Over the past 5 years or so we’ve planned an annual trip to the North Island and made a concerted effort to experience a new piece of water each time. Because of our keenness to always see new water, often these fishing holidays are the ones you need a holiday to recover from! This trip was no exception. The body is still hurting. What made this trip unique is we ventured no further than a single river for the entire week’s fishing yet I still want more!
In my view, loose plans are always best in New Zealand. The good guides know this, often driving for a couple of hours with clients in search of quality fishing. Our loose plan was to fish the Ruakituri River for a few days, then do a chopper trip campout on the Ngaruroro for a couple of nights, before finishing with some more leisurely fishing out of Napier. However what we discovered on the Ruakituri is a water with so much variety, so much good fishable water, it would take years of fishing it to confidently say you’ve experienced it and so we simply couldn’t leave.
We booked a fisherman’s hut for the first few nights. For the extra $10 or so each, fresh linen could be supplied and so we opted in. The owner of the hut lived a decent drive away and so with the linen delivery he requested could he stay the night. We obliged, after all it was his hut and we were keen to pick his brain about the fishing. With the 4 hour flight and an 8 hour drive we were looking forward to some sleep when we arrived but unfortunately we were greeted with snoring coming from one of the rooms that was so loud you couldn’t escape it. Our german friend Günter drew the short straw and bunked with his new friend Dennis! From this minor low point, the trip just built from there.
From the hut, there were many good sections of river we could get to for a full day’s fishing. For simplicity, the river is best divided up into below the falls and above them. Above the falls offers a gorgy, backcountry experience where only rainbows are found and then below them, browns and rainbows in roughly equal numbers. The first few days were spent below the falls with some magnificent polaroiding for nice sized browns (3-5lb) and then some big rainbows (4-6lb) in the rougher, faster flowing water. There were cicadas around and so a Chernobyl Ant -style fly coined “Günter’s Thong” produced some nice fish. The dry fly fishing was doable, while the nymphing was spectacular. Below the falls, the river changes in character between long sections of limestone shelves to more typical freestone pools, runs and riffles. As with any fishing in New Zealand, getting the drift right and properly covering the better fish holding water, usually resulted in takes.
After a few days of this fishing, we were keen to venture beyond the falls. This is a section known for trophy rainbows and with each of us yet to crack the 10lb mark in the North, our focus was on getting something big. We packed our gear and enough food to get us through a couple of nights in the wilderness. Best case scenario is a three hour walk but it should be known, the track isn’t the best and took us closer to four.
We set off early and eventually made the falls. Walking past water we know we could get good fishing from was difficult, but the thought of big rainbows made the hike go quickly. Taking a wrong turn at one point, we found ourselves perched below the falls looking up. The view from this spot was one of the most memorable parts of the trip and so a worthy detour.
We found a perfect camping spot beside the river with a wood stack ready for our return from fishing. Dumping our bags we quickly got set up and hit the water. It didn’t take long before Liam was hooked up and fat 5 pounder was in the net.
As we pressed on upstream, the fishing improved. Sometimes when you get to likely looking water, you feel that special buzz that comes when you feel you’re in the right spot, with the right fly, and you’ve made the right cast. Your stance weirdly changes and you’re never more focussed. You look at your indicator and if you were a betting man, you’d almost put the house on it dipping because everything about that drift feels right. It was just such an occasion when my indicator flew down and I struck into a big fish. It peeled line off upstream through rapids before turning and swimming downstream so quickly the line had trouble keeping up. Soon the fish had me in the backing and around some huge boulders. Despite all that line out I could still feel the fish shaking it’s head. Thump, thump, thump and then slack. Lost fish. We never saw it but maybe it was the trophy we’d been looking for. Hindsight has me kicking myself I didn’t man up and go for a swim to free it from around the rocks.
The next day we pushed further upstream and again the fishing improved with the water becoming increasingly fishy looking. Likely holding spots all held big trout and less often a smaller silvery fish of around 2 pounds would make a surprise catch. As we tried to minimise what we were carrying, these fish made great sashimi for lunch.
When we got back to camp on the last day’s fishing above the falls, rain set in. We found a tarp hidden near the campsite and rigged up a shelter which made the night much more comfortable than it could have been.
We awoke to more rain and hurriedly packed up our wet gear for the hike out. Günter is like a mountain goat and so he sped ahead to rig up a rod and get some fishing in. When we eventually caught up to him, he was getting stuck into a fat, 5 pound brown and proceeded to land another two fish out of the same run in front of us. That was all the encouragement we needed. It became clear that the fish that were often difficult, become a lot easier with a little bit of colour in the water from rain. We experienced some epic fishing for the next four hours while the water progressively rose and became dirtier. Eventually the fish switched off feeding, likely seeking refuge rather than food. Luckily we arrived back at the car just before the river turned into a torrent that couldn’t be crossed safely.
The Ruakituri is not what you’d call an easy river to fish but it certainly has its rewards. Above the falls, the rainbows are strong and the hens look just like steelhead. Their fight is much more like a saltwater fish than any trout and it is humbling to hook big trout that you’re never really in control of. In ten years time, I doubt I’ll have the vigour, desire or fitness to attempt fishing the Ruakituri above the falls, but in the mean time, I plan to make the most of this North Island jewel.