2021 Pre-Season Update

Copyright 2021 Southflyfisher

Winter floods mean major river changes.

Two ‘mouse years’ in 2019 and 2020, followed by a benign 2020 winter, resulted in the wild New Zealand trout remaining in truly exceptional condition last year. However, this 2021 winter experienced several significant rain events that New Zealand had not seen for 38 years.

The resultant flooding damaged spawning runs, reshaped river courses and the condition of our wild fish stocks is unknown. Damage was regionalised with Central Otago in much better shape than Nelson/Marlborough or the West Coast. We’ll report back soon with an early season update.

The impact of Covid-19 on our borders.

It’s now late August 2021. The New Zealand borders have been sealed since March 2020. At that time, the fishing season abruptly ended as NZ residents were told to ‘shelter-in-place’ to minimize spread of the limited coronavirus outbreak here. The fish got an early reprieve as guides stopped work and overseas bookings were cancelled.

Being deep in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand’s open fishing season is from October to April each year. As the borders stayed locked to inbound non-resident travelers, our wily browns and fighting rainbows saw some very fortunate New Zealand resident anglers, plus a few lucky travelers who were locked inside the country with extended holiday visas for the entire 2020-21 season (a dream outcome for many fly anglers!).

Many kiwis took advantage of the reduced fishing pressure (or made lifestyle choices after being locked down in early 2020) with a sharp lift in freshwater fishing licence sales driven by a resurgence in freshwater angling interest. This growth offset the drop in fishing licenses normally sold to overseas anglers visiting New Zealand each year (previously ~20% of total licence sales).

When the borders finally open to fully vaccinated travellers, likely in late 2022, getting to New Zealand early in the new season and getting off the beaten track will be important to your success.


Rivers remain open to residents in 2021.

Our 2021-22 open fishing season kicks off in a just over a month. The local vaccine program is progressing, and we’re dealing with the Delta variant; the South Island is Covid-free at the time of writing. Auckland remains in Level 4 lockdown with cases contained in that province.

But for a second season, our rivers will only be available to New Zealand resident anglers, likely at least, until the end of this calendar year. Whether last year’s surge in kiwi angler interest will be repeated in 2021 is not yet clear.

Good news is on the horizon.

There is now increased confidence that the international borders will reopen in 2022 and we can expect to see international anglers visiting New Zealand again. However, when that will happen is not yet definitive. It is expected that political pressure to support tourism sector businesses and to optimise New Zealand’s exporting businesses who are struggling without being able to visit offshore customers will expedite planning for a phased opening in 2022, along with a comprehensive vaccine booster programme, and strict post-entry isolation procedures.

Despite the underlying uncertainty, securing flexible return flights from October ‘22 feels like a reasonable bet.

The pent up demand for inbound destination angling will be a huge relief for our struggling fishing guides, but on our pressure-sensitive backcountry waterways, the impact will be noticeable. Getting here early and getting far off the beaten track will be important to achieve success.

In the past year, there has been a severe tightening of restrictions to the overnight parking of motorhomes and self-drive vehicles and fines for infringements are commonplace. You have been warned. A swing towards booking packaged multi-location trips and tailored itineraries (complete with self-isolation hotel bookings upon arrival) and comprehensive local planning with experienced hosts is anticipated.

It is recommended to deal directly with the lodges and guides, or contact Isolation Outfitters to discuss a customised itinerary for your 2022/2023 fly fishing expedition to New Zealand.

A commercial perspective.

If you represent an international tackle brand looking to leverage the upsurge in fly fishing within New Zealand, it’s a great time to enter the market. Brands with a strong foothold in New Zealand in 2022/2023 will enjoy increased sales from the coming international visitor explosion.

But be aware, aligned retail outlets and locked distribution agreements do mean limited avenues for new brands to scale up here. We can provide some strategic and tactical advice for brands that are new to market, or new to Aotearoa New Zealand. Feel free to make contact and we can share our thoughts.

This post was prepared by SOUTHFLYFISHER for Isolation Outfitters Ltd, Global Fly Fishers who provide tailored fly fishing adventures into remote locations, especially in New Zealand. View the Southflyfisher advertising disclosure protocols.