Guido Richard

Guido Richard: Fly Fishing the Great Lakes of New Zealand

Guido Richard: Fliegenfischen an den großen Seen in Neuseeland

New Zealand, mid-January 2024: After two heavy days of rain, with up to 110mm of precipitation, the rivers on most of the South Island are murky and unfortunately too high for fly fishing.

The perfect time to venture out to one of the huge lakes on this part of the island! To be honest, I haven't dared to tackle these gigantic bodies of water with a fly rod in recent years - my priority has always been the rivers in the region. So far, the lakes have only been used for swimming and pleasure. Now I want to tackle it and try to catch a trout on sight with the fly from the shores.
Lake Wanaka: The fourth largest lake in New Zealand has a water surface area of 192 km² and a maximum depth of 300 metres.


Lake Havea: Slightly smaller than Wanaka, but still gigantic at 141 square kilometres. 


Lake Wakatipu: This is the longest lake in New Zealand with a length of 80 kilometres and a water surface area of 291 km². It is a whopping 420 metres deep. 

I have very little information on fishing. The lakes are described as uninteresting for fly fishing, primarily due to the strong north-easterly wind that whips across the surface almost every day. Fish are nevertheless caught, mostly when trolling from a boat. Late in the season, the river mouths are said to be good, when the fish move into the rivers to spawn. Unfortunately, almost all of these spots are inaccessible without a boat; I only have a few kilometres of easily accessible bank to fish.
Using Google Maps, I choose a bay on Lake Havea that is somewhat sheltered from the wind and has an edge relatively close to the shore where I can spot any migrating fish. In the end, I walk a whole eleven kilometres along the shore until I finally spot a fish that I can actually catch. Not an outstanding result. But who knows: wrong part of the lake at the wrong time, wrong idea...? I have no idea - but at least I caught a fish from this lake!

I don't want to invest any more time here. I want to catch a fish in each of the three lakes before the rivers have good water levels again. That same evening, we park the van somewhere with a nice view in the evening sun on Lake Wanaka. The game starts again the very next morning: slowly stalking along the shore, eyes on the water and looking for fish. 


Nothing happens for the first three hours until I finally arrive at a point that protects a small, shallow bay from the wind. 


I can spot trout relatively quickly here, snapping at small flies close to the bank. In contrast to the previous marsh, the fishing is incredibly easy: I can catch almost every trout I cast at. Is it because of the low fishing pressure compared to the rivers of the South Island?! 


The wind picks up in the afternoon, making it impossible to see any fish. I walk back to the van and we make our way back towards Queenstown to fish the last big lake. 


There are endless options along the 80 kilometres here! Points in front of bays, beaches, estuaries, ... So we park our van not far from the beach in the town of Kingston; in the immediate vicinity there are kilometres of banks with the aforementioned points and bays. I should be able to find fish here. 


The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, I set off for the trout. I can actually spot a fish every 200 metres or so. In contrast to Lake Wanaka, where they were obviously and actively feeding, the trout here swim quickly up and down the edge. So I mustn't lose sight of a fish here under any circumstances as I run further along the shore to present a fly in its migration route from there. 


It's incredible fun to fish like this and once again I can catch almost every fish I see. Once again, there was no fishing pressure.


Fishing the lakes offered an exciting change, especially during the high water days. It was a great feeling to catch fish on these huge bodies of water with a fly rod! I will certainly be doing this again in the coming years if water levels or fishing pressure play into my hands on the rivers. One lifetime of angling would not be enough to fish every corner of the lakes - so there is still a lot to discover!

But now it's back to the rivers to chase monster trout.

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