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Fly fishing with kids - A young Kiwi champ's fishing advice

20-year-old New Zealand fishing champion Ollie Bassett discovered the joy of fishing at a young age, falling in love with the outdoors and the peace it brings him. With the school holidays just around the corner, he reveals his top tips for fishing with kids and why Taupo is a great place for your next kid-friendly fishing adventure! 

Ollie Bassett fly fishing in the Tongariro River

Countless hours of casting have produced far more than trout for champion fly fisher Ollie Bassett.

By age 18, he had represented New Zealand internationally, achieved a commonwealth podium finish at Lake Taupo and won a national title thanks to his talent with a fly rod.

But the young fisherman – he is now 20 – also credits the pursuit with instilling a love of nature and helping with his bachelor of science university studies. And fly fishing keeps him calmer and happier.

“It’s really good for my mental health,” he says. “I’m quite a stressed-out person and I find it a relaxation.”

These days, he has little interest in taking home a trophy trout, preferring barbless hooks and the pleasure of watching his catch swim away.

Doors open

“I got into competitions as a way to learn because I wanted to know how to get really good. I’ve always been quite competitive. And it started opening doors. I was able to go overseas to the Czech Republic, to compete with the New Zealand youth team.

“But mostly it’s the joy of it for me. It’s fun. I like the process of it, trying to think, come up with ideas. Then, if I catch something, I feel stoked.”

Ollie was a pre-schooler when his father taught him to dangle a line from a wharf in San Francisco, where the Bassett family lived for several years. Back in New Zealand, he discovered ocean fishing and had a crack at spinning for trout in a river during a camping trip. The first time he caught a trout in Lake Taupo, it was at sunrise and he was perched on the back of a kayak with a rod and lure, while his father paddled.

Determined to succeed

But he grew increasingly curious about those people he had watched flicking fly rods from river banks and begged an uncle to show him some basic casting techniques. A bright, anxious boy, he was bored and unhappy at school but utterly content to practice swinging a line on the lawn at home, over and over, every day. He watched YouTube videos and nagged his parents to ferry him to likely-looking spots each weekend, to try his luck. Fishing the Hinemaiaia River early one winter morning, biting cold left him close to tears, with streaming eyes and uncontrollable shivers. Yet he persisted.

“I was stubborn about it, didn’t want to give up. If I’m interested in something, I’m pretty driven. It took me about six months to catch a trout with a fly rod.”

Ollie catching a trout

Why fishing in Taupo?

In the intervening years, he has returned again and again to the Taupo region.

“I fish a lot in Taupo because it’s open all year round and because the quality of the fish is really good. And it’s quite central, so I’ll often meet friends there.”

The Hinemaiaia River proved an ideal place to hone his craft; safer, not too wide, plenty of trout. Increasingly, though, one river has captured his fishing heart.

“The Tongariro River is where I normally go now. It’s a big, intimidating river. There are lots of water types and the fish that are moving through, they’re chrome, silver, fat. There’s the upper river, with native bush so you’re in amongst forest. The lower river is boulders and shorter, deeper pools. There’s always something different to do up there, a lot of variety.”

With luck, he will fish in northwestern Spain next September. Ollie has been named on the New Zealand team that is training to compete at the 2022 World Fly Fishing Championships.

Ollie’s 10 tips for fly fishing with kids

  1. Consider starting with something easier than fly fishing, to get them hooked. Try spinning around the edges of Lake Taupo, it can be a good way to catch trout in spring when the fish are closer to shore. But check the regulations because you can’t go near river mouths.

  2. Or fish off a boat. That’s a lot of fun, it’s likely to be more successful and it’s how I really got interested. You can do jigging, harling or trolling and you can spin off a boat. It’s a good way to fish for the table. If you don’t have a boat, go out with a local fishing operator – they’ll know the best spots, too.

  3. Hinemaiaia River is ideal for learners. There’s normally a lot of fish there and it’s narrower so you don’t have to cast so far.

  4. Make it fun. Don’t stay too long and start by picking a nice day and dressing warmly. Standing in a cold river can be pretty miserable and a freezing kid won’t enjoy fishing. I’m unusually obsessed with fishing but I think I put my dad off fly fishing for a year, insisting we go at 5 am one winter. We couldn’t feel our extremities for half an hour afterwards.

  5. Check out YouTube. There are lots of really good videos and trout fishing channels, including a couple of good ones from Taupo. Trippin On Trout is quite a famous Taupo one, with lots of info on how to fish, segments on how to rig, what flies to use.

  6. Visit the Tongariro National Trout Centre, which offers kids-only fishing during school holidays.

  7. Get the right gear. A 9’ 6wt rod is probably ideal for beginners – both Taupo Rod and Tackle and Hunting and Fishing Taupo have very good fishing sections. Waders are a good option and you can hire them from some shops in Taupo. But get the right size - I remember being in waders that were much too big and I kept thinking I was going to float away and drown.

  8. Unless you’re an expert adult and a great teacher, hire a kid-friendly local guide to show them what to do. This will make it more enjoyable and increase their chances of success. 

  9. Be safe. Keep an eye on kids around water and take them somewhere where there are pools to fish, so they don’t have to cross the river. Some crossings are quite gnarly.

  10. Be patient. It took me a year of consistently going out and splashing around to know what I was doing to some extent so don’t expect them to get it immediately.

Bonus Tip: Check out the season's latest fishing deals for your next family fishing adventure! 

Book your kid's next fishing adventure

  • Fishing – Fresh Water

    Dave Wood, First Cast Fly Fishing

    First Cast Fly fishing’s head guide Dave Wood has great knowledge of the rivers around the Central North Island. He’s a senior guide at Poronui Ranch and contracts to the other main lodges in the area.

    $350 - $750
  • Fishing – Fresh Water

    Riverstone Fly Fishing Guides

    Riverstone Fly Fishing offers guided fly fishing day, multi-day or overnight camp out trips throughout the Taupo, Tongariro and Central North Island. We specialize in tailoring your experience to the adventure you seek & the time you have available.

    $600 - $650
  • Fishing – Salt Water

    Te Kupenga Fishing Charters

    Te Kupenga which means "Fishing Net" in Te Reo, is the newest addition to the fleet of boats managed by Chris Jolly Outdoors. Te Kupenga is a legendary stabicraft that has been set up as a trout catching machine.

    $150 - $300
  • Fishing – Fresh Water

    Tongariro National Trout Centre

    Discover the world of freshwater Trout. Come and learn about the freshwater habitat of Trout. Take your Kids Fishing. We have a Kids Pond that is great for catching a trout. Book now to avoid disappointment.

    $12 - $15

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