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Freshwater fishing

Freshwater fishing methods

Other fishing


New Zealand Fly Fishing: Methods and Tackle

Fly fishing is fishing for sports fish, usually trout and salmon, with fly rod and fly reel and line and artificial fly. The flies are designed to represent insects and other aquatic life that fish typically feed on.

In fly fishing the fly carries minimal weight so the means of propulsion comes from the weighted fly line.

The reels used in fly fishing are generally of simple construction, light weight in order to balance the rod, yet robust enough to withstand some hard knocks.

There are several forms of flyfishing - dry fly, wet fly and nymphing - with correspnding equipment needed for each method. Whether you are fishing a small stream, a medium-sized river or a large river or lake will also determine what tackle to use.

  Dry fly fishing

Dry fly fishing refers to the method of fishing a floating artificial fly that either resembles an insect that has landed on the water or one that has just hatched and is preparing to fly away. Usually they are fished by casting upstream and letting the fly drift downstream towards the angler. The fish "rise" to take the fly. This method is particularly effective on warm still evenings when there is an abundance of insect life around.

When dry fly fishing a floating line is needed. The leader is generally between 3 to 5 metres depending on the clarity of the water with a tippet of around 2 to 3 kg. The takes are visible to the angler as the fish takes the fly off the surface so an indicator in this form of fishing is not necessary or desirable.

  Wet fly fishing

Wet fly fishing is usually fished with a sinking line and requires the angler to maintain contact with the lure as it is retreived. Some flies are referred to as wee wets and these are as the name suggests small flies that usually resemble small hatching insects.

Sometimes wet fly fishing refers to the use of larger flies tied to imiatate small fish or other water based life such as crayfish (koura) or tadpoles. Both methods are generally fished by the same method by casting across the current and allowing the line to travel downstream and then retrieved back to the angler.

When fishing "wee wets" a floating or slow sinking line is best as these flies are generally fished just subsurface. As the angler is in contact with the fly an indicator is not necessary as any touch on the fly will be felt.

When using a streamer/lure fly (or wet-lining), many anglers use a fast sinking line with a short leader (of between one to 2 m length) to ensure the lure is retrieved very close to the stream bed.


Nymphing is where a small fly that imitates an emerging or hatching insect is fished below the surface (usually near the bottom of the river). Any "takes" by a fish are recognised when the line moves in an irregular way. Often anglers use a small coloured marker or indicator on the end of the fly line so that any time a fish takes the nymph it is is more easily seen. Nymph fishing requires the use of a floating line that is cast upstream and is allowed to drift freely back with the current. When any indication of a fish taking the fly is observed, the angler needs to strike to set the hook.

When nymph fishing a floating line is needed. The leader is generally between 3 to 5 metres depending on the clarity of the water with a tippet of around 2 to 3 kg. Most anglers when nymph fishing attach an indicator to the leader which will move (hopefully) when the trout takes the nymph as it drifts past them. When the indicator moves or dips below the surface suddenly, the angler needs to strike to ensure the hook is set.

A relatievely new method of nymph fishing called Czech Nymphing has started to gain popularity and can be very effective in fast water.

Small stream fishing tackle

Tactical 4-piece rod


Some anglers use AFTM 3 or 4 weight rods on very small backcountry streams where delicacy of presentation is necessary. Rods are usually shorter in length with between 8 and 8'6 being popular. While the streams may be small the trout are often still large however (and in the headwaters of some of the rivers the fish can be very large indeed) so the rod needs to have sufficient power to be able to handle a trout making a run downstream at speed.

Taimer TL3 7/8 Lite Fly Reel


Reels capable of holding a weight 3-4 line and up to 100 metres of backing are required.

Ridge Line by Airflo

Line, leader and backing

On the small streams a floating line will provide most of the fishing needs. Keep colours muted and neutral as fish do spook when a bright line flashes past when false casting. Also a line capable of very delicate presentation such as a double taper is prefered though the now standard weight forward will be OK.

Keep leaders as long as you are comfortable casting with. Nine foot is an absolute minimum and on some very small clear streams this may need to be double this length to keep the landing fly line away from the fish. Tippets around 2-3 kgs (4 - 7lb) and preferably in flourocarbon.

River fishing tackle

XLS 9ft fly rod


The most popular fly rods for New Zealand conditions have an AFTM rating of between 5 and 7, and are around 9 feet in length. These rods will cover the majority of fishing in New Zealand and if the angler can only bring one rod, something in this range will be ideal.

