Early Season NZ – Open for Business

Nick shares his thoughts for the coming months, including some less obvious options.

It has been a long couple of years, but finally New Zealand has opened its doors to foreign visitors. While it was a novel to experience the fishery with just Kiwis, it feels like the right time to open up and for life to return to normal. I’m sure there are plenty of Aussies who feel the same way, and who will be chomping at the bit to get back over the ditch.

I expect the season to be very busy this year, which is an even better reason to travel the vastly underrated early season. It has always puzzled me why more visiting anglers don’t come over in this period. While the weather can be unpredictable in October and November, the fishing is always good.

After a long time away from NZ you might be a bit rusty, so let us quickly run over some highlights from just a few of my favourite regions, to spark some ideas.


October is a fantastic month for fishing the mighty Mataura River and tributaries. The trout will be gorging themselves on nymphs in the early season and large catches are common. The tributaries will also have plenty of water and plenty of trout hanging around after spawning. For me, this is the time to be investigating the most obscure, tiny piece of water; looking for a big trout that has overwintered and is yet to drop back to the main stem. Have a close look at tributaries such as Tomogalak, Eyre Creek, Waimea Stream, Otamita and Mimihau. They will all have fish and good places for a big one to hide in high flows.

Smaller Southland streams can hold some big trout early in the season.

On the main river, the hatches can be great if the flows are right. Failing that, there will always be fish nymphing in the runs. Mataura trout tend to ride the lip of the large gravel fans which are a feature of the river. The best way to catch these fish is to wade as close as possible, so you can drift a heavy nymph down to them without drag.

Keep in mind that snowmelt is often a feature of sunny days in October and can slow things down in the upper reaches. When that happens, it pays to drop lower in the system, or into tributaries that are not affected by snowmelt.

The Oreti River also fires in October. It is well known for producing large brown trout and October is a prime month to get it done. The river has many cut banks and in high flows, lots of worms and grubs are washed into the river. Big, heavy, colourful nymphs often produce the goods, and streamers are also a great way to entice fish out of the undercuts.


My home turf, Fiordland, is not mentioned often as an early season option – much to my delight! One reason for this is that many of our rivers don’t open until November. However, the ones that do provide plenty of fishing. My favourites in October are the Mararoa River and the Upper Waiau. Both are big systems and can provide over 15 days of fishing combined. Early in the season, they can be difficult because flows are usually high. However the fish are still there, it’s just a matter of knowing where and how to get to them. In high flows, the fish in the Mararoa will collect in the side channels out of the main flow, so pay attention to these. The mouths of small streams entering the river also have plenty of fish as many are still descending after spawning. I often bounce from one small river mouth to the next without paying much attention to the main stem.

The bigger rivers have early season opportunities if you look in the right places.

If we are lucky and we have a dry September, these rivers can be running lower – in which case they will feature fantastic dry fly fishing. We often have good midday hatches of Coloburiscus humeralis, a large mayfly that brings trout to the top.

Another highlight at this time of year is the whitebait and smelt runs in the estuaries. The trout collect in high densities around the river mouths and the streamer fishing can be world class. We can access the mouth of the Waiau and the Apirima within 1.5 hours of Te Anau, and both provide great fishing in October and November. Additionally, the more remote rivers of the Fiordland coast also have baitfish runs and these provide a real option for an early season wilderness adventure.

Spring baitfish feeder.


Early season in Otago is a wonderful time. The rivers will be nice and full, with lots of fish hanging around after spawning, putting on condition. The trout tend to feed well and be less flighty than later in the season.

October is one of the great windows in the season to get onto an outsized trout. The big boys (and girls) will be feeding hard after a long winter and will often let their guard down. It helps that in the high flows, there is often a little bit of colour in the water, making the larger fish less wary. There are a couple of Otago rivers that have a reputation for trophy fish in the early season.

Many Otago rivers are well-suited to early season fishing.

The lakes in Otago can also fish well in October. The top of Lake Dunstan can fire as trout return from spawning upstream. Then you have the Mackenzie Country lakes which will all have fish congregating around river mouths. In high water and flood events, the lake margins of the smaller waters can fish really well. The trout are drawn to edges as flushed out worms and insects become available.


Canterbury is the land of big rivers and big trout. It is not an exaggeration to say that Canterbury produces more trophy trout (excluding the Hydro Canals) than any other region in New Zealand. The massive, braided rivers of this region are the perfect breeding ground for big, strong fish. It is not easy though and your technique will be tested in the harsh conditions. Many of the rivers that are trophy waters are high up in the backcountry and usually very cold in early season. The open riverbeds also provide very little shelter from the wind which is often downstream and strong.

