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For anyone unfamiliar with the site always check the FRESHWATER, SALTWATER and TACK-TICS pages. The Saltwater page now extends back as a record of over several years of (mostly) sea fishing and may be a useful guide as to when to fish. The Freshwater stuff is also up to date now. I keep adding to both. These pages are effectively my diary and the latest will usually be about fishing in the previous day or two. As you see I also add the odd piece from my friends and correspondents if I've not been doing much. The Tactics pages which are chiefly 'how I do it' plus a bit of science are also updated regularly and (I think) worth a read (the earlier ones are mostly tackle and 'how to do it' stuff).
Tongariro erupts - and so does the fishing!
For anyone who does a bit of fly fishing for trout, New Zealand must be a sort of Mecca. The rivers are so beautiful and clear and the introduced rainbows and browns seem to grow so large that it’s a trout-fly-fisher’s paradise. Anyway, here’s the latest message from my pal Alan Bulmer just to warm you up in this cold weather.
Trust this note finds you and the whanau (=wife) in the best of everything and that the floods in the UK have had minimal impact.
As you know, Hamish and I have just spent the last week fly fishing on the Tongariro river. Fantastic week! Weather gods were benevolent and we managed to attach ourselves to 15 fish, only landing 9. Fortunately our trip coincided with the main late run of trout up the rivers and the DOC trap data released yesterday shows that the trout spawning runs this year have been the most prolific recorded for 10 years. Our success rate was way better than the 0.4 fish per hour quoted for guided anglers so we were well chuffed. There was very little angling pressure which made our sessions very enjoyable and perhaps more successful than previously. Aside from the odd whiff of sulphur over the intoxicating scent of flowering broom and lupin, you would never know that Mount Tongariro was venting steam and ash into the atmosphere close by. Full report below:-
Motored down to Turangi on a glorious spring day arriving mid-afternoon, tired but relaxed. After eating dinner which consisted of rotisserie chicken, crusty bread and salad swilled down with an ice cold, cleansing ale we tackled up and strolled down to the Major Jones pool. From the true left bank of the river, with the sun at our back and polaroids aiding vision, the trout holding on the shingle banks were clearly visible and we gave up counting after 50. The pool was alive with trout and some were very respectable easily nudging 6 – 7 lb. Running out of daylight we opted to fish the tail of the pool (including riffle at head of next pool below) for 40 minutes, just before dusk with pair of weighted small nymphs. I opted for a silver bead-head ostrich and unweighted ostrich nymph as these worked last season. Unfortunately neither of us received any touches probably because we were not getting deep enough. A strong, cool, downstream breeze built up on dusk which made casting difficult and effectively put paid to any chance of a decent rise. Fish rose intermittently and we covered them with small dry flies but nothing took.
Leaving Hamish to count sheep I tackled up and headed off to the lower Bridge pool after breakfast. The wind had changed direction overnight and was puffing steadily and swirling upstream. I tied on a bead-headed green stonefly and ostrich herl nymph combo and worked my way upstream from mid-pool. For a change I attached the Ostrich herl nymph to a small dropper via a Hend’s roller. It was easy to cast and did not snag up at all. In hindsight, this meant that I was probably not getting deep enough. After about 45 minutes I changed to a flash chenille caddis fly which also did not elicit any piscatorial response. Eventually I changed to heavy Ostrich nymph and Hares Ear nymph fished in tandem in the conventional Tongariro manner where the smaller nymph is tied to a 12” length of nylon attached to the hook bend of the weighted fly. By now the wind was getting ugly and casting the heavy nymphs became dangerous. There is nothing like nearly getting sconed with a heavy bead head to bring about a change in tactics! I tied on a large, dry, red-tipped Governor and floated this down the run for 15 minutes again without success. Hamish by now had risen, grabbed a mountain bike from the motel and found me on the river.
