Saltwater fly fishing in NZ has seen a rapid rise in popularity over the recent years, and for many, the aggressive tug from saltwater species proves to be an irresistible drawcard to an exciting style of fishing.
Usually seen as the hard way of doing things, saltwater fly fishing is now being recognised as a method that can actually be more effective than conventional gear in a lot of circumstances, as well as a lot more fun.
You're seeing a lot more folks out there on the local flats, rocks, and beaches waving wobbly sticks around and a saltwater fly set and a small box of saltwater flies is becoming more of a staple onboard boats that traditionally have been strictly heavy handed bait and burley affairs.
In this series of articles it's our goal to help demystify some of the jargon and ease the ever daunting “big water” scenario that might scare people away from trying saltwater fly in NZ. These articles should inspire you to not only get you onto the water, but also arm you with the right information to help get you into some fish.
So, read on, take some notes and we'll see you out there!
- NZ Saltwater Fly Fishing Locations
- The Main Saltwater Fly Species
- What Gear Do You Need To Start In Saltwater Fly?
WHERE TO GO SALTWATER FLY FISHING IN NZ
With so many bays and volcanic islands dotted around Auckland has a multitude of salt fly opportunities right on its metropolitan doorstep. Snapper make up a huge component of the catch here; they can be found in surprisingly shallow calm bays, snooping around rocky ledges and are known to sit under the vast work ups of Pilchards and Anchovies.
During Spring, Summer and Autumn Kingfish numbers blossom and will hang around various structure and bait schools. Anybody that hasn’t yet felt the tug of a thug on fly surely has hooking a Kingfish high on their species hit list.
A great starting point for anyone wanting to experience the fun of saltwater fly is to sink a fly down a burley trail, just don’t let the fly purists tell you otherwise. Likewise with the conventional fishos onboard that think you’re taking up their time, they’ll soon see you are having all the fun and be begging for your “silly little fishing rod” in no time.
Inner Harbour Landbased Saltwater Fly Snapper Success
From here with your newfound fish fighting prowess, you can morph into a finely tuned saltwater fly fisherman plucking decent fish from a puddle. Some of the wash fishing for Snapper must be seen to believed, with a few people dialling into this form of fishing just as good as the softbaiters.
You will be amazed at what is on offer locally that most people would usually walk or boat straight past. Just slow down, take your time and use your eyes and ears.
Schooling top-water fish are common and the sight of thousands of fish feeding in close proximity is pretty special but can be equally as frustrating when they key onto the one food source you don’t have in your box!
Auckland Marker Kingfish Five Minutes From The CBD
Explosive takes from kingfish while fishing poppers on the legendary Auckland markers will be etched into your retinas for weeks, if not months and years to come so try plugging away around the edges of these schools. Be warned, you will cast a lot!
BAY OF PLENTY
Considered as some of the finest saltwater flats fishing on offer this would be best approached with a few trips under your belt first. It can be a soul destroying place at times and often will involve staring into the water for hours on end willing a fish to materialise from somewhere, only to blow the shot or have a suspicious fish flip you off in a millisecond.
Tauranga Flats Hoodlum Holds A Nice Kingfish
This high risk, high reward aspect will consume you like the finest Colombian does to a High St finance broker. For the 5th largest populated city in New Zealand there is a lot of harbour to go around – 200m2 to be exact, with a fair portion of these flats accessible on foot at many points from Tauranga to Waihi.
A small boat will get you there quicker and give you options if the fish don’t show or the wind gets pesky but it’s not a total prerequisite as some of the best flats fishing is in thigh deep water and easily waded within 10 mins of the city.
Kahawai Is The People's Fish
There is also great inshore fishing for Snapper with schooling Kahawai and Trevally an often occurrence. Once again the Kingfish are present around these schools at times and also have a good profile on the local reef systems.
Be prepared to get your arse handed to you as some of these fish are big and know exactly where the sharpest shallowest rock is on their reef, with the two world record Kings being taken not far from here its little wonder the fish win some of the battles, especially on fly!
