World Tour – New Zealand

Harrison commences a 6 month global fishing trip, starting in New Zealand’s South Island.

Like everyone looking to flyfishing opportunities abroad in 2020, my international travel plans came to a sharp halt with the arrival of the pandemic. As international borders closed, a March and April trip to see old friends in Canada was cancelled just a week from departure. I had other trips to Europe and the USA in mind for 2021 and 2022; however with the uncertainty around travel restrictions, these plans stayed on ice. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lifetime of good flyfishing to be had in Australia, some of which I made the most of during the COVID years. However, with flyfishing’s history and the lure of new experiences, it’s hard not to be to be drawn to places overseas.

Three years of taking minimal leave from my office job (or should I say home office job), combined with some recently-acquired long service leave, meant I had quite the accumulated leave balance. Sometime in mid-2022, the idea came into my head about taking all my leave at once, rolling all those cancelled trips into one, and going on a flyfishing world tour. I sat on this idea for months before I told anyone. Nervously, I asked my boss his thoughts on losing a team member for six months. To my surprise and relief, he was beyond supportive and encouraging. Rough plans were made, with the trip kicking off in February in New Zealand, then taking me through Canada, USA, UK and Europe.

I packed up and moved out of my share-house, putting most of my life’s possessions into storage. This was followed by finding and packing all the essentials for a six month trip, covering so many different destinations and climates, into one large red duffle bag. The bag contained cicadas for the South Island, bright steelhead flies for Canada, redfish flies for the Texas coast, traditional salmon flies for Scotland, and everything in between. This trip had begun as an unlikely dream, but as that bag was packed, I realised it was about to become reality.


Rendezvous in Queenstown

My understanding girlfriend, who knows how much this trip means to me, dropped me at Tullamarine Airport in the early morning hours. It was still dark outside as I walked through the empty airport, both excited and anxious for the next 6 months ahead. Too late now to turn back, with my mate Charlie waiting for me in Queenstown. As I boarded the flight, this trip was finally a reality.

You might ask, why kick off a ‘world tour’ in New Zealand when it is so close to Australia? For me, I was hoping to experience some of the spectacular backcountry cicada fishing I had missed out on during two previous trips plagued by appalling weather conditions. Not to mention the convenient direct flights from Auckland to Vancouver for part two of the trip. Despite the ex-tropical cyclone conditions on the North Island, the forecast for the bottom of the South Island was mostly positive and confirmed by clear blue skies as I landed in Queenstown at noon. Charlie, with a boyish grin filled with excitement and already in his wading boots, met me at the arrivals gate. He had our hire car ready so there was no time to waste getting on the road to Southland.

Southland start

I had introduced Charlie to flyfishing a few years ago and unsurprisingly, he enjoyed it so much he purchased all the gear a few months later. His flyfishing experience had been limited to the trout rivers and creeks around Victoria, where a two pounder is considered a good fish. When he saw a five pound trout that afternoon in a crystal clear tussock stream, his mind was blown. That was before the realisation set in that, although you could see the fish, the actual catching might be tricky. Every trout we saw that afternoon either refused all sorts of seemingly reasonable offerings, or spooked before the fly even landed.

Late that evening, we arrived in Mossburn, our base for the next week, before hitting the Railway Hotel for a pub feed and a few cold beers. The pub was full of flyfishers, clearly distinguishable in their beige shirts, Simms hats, Patagonia or Orvis labels and the like.

After a few tough trips to the South Island in years prior, and a blank afternoon, the pressure was on to try catch some fish – not only for myself but for Charlie, who had taken some scarce leave from work. Although we had perfect blue skies and no wind, the pressure was compounded when we arrived at our chosen spot to find it bone dry, a sad victim of a Southland drought.

We quickly devised a new plan and drove to another river with an access point devoid of competing anglers. Soon after we began our walk upstream, we were spotting trout. However, as with the day before, they were refusing our offers of various mayflies, caddis and nymphs in the gin clear water. The weight of responsibility heaped on my shoulders with each refusal of our flies.

Around midday it started to warm up, and the cicadas began their defining chirp. I took this as a sign that the trout might want a cicada meal, not a size 16 mayfly snack.

Cicada clues.