After lunch we headed across the swing bridge to target the trout finning gently on the shingle bed deep in the middle of the Major Jones pool. We tried to find a way out onto the shallows below the trout but were thwarted by a nipple deep gut running the length of the run on the true right bank. In desperation we headed to the top of the run where access was assured. Unfortunately there was a ‘wet liner’ working his way down the run but luckily he’d moved out of the head by the time we arrived and he generously allowed us to start fishing above him, moving upstream. He snagged up while we were tackling up and moved out to his midriff to save his fly. Unfortunately as he was coming back to shore the spool of his fly reel popped out of the frame and fell into the eddying current. Like all of us have done at some stage he tried to retrieve it by pulling in the line. He gave up when he’d pulled in the fly line and 10 yards of backing as he had amassed a ball of line in his hands the size of a melon. The next thing we knew he’d plunged forward in a swan dive. We briefly saw his neoprene clad buttocks and boots as he grappled underwater to secure the spool. Resurfacing he calmly attached the spool to the frame and started fishing again as if nothing had happened. Priceless!!!!
By now Hamish was casting into the head of the pool. I quickly attached a bronze beaded Pheasant tail with partridge hackle on top and a gold bead Hares ear at point and sent out my first cast. The line shot across perfectly into the current seam and with a short upstream mend started to travel downstream drag free. The next 15 seconds were a blur. The tip of the fly line stopped, I struck intuitively and was hard into a fish which took to the air from the depths like a Polaris missile fired from a submarine. It rushed around the head of the pool madly alternating between charging upstream and down. Eventually I managed to draw it into the eddy and it calmed down slightly. Hamish by now had grabbed the net and was sprinting towards the fish over the boulders like a man possessed. Every time he got close to the trout it hurtled back out into the deeper water. Telling him to calm down and back off I applied side and drew the fish steadily into the shallows where it beached itself. Here he tried to “rake” it into the net which had me in stitches of laughter. The trout was a solid three pound fish, freshly minted silver and nicely proportioned, so it accompanied us home to the smoker. It had taken the size 14 Hares Ear nymph. After despatching the fish and checking the trace we glanced about for the other angler. Of him there was no sign. We fished on for 30 minutes and then headed home immediately after 5 white water rafts splashed noisily past.
The next morning saw me up early and breakfasted by 9.00 am. Hamish was still in the land of nod after staying up late to watch the cricket. Once again there was a strong upstream wind, gusty at times. It was hot and sunny. I strolled down to fish the riffle directly below Major Jones pool and methodically fished it upstream with a nymph combo from 9.45 - 11.15 am. Nothing! No touches and only one fish sighted. I then targeted a couple of trout visible in tail of Major Jones without success until 12.15 pm whereby 7 kayaks floated past and scared them all into deeper water. Hamish had arrived by now so I changed to small beaded Copper John glister nymph (#14) and a small beaded flash green chenille caddis (#14) on point. Once the kayakers had drifted out of sight I noticed that there were now a lot of trout sitting out on the current seam at the head of riffle at the upstream end of the pool that I’d flogged earlier in the morning.
I waded out calf deep and dead drifted the nymphs to cover them, casting across and down rather than upstream. This was a deadly technique and heralded the start of one of the most frenetic sessions that I have ever experienced on the Tongariro. In 30 minutes I hooked 7 and landed 5 trout. Every cast lead to a hook up. Some of the fish charged 10 metres downstream at warp speed to smack the nymphs. It was astonishing fishing as every trout was highly visible and each take was explosive. The fish were all around 2.5 - 3 lb., short in length but in phenomenal condition. Most took to the air and headed off downstream before I could get them under control and beach them in the shallow riffly water. Check out the image entitled ‘Tongariro rugby ball’. Hamish watched gob smacked, as he’d never seen the like. The riffle I was fishing is on the extreme left of the image labelled Major Jones Pool looking upstream from tail.
