Do-It-Yourself New Zealand, Part II: Gear

[Editor’s note: This is the second of a four-part series by Toby Swank (originally published in the early days of to help the adventurous angler with planning a self-guided trip to New Zealand’s South Island.]

Last Hill

Since you often must walk long distances to to find perfect water in New Zealand, 
you need to make sure you have all the right gear with you at all times.

photo by Toby Swank

New Zealand trout fishing is just like trout fishing anywhere else, except for the times when it’s not! Having the proper gear is essential for success anywhere, but it’s more so in New Zealand. Striking the proper balance between having too much and just the right amount will make the difference between spending hours  sorting through everything and enjoying valuable time on the water. Over the years, I have developed a system that has worked very well for me, so that I feel like I have everything I need without the metaphorical kitchen sink.

It all starts with the luggage. Airline weight restrictions have made big duffle bags the perfect choice for carrying all your gear while keeping weight issues to a minimum. (I use an  Orvis Safe Passage Rolling duffel.) I typically check all of my fishing gear, and I have never had any issues with having it all arrive safely. I prefer to devote my carry on to things that I would have a hard time replacing in a couple of days, such as cameras, prescriptions, a change of clothes, travel rod, and critical documents. 

The main differences about fishing in New Zealand are that the fish are quite large on average and the conditions are extremely variable. So, you need gear that is going to be versatile and dependable. As far as rods go, you need something that can power cicada patterns through the wind, as well as making delicate spring creek style presentations. The typical cast in New Zealand is relatively short, 30-40 feet, with plenty of opportunities well inside 20 feet. Perhaps the hardest aspect to master are those short casts with 12- to 18-foot leaders. I typically take a a 9-foot 5-weight, with a 9-foot 6-weight as a backup for those insanely windy days and in case I decide to try some streamer fishing along the way. Finally, I always take a 7-piece rod with me in my carry-on and throw it in my pack just about everyday. Nothing worse than being 6 miles from the car with a broken rod, and the travel model allows me to bring a third rod without taking up too much space.

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Although wet-wading is the norm, lightweight waders come in handy for rainy or blustery days. The vest & backpack system ensures you can carry everything you need.

photo by Toby Swank

Having the ideal rod is the most important part of the whole gear equation.  Your favorite reel, with a good drag system, will work fine. Then you’ll need a weight-forward line in a lo-viz color, such as olive or gray.

Other necessities—such as leaders, tippets, floatant, etc.—are identical to what I use in any trout-fishing scenario. Take an ample stock of 9-foot leaders in 3X and 4X and then simply add tippet to get 12- to 18-foot leaders. Fly shops are far and few between in New Zealand, so I’m always sure to have more than enough of the “consumables.”  Gel and desiccant floatants are equally essential for dry-fly fishing. Pack a couple hemostats, nippers, zingers, and a nail-knot tools. Finally, don’t leave home without some white poly cord to use as a strike indicator, Loon’s UV Knot Sense (comes in handy for everything from wader repair to fly repair), and a wide assortment of flies.

Recommended fly selections for New Zealand are typically pretty basic, as the rivers are relatively sterile when compared to many of the waters in the US. However, I prefer to take a wide range of flies so that I feel like I’m covered in just about any circumstance. The basic aquatic bugs are mayflies and caddisflies, with midges and stoneflies more important in a few places. Terrestrial patterns such as small hoppers, beetles, and cicadas are also essential in the summer months. I have found that the fish aren’t terribly sophisticated when it comes to patterns, but I’m always prepared for the fish that is feeding selectively. 

Carry a wide range of generic dry fly patterns in sizes 12-16. These would include various Wulff patterns, Klinkhammers, Parachutes, and Hairwings. For nymphs, go with copper or black tungsten weighted nymphs in sizes 14-18. Again, generic patterns such as Pheasant Tails and Hare & Coppers tied in a variety of colors will cover most situations. Always have a few larger stonefly and damselfly nymphs in the box, as well.  Cicadas, beetles, ants, and hopper patterns can all be effective, so carry a box of terrestrials. Fishing streamers—Zonkers and Beadhead Woolly Buggers—often works great, especially in stained or high water. Mouse fishing is one thing that New Zealand is well known for, so carry a few of these for fishing some of the Beech forest streams and lakes.

My NZ Dry Fly Selection

The author’s selection of dry flies includes old stand-by attractors, mayflies, caddisflies, and plenty of larger terrestrials.

photo by Toby Swank

I know that this list is starting to look pretty impressive, but I can easily fit all of this into my vest without breaking my back. I use three fly boxes filled with a wide range of flies that I expect to use on any given day. My “backup” stash of flies is stored in compartment boxes that stay in my backpack. That way I’m not constantly digging for the fly that I need, yet have everything I might need with me at all times. This system of wearing a vest with a small backpack enables me to have all of the essentials close at hand while also allowing room to carry a raincoat, water, lunch, a spare rod, and camera equipment.

New Zealand has been at the forefront of much of the Aquatic Nuisance Species issues, and the country banned felt-sole wading shoes years ago. Any of the new rubber-sole boots—with studs removed—are a perfect for the long walks and little actual wading that you’ll do in New Zealand.  The studs are easy to re-install if you’re going to be doing a lot of wading in a river with shale and bedrock ledges instead of the typical pea gravel bottom found in the majority of the streams in New Zealand. You’ll wet-wade mostly, but lightweight breathable waders pack down easily in the provided stuff sack and come in handy on those surprisingly frequent cool, rainy days.

Rounding out my recommended list of gear are the miscellaneous essentials. The sun is extremely harsh in New Zealand, so wear a Buff and plenty of sunscreen for sun protection. Sun Gloves will protect the tops of your hands from both the sun and the sand flies. Wet wading is the norm during the summer months, yet there are tons of thorny plants, so wear quick drying, lightweight pants on warmer days. Quality optics are absolutely indispensible for sight-fishing in a variety of lighting conditions. A reliable net that has a deep bag can make the difference between landing that fish of a lifetime and coming close. I use nets made by a Kiwi company called McLean’s, as these also have a built in scale so that I can easily weigh the fish while minimizing handling.


This is what all that planning and packing is all about. If you’ve got the right 
equipment, your chances of striking this pose are greatly increased.

photo by Toby Swank

Of course, having the best gear on he planet will do you no good unless you know how to use it properly. Practicing a 20-foot cast with a 15-foot leader in the wind before the trip will pay huge dividends. The ability to quickly convert from a single dry to a double nymph rig is invaluable, as well. Learn to tie both blood knots and double-surgeons knot, so that you can quickly make leader adjustments. At the end of the day, this is all part of the overall experience, so having the correct quality gear will greatly add to satisfaction when everything comes together and that huge trout rises from the bottom to eat your Royal Wulff.

Other installments in the series: 

Do-It-Yourself New Zealand, Part I

Do-It-Yourself New Zealand, Part III

Do-It-Yourself New Zealand, Part IV.

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