Over the warmer summer months schools of Skipjack Tuna can present a fast paced form of fly fishing, quite the alternative of still water lake fishing. If you like driving boats erratically and throwing big fast casts to Tuna that feed quickly and run even faster then look no further. 1/0 Epoxy body Surf Candies in Pink/Grey, Black/Purple or Natural colours seem to work well.
Tuna have great eyesight so keep your leader to around 9-12ft and roughly 20-30lb max. Billfish are also a potential during these months, this is a whole topic in its own right and should only really be tried by those who are a little bit crazy or experienced.
Another well known flats fishery located in Collingwood at the top of the South Island. Basically the whole fly fishing population of the South relocate here for weeks on end and thrash the water to a foam.
This fishery is a vast expanse and can be prone to Easterlies blowing it out for days on end so study the weather patterns before committing to a trip here. Good numbers of “Ray rider” Kingfish can be found travelling on the backs of the black disc shaped Shorttail Stingrays. Fly patterns to consider are pretty simple with clousers, small poppers and generic crustaceans in size #2-2/0 a sure bet.
Jakub Kanok & A Collingwood Flats Kingfish
As with any flats fishing you must present the fly with some thought, being perpendicular to your quarry and leading the fish by about a meter or two is your best bet. Just make sure you start stripping the fly as it hits the water as these fish are keyed into any movement and will smash anything in a heartbeat, especially if there is some competition among them.
Not trout striking the fish is your next hurdle as years of muscle memory come into play and you will naturally want to lift the rod to set the hook. Simply put - DON’T, just keep stripping until you either get a wicked line burn or you think you’ve given them a good enough yank or two.
If the hook pulls this will also allow you a second chance as the fly stays in the water and gives the fish another opportunity to eat.
NEW ZEALAND’S MAIN SALTWATER FLY SPECIES
KINGFISH | Haku | Seriola lalandi
North Island to mid/upper South, at times further South
Clousers, poppers, crabs, squid
FLY ROD WEIGHTS:
#8 Flats; #10 Structure; #12 Bigger fish/shallow reefs
Jeff Forsee & His Epic Saltwater Fly Kingfish From Pure Fly NZ
Kingfish are New Zealand’s premier sportfish and readily take a multitude of fishing methods. Found in shallow water flats and bays to depths of 200m and most abundant around the North Island and also parts of the South.
Largely renowned for their strength and dirty fighting tactics Kingfish take no prisoners and provide a great challenge to the fly angler whether it’s the flats or inshore reefs.
SNAPPER | Tāmure | Pagrus auratus
North Island to upper South Island
Environmental scavengers willing to chase down baitfish
FLY ROD WEIGHTS:
#6 Stealthy presentations; #7-8 Rough terrain; #8-10 Wash & high foul areas
Yoshi & An Auckland Snapper On Fly
Most abundant in depths from 15-60m but also found in quiet shallow water areas, harbours and down to 200m Snapper are New Zealand’s bread and butter recreational fish.
Comfortably at home in a wide range of habitats including rocky reefs, sandy/muddy bays or mangrove edges. Snapper favour warmer waters and tend to be found mostly around the North Island and parts of the South.
They are an opportunist scavenger so a thoughtfully presented fly should get their attention fairly easily.
KAHAWAI | Kahawai | Arripis trutta
Throughout New Zealand with bigger populations in the North Island
Baitfish, krill, crabs/small flounder
Clousers, poppers, tiny krill flies - pink/red
FLY ROD WEIGHTS:
#1-6 Light tackle; #6-8 Bigger schooling fish; #10 Oceanic Kahawai
One Of The Best Kahawai Sessions Ever
Kahawai school together in large groups and can indicate feeding activity from a number of other species present also. They will readily take a fly but also prove very frustrating at times with numerous refusals before you crack the code.
Kahawai are the perfect fish to hone your salt fly skills on and provide great aerial displays often. Once almost wiped out by commercial fishing Kahawai are making a strong comeback in New Zealand waters and should not be underestimated.
Check out a previous post on some other alternative species to target with saltwater fly in NZ.