The next day once again dawned hot and sunny with the obligatory strong wind gusting from SW. We opted to drive up to Poutu intake as one of the “inmates” at the Tongariro River Motel had told us the river was alive with fish. It was - with large numbers of good trout of up to 4 - 6 lb. clearly visible in the pool immediately below the dam wall. Unfortunately there was No fishing permitted until December 1. “Guess what we are going to be doing early on Saturday morning” said Hamish. “How early do you want to get up” I replied!
We then drove back to Blue Pool. Hamish hooked and lost a trout in a riffle where the main flow and a side branch flows met. He had a gold-bead head Hares ear and green chenille caddis nymph on at time. Once again we were forced to give up after 30 minutes when a series of white water rafts arrived.
After lunch I fished a riffle at the tail of Major Jones where I’d been successful the previous day for ~ 1 hour (2.30pm). There was a persistently strong downstream gale which made conventional casting virtually impossible so I was forced to cast over my left shoulder. Eventually I hooked and lost a small fish of around 2 lb. Fishing with black bead head nymph, bronze wire with CDC wound in thorax and grey bead ostrich herl nymph. Headed home for a beer and a nap.
After dinner we walked down to the river in the dark. Trout were rising splashily in the Major Jones Pool but there were 5 local anglers casting dry flies at them. We had a few half-hearted flicks in the Breakfast pool for 30 minutes but there was nothing rising as it was windy and cold.
Thursday was a ditto day. Hot and sunny with strong breeze from SW, gusting 20 knots at times. Today we decided to have a late start and drove out after lunch to the Fan Pool. It was a lovely run which felt eminently fishy. We both opted to use a Bronze bead pheasant tail with partridge hackle and bead head green chenille flash caddis. Hamish targeted the head of the run while I stepped it down from mid-pool by casting the nymphs up at one’o’clock followed by an upstream mend. After about an hour I was getting fairly jaded and distracted clambering over rocks. It was then that a small silver trout of around 2 lb. decided to seize one of the flies and headed downstream at pace. I came up tight but I was too far above it and the hooks pulled after the first jump. A party of four anglers arrived at this point so we bailed and headed back to the Blue Pool, just in time to watch a local (Australian born) land and release a mending kelt. We fished for around an hour unsuccessfully and headed home for dinner.
After the dinner the wind died off so we went to the Bridge Pool at 7.00 pm. Hamish immediately hooked a fish in the eddy above the bridge where a side stream collided with the main flow and lost it in the shallows (using a Hares Ear and Price nymph combo).
As the shadows lengthened and darkness descended we strolled up river and found a languid pool. Fish started to rise in the head of the pool in the riffly water. Small rises about the size of tea cup saucers. The sign of larger experienced fish. A mother duck and six ducklings arrived and went to work scooping hatching flies from in amongst the rivulets.
I tied dry flies on both rods (mine a size 14 Hofland’s Fancy and Hamish’s a peacock herl dry). Hamish opted to fish the calmer water where a couple of trout were rising steadily whereas I set my sights on a fish rising in the riffle at head of pool. I sent out a long cast and the trout took the fly almost as soon as it alighted gently on the water. As it felt the bite of tempered steel the rainbow took to the air and fired the after burners. It was a lovely trout of around 5 – 6 lb. and as soon as it splashed down it charged downstream into the deep dark water. I lost it as it came back upstream. Again I was too slow to get below it and paid the price. I was ecstatic nonetheless. Hooking a trout in the Tongariro on a dry fly is always a highlight.
Shortly afterwards Hamish nearly hooked another persistent riser. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a small dimple and covered it with a short cast. The fish engulfed the fly with a minimum of fuss and I set the hook. This fish did not panic but turned and headed back slowly into the deep water. I knew that I was attached to something special. The rod was bent into a deep arc and the weight was heavier than anything I’d had on a fly rod for some time. I exclaimed to Hamish that I thought that I was fast into a big brown trout or I’d foul hooked something big. The trout just stayed deep shook its head and slowly walked me around the pool. It was just like playing a large bucket. After 10 minutes my arm was starting to ache but the trout was visibly weakening and allowing itself to be drawn into the shallows. One or two short runs later and it gave up. Hamish raking it into the net with an exclamation of its size. “Golly this is a huge fish!” or words to that effect. It was a massively framed brown jack which brought the net scale down to 4.2 kilograms (~9 ¼ lbs). The head was enormous. I could just about get my fist inside it’s maw and the tongue, which was where my size 14 fly was lodged, was twice as thick as my thumb. It would have easily been a trophy in another month or so once it had recovered some condition. I gently nursed it back to strength in the fast water and it slowly finned itself powerfully back into the depths. The attached photograph does not do it justice. We were best pleased as we headed back to the motel.
