Most freshwater fishing in New Zealand targets trout. Salmon are also fished, to a much lesser degree.
Freshwater fishing for recreation was introduced by settlers from Britain, who imported the fishing methods and culture.
From Britain to New Zealand
In Britain in the 19th century, many of the best trout and salmon streams were privately owned. Only the upper classes had access to the rivers where sports fish could be readily caught. The lower classes fished where they could – mainly in ponds and canals, for species such as rudd, tench and perch. These fish have larger scales, so are called coarse fish.
Settlers wanted New Zealand to be a land where anyone could angle for sports fish. But they thought the rivers were devoid of fish, as most native species were small and hid away. Only one freshwater species – the grayling, now extinct – provided good sport. Immigrants imported trout and salmon species and liberated them.
Brown trout (Salmo trutta) from England, Scotland, Germany and Italy, introduced from the late 1860s, were the most successful of the introduced fish species. In the 2000s, they were found throughout the country, south of the Coromandel Peninsula. Brown trout are the basis of most freshwater fishing in New Zealand.
Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), brought from California from the late 1870s, are less widespread, but form important fisheries in the lakes and rivers of the central North Island and southern South Island. Chinook or Quinnat salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), introduced from North America from 1901, have only become established in rivers of the eastern South Island.
Attempts were made to introduce many other salmonid species, such as Atlantic salmon, with little success. Some coarse fish species, such as perch, were also liberated – but brown and rainbow trout were soon the sought-after species.
A popular sport
Angling became very popular. Visits by famous people like American writer Zane Grey and the Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother), both of whom fished the Tongariro River in the 1920s and 1930s, raised the profile of New Zealand’s fisheries overseas.
Rod and gun
Early newspapers ran regular angling columns, such as ‘Bank notes’ in the Otago Witness and ‘Rod and gun’ in the Evening Post. The latter was penned by ‘Minnow’, who cheerfully reported that ‘Messrs. Craig and Hall had a good day in the Ohau, near Levin, last week, both getting the limit. One of Mr. Hall’s fish weighed 4 ½ lb. Minnow recalls with pleasure a good day’s sport in the Ohau some years ago with the native grayling, or upokororo of the Maoris, which rose freely to a Red-tip Governor.’ 1
In the early 2000s most anglers were still male – only a small percentage of licence sales were to females. Fish & Game New Zealand ran a programme called Becoming an Outdoor Woman to encourage more women to hunt and fish.
While mostly male, trout anglers were not a homogenous group, and their methods, attitudes, opinions and preferences were diverse. Anglers often change their intentions, their fishing methods and gear depending upon the setting and the species sought. For example, a lone angler may fish for and then release brown trout on a fly rod in a back-country river. The next day he or she may fish for salmon to eat at a Canterbury river mouth with hundreds of other anglers.
There is an often quoted line that 90% of the fish are caught by 10% of the anglers – while this may not be the exact ratio, surveys show that most fish are caught by a small percentage of anglers.
Close to 40,000 adult whole-season fishing licences were issued over the 2006/7 fishing season. Many other types, such as day and week licences, were also sold.