When Australian fly fisherman Matthew Daniel headed to New Zealand in early March 2017 it was for one purpose; to sample the world class flats fly fishing for Yellowtail Kingfish aka Seriola lalandi lalandi. New Zealand is likely the only place on Earth where at certain times of the year, these apex predators venture into the shallows and patrol water below the knee line. This is when they become premier fly fishing targets and “kings” from 5lbs to 50lbs have been caught in mere inches of water.
As Matt outlined to me during a correspondence, he would normally head to NZ for the world class trout fishing on offer here and in that he is not alone. It is no secret that as a fly fishing destination New Zealand offers some of the best sight fishing on the planet. Top that off with the diversity of the natural settings and proximity to other outdoor activities in the small towns and cities and you can see why it is up there with Patagonia, Argentina or Alaska on a touring fly flingers “to do” list. This makes the activity a healthy earner for the NZ economy and something that has no doubt helped put the tourism dollar ahead of the primary industries dollar for the first time in recent years. Add this newly discovered saltwater fly fishing experience to the list and you have something extra and iconic to the New Zealand fly fishing scene that those other destinations cannot offer.
Matt didn’t come alone in this adventure, he brought three other keen fly fishing mates with him to throw chicken feathers in the salt in the hope of hooking a yellow and green freight train.
What Matt didn’t know is that a few months before he arrived, fly fishing guide Alex Waller was guiding a client who caught a kingfish in the same area Matt was bound for. The fish was tagged and released. The tagging was undertaken as part of a pilot tagging operation initiated by myself. The program is focused on those kings that dwell in the shallow water environments around NZ and sought out by fly anglers wanting to experience world class sight fishing. You can read about it here -> Project TagAKingOnFly. These fish have not previously been part of mainstream tagging operations and not a lot is really known about their movements. Generally speaking they are smaller fish but their value as a flats target to a fly angler is priceless. Priceless may not be the right term anymore, read on.
Back to early March 2017. Matt Daniel and his fly fishing party have arrived in Aotearoa and are headed to their destination in search of the king. I’m not going to make this another fishing tale flooded with metaphors to get you in the moment. The guts is chicken feathers were flung and yellowtail kingfish were caught and released. Sizes of fish ranged between 62 to 82cm and all brought their captors big smiles and great memories. One fish however was special. On one day, with one cast, Matt Daniel hooked into a 77cm king that had a surprise for him. It had a tag in it. Matt recorded the information on the tag and after a few photos, released the fish back home. Turns out this was the fish that Alex had tagged a few months before.
When Matt contacted me about the fish I was keen to know what he came to New Zealand for and what he estimated he spent on his trip. I’ve covered off why he came here in the opening line. Matt looked into the costing for the trip and estimated each angler would have spent about $2500 NZD. That’s a total spend of 10 parts to a piano or in simple terms, $10,000 NZD.
There is no doubt a good portion of that money would have filtered through to the local community where they visited and spent their time fly fishing. A community of around 400 people that is new to the activity of saltwater fly fishing has seen the economic impact on local tourism and if more stories similar to Matt’s become common place that will grow. Recalling that this is the same fish that has been caught twice now by a touring angler as the tag has proved. It is still swimming around, ready to earn again like it’s freshwater cousin the brown trout that draws many international fly fishing tourism dollars to our shores. Maybe we can start to put a price on this fish now?
With growing pressure on every primary resource in New Zealand and a shift [hopefully] towards community based management of some of these resources it is not hard to see how this scenario benefits stakeholders in small towns around New Zealand. Fly fishers traditionally have strong views of conserving angling resources and many fly fishing ecotourism destinations have come about due to the activity. In my opinion conserving fly fishing ecotourism should be at the table when decisions around Yellowtail Kingfish management and their habitats in particular are being made. Learning more about this group of kings is part of that story.
Thanks Matthew Daniel for coming to New Zealand with your fly fishing mates. Thanks for sharing your story and glad you experienced some of the best of New Zealand fly fishing.
Flytackle NZ Ltd.