where you live. In the North island I recommend staying in Taupo or Turangi. Turangi is a small town on the bank of the Tongariro, and you can have a couple of days on your own fishing that. The North island have a better climate than the South island, has friendlier nature and easier access to the rivers. Less time walking is more time fishing. NZ is a friendly country to all foreigners, and the best part; there are no poisonous creatures at all. They don’t even have mosquitos. The landscape is stunning and you can take a dip in hot pools, look at geysers and experience the exiting culture of the Maori people.

Landscape by Whakapapa River


Maori – take care If you have any possibilities what so ever to make a trip to NZ happen – grab it! I guarantee that you will not regret it!

Thanks for reading,

Jan Heidel