Aotearoa Angling Etiquette (Or, how not to be a dick in New Zealand)

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Photo by Chris Dore

Photo by Chris Dore

By Chris Dore

Angling ethics and on-stream behaviour are a big deal here in NZ due to the unique qualities of our fishery.

Gin clear water hosting sometimes less than several fish per mile mean that if you walk past, there’s a good chance they will see you and spook to cover for the remainder of the day. This doesn’t bode well for anyone following you upstream… The following are long-held local practices and etiquette that have developed over time through preserving the NZ experience, dealing with increasing angling numbers, and plain, simple human decency.

1: Do NOT enter a river ahead of others on the river before you. With limited numbers of fish per mile in gin clear water the first angling party through for the day has the best, and often only, chance of the day to catch those fish, especially in the backcountry. If you’re the late-comer, suck it up and either go elsewhere, or take your chances and fish up behind, but under no circumstances drive up a K or two, or walk around and ‘jump in’ trying to get ahead. The first party there doesn’t own the river, but has every right to expect enough uninterrupted water for a full day’s fishing, the distance dictated by the nature of the fishery (ie, on high populated rivers such as the Mataura, this may only need to be 1km, however in the backcountry, where there is often a lot of empty water between fish, this may be several kilometres). Which leads into point 2…

2: Communicate. If you see an angler on the river, go over and chat. Find out his plans for the day and do not encroach. If they have ‘magically’ appeared on the river ahead of you ascertain whether you were here first, and if so remind them of the above etiquette (they may simply have been innocently unaware, or genuinely didn’t see you or your vehicle). Also remember to leave a visible note in your windscreen stating whether you are fishing upstream, or downstream of your vehicle. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a long stretch of water capable of entertaining multiple anglers, finding a vehicle parked up and not knowing which way the angler has gone. Many longer access points can accommodate an angling party upstream and another downstream (mindful of others who may be fishing through from the next access below) and so a simple note makes things easy for all.

3: Enter the river at established access points. Fish and Game NZ have done a great job at signposting access on the majority of our rivers, often negotiating public access across private land for your benefit. These accesses are usually pretty well thought out to allow for an ample day’s fishing between access points for the river concerned. If I enter a river at a signposted access, I know how much uninterrupted water I have until the next access and so plan my day accordingly. If you jump in midway between access points then you’ve just ruined my day, spooked my fish and created an awkward situation that I personally won’t hesitate to pull you up on. Think of others and stick to the signs…

4: Camping on, or leaving a vehicle overnight at an access point to ‘claim’ it for the following day is frowned upon and in many cases, illegal. It’s simply poor form and won’t be respected by the majority of locals who won’t hesitate to tell you to bugger off if you lay claim to first rights from the depths of your sleeping bag. Fish and Game negotiate angler access points to the rivers over private land with farmers/landowners for the purpose of fishing, walking and passive recreation, not for camping, defecating and placing a visible footprint on the site. Be a little respectful and put in the effort to drive to the access point a little earlier in the AM if it means that much to you.

5: Spread it around. It is extremely frowned upon to thrash the same stretch of river day after day, placing unsustainable pressure on the fish. As a guide, I keep track where I can of which accesses weren’t fished the day prior to ensure that when I visit, the fish are relaxed and rested, and more easily catchable for my clients.

There were horror stories this season past in some of our Canterbury ‘big fish’ rivers of anglers camping for days at the same spot and fishing the same pools for the same big fish both morning and evening. This simply isn’t cool and apart from placing extreme stress on these often fragile rivers and their even more susceptible trout population, shows just how boring a person you really must be… Go explore man, be adventurous!!

So come and enjoy our fishery, as any license holder has the right to, but be aware of our often quirky local expectations and etiquette. These were born of the necessity to protect what has always has been a pretty fragile fishery and to ensure everyone has a productive, enjoyable time in the New Zealand Wilderness

Chris Dore
Gink & Gasoline
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9 thoughts on “Aotearoa Angling Etiquette (Or, how not to be a dick in New Zealand)

  1. And don’t use foreign guides moonlighting here. They are often unethical, rude, and are working illegally in NZ. And don’t forget the check, clean, dry message either and clean gear properly when moving between waters. Not only is there didymo but now another algae called lake snot. Add to that foreign invasive weeds already here and you can see why you need to be careful. NZ is a fragile fishery that needs to be treated with respect.

  2. Great clarification of an important message. Perhaps needs to be vigorously recirculated late September or early October.

  3. Thanks Chris for putting this out there. Many anglers need to hear this and others need reminding. Your comments seem to be concerning the South Island fishery but apply equally to North Island waters.
    One thing New Zealand has is plenty of water. There is no need to crowd each other. Understandable maybe at Turangi or the southern canals but not in the backcountry.
    Lets all enjoy it.

  4. Great advice, great place to fish, hire a guide and remember it is about quality not quantity! Every angler needs to go once, twice, ok as often as you can!:-)

  5. Thanks Chris for the great summary Apart from an arrow showing which way I was fishing I am not sure I would want to put a sign on my vehicle in some places and definitely not let people know when I will be back- In the NI your vehicle may be trashed or just not there when you get back!

    • Is this a common problem? Vehicles getting trashed or stolen? I would probably be driving a rental campervan and was wondering whether I might be targeted.

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