New Zealand Part One – SPRING

I’ve been in the right place at the right time quite a few times in my life. My last trip to New Zealand must be about the best when it comes to fortuitous situations. The amazing trout streams in New Zealand were closed to foreign anglers for two seasons because of Covid. Guess who was sent to Cedar Lodge, the first week of the season in late November and early December of 2022 to check out the streams and the fishing? If you said, ‘the luckiest guy in the world’, you would be correct. Cedar Lodge is on the South Island, close to Wanaka and fairly close to Queenstown.

Located in the Makarora River Valley and surrounded by wilderness rivers in every direction, this is the perfect destination for a helicopter fly out, fly fishing operation. Combine the location with guides, some who have been guiding at Cedar Lodge since the 1990’s, and you have the blueprint for a world-class experience. It just so happens that my employer, Eleven Angling, owns Cedar Lodge and my ‘work trip’ was perfect timing for finding many large trout in their most naïve state.

Cedar Lodge guests and their guide are dropped off in the morning, every morning, for a day in dry fly paradise. 
What is more stunning, the fish, the water, or the landscape? It’s all mind boggling.
Caution and quiet. Stealth will prevail. 
Incoming and outgoing. Morning departures and afternoon returns. If the fishing wasn’t enough, the helicopter flights through New Zealand’s Southern Alps are the bonus to a perfect day. 

Every day starts with a hearty breakfast, prepared by Chef Gordon. I must admit I binged on the eggs Benedict and smoked salmon, with a side of fruit and yogurt. We would stagger out to the helicopter in wet wading gear, with a fly rod and a day pack. In a couple minutes we were flying up valleys, over mountains and into the wilderness. Our pre-selected drop-off spots were rotated to rest the water, and in this case, these waters had been rested for two years.

All fishing is done on foot, upstream, with a constant eye on the water ahead. 98% of the fishing is done to a spotted fish. Occasionally, there is a deep run that just begs a cast, even if it’s too deep to spot a fish. Like almost all guided sight fishing trips, whether it is here or in the Bahamas for bonefish, the guide will spot the fish first, 24 out of 25 times. 

Meals prepared by Chef Gordon require at least a five-mile river scramble every day to burn off the calories.
The morning stroll to the helicopter. I’m not sure how many times one would have to do this to have the excitement and anticipation become normal. 
Walk. Spot. Stalk. 

There is no rush to action, as it is best to survey the surroundings for a place to cast from and check out the currents for the best drift and observe the trout’s behavior, as in laying low or actively feeding. After a huddle to discuss tactics, fly selection, presentation, wind, etc., a plan is hatched, and the stalk begins. From a downstream position, and as quietly as possible, the angler works their way into a casting position that allows for about a 40-foot cast.

In whispers, the guide keeps you up to date on the fish’s movements and attitude. With as few false casts as possible, the goal is to land the fly around six feet upstream from the trout and have the end of the fly line land four or five feet downstream of the trout. When your knees are shaking a little, and you are a bit tensed up, and your guide and buddy are watching, this simple equation can be a gut check on your ability to preform under pressure.

Kevin Jurgens, working his dry fly magic. 75F on the South Island, while 31F at his home near Portland, Oregon. 
It’s not all this easy! Some rivers are level with grassy banks and gravel bars, others in the headwaters have more boulder hopping and stream crossings. 
Alternating between brown trout and rainbow trout, with both averaging 3 to 4 pounds. 
Spring trout will add a pound by the fall with a lot more insect activity through the summer months. 
When you come to a fork in the river, take it. Highland pocket water fly fishing at its finest.
A nice rainbow from an alpine stream.
Kevin probes a deep pool with a big ant/beetle-like creation. A fly I use for bluegill back home. 

By the third day it’s not so dramatic, but let’s hope there is always some drama, as that is what’s so cool about the walk-spot-stalk style of fly fishing in New Zealand. When the guide’s net slides under a five- to seven-pound trout, and you receive that heartfelt congratulatory handshake, remember that thing called “happiness”, because this might be one of the happiest moments of your life.

Conversely, there can be sadness, also. You see, your blunders, including making a bad cast, or too much noise, or setting the hook too quick, or snubbing the fish and snapping 4X for no apparent reason. Those missteps will haunt you for the rest of your life. 

A high, bright sun makes spotting fish easier. Well actually, the Cedar Lodge guides make spotting fish easier! Almost always cast upstream, as to stay hidden from the fish’s vision. Then, approach as quietly as possible. Oh, and don’t forget to stay calm! 
The photographer caught a fish! Used the auto timer on an iPhone 14 Pro Max, what a great tool. 
Only about two times did we run a dry-dropper. And then both times the trout took the dry anyway. 
Some trout may require a couple fly changes, with 10 minutes of down time to rest the fish. Generally, we went smaller and more realistic if the bigger attractor pattern was refused. 
Tree ferns, turquoise water, big trout, no people… 
I asked the pilot how long it would take to walk into this spot, and he said, “Four days”. Our flight was 12 minutes from the lodge.
This old warrior refused a size 10 black rubber leg stimulator, but he could not resist a size 18 Parachute Adams. 
Talking about the day, the fish, the flight, the great guides and not one word about politics!!
New Zealand wines and seafood with Cedar Lodge manager Scottie Little, second from the right. 
A few days before Christmas. 

Contributed By

Brian O’Keefe

Unless you live in Australia, New Zealand is a long way from any trout fly fishing culture. Sure, it’s a rather long flight, but that should never be the excuse for not going. Try watching three movies, pop a couple Tylenol PMs, and hopefully sleep. You can even break the trip up by spending a few days in Fiji. And the actual fishing, the casting, etc., is not that difficult. The trout are generally willing, but they will let you know if your presentation was a bit heavy. Just think smooth, and don’t rush that last back-cast. Look at the spot where you want your fly to land, and it will go there. Cedar Lodge guides coach gently, and there are several acres of grass to practice on if you’d like a tune up session. Cedar Lodge is to fly fishing as St. Andrews is to golf. Wonderful traditions, incredible people, and amazing stories. You can find more information at
Please feel free to contact me with any questions – 


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