So you’ve found yourself near the south of the South Island in Otago, a region filled with enough landscape variation to keep you occupied for a lifetime (or a holiday - if you’re just passing through). If you’re anything like us, you’ll love the weathered mountains, alpine herb fields, remote beaches and fast-flowing rivers. And you’ll be searching for the best places to go fly fishing near Otago.
While you’re in the area, you’ll never be far away from an incredible fly fishing opportunity. Surrounded by productive coastal streams as well as the famous Taiera and Pomahaka rivers, let’s explore the best fly fishing locations near Otago.
1. The Southern Lakes - Wakatipu, Wanaka & Hawea
You’ll find some of New Zealand’s most diverse waters down south - a “fishing paradise” some may say. By some, we mean us and the rest of the Otago fly fishing community. This stunning trio of lakes, Wakatipu, Wakana and Hawea, are a must-visit, as they’re teeming with salmon, rainbow and brown trout.
Lake Wakatipu (3-hour drive via State Hwy 6)
A well-stocked glacial lake surrounded by mountains and fed by a collection of rivers that hold their own as key fisheries, Lake Wakatipu is defined by rugged terrain and decent-sized salmon and trout. The spot goes hand-in-hand with trolling, the technique anglers tend to adopt here for the best results.
Lake Wanaka (less than a 3-hour drive via State Hwy 85)
A year-round destination, the crystal clear Lake Wanaka is set amongst breathtaking mountains. It houses self-sustaining populations of salmon and trout, attracting experienced fly fishers that like a challenge (and ideally have a boat).
Lake Hawea (less than a 3-hour drive via State Hwy 85)
At around 57km long, Lake Hawea is large, deep, and home to a good population of brown and rainbow trout - as well as some quinnat salmon. Head to the Hunter River at the northern end of Lake Hawea and you won’t be disappointed. Plus, the lake’s open all year round, so if you’re twiddling your thumbs through the winter months, why not brave it?
2. The Clutha River (2 ½ hour drive via State Hwy 85)
Brimming with sea-run and resident brown trout, Clutha is open for fishing throughout the year. If you’re out for salmon, head here between January and April (you’ll want to fish downstream near the main road from Milton to Alexandra).
The impressive size of this river makes it a playground of opportunities for experienced fly fishers in Otago. This turquoise river is the longest in the South Island and the swiftest in New Zealand. What a show-off.
3. Taieri River (15-minute drive via State Hwy 85)
There’s a good reason fly fishing is the most popular method of catching fish in the Taieri. Home to a good stock of brown trout, you’ll likely have a successful day with wet or dry fly fishing, as long as you caste accurately at the narrow parts of the river, such as the upper reaches.
Access the river by vehicle, since its swampy areas can make it a challenge to reach it on foot. Otherwise, the second largest river for fly fishing in Otago offers just the right conditions and terrain variety for a memorable day out.
4. Makarora River (3 ½ hour drive via State Hwy 6)
Grab a sink-tipped line and whitebait imitation when you take your spot by the clear waters of the Makorara, where you’ll find plenty of brownies, rainbow trout and salmon. Set against a backdrop of beech forest and high mountains, this scenic spot is best around the start and end of the season, when competition from anglers is at its lowest.
5. Lake Onslow (2 ½ hour drive via State Hwy 87)
A man-made lake that’s perfect for dry fishing when the weather picks up, Lake Onslow has a good stock of wild brown trout and is best accessed with a 4WD. Plan your venture around the weather, since a calm day at Lake Onslow makes all the difference!
6. Poolburn Dam (2-hour drive via State Hwy 87)
Otago Daily Times encourages you to pack a picnic if you’re going flyfishing in the Poolburn Dam. “It is worth the trip for the scenery alone,” the publication says. “This 300ha irrigation dam is surrounded by spectacular moonlike rock formations in a stark tussock landscape under huge skies.”
Your best bet is to fly fish close to the shore during the warmer months, when there’s no shortage of trout and koura that get friendly. Situated on the Ida Valley side of the Rough Ridge Range, access Poolburn Dam via the Poolburn Hotel. Near the start of the season, it’s recommended you use dry flies such as brown and green beetle, Royal Wulff and Coch-Y-Bonddu. When the season is coming to a close, imitate adult diving beetles using Black Gnat and Peveril of the Peak.
7. Upper Manorburn Dam (less than a 2-hour drive via State Hwy 87)
You’ll find the Upper Manorburn Dam at the south end of the Ida Valley. With a shoreline of 14 km, there’s enough rainbow trout to go around! Just like Poolburn Dam, the best access point is near the Poolburn Hotel.
Feathered lures prevail early on in the season and at the height of summer, there’s an abundant cicada hatch alongside midge hatches at dawn and dusk. November and December are the best months to head here, but you can also take on the smaller bays in March and April.
Fly fishing in Otago? Take your handcrafted fly rod with you
There’s really no shortage of lakes, rivers and fisheries in Otago. Make the most of it by fly fishing with the best fly rod you’ve ever cast. Epic Fly Rods is all about adding that little bit extra that takes your rod from ordinary to extraordinary. Trust us: You won’t want to go fly fishing in Otago without your Epic.
Whether connection backing to fly line, fly line to leader, or sometimes even tippet to leader, you will use the versatile loop-to-loop connection frequently. Pay special attention when closing the connection so that t forms a square knot and not a firth hitch, which can weaken the connection
Three Useful Fly Casts You’ve Probably Never Seen Fly rodders are among the most resourceful and innovative creatures on earth. If there is a shady nook in the mangroves, a fishy-looking eddy, or a bait bust in a tidal rip, an accomplished angler will find a way to deliver his fly.