New Zealand Fly Fishing Guides - Ben Kemp

New Zealand Fly Fishing Guides - Ben Kemp

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Don't Move!
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Don't Move!

Copyright 2003 E.P. Kelleher Jr

Don’t move, don’t even twitch” Treebeard murmured. Eight feet away, in about twelve inches of water, a three and a half pound brown trout warily eyed the two unfamiliar lumps on the horizon of its small backwater. After several hundred subjective years, or a few objective minutes, it slowly resumed its elliptical patrol of the 100 foot long 80 foot wide, slowly moving, backwater on a New Zealand West Coast river.

As the trout swung wide below us, headed back upstream and passed us, the guide muttered: “He’ll forget about us in a bit. Get some line out, you’ll only get one cast.”  I shook out about thirty five feet – twenty feet of WF6 line, nine feet of 3X leader, and six feet of 4X tippet, with a #14 Royal Wulff and a Flashback Hare’s Ear nymph dropper. We had been stalking this particular trout for about fifteen minutes, and had managed not to spook it, even though it had given us the evil eye at least twice before.  When it headed upstream, we crept a little closer; when it headed down towards us, we kneeled on the baseball sized rocks, frozen in place.

The trout completed its beat up to the entering riffle, and started back down. We kneeled motionless as it drifted down to six feet above us, turned and headed back up. “Still a bit nervous, just wait.”  Again the trout cruised up the left bank, and down the right bank. As it approached us, it took a nymph, the white flash unmistakable. This time it cruised past us, down the edge.

Be ready. When he turns his tail to us, lay it three feet ahead of him.”  The trout turned away, I flicked out the line, leader and flies, and miracle of miracles, the Wulff landed about a yard to the trout’s left front.

Ah, he’s seen it. Easy now, he’s moving over, coming up, easy… Lift!!”  I did, the trout was hooked, running immediately straight up the still water, splashing about, back down past us, and actually jumping twice. It made one more run downstream, shook its head, and the line went slack.  No slack line, no broken line, no twisty ends betraying knot failure, just a spit hook. The brown trout in New Zealand can and do jump!

Ah well, we had it all but the photo” chuckled Ben Kemp, our guide and proprietor of the Kingfisher Lodge, in the little community of Te Kinga, Lake Brunner, Greymouth, New Zealand. That stalk took over thirty minutes, from the time Ben said “Ah, there’s one in here, I see him.” At that point we were more than twenty feet from the edge of the shallow backwater.

Twice more that day Ben and I stalked trout that big or bigger in small quiet waters entering the main stem. Neither of them was enticed. I did get a nice four and a half pounder in the main stem, just below a riffle, right where Ben said he was, and a four pounder in a minor river entering the main stem. My son, Ned, caught a dozen fish, five of them over four pounds, but he is a much better fly fisher than I.  Ginger, Ned’s friend, had a bad day. She hooked a few, but never did land one. It was our only skunk in three days.

That was our second day at the Kingfisher Lodge ( The first day, we had fished from Ben’s Mackenzie style drift boat, patrolling the edges of Lake Brunner until the wind came up, then heading to one of the rivers that feed into the lake, and fishing it.

We all caught fish the first day, mostly on cicadas; mostly fishing to fish we could see cruising the edges of the lake, waiting for the clumsy cicadas to fall on the lake surface. Some of the cicadas had hooks in them. Sometimes the fish would turn, swim over to the cicada imitation, decide not, notice a small flashback nymph nearby, and be seduced by that. Other times, they just sucked the cicada in, rolled and started down. If you could remember to say “Erin Go Bragh” before lifting, you usually had a fish on. We landed eight good fish that day, and I lost four more. We must have had close to twenty hookups, with two of us fishing at a time.
Our third day, we started out at the mouth of the Crooked River, hoping the browns would be feeding on the (hopefully) spawning bullies and smelt, but the water temperature was up to 21.4 degrees Celsius (70.5 Fahrenheit) and the fish were sulking. We ended up with a half dozen good browns between the three of us, but three of those were between 6 PM and 7 PM, just before we had to finally give up. The other three were from the banks of the Crooked River, shortly before lunch. We also broke off or otherwise lost at least another half dozen fish.

