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Fishing Van or 4×4 Truck; which is more useful?

Fishing Van or 4×4 Truck – Pros and Cons?

Lofty with his Commer van. A pretty good looking fishing setup really. See Lofty’s Log.

Here is a question for you to ponder; If you live in New Zealand, and you enjoy fishing, which is a better investment, a van or a truck? I have often thought about the answer. Sometimes I prefer a van over a 4×4 truck; sometimes its the other way around. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Fishing Van or Small Camper Van

The best thing about a van is you can sleep in it. With a little effort and a modest amount of money, you can convert your van into a small camper van – even if only temporarily using removable fittings. I have spent many nights sleeping in a tent. I don’t mind doing so at all. However, with the van you don’t have to mess around finding a flat, obstruction-free, tent site; just park the van and climb in the back. If you have finished work on Friday and then driven to a distant high country fishing lake, the van is a great option. Your soft bed is already set up in the back. No need to pitch a tent when you get there.

A van with a bed in the back greatly extends your range to fish much further from home with a reasonable level of comfort. Cooking facilities and a portable toilet will give you independence from campgrounds in isolated areas. If you have a van just for fishing you can leave most of your gear in it which saves a lot of time when preparing for a trip.

When it is cold and raining it is so much better to be able to escape the weather. The van is much warmer. With a bit of preparation, you can have all your food, drink, and fishing gear stored in the van ready to leave ahead of time. There is nothing quite like waking in the morning parked beside a high country lake; watching the trout rising as you wait for the kettle to boil.

A further advantage of the van is that you can fish for a while at one lake or river, then if you wish, move on to the next without having to go to all the trouble of packing up your camp-site each time. This is great if doing a “fishing road trip.” If you do decide to spend a night or two in a camping ground you can sleep in the van which saves money, and again no need to pack and unpack each day!

You can carry a “sit-on-top” fishing kayak on the roof-rack of your van to give yourself many more fishing options for great overnight or weekend fishing trips. A kayak means you can get around the shoreline of the many New Zealand lakes that have the bush right down to the water’s edge, as well as get to the other side of long narrow lakes quickly. They are also good for sea fishing too. If your van has a grunty engine you can tow a small boat with it. If you prefer river mouth salmon fishing you can tow a trailer with a 4×4 quad bike on it for getting down to the end of the shingle beach for the best fishing in the gut or surf. Whether a fishing van or 4×4 truck is more useful depends on how far you wish to travel when you go fishing and for how long you will be away.

Salmon anglers and their 4×4 trucks at the mouth of the Waimakariri River, near Christchurch.
4X4 Truck

I’m talking about a vehicle like a Toyota Hilux, Nissan Safari, and the like. These vehicles are great if you fish regularly on sandy or shingle beaches where the 4×4 truck permits easy access. In other words, you can usually just drive all the way to the lake, river, or beach, then get out and start fishing. No need for walking. Most 4×4 trucks are excellent for driving on sealed roads, carrying plenty of fishing gear, towing boats, driving off-road in comfort, and let’s face it; looking cool. A 4×4 is also good for launching a trailer boat when there is no concrete boat-ramp available. You are much less likely to get stuck in a 4×4.

In general, 4x4s are not big enough to sleep in comfortably. In some of the bigger ones, you can get away with it at a push. If you are tall and can’t straighten your legs you will have an uncomfortable night’s sleep! There isn’t enough head-room in a 4×4 either. You can carry a tent of course.

4x4s are more expensive to run and maintain than a van. In New Zealand 4x4s are also more expensive than a van to register. In my view, 4×4′s are perfect for day trips when you’re in a hurry, have a heavy boat to tow, and you don’t like to walk anywhere. I must admit that being able to drive all the way to within just a few metres of where you are going to start casting with your rod is quite seductive. However, it doesn’t do your waistline any good at all. I guess we become very lazy anglers!

The true mouth of the Rakaia River often exits into the sea halfway down the lagoon. The loose shingle can only be tackled successfully by the most capable 4x4s. The wider the tyers the better. Inexperienced vehicle owners unaware of the danger get buried to their axles there all the time and can only escape by being towed out.

Another advantage of having a 4×4 truck is that you find yourself taking along all sorts of extra things in your vehicle when you go fishing. Things like folding chairs and tables, gas cookers, battery-powered refrigerator, massive piles of fishing tackle, rods and reels, heaps of extra clothing and so on. Most of these extra items you wouldn’t even consider taking along if you had to carry it in a back-pack.

It is important to remember that although 4x4s give you more options for taking extra gear along fishing, and save you a lot of walking, as every 4×4 owner finds out, in the end, you can’t drive them anywhere and everywhere! Very deep water and loose beach gravel will stop any 4×4. Sometimes you still have to get out and walk 4×4 or not. It pays to carry a tow rope and shovel just in case you do get stuck and need a tow.

One of the dangers of fishing for salmon on Canterbury’s braided river-beds is that the river level can rise quickly following heavy rain in the distant Southern Alps. This catches a few out in Canterbury most years and their 4x4s get drowned. The danger comes from the fact that there is blue sky overhead and the driver doesn’t realise the river is rising until it is too late. That side braid that was only up to the bottom of your doors on the way in that morning; can suddenly be over your roof should the river bed flood following rain in the mountains. Always listen to the weather forecast and be particularly vigilant when the wind is from the north-west.

For what its worth, on balance, I think I prefer the van as I like to travel around a lot more now when I go fishing. Perhaps it’s an age thing. When you get older you’re in less of a hurry. So there is no simple answer to the question: Fishing Van or 4×4 Truck. It all depends on what sort of fishing you prefer. 

A good 4×4 truck comes into its own when towing a boat. At Lake Coleridge there are no concrete ramps so boats must be launched on loose shingle beaches.

This post was last modified on 16/01/2021 8:45 am

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