The Terrific Tongariro

I’ve just got back from fishing the mighty Tongariro River and nearby rivers and streams, in the central North Island of NZ. It’s another world over there for an Aussie.

This year, the average fish size is larger than it has been for the last 8 or so years. One factor that determines trout size around here is volcanic activity over the preceding year. Sufficient volcanic activity, and nutrients make their way down the rivers into Lake Taupo itself, the micro-organisms flourish, the smelt thrive and consequently the trout grow a bit bigger, too. This year, we often caught fish of about 2 kg – and they are as fit as fools. Magic to catch, or at least to try to catch.

The trout are doing particularly well this year, as you can see!

If we got the lie detector out, it would probably show we landed only half the trout we hooked. Fish went flying down the river, jumping this way and that, or the hook straightened, or the hook broke (admittedly only once), or more often the hook just pulled. As we were using 8lb Maxima, there were no breakoffs.

As always, over five days of fishing, my mates and I started slowly, ending the first day with just two fish in the net. Gradually, this figure increased until the fifth day, when 27 came to the net. Heaven!

But what causes the difference in catch rate other than normal acclimatisation? It’s a bit disconcerting when you feel like you are fishing well and have half a dozen fish between you, only to meet a lone local who has landed a dozen in the last couple of hours!

The main difference is weight (at this time of year, Taupo stream fishing is nearly all nymph or wet flies). At the very least, we are unaccustomed to adding much. In fact, I think we Aussies are almost afraid of a lot weight when flyfishing.

The reward for weight.

One chap we met had a single 5 mm split shot crimped 20 cm above his fly as he fished one of the small streams in the area. Another had three similar sized shot crimped onto his leader 10 cm above a nymph with a 4mm tungsten bead on it as he fished one of the larger rivers. Both were catching fish regularly. We looked on with a degree of interest, if not envy!

Brother David’s 14 year old nephew (a veteran of about three week’s flyfishing experience in Victoria) came with us this year. He was beside himself with enthusiasm and excitement. All he had in the way of weight were some huge split shot which he subsequently crimped to his line – and duly out-fished the lot of us! Great to introduce a young, keen angler to this kind of fishing.

Declan shows us how it’s done!

Of course, if you are casting this amount of weight, you need a heavier rod than most of us use when trout fishing in Australia. A 7 or 8 weight with a weight forward line to match, is standard on the Tongariro and other Taupo feeders. The local anglers cast long lines and achieve extended, natural drifts which are so important when fishing this part of the world.

Flyfishing the rivers that flow into Lake Taupo is a unique experience. For a start, it’s almost exclusively rainbows. Second, there are lots of fish. Third, they tend to school as they run up the rivers – something which goes on to a greater or lesser extent for about 10 months of the year. Fourth, when you catch one fish, you are in with a good chance of catching a second nearby; if not a third and fourth. A decent run may yield half a dozen crackers. Fifth, if you look closely, you can see the fish regularly, especially along the blackberry edges of the smaller streams. Seeing, though, is not the same as catching.

They’re not all monsters, but they’re all fantastic !

The fishing is challenging, exhilarating, frustrating, intimidating, exciting, unpredictable and predictable; all in one. It’s exhausting too scrambling up the rivers for hours on end. So exhausting, that all you can thing of doing is eating when you return to your accommodation, then getting out there again the next day to repeat the process. Did I mention it’s heaven?

Turangi is a great town to stay in. There are fishing lodges, holiday houses and hotels to match every kind of angler. The Tongariro runs through the town itself. It is common to see fishers dressed in waders and vests sitting outside the bakery, tucking into a pie or two when they get tired of fishing the Bridge Pool, a spot which yields dozens of fish each and every day. I love a town like this. It even has three well-stocked fishing shops. I love that, too. Ask for Andrew or Jared in Sporting Life.

Can’t wait to get back!