Taimer TL3 7/8 Lite Fly Reel


Reels need to be capable of holding the flyline and at least 100 metres of backing. On some larger rivers where a good fish charges downstream it can easily take out 100 metres in one long dash.

Ridge Line by Airflo

Line, leader and backing

When fishing many rivers and streams around New Zealand, the water often retains a tinge of colour from the surrounding vegetation. While the headwaters are often crystal clear, many rivers are slightly coloured in their middle and lower reaches. Leaders therefore can be shorter as the fly line is less likely to spook any fish. This is particularly true when the fish are lying deep. Leaders of 9 - 12 feet will work in the majority of situations and tippets should vary according to the size of fish expected. Waters with big fish require tippets of 3kg (6lb) or even heavier while rivers with smaller fish should be fished with 2kg or 4-5lb tippets.

Large river/lake fishing tackle

ICT 4-piece rod



A heavier rod with an AFTM rating of 8 or even higher is sometimes necessary, particularly on the larger rivers where heavily weighted flies are required or when fishing around river mouths for large sea run fish. Some rivers such as the Tongariro require rods capable of casting very heavy nymphs (sometimes called bombs) to get the fly down through the fast current to the fish. Also in some of the windier areas of the country a higher AFTM rated line gives better penetration into the wind. These heavier rods are also ideal for when fishing the river mouths for salmon or sea run trout where distance is of more importance than finesse when casting.

Taimer TX Large Arbor Fly Reel 7/8


Large arbor reels with around 200 metres of backing are best. In some areas such as the tidal reaches of some rivers the fish will make long blistering runs and the angler will need to have sufficient line to be able to have any chance of landing them.

A large arbor ensures that the fly line is not wound onto to the reel in small tight coils.

Ridge Line by Airflo

Line, leader and backing

Again the line choice is dependent on the fishing methods but usually a sinking line is used when fishing lures that are imitating small bait fish. The speed of sink should be determined by the depth of the water (and where the fish are feeding) and the strength of any current. Shooting line and weight forward lines capable of giving good distance into a wind are best. Leaders of around 9 foot are ideal with tippets of at least 3kg or 6lb are necessary.

   Fly fishing flies

Recommended flies for your NZ flybox

New Zealand flyfishing fly box

The artificial fly used to lure the trout when fly fishing generally represents a small aquatic insect, though some of the larger flies also represent small fish or tadpoles, while some dry flies represent terrestrial insects that have landed on the water. Part of the art of fly fishing is matching the fly used to the insect life that the trout are currently feeding on.

See The New Zealand flyfishing fly box for a selection of commonly used flies.

Royal Wulff

Royal Wulff

Dry flies

Dry flies represent insects that are sitting on the surface of the water. This includes insects that may have just hatched or insects returning to the water to lay eggs or other terrestrial insects that have been blown onto the water. Dry flies are particularly useful when trout are rising to take insects of the surface during the evening rise.

For many, dry fly fishing represents the purest form of angling. In reality however, the insects represented by the dry fly make up a very small proportion of most trout 's diet. At the height of summer when large insects such as beetles and cicadas are landing on the water, fish will sometimes ignore all other food sources in favour of them.



Wet flies: Wee wets

Like nymphs, wet flies are fished subsurface but often some movement is imparted to them by the angler or are allowed to swing around in the current. Many are fished just subsurface on rivers, particularly at change of light when they imitate small insects struggling to hatch or insects that have become trapped in the surface film.

Many of the wet flies used in New Zealand are derived from patterns that have been imported from the UK. Because of their size (usually these are tied on hook sizes 12 to 16) they are referred to as "wee wets".

Red Setter

Red setter

Wet flies: Streamers and lures

Streamers are also sometimes referred to as wet flies or lures and generally represent small fish or other aquatic fauna. They are tired on much larger hooks (from size 2 to size 10) and retrieved. The way they are retrieved depends on what they are imitating. Some represent small darting bait fish and so retieved in short sharp bursts while others are retrieved slowly and steadily. Others can imitate freshwater crayfish or even tadpoles.

While they are the most popular flies for use on still waters such as lakes, they also have their place in the larger rivers especially around the lower reaches of the river where many other small fish are present.

Hare and Copper

Hare and Copper


Nymphs are fished subsurface. They imitate emerging insects in their larval form. Nymphs may be fished from the bottom to the surface depending on where the fish are feeding. Normally they are fished upstream and allowed to drift downstream with the current. Little or no movement is imparted to them by the angler. An indicator is genearlly attached to the leader and used to show any "takes" by fish. It is necessary to strike at any indicator movement as takes are generally so soft they are not felt.


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