GETTING STARTED WITH THE RIGHT SALTWATER FLY GEAR
First of all, you are going to need some gear, this can be as fancy as you like or simply a pair of boardies, barefeet with a rod, reel and a handful of flies on a bluebird summers day.
But, let’s face it the saltwater environment and its inhabitants can be harsh, so it makes sense to have gear that is capable of receiving a beating on the regular.
Taking a knife to a gun fight simply isn’t wise, so make sure your investment is up to the task at hand.
SALTWATER FLY RODS
A really good starting point is a fast action 9ft 9wt, this will cover a lot of bases and be strong enough to deal to some surprisingly large fish with the right techniques. The added advantage is you won’t wear yourself out casting all day with a set up like this.
However, a great starting option is that trusty Tongariro #8 outfit that you flog the crap out of over Winter, don’t be shy just check your backing connection is up to the task of being pulled on for a longer period of time by something a bit meaner than a trout.
Once you get the bug the Primal MEGA range is an affordable offering with great componentry sitting on a great high modulus fighting taper and backed by Primal’s quick fix warranty.
Alternatively, you could go for the cream and opt for the award-winning Scott Sector, a rod that feels light and alive in the hand and tracks effortlessly well, yet comes to the party with some serious low down grunt when the going gets tough. Plus the Ceracoil guides hold their shape and will return to original if bent, great for those oopsie incidents or times you and the rod get dragged over the gunwales.
The Saltwater Fly Rod Dream Team
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A SALTWATER FLY REEL
If you’ve ever seen an aspirin dissolve in water then perhaps you better take notice for your next saltwater fly reel purchase. Simply put, a fly reel is not just there to hold your line, in the salt it will get a workout, you will see your backing and you will love every minute of it.
Without going into an extensive gear freak breakdown of every nut and bolt we have decided a few key aspects to consider would be more beneficial.
Drool Inducing Custom Abel SDS Saltwater Reel
It’s often said the first 1/3 of the fight is played on the reel – namely the drag, the second third on rod angles and finally it comes to the skill of the angler in the final moments before securing your prize.
A pissing contest over who has the stronger drag rating is pointless, what you are after is a silky smooth drag that won’t bind up under immense pressure and be able to perform this task time and time again without missing a beat.
Sealed drags are a common feature in the salt arena and especially handy for those that like to swim with their gear or constantly brine their reels.
Super Lightweight, Large Arbor Lamson Litespeed M
This is the coating that will keep the elements at bay and your new reel with a showroom shine that will last for years to come. It also provides a hard coated surface that will prove impervious to scratches and gives you peace of mind for the lifetime of the reel.
Ross Evolution R Salt
Reels machined from solid billet aluminium are far stronger than a cast reel so it makes sense to keep this in mind. The forces from a rampaging pelagic fish are something to behold, a reel that is badly designed and machined will soon become apparent as the spool empties at a rate of knots and vibrates so badly it will eventually blow apart.
WHICH SALTWATER FLY LINES DO YOU NEED?
Where do we start? Possibly the easiest way of thinking about this is asking yourself how you intend to fish. Will you be fishing the surface or deeper water? Then break your line choice down to a punchy shooting styled line or something that delivers flies with more tact and finer presentations.
Unless the water is seriously cold year round where you intend to fish, then you can quite happily fish the tropical range of lines. Given most of the action is between spring and autumn you can expect water temps to be warm enough to not greatly affect line suppleness, and once it's summer there's no worries at all.
FLOATING FLY LINES
Great for the flats and fishing slower methods that don’t require the fly to sink much more than a foot or two. The Airflo Tropical Punch, as the name suggests, is a line that will deliver bulkier flies and deal with wind well.
Whereas the Airflo SuperFlo Bonefish floating line is tailored toward finer presentations and aims to deliver smaller lighter flies to fish with spooky tendencies.
INTERMEDIATE FLY LINES
An intermediate saltwater fly line is an excellent all rounder, from fishing baitfish patterns to deeper sunken clousers on channel edges. It’s even a fantastic line for poppers as it pulls the popper under and grabs a good gulp of air.
