Piero Bertocchi, Assistant Defence Adviser, Australian High Commission in New Zealand
For a fly fisherman, receiving a three year posting to the Australian High Commission in Wellington, New Zealand was like a dream come true. As a fishing friend of mine said – ‘that’s some job!’ Indeed it has been a true privilege to live, work and play in this wonderful country. But now in my final year here, it is with a tinge of regret, I contemplate my last trout season during the posting. With the opening of the trout season (1 October) rapidly approaching, I have been busy tying flies and preparing my gear for the fishing ahead but also reflecting on the journey already travelled.
In the spirit of the Anzac tradition there is a great sense of mateship between our two countries but there has always been some one-upmanship as well. Now, I will argue the toss (diplomatically of course) with the Kiwis on certain things, even to boldly believe that the Wallabies, on their day, are a finer outfit than the All Blacks. However, there is one thing that I do concede without reservation – that New Zealand has the finest trout fishing to be had anywhere in the world. Sure, in Australia, we have some world class lake fishing in Tasmania and there are some delightful rivers in the Snowy Mountains and North East Victoria but as a fly fishing destination it doesn’t compare to New Zealand.
New Zealand is full of pristine streams, rivers and lakes that mark this enormously beautiful country. Charmingly described in the book Distant Waters, ‘not until you get up in the sky does the magnitude of New Zealand’s fishing potential really strike you. Streams flow down every knuckle of every wooded hill on the North Island. Like lions’ spines, arid mountains ridge the South Island, and from them flow streams as well. Spring creeks, rocky burns, meadow rills, canyon chutes, glacial river that lace the desert – the country is veined and capillaried with water, almost all of it holding trout.’ Couple this with New Zealand’s unhurried and pastoral lifestyle and it is easy to see why every Kiwi seems to have an angler in their family and, to be honest, fishing, along with hunting and tramping, seems to be part of New Zealand’s hereditary makeup.
The other feature that makes New Zealand such an exciting fishing destination is that the trout can be quite large. These sizable, wily trout grow big for good reason. New Zealand trout are renowned for being masters of their environment, superbly camouflaged and acutely alert to any hint of danger. Accordingly, the fishing is not easy by any stretch of the imagination but highly challenging and rewarding especially when you catch them. Importantly, you will find most local and overseas anglers proudly embrace the best practice of catch and release, which allows the fisheries to remain sustainable.
The fly fishing in New Zealand is mainly sight fishing – meaning the angler aims to spot the fish before casting to it. For first-time anglers to New Zealand, along with adjusting to the nuances of sight fishing, choosing where to go can also be difficult. With an abundance of trout fishing waters, ranging from small crystal-clear streams to large backcountry rivers it can be a little overwhelming. Although I chose to learn the ropes myself, first-time anglers with limited time would be wise to choose a local guide. Having a local guide can mean the difference between an awesome experience and a fishless one.
Above all else, New Zealand is unique in that you can travel for an hour or so from any major city or town and be fishing for wild trout in pristine surrounds in total solitude. I have been fortunate enough to have made many precious and unforgettable memories fishing in New Zealand, sometimes fishing with good friends and other times alone. But the thing they seemed to have in common, the fishing always takes you to beautiful places.
Piero Bertocchi has been the Assistant Defence Adviser to New Zealand since January 2014 and, despite his best efforts, doesn’t fly fish nearly enough.