Canterbury is the land of the extremely long leader. Most of the anglers I know who do well in the region fish super-long leaders, I’m talking 20 foot plus. The reason is, the rivers are often big and powerful and the trout feed deep, especially in early season. Forget about dry flies at this time of year and use long leaders to achieve a natural drift for your nymphs. Big, heavy nymphs can be very productive on trophy fish.

Taupo District

Taupo backcountry options greatly expand in spring.

The tributaries of Lake Taupo are very popular during the winter months, as lots of rainbow trout run up the rivers on their annual spawning migration. Anglers will often stand shoulder-to-shoulder. However, by the time October rolls around and the other rivers in the region open up, the pressure lifts. The beauty of this is, there are still plenty of rainbows running up the rivers right through October and even November.

Famous rivers like the Tongariro and Tauranga-Taupo can be practically empty on weekdays and with higher water temperatures, the rainbows are often feeding quite actively. At this time of year, Glo-bug flies tend not to do as well as more natural patterns. Any pattern which imitates the prolific green caddis is a great start.

Lake O in October.

Another advantage of the Taupo region in October, is you have a diversity of angling options. If you fancy a crack at the big fish of Lake Otamangakau for example, this is a good time of year for stripping size 10 Woolly Buggers around the outlet canal.

East Cape

Very little is written about East Cape as a trout region, yet it has plenty to offer the travelling angler. It is blessed with a very long season and a great variety of water. There are slow-flowing brown trout rivers which remind me of the Mataura, while others are boisterous mountain creeks with strong rainbows.

The author with a typical East Cape rainbow.

Spring is a great time to get on the water in the East Cape because water temperatures will be close to perfect. Many rivers get too hot to fish during summer, but in spring, these waters will hold actively feeding trout. The brown trout waters follow a similar pattern to the Southland streams, with well-conditioned trout in small, intimate tributaries often rising to a dry fly. These fish will hold in these small waters until flows drop and force them back to the main rivers.

Early season dry fly action.

East Cape is unusual in early season in that trout will often grab terrestrials in October. This can lead to hot dry fly fishing in clear water conditions. The rivers of this area are highly fertile, with the rocks crawling with bugs when you turn them over. This food-rich environment can support large numbers of trout, and I’ve been amazed by how many fish can live in one pool on these rivers. If you get it right, you can catch good numbers, making East Cape an alluring early season option.


Here’s a sample of guides I can personally recommend for the areas covered. They will be grateful for work in the early season, while also having a full understanding of the intricacies of their area. A couple of days under their tutelage will set you on the right course for your holiday.


Ayato Otsubo may not be a big-name guide, but I have fished with him plenty of times and he is an A-grader, especially on the Mataura River. He is also a beautiful caster and a great casting instructor. Just the guy to give you a tune up at the start of your holiday.


Although I’m quite booked up already for this coming season, my brother Chris Reygaert, who also lives in Te Anau, has some space early season. I always joke that he is the second-best guide in Te Anau, but sibling rivalry aside, Chris is the real deal. As a full member of the NZPFGA, his knowledge of the area is outstanding and he always has his figure on the pulse regarding fish movement and water levels, two vital components to doing well in Fiordland.


Ronan Creane is a member of the NZPFGA and a well-established guide here. He gets great results early season and often puts his clients onto big trout. He also fishes lakes a lot and has them really dialled in. Originally from Ireland, his lunchtime stories are often a highlight of a day on the water.


Hannah Clement is one of the few female guides in New Zealand and a good, positive character. She has built her knowledge and craft over the last few years and is starting to hit her straps. She specialises in big trout and backcountry and has plenty of options for helicopter trips to put you onto a fish of a lifetime.

Taupo District

Miles Rushmer is based in Tauranga and fishes all the areas around Rotorua and Taupo. He has some great options for backcountry trips In October as well as the Taupo tributaries and Rotorua Lakes.

East Cape

As 5-time National Fly Fishing Champion, Cory Scott probably needs little introduction. In addition to being a great competition angler, Cory also has a real sense for adventure. He offers early season backcountry missions into the East Cape wilderness either on foot or by helicopter.


Wherever you fish, be sure to familiarise yourself with the regulations for the area you’re fishing. There are some quite specific rules around which streams are open in certain months, which are closed, and even which sections of particular rivers are open or closed.  

Here’s to early season!