Us Kiwi fishermen don’t always find it easy to ask for help, and will often choose to learn things the hard way. But when it comes to trout fishing, as Peter Langlands explains, a guided trip can fast-track your learning and be an extremely rewarding experience...
With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit our international travel options, now is the time to focus on domestic tourism. In NZ, we have a wide range of guided fishing and charter operations that were geared up for the international market but are now focusing on the domestic market. This is a golden age for us New Zealanders to make the most of our own backyard, learn some new fishing techniques and explore some new locations. Signs are looking good for the upcoming season with many large mouse-feeding trout in the headwaters and, in all likelihood, no, or very few, overseas tourists on the water.
We are lucky to have several hundred professional fishing guides in New Zealand. It’s best to take advantage of one of them early in the season, so you can learn some new skills or refine your skills for the remainder of the season. Many guides are now offering tuition services which allow you to learn as much about new techniques as the actual experience of catching a fish itself. While catching big fish may be exciting, investing in learning new skills will give you the biggest reward. Some techniques, such as upstream nymphing, canal egg rolling and even soft-baiting, require the understanding of subtle skills, and these subtle skills can only be taught by a guide who has spent a considerable amount of time on the water.
Upstream nymphing is technical and many guides specialise in the refinements of this technique. Once mastered, upstream nymphing gives you a lifetime of rewarding fishing.
It is well worth taking the time to learn about a guide prior to making a booking. When you do find a good guide with positive reviews, book well in advance. Talking to the guide is recommended as it’s best to directly communicate your expectations and discuss what your options are in advance. Doing this will allow the guide to plan a trip for you.
If you can budget for a multi-day trip, that is ideal. The guide will be able to get you onto more challenging yet rewarding fishing as they get to know you and your skill level increases. It also takes the pressure off the guide. For targeting trophy backcountry trout, a three-day trip is recommended. If you book a multi-day trip, you can also ask for a multi-day discount, too. Some guides will offer lower prices for tuition-based guiding as well.
Using a guide is also a good way to learn about a new region and there are some top destinations to base a guided fishing trip from. I highly recommend basing your guiding experience from a small town with lots of options nearby, especially for a multi-day trip. Top locations are Rotorua, Turangi, Waikaremoana, Murchison, Hamner Springs, Lewis Pass (Springs Junction), Lake Brunner (Moana), Fairlie, Twizel, Wanaka and Riverton (Southland). There is nothing better than switching off from the world, having the fishing sorted out for you by someone else and learning a range of new skills.
Going with a guide allows you to explore new waters in remote regions.
Make sure that you sleep well prior to heading out and have your own backpack well organised with snack foods, refreshments and a change of clothes. Warm and comfortable clothing will allow you to concentrate and make the most of your day out on the water. Having your phone fully charged to make as many records of the day is also highly recommended as you are likely to have some memorable experiences.
I recommend you hire a guide registered with the New Zealand Professional Fishing Guides Association, as members of the association have met health and safety criteria, have a first aid certificate and meet a rigid review process (as well as having the appropriate concessions).
I also recommend that you aim for an early start. Getting out early will open your options for the day and will also, particularly as the waterways get busier again, give you a tactical advantage. But having said that, if you start early, be prepared for an early finish should the morning’s fishing be successful. Realistically, six to eight hours on the water a day is all that most people can manage before fatigue sets in. The guide should have the skills to get you onto fish early in the day, with time later in the day only being used if you have unexpected setbacks. Staying out too late or pushing the guide is not recommended.
Many guides operate in remoter areas so staying away on a multiple day trip is a top option. Guides also provide income for local economies and it is good to support New Zealand operators to keep the money within the local economy. If you get on well with the guide, then booking in an annual trip with the same guide will allow you to maximise your options, as guides are a lot more confident to explore more challenging and rewarding fishing options with repeat customers.
Other key considerations are to stay close to the guide and to stay enthusiastic (but don’t forget to allow the guide to have some time to themselves as guiding takes a lot of energy and the guide may need a little downtime to recharge). Staying close to the guide makes communication a lot easier as it is often hard to talk at distance with rushing water or the wind in the background. Approaching the water close to the guide is also often tactically important, allowing you to get a quick presentation onto a fish. While many guides work hard, remember that it is a team effort and you should aim to be at your best too – rested and relaxed and keen. Guides are not mind readers so talk to the guide about how you are feeling and your experience and expectations so that you stay on the same page.
Hiring a guide is not cheap but I highly recommend it. It’s the best way to quickly learn new techniques and locations, and to push yourself just a little beyond your comfort level. Glean as much as you can from your guide as time with them is precious. But above all, have fun!
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