A very special fly-fishing experience in Central Otago’s wilderness

January 27, 2021

A very special fly-fishing experience in Central Otago’s wilderness

James fly-fishing the western tributaries of Lake Taupo. I’m sitting on the beach having a chardonnay!

Our son James turned 30 during 2020 and is a passionate angler. Having fly-fished since he was five, our gift to him was a weekends guided fly-fishing in the Central Otago/Southland region, with me.

Having previously spent years holidaying in Kuratau near the fly-fishing mecca of Turangi, we know the local rivers well. For 25 years, James and I enjoyed fishing excursions on the Tongaririo, Taranga- Taupo rivers and smaller tributares. We have recently relocated our holiday destination to Lake Hayes, not far from Queenstown, so are on a mission to get to know the local rivers and make more lasting memories together.

With a couple of Covid lockdowns in 2020 the birthday plans were postponed, but here we are in 2021, excited and ready to go.

Taking an unusually active interest in the Meterological Service, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I looked at the forecast as good weather was essential to our fishing. On Friday night, our fishing guide gave us the OK. Our plan was to helicopter to the Wilkin River in the Mount Aspiring National Park. The Wilkin River flows east and joins the Makarora about 10 kilometres above Lake Wanaka. The backcountry is incredibly remote so rather than walk in for 12 hours, choppering was a preferable option.

Bound for the Wilkin River – a happy man!

Without a cloud in the sky, we gently lifted off gaining altitude as we hovered over Wanaka township. Lakes Wanaka and Hawea quickly came into view and we headed east to find the elusive trout. Rising over barren mountain faces and craggy peaks, the feeling of solitude was becoming a reality.

Flying over Lake Wanaka

The Wilkin River from the air

Twenty minutes later, we approached the river. The water clarity was exceptional with each pebble and boulder visible in the sapphire blue, crystal clear water.

Keen to get a line in, James enjoys the crystal clear water of the Wilkin River

Loving every minute of our time together

Having learnt to fly-fish in the Taupo region and the Tongariro Central Plateau, we knew the fly-fishing would be different. There trout move through the rivers, either heading upstream to spawn or heading back into Lake Taupo to refeed and put on condition. Here in these Southern rivers, the fish are territorial, and the trout don’t travel as much. With the gin-clear water, they could also see us. So to successfully fish we crept up the river bed. With sunlight on the water and a good pair of polaroid sunglasses, James sees a fish. Once spotted, it takes an excellent angler, like James to cast 10 metres upstream, landing the fly just above the fish, so it drifts past in the trout’s line of sight.

Spotting the elusive trout and casting just above it

The cast is good, but the fish doesn’t take it. So he tries again, and again. A little more to the right. A little more upstream and then, whamo, game on. The fish jumps, and it’s a lovely 5 lb brown. Its swims towards James and he quickly winds his reel. It sees us and is spooked and runs ferociously back into the deeper water. Our guide was ready with the net as James tries to guide it in, but it’s off again. James backs up the riverbank, holding the rod high. The fish is exhausted, and the guide gently slips the net under him.


A beautiful brown trout

Five pound brown trout in excellent condition

Wetting his hands, James extracts the fly from his mouth, and after a mandatory photoshoot, he holds the jack by its tail as it gathers its energy and takes to the deeper water.

Releasing the trout back to the river


If you are new to fishing in the Central Otago region, here is a great website to consult.

Where to fish in Otago

You will also need a fishing license, easily purchased online.

Fishing licenses

2021-01-28T11:17:03+13:00January 27th, 2021|NEW ZEALAND|

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  1. Andreja Ilgo January 28, 2021 at 3:35 am - Reply

    A great blog about fishing. I always enjoy reading your blogs, I hope you write a book one of these days…
    Gretings from Ljubljana.

    • Jane Jeffries January 28, 2021 at 11:19 am - Reply

      Lovely to hear from you and thank you.

  2. Jenni January 28, 2021 at 7:20 am - Reply

    A special experience indeed. What a wonderful country we live in.

    • Jane Jeffries January 28, 2021 at 11:20 am - Reply

      Yes, we are so lucky to be able to move so freely when the rest of the world is in lockdown.

  3. Helen Tippler January 28, 2021 at 7:21 am - Reply

    Loved this blog Jane. What a beautiful experience to share.

    • Jane Jeffries January 28, 2021 at 11:18 am - Reply

      Thanks Helen, we had the best time.

  4. Karen Buzby January 29, 2021 at 3:14 am - Reply

    I always enjoy your blog posts! I feel like I am traveling with you, (and James this time!) You photos capture your country’s exquisite beauty as well as your “joie de vivre!” Belated Happy 30th Birthday James!

    • Jane Jeffries April 21, 2021 at 5:31 pm - Reply

      Hi Karen, so sorry for the late reply, but lovely to hear from you.I’ve been a little busy over the last 6 weeks as Anna has had a beautiful girl, Belle and James and Jess had a daughter 2 days ago, still unnamed. Hope you are all well. Jxxx

  5. Pat Perry February 11, 2021 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    Great you could share such a fun time with your son. The river looks amazing as does the Trout. Mother and son look pretty good too. A birthday to remember for James.

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