Friday was a much colder day with snow flurries reported on the Desert Road. The wind was still strong but it had a chill that only comes when there is a hint of pure southerly. Overcast conditions with sunny periods. We opted to go fishing in the afternoon, hoping that it would warm up, and selected the Cicada Pool as we’d never fished it before.
It was a beautiful pool. Big swirling eddies at the head and tail and a nice run / riffle section connecting them. Hamish, by now an eddy fishing specialist, opted to fish the head and was soon into a hard fighting rainbow. It jumped early in the fight and threw a hook but fortunately for him the second nymph lodged itself in the wrist of the tail. This made it difficult to control and land but he eventually managed to get it close enough for me to net (scoop rather than rake) after around 15 minutes of to-ing and fro-ing. It was a nice rainbow of around 2.5 lb. He was using a lead bead eye brown caddis and Ostrich herl silver bead head nymph with the smaller Ostrich nymph doing the damage. We only fished for 1½ hours as the conditions were difficult.
Once again we opted to fish the same pool as the night before when dusk approached. It was noticeably cooler and the rise was very sporadic. The duck family arrived once again and were finding it difficult to locate food. Hamish had the mortification of having a duckling take his dry fly and hook itself in the tongue. There was much squeaking and quacking as the mother duck was not best pleased. I managed to quickly catch the duckling and safely release it much to everyone’s relief. The duck phalanx then headed for the far bank to compose themselves and smooth ruffled feathers. I hooked another XOS trout after dark on the Hofland’s Fancy. The take was incredible. Brutal savagery that snapped the uber thin 10 lb. nylon like cotton. I only struck gently to set the hook and the fish did the rest.
D day for the Poutu intake. A cold, frosty morning heralding a beautifully fine day. Mount Tongariro was puffing steam like a smoker with a 40 cigarette a day habit. We were late getting up and arrived at the Poutu intake at 7.30 am. Three anglers had abseiled down into the valley and were thrashing the frothy maelstrom below the dam to an even thicker foam and there was another angler below where white water rafts launch. All locals. They were wide of girth and short of stature so watching them clamber out up the knotted rope with three trout was worth the price of the admission. Some solace for missing out on the prime action.
We were gutted as there was very little free water available. I should have trusted my instincts and fished a short run parallel to the dam wall on far right (facing dam from river bed) as when we checked it out from above, as we left, there were roughly a dozen fish holding in it, largest about 7lb.
Hamish plumbed depths of main eddy with a heavy nymph and bead head chaser. I used a lighter bead head of 0.77 grams and bead head claret nymph and donated both to the shallow water at base of cauldron. Several trout jumped in the 30 minutes that we fished the main holding lie. Awesome place!
All in all a relaxing, action packed week where the fish were cooperative even if the wind was a hindrance at times. Hamish has come a long way and is now casting a fly much more proficiently. We stayed at the Tongariro River Motel for the first time and Ross Baker was the consummate host. Nothing was too much trouble and he went out of his way to make us feel welcome. We will definitely be back.
Tight lines and best wishes,
To judge from the presence of rafts and canoes it may not always be quite perfect and I’m buggered if I know all the flies he mentions but no doubt some of you do. All in all it sounds like it was great fun. I’m just envious really.
If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you!' get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - email@example.com
Hamish into a fish.
One for Hamish.
Major Jones pool.