F&S Adventure: Fly Fishing for Trout In New Zealand

Last winter, I got the kind of phone call all outdoor editors want to receive. "Jay, this is the Department of Tourism for New Zealand. We'd like to set up a fishing trip for you, if you can swing it. Hopefully, you'll like what you see and possibly write something about it in Field & Stream." Four months later, I was on an American Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles, then on an Air New Zealand 747 from L.A. to Auckland (on the North Island) and, ultimately, to Nelson on the South Island, where I'd begin my fishing adventure. Total travel time? With layovers, about 21 hours, but who's counting? I watched "Crazy Heart" and "Avatar" on the flight out. Here's the departure board at Auckland Airport.
On the road to Lodge No. 1. When you're jet-lagged, driving on the left side of the road is pretty challenging.
Stonefly Lodge, an hour out of Nelson, in the town of Wakefield. Owners John and Kate Kerr just opened up last October. They spared no expense making this one of the finer lodges in the country. (www.stoneflylodge.co.nz)
A view out my window. I couldn't wait to get onto the river the next morning.
This is the Motueka River, a short drive from the lodge. My guide, Paul van de Loo, told me that the river had no rainbow trout but many browns, which were imported from Germany in the 1800s. These are big fish, averaging 4 pounds, and they're not stupid. I was fishing with a Nautilus large-arbor fly reel, a 6-weight, 9-foot Scott S4 fly rod, loaded with weight-forward Rio Trout flyline and an 18-foot leader tapered down to 5X (made by Gary's Custom Leaders in Mertztown, PA - 610-682-6255). I started with a small No. 18 gray nymph, with a dry fly indicator.
First brown of the trip! I botched three or four by not setting the hook quickly enough when the indicator moved, but then I started to get the hang of it.
The next day, Paul and I did a day of heli fishing in the backcountry. Taking off in 30-mph winds can be a tad unsettling.
Here I am, fishing a typical, gin-clear pool on the Wairea River.
Here's what was below that riffle!
This beauty weighed 7 1/4 pounds, taken on a nymph off a dropper dry. This was the last pool of the day - a perfect way to end it.
Back to the Motueka the next day, with guide Steve Graney. It was raining like crazy, but the fish didn't mind.
Keeping a schedule, I headed to Nelson that night. That's a view of the harbor, from my room in a B&B. Off to the North Island in the morning. (www.tepunawai.co.nz)
Guide Brent Pirie picked me up at Huka Lodge (www.hukalodge.com), where I stayed for one night on the North Island. We drove for 45 minutes, then hit the Tauranga-Taupo River.
Here I'm casting to a rainbow sipping insects on the surface, about two inches off the far wall.
Fighting a big bow.
The next day, I mixed things up and signed up with Chris Jolly charters for a day of trolling for rainbows on sprawling, 660 square-kilometer Lake Taupo, one of the more popular tourist destinations in the country. Using split-bodied Rapalas, I took 12 bows that morning, up to 4 pounds. (www.chrisjolly.co.nz)
Checked out downtown Taupo, then off to Treetops lodge for the last two nights of my stay. Along the way, I stopeed by Orakei Korako, a huge area of thermal activity.
Treetops is a hunting lodge, and the red stags were just starting to roar. (See Dave Petzal's piece, "How I Found New Zeal and Enthusiasm," in the May 2010 issue of Field & Stream). (www.treetops.co.nz)
I've never stayed at so many nice places in my life. Makes up for all my time sleeping in leaky tents and mouse-infested hunting cabins, I suppose. Here's the view from my room.
I went out with guide John Hamill for a second day of heli fishing, on a small, nameless creek on the central North Island plateau. Here's my best rainbow of the trip, a 9 3/4-pounder, taken on a Cadillac pheasant tail nymph.
At one point, we came upon a pair of blue ducks, which are highly endangered. I was able to snap a photo before they took off (and before it was time to stop fishing and go back to the lodge).
Back to the States. Air New Zealand is one of the finer airlines I've ever taken, with great food and top-rate service, plus clean planes. When I last checked, they were offering round-trip tickets between L.A. and Auckland for $820 (www.airnewzealand.com)