In the 2000s, Fish & Game New Zealand was responsible for administering sports fishing. All people fishing for sports fish require a fishing licence, available at many sports shops. Fish & Game regulated fishing through open and closed seasons, bag limits, restrictions on fishing methods, and other rules and regulations.
In practice, fishing is a solitary activity, and enforcing regulations is not really practical. Anglers tend to have their own ethics which govern their behaviour, and compliance with rules is often self-regulating.
Some regional fish and game councils, such as Otago, try and offer a range of angling experiences by restricting methods on some waters (for example having some rivers where only fly fishing is allowed). Other regions, such as Wellington, have a more open approach, allowing anglers to use any legal fishing method anywhere they like during the fishing season.
Fishing seasons vary throughout the country, and even on waterways within the same fish and game region. Most waters are open from spring (1 October) to autumn (30 April).
Fishing and tourism
The quality of fishing in New Zealand attracts many tourists. Some rivers such as the Mataura (for brown trout) and the Tongariro (rainbow trout) are world-famous in angling circles. A 1991 study estimated the value of freshwater sports fishing at $145–231 million per year.
There is a large body of New Zealand angling literature. In the late 1800s and early 1900s visiting English gentlemen wrote up their experiences of the huge trout to be had, and settlers soon did the same. In the 2000s there were many guidebooks giving advice on where to fish in various regions, and instructional books about methods and tackle. Many anglers feel compelled to document their successes and failures, riverbank amusements and experiences of a lifetime chasing trout. Books like Greg Kelly’s The flies in my hat (1967) and Tony Orman’s Trout with nymph (1974) have become New Zealand fishing classics.
Historically some anglers have had a purist, snobbish attitude to different types of fishing. Fly fishing is at the top of the pile, and fishing with a dry fly is the ultimate experience – fishing wet flies is regarded as lesser. Worse still are threadliners, known as ‘chuck-it-and-chancers’. Lowest of the low are those who fish with bait such as worms.
Over time, these attitudes have become less prevalent. But some fly fishers look down on threadliners and bait fishers as ‘pot-hunters’ for killing their catches. However, many young anglers progress from fishing with worms for bait, to spin fishing, and then as teenagers to fly fishing.
Resisting the metric system
Kilograms have never really taken off with trout anglers – they find it easier to picture a 1-pound trout than a half-kilogram trout. The magic number for trout anglers is 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) – a fish of this size is considered a trophy and perhaps the catch of an angling lifetime. Trophy fish are sometimes stuffed, mounted and proudly displayed.