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What Flies for Saltwater Fly Fishing New Zealand?

Choices can be tough, whether it's between another fly fishing film or going to sleep, a burger or a steak, or in this article's case, which fly to tie on. Which fly and in what size is a common question for anglers thinking of saltwater fly fishing in New Zealand. There is not one answer as some flies filling several niches. However, there are certainly better and worse selections depending on your situation. Let’s navigate our way through the species and the reasoning in making a selection.

Saltwater fly fishing for kingfish

A picky tailing kingfish that eventually succumbed to the shrimp pattern in the top right photo.

To many fly anglers' surprise, kingfish can be (painfully) selective. They prey on a wide range of foods, and favor some at different times of the year. The majority of their diet comprises baitfish, including kahawai, piper and mullet (both the grey and yellow-eyed varieties) that we encounter on the flats. Having said this, crustaceans should not be overlooked with both shrimps and crabs predated on. The perfect scenario involves identifying what they are eating, the size and color of it, and selecting your fly accordingly.

Beast Fleye

The Beast Fleye, developed by Bob Popovic, this concept allows fly anglers to present large bodied prey items. This colourway and shape is tied to suit New Zealands juvenile Kahawai.

Depending on the size of the baitfish, the hook used can range from a size #1 for a piper to an 8/0 for a grey mullet - again there are no hard and fast rules. Look at the baitfish first and then select your hook to suit their shape. When the baitfish scatter and flee through the water column, a popper can be a sensible choice: kingfish respond well to the audible and visual commotion of poppers, although this can also easily spook them. There are times when you might be lucky enough to see kingfish tailing and here a shrimp fly or clouser can be a deadly way to approach them.

Kahawai and Piper Baitfish

On the left is a mature piper, slender in shape, a prominent pupil and on the bill a bright orange spot. On the right is a juvenile kahawai displaying its colours in full force.

Kahawai are a voracious fish, responsible for some of the most aggressive and visually striking eats. Similar to kingfish, they love baitfish, piper, yellow-eyed mullet, and even juvenile members of their own species. They can be seen krilling en masse or chasing around the anchovies, when these show up in the harbor. The anchovies are particularly loved; best tied on a #4, #6, or #8 hook. Although not always the case, kahawai can be more forgiving than other species in terms of connecting if you do everything right.

Kahawai and Anchovies. Fly fishing for Kahawai.

On the left, a Kahawai that really wanted Chris Adams' work of art. On the right, a smorgasbord of anchovies, coughed up by a Kahawai boat side.

Snapper and trevallies have some overlap in their diet. As both species can be flighty in shallow water; here your approach is arguably more important than the choice of fly. Small clousers in sizes 4, 2, and 1, with brown or olive over white, are good conservative choices. Both species react positively as well to fluorescent and hot colors. Also, adjusting the weight of your flies is useful and tying them in a range of weights is a good option. Be prepared for your flies to be devoured on the drop. Weighted flies can be spawning shrimps, avalons, merkins, strong arm merkins, clousers, or small baitfish patterns. If you are pursuing these fish in and around mangroves or seagrass-dominant areas, a weed guard is essential for your patterns, a single post of 30 lb fluorocarbon, kinked back, works well.

Saltwater fly fishing for snapper and trevallies.

Both the trevallies (left photo) and snapper (top right) are shrimp lovers. Sparsely dressed flies with bright features, in a mixuture of weights, work well.


  • Take photos of the bait and try match the colourations, sizing and record what you found at that time of the year.

  • A diversified fly box will out perform one with a few patterns tied many times over.

  • Each pattern (and approach) favours a hook style. I like the Ahrex range for their corrosion resistance and unique shapes. When there is a high possibility of getting busted off (e.g a marker pilon), go the gamakatsus, corroding out quicker if we do lose the fish.

  • Pinch those barbs and you will see your hookup rate increase all while doing the fish's wellfare a big favour.

Go out, tie some flies and hit the flats. That next time you search for a fly to tie on, give it some thought, consider what is happening around you, and you might just get the eat from that fish of a lifetime.


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