Read this Fly Life Article written by: Scott "The Trout" Murray

Top South Island Tips

Murchison guide Scott Murray offers advice on fishing his home rivers.

Doug Monnig from Colorado is a very keen angler. When we first met, 11 years ago, he had heard a lot about the challenging browns of the top of New Zealand’s South Island. On the first day we flew by helicopter to a remote little stream where Doug fished very hard, all day long. Alas, by the end we were fish-less, bar one take. He was mortified.

Back at the lodge I immediately got Doug to the bar and made sure he got a double whisky down before he could get a word out. I knew what he was thinking, having paid a lot of money for no fish. After downing the whisky, he said, “I’ve lost it! What happened? What do I do now?” All I could say was, “Get another whisky down ya!” So he did. When Doug got around to asking what we were doing and where we going tomorrow, my brilliant answer was: “We’re going fishing again!” His face dropped in horror, as I added, “We’re flying again as well!”

The next day was beautiful—nowind, sunny, and a totally different river. After starting out rather tentatively, Doug returned to his former glory and set a new lodge record for the number of fish landed over three pounds!

The moral of the story is that, when fishing for browns in this district, the circumstances differ markedly from one river to another, and from one day to the next. Basically, you need to be prepared for all that is chucked at you.


After landing my first trout on a fly rod 45 years ago, and guiding for 21 years, I’ve come to recognise the importance of belief. It starts with you, then travels all the way to your fly, and finally to your presentation, establishing a total connection. Without this basic conviction, everything else will be more difficult, and result in less fun and fewer fish landed.

Most folk who come to fish the top of the South, hang their hats on sighted fish. I can totally understand—so did I, for my first 20 years. But in reality, there is so much more to fishing for browns in this area. These creatures love to hide, and hide they do! Even after all my years of fishing, they still blend into some amazing places and fool me. Sight-fishing-only can be a dangerous trap.

You need to be prepared each day to be multi-dimensional, as this will help you to become a better angler, improve your accuracy, increase your patience and improve your catch rate.


To me there are two forms of blind fishing—‘having a go’, and reading the water. The first form is just blind, hopeful speculation and quite often does nothing but warm up the casting arm. In the second form, you read the water as if you are sight fishing.

Click here to read the complete article, including the beautiful images by R. Valentine Atkinson.