Each of the three days we left the house about 8:15 AM, and returned well after 7 PM. Ben seems to believe in delivering full value. The West Coast is famous for its biting sandflies, but they weren’t too bad – when the wind was up, they were no problem at all. As the day drew to a close, and twilight arrived so did  the sandflies, and they do bite. Some of them drink DEET as a light cocktail, but mostly it works. All of New Zealand is famous for its high ultraviolet sun, and that is no myth. Lots of heavy duty sunblock, long sleeves, and a hat are the uniform of the day.

The Kingfisher Lodge is kind of a ‘make it up as you go along’ sort of deal. I had just about finished my planning of our second trip to New Zealand when The Angling Report arrived, with a short blurb about Kingfisher in it. I was intrigued. We were all set for three days in Twizel, three days in Wanaka, seven days up the West Coast, then a final five days in Motueka. We had eight guided days scheduled out of eighteen, and, while the budget wasn’t all gone, it was getting close. At Christmas, Ned and Ginger visited us in California from Colorado, and I showed them the article, got a nod, and started corresponding with Ben ( We arranged a visit well within our budget. Ben provides a home stay option, and also has two or three other local accommodations that he can arrange, ranging from a ‘fish camp’ style house, to a vacant vacation home next door. There are two ‘luxury suites’ under construction on the lot on the other side of Kingfisher Lodge. We chose the home stay option. Ned and Ginger got the guest room, with a queen size bed, and I got the small room with two single beds. My room would have been a bit tight with two adult male anglers in it – mostly because of luggage/gear space. We all shared the same very modern bath, including Ben’s family. The accommodations were just fine, not the Ritz Carlton, but not Motel 6 either.

Ben is ably assisted by his wife, Pet, a lovely woman, and former chef at a restaurant in Bangkok, who does all the cooking and cleaning, and their daughter Emily, who is (in Ben’s words) four, going on twenty six. Emily provides entertainment, ingenuous questions (how many fish did YOU catch?), and the occasional hug, well worth the waiting. The living/dining area includes two large sofas, and a large screen TV, with news, NZ programming and cartoons available. Emily prefers cartoons. The cuisine was an eclectic mixture. After an initial experiment with rice porridge with smoked trout and a dropped egg proved less than wildly successful, our last three breakfasts were full English breakfasts – bacon, sausage, egg, broiled tomato, toast, cereal if desired, (taco beans on two days!!) and so on. Lunches were always good solid fishing lunches, sandwiches, hot coffee or tea, a sweet, and fruit. Elevenses included coffee or tea and a sweet, and the mid-afternoon repast was hot beverage and cookies (biscuits, if you please.)  Dinner, served after we returned from fishing, no matter when that was, always included soup, garlic bread, three choices (buffet) of Thai cuisine, and dessert. No one lost any weight. We were there for four dinners, four breakfasts, and three lunches (all lunches while fishing). Dinner menus:

Day 1. Beef Barley soup

            Penang Beef Curry

            Thai Sausage Omelet

            Vegetable and Pork stir fry

            Steamed rice

            Apple Pie with vanilla sauce and ice cream

Day 2. Thom Yum soup with squid and mussels

            Pork Laarb

            Sweet and Sour Trout

            Fried Noodles

            Cheesecake with ice cream

Day 3. Thom Yum soup with beef

            Chicken in peanut sauce

            Cashew Chicken

            Fried Rice

            Fruit Jello with vanilla sauce and ice cream

Day 4. Smoked Trout appetizer *

            Chicken Vegetable Rice soup

            Cold Thai Salad with squid and mussels

            Thai Chicken curry

            Stir Fried Scallops

            Hard Boiled Eggs and Tofu in a tomato vegetable sauce

            (colloquial name: Brother in Law’s Testicles, vernacularized)

            Trifle, with vanilla sauce and ice cream

             * caught at 6:20 PM, smoked and eaten by 8 PM


The two luxury cottages are still under construction, and are (apparently) going to be very nice when completed. Each will have (from the current framing and plumbing) a large bedroom, full bath, sitting room, and full kitchen. Ben’s plans are to outfit them as ‘luxury accommodations’ with leather upholstery etc. The price will no doubt be appropriate.

Our cost was  about US $1200, ($NZ 2125), for four nights lodging, four dinners and breakfasts and three full guided days fishing for three people. We had our fishing licenses. That is one heck of a bargain. We surely plan to go back 

NB: Sandflies and sunblock

Oh, why is he Treebeard? Fish with him and learn.

Copyright 2003

E. P. Kelleher Jr.

epk research

PO Box 8682

Monterey CA 93943


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