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.
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.
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.
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.
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 www.elevenexperience.com
Please feel free to contact me with any questions – firstname.lastname@example.org