Another great attribute of an intermediate line is that it will sink under any surface chop and keep you more direct to your fly. The Airflo Flatsmaster Intermediate tip is an ideal go to line for most of what you'd like to do in NZ.
PRO TIP – a floating running line section is great for anybody wading as it will stay out of any snags and your feet.
Not so much of a fly line but The Intermediate Line is a great saltwater fly podcast with decidedly average banter.
SINKING FLY LINES
Use these for getting down and dirty when the fish just won’t come up or they typically inhabit the deeper reefs and structure. For this type of big, deep, scary stuff you can’t go past the Airflo Depthfinder Big Game shooting head line.
WHICH ROD WEIGHT IS BEST FOR SALTWATER FLY IN NZ?
The fact that any fish needs to eat at some stage of their life means you can safely say it can be caught on fly, just think about your local species and ways they are targeted by other methods. Trying to emulate their food source and present a fly to them with a “match the hatch” based mindset can then see good results.
Bear in mind it is difficult and there will be failings before you make some inroads. Whatever you do be wary of chasing fish that are typically hard to catch without a spear or a net (mullet comes to mind here).
LIGHT TACKLE SALTWATER FLY
Scaling your equipment to your intended quarry means not only better chances of capture but also an even fight between you and the fish (be mindful of not drawing out the battle unfairly on the fish though).
Anything from a 1wt to 4wt would be considered light and makes catching “baitfish” a whole load of fun when nothing much else is on offer that day.
GENERAL PURPOSE SALTWATER FLY
Everyone should eventually aim to have a selection of 6-12wts in their quiver but if you had to boil it all down an 8 and a 10 would tick a lot of boxes and cover most of your bases for a day on the salt quite safely.
There are not many species that can’t be successfully targeted and stopped with a good outfit in this weight range and it’s a safe bet to use these weights as a starting point in your salt fly journey as you’ll have a lot of fun.
HEAVY TACKLE SALTWATER FLY
Not for the faint hearted or ill prepared, unless your middle name is Lucky, the chance to go toe to toe with big pelagic species is one not to be taken lightly. This is the home of 12-16wts and some serious amounts of backing.
Just the thought of winding 400 plus metres of backing on by hand is enough to put most people off, but don’t let us stop you…
ADDITIONAL SALTWATER FLY GEAR
As mentioned at the start of this article, saltwater fly fishing in New Zealand shouldn't be a complicated affair and you can get some outstanding results by keeping the tackle side of things very simple.
There are however a few small things that can help with efficiencies on the water, keep you safe from the sun, or are just really nice things to have. Here are a few of our favourites.
A set of pliers are good for crushing barbs, securing knots and getting flies out of hard-to-reach places (plus humans).
SUN PROTECTION CLOTHING
The Solarflex range from Simms is lightweight and has a superior UPF 50 rating.
A darker colour under the brim will help cut down glare, and go for a longer brim flats style peak to provide maximum protection.
Polarised is a must, not only to help you spotting fish but it will protect your eyes from harsh glare and that wayward fly your mate is hucking. I've been a longtime fan of Smith Optics for my saltwater fly fishing needs.
The World's Most Used Saltwater Fly Image
Anything from waders, to a pair of flats boots you need to protect your feet from cuts and against twisted ankles. It always pays to have a saltwater specific set of wading gear in addition to your freshwater gear.
Simms Flats Sneakers
WATERPROOF FLY BOX
C&F make some of the best fly boxes around, their saltwater range is no exception.
C&F Waterproof Saltwater Fly Box
PACKS & BAGS
Stay tuned for more follow up articles where we'll be taking a deeper dive into specific topics like the essential knots and how to tie them, get to know your saltwater flies, and some insights from my hours spent guiding and fishing on Tauranga Harbour.
ABOUT LUCAS ALLEN:
Lucas Allen is Manic Tackle Project's Community Manager & Account Guy, but is probably better known as Tauranga's premier saltwater fly guide operating King Tide Salt Fly. Lucas has a depth of fishing knowledge starting from his days as a grommet eating glo bugs, through to today where he works, lives and breathes all things fishy.