Out of the corner of my eye a black shape moved near the edge of my visibility into the crystal clear water of the tidal flat. The shape continued on its angled path towards the shore. I warn my client George that there is an incoming Ray. George is now alert to attention and looking toward me for an indication of which direction our target is coming from. It had been one of the longest waits we had that day. It had been 10 minutes since the last Ray had made an appearance. The ray moved closer to the shore. I stared hard into the water above and around the ray looking for the telltale yellow tail of our quarry. A flicker of movement and a flash of silver tell me we have found what we are looking for. George asks if it has riders, I promptly reply in the affirmative. I use the elevation of the roadside to search the flats. I can see the incoming rays from a great distance using this method. George can now see target from his position down on the beach. He moves along the shore trying to predict the Rays path to the shore. I see a vivid yellow tail break the surface above the Ray. We are now both excited and know that we will soon be hooked up to second Kingfish of the day. The Ray is now within casting distance. The set up is unchanged from our earlier encounter, a chartreuse clouser attached to a straight 20lb mono leader of about 10 feet long. George strips a few strips of line from the reel and begins to load the Sage One. One false cast and the fly sails out and splashes down hard on the water to the right of the Ray. The next part happens quickly but the result just as before a Kingfish had eaten our fly and was heading for the horizon.
I have always had a fascination with saltwater fly fishing. I caught Kahawai from the Buller river breakwater on a grey ghost fly when I was younger. The idea of catching the bigger pelagic fish in the South Island had never occurred to me. To me these fish were just very occasional visitors to our waters and could not be targeted on a fly let alone conventional gear.
Over the past year I spent a lot of time investigating the possibility of flats style fishing around the top of the South Island. There are huge areas of tidal flats in around the Nelson region. The water is as clear as any of the islands in the tropics. The key to success revolves around timing and knowing your quarry. I began turning up at the bays and beaches around the times when I believed the fish would be coming into the shallows to feed. I very quickly noticed the relationship between the Rays and the Kingfish. From what I can tell the Kingfish are using the Rays to ambush prey items and in particular, baby flounders. The Rays flush these flounders out from their lies on the bottom and the Kings pounce.
I now firmly believe there is a South Island saltwater fly fishing opportunity. The fact is we have large predatory fish coming up onto these shallow flats in knee deep clear water that are able to be sight fished. This experience must surely rival any of the major saltwater fly fishing destinations around the world. Our Kingfish fight as hard if not harder than most other flats species such as Bonefish and Permit. The takes from these Kings are absolutely spectacular and highly visible. Often these takes are within mere meters of the angler.
New Zealand has so much to offer in regards to saltwater fly fishing. The harbours in the North of the North Island have been treating fly fishermen “in the know” to amazing fishing for Trevally, Kingfish, Snapper and Kahawai for many years. Offshore we are able to reliably target world record sized Stripped Marlin on the fly and huge Kingfish around White Island, The Ranfurly Banks and the Three Kings.
What excites me is the scope for more discoveries to target new species and locations in the salt.
Next season I intend to do a limited amount of guided fishing on the flats around the top of the South Island. I feel this will work best if clients are willing to mix saltwater fishing with fresh water fishing over several days. This gives us options to hit the flats when the tides and light is right and revert back to target the trout when the flats aren’t suitable. It is possible to be fishing the flats and 20 minutes later casting a fly at the biggest brown trout you have ever seen!
So all in all these are exciting times for the fly fishermen that are looking to come down to New Zealand. With all this diversity we are spoiled for choice. So to experience all the NZ has to offer on the fly, contact me to see if I can meet your needs: