Fly fishers spend up to $50,000 a week in Southland - guides
An industry that flies under the radar for most Southlanders is funnelling millions into the economy, as some international fly fishing enthusiasts spend up to $50,000 a week for guides and accommodation.
Fly fishing guides say the industry goes under the radar in Southland in summer months, however Venture Southland has estimated it is pumping millions into the southern economy.
Venture Southland tourism team leader Warrick Low said international anglers tended to be repeat visitors and often bought houses in Southland.
The international fly fishing market was worth at least $1 million to $2 million a year to Southland, but could be worth more, Low said.
"The reality is it could be higher than that. The beautiful thing is they tend to be repeat visitors."
Te Anau guide Steve Saunders has hosted US visitors Jack and Wendy Reilly, of Idaho, annually for 12 years. They arrive in New Zealand on January 13 for 10 days of fishing.
"They used to go all around New Zealand but end up coming back because they rated Fiordland as some of the best fishing they ever did," Saunders said.
Southern Rivers Fly Fishing guide Jake Berry said international visitors spent an estimated $1200 a day over eight days.
"I deal with 100 per cent international fishers. I do about 100 days' guided [fishing] a season. Every now and then I do a Kiwi, but mostly foreigners."
Visitors spent $30,000 to $50,000 on their holidays, including accommodation and guides, Berry said.
"We've had people here for five days and they spend 50 grand. They spend about six grand for the helicopter [in a day]."
The helicopter, organised by Southern Rivers Fly Fishing, would take visitors "all over the place", Berry said.
"People spend a lot of money. It's the best trout fishing in the world. They're fishing for large fish and they don't catch the fish of this size where they're from."
If the industry was over-promoted it would become less appealing, Berry said.
"One of the things people look for here is the lack of people. It's a doubled-edged sword because we want people to come here, but we don't want too many."
Southland Flies and Guides owner David Murray-Orr said many houses in Mataura and Gore were owned by Japanese and American recreational fishing enthusiasts.
"Fishing in Southland is right under the radar. In Mataura, which is quite a cruddy little town really, I can think of at least six houses owned by overseas anglers who come down for a season at a time. And that's all around Southland, in Balfour and Lumsden. People don't even know it's going on."
Most of his clients came from Japan but come came from Britain and Scandinavia, Murray-Orr said.
"I met a young man who was just starting a travel agency [in Japan] and then started booking them down to us down here. Now we have the same guests coming down as repeat visitors."
Murray-Orr hosts the Japanese visitors at his home. A day of guided fishing cost $675, but most would spend $1000 a day on accommodation and transport, Murray-Orr said.
Southland Fly Fishing guide Graeme Watson said he had clients in Nokomai who spent close to $3000 a day.
"It's spent locally, at the local petrol station and the local cafes. They love it so much that they come here every year."
Fish & Game field officer Zane Moss estimated flyfishers would spend $1300 a day for guided fishing.
According to NIWA's 2008-2009 non-resident anglers survey, Southland had the highest proportion of international fishers and 17,500 fishing days a year. The 2015-2016 survey was not yet completed, Moss said.
"Some guests will spend an astronomical amount of money. There's a lot of affluent movie star people who sneak in here in their private jets just to go fishing. Some will hire a helicopter. It costs them $250 every time they turn the helicopter off."
Fish population in some rivers improved over the last 20 years but had stayed the same in others, Moss said.
"[For example] Oreti River is our premier back country fishery and has a lot more fish in it than it did in the 1970s. We have drift diving, basically we swim down the river with the current and search for the trout. We've done that over 20 years and there's no doubt that there's more fish in there than when we started."