I’m genuinely worried for the South Island wilderness trout this summer. We’re halfway through December 2023 and southern accommodation is solidly booked for the peak summer period. Just check Booking.com for a South Island night in December/January and you’ll see what I mean.
My guiding mates are booked out right through to the end of March. Every one of them. It’s going to be an outstanding season for the local professional fishing guides.
I’ve personally heard from dozens of overseas anglers who are headed this way to explore our remote rivers. Most have a full itinerary of self-travel covering some rivers I’ve previously thought were well off the beaten track for a short stay angler. I can understand their passion and excitement; I get that feeling every year – and for the past 40+ years I’ve been fly fishing. But this summer season has a pall of gloom over it.
All of this means that if you’re coming down for some 2023/2024 season summer trout fishing, be prepared to join the crowd exploring our southern wilderness rivers.
Unfortunately, with all this visitor activity, summer stress on the more easily accessible rivers is going to be unbearable for both anglers and fish. I predict this season will be our worst for angler pressure. Ever.
The pent up post-Covid demand is about to be unleashed on all of those ‘named’ Designated Water locations. Visiting flyfishers and resident anglers alike have had years of gorging on YouTube clips, Instagram stories and Facebook fables with many tagged with river locations or exposing hut names in their ill-considered pursuit of fame. Anglers have been geo-locating streams on Google Earth, pinning spots and plotting their ‘trip of a lifetime’. I hope they’re not disappointed after all that buildup.
The few ignorant overseas and local anglers who have gone so far as to record their helicopter trip from heliport to hut and post this publicly have let the cat out of the bag for many of our precious South Westland streams. Wannabe influencers and a few local guides have already destroyed the previously idyllic Lewis Pass area. Don’t bother trekking in there for a trophy Brown this summer. The dream is over.
Articles, such as those in FlyLife magazine, have highlighted fragile backcountry streams, named guides and helicopter pilots, in pursuit of subscriptions and circulation. In doing so, they kill the golden goose.
So, rather sanguinely, I’m targeting some new cold water streams high up in the Southern Alps to get away from the hordes of holidaying anglers for a few days over the New Year period. I’ve come to the realisation that, much like our All Blacks rugby team, the rest of the world have finally caught up with our secrets.
We’ve allowed our most valuable rivers to be exposed over recent years and the plunder of this summer will be their deathknell. It’s not the end of the world for resident anglers trying to get out over their annual summer holiday though. For me, I hope to discover a prized trout stream to prove that the dream isn’t over – just the walk is further.