First fish

A brown soon appeared a cast and a half upstream, clearly visible as it cruised a calm, ankle-deep flat. It vanished momentarily as I got into a fishing position before it reappeared 5m further up, heading away from me. Not wanting to miss my opportunity, I peeled off 15m of fly-line and made a good cast, with the green cicada landing a metre ahead of the fish. In no hurry, the trout moved over to the fly, nose under it inspecting closely before opening its mouth to gobble it. A ‘God save the King’ pause before setting, and I was connected to the first fish of the six month trip. The trout was not big by New Zealand standards; however it gave me plenty to worry about before Charlie professionally netted it to the sound of both of us cheering.

It sounds funny, but not to this point had a fish meant so much to me. It wasn’t more than 15 minutes later that Charlie lined up another fish, feeding well. Despite his more limited flyfishing experience, he made a good cast and the fish happily ate his cicada. Again, not a monster, however jumping and diving for snags, it made Charlie work before I netted it to another chorus of cheers.

Finally! Cicada success on a smaller Southland stream.

From then on, I felt like I could enjoy my trip with all the pressure gone. While we spooked and missed more fish during that afternoon, we also landed a handful of unlucky ones, which helped build our confidence for the weeks ahead.

Over the following days, we only experienced a single hard day’s fishing when we were beaten by multiple groups of anglers – despite being at the access at sunrise. The near perfect rainless weather added to the great fishing, which was almost as pleasing as watching Charlie’s ability as a flyfisher develop.

We created many lifelong memories during the week, with two that really stand out. One was a cruising fish in a small, clear creek which Charlie spotted from the other bank, quickly offering the shot to me as I was in a better casting position. With the fish heading downstream past me, I landed the cicada half a metre ahead of it, which it then charged and engulfed. The trout screamed off down the creek, getting airborne on multiple occasions before fighting doggedly and ultimately ending up in the net.

Mataura magic

The second standout was a red-letter day on the Mataura. It started with grey skies and the trout were feeding eagerly. Charlie, who was first up, sighted a brown along a shallow edge, made a perfect long cast, and it ate his cicada.

Subsequently, we found that most fish hanging along the slow, shallow edges and back eddies, were feeding on spent spinners. We tied on our best spinner imitations and instantly began having good results.

This action continued for a few hours. Then the sky cleared, and we were treated to sun and little wind for the rest of the day. Throughout the afternoon, the trout were clearly visible in the sunlit water, and were obliging if offered a well-presented cicada or mayfly patterns.

Before we knew it, our week fishing together was over and I dropped Charlie back at Queenstown airport. I picked up another mate, Benny, the following day. Prior to this trip, Benny had experienced exactly one day flyfishing for trout. Most of his time fishing is spent prospecting the Northern Territory mangrove creeks with soft plastics for barra. However, he has had successful smatterings of saltwater flyfishing thrown in.


Majestic Otago backcountry.

We headed north through Otago, full of anticipation as Benny had been getting near daily updates about week one. Arriving at our cabin we unpacked, settled down with a few cold bottles of Speights, watching the sunset over the surrounding hills.

A typical Otago landscape.

Fishing with Benny was great throughout our 10 days together and, much like Charlie, his flyfishing skills rapidly improved with time on the water. We only lost one day to bad weather, although that did give the mostly low and clear rivers a nice freshen up. One such day, we continued further up a small river than we had previously, searching for less pressured water. With blue skies and hardly a breath of wind, we hiked upstream to the sound of cicadas. Within a few minutes we found an active rainbow, swinging from side to side for a buffet of incoming terrestrials. Benny’s cast placed his cicada pattern just to the left and ahead of the trout. In one move, the rainbow came over and inhaled the cicada. The hookset was perfect and an angry trout tore off down river.

Otago rainbow.

The whole day continued like this, with rainbows being easily spotted in the clear water, sometimes given away by their red band, and every well-presented cast resulted in a take. By New Zealand standards, this was ‘easy’ fishing, and on two separate occasions, we had double hook ups. One rainbow would be hooked, and a second fish would come to investigate the commotion. A fly presented to this second fish would again be taken without hesitation.

Reflecting on these three weeks on the South Island as I made my way to Vancouver, I was still coming to terms with how lucky I was. Partly because this was only the beginning of my trip, but also thankful for great weather, feeding trout and two mates who I got to share the experience with.

Already reflecting on a great trip, and looking forward to part 2.

I realised that the fishing I’d experienced over the preceding three weeks had set a high bar, and I had to be careful this didn’t set unrealistic expectations for the remainder of the trip. As I write, I’m not far off a few weeks’ steelhead fishing around British Columbia. That is sure to bring me back down to earth!