Late Season North Island Fishing

When a fly fisher hears the word Tongariro, they think of the river made world famous by Zane Grey in his book Angler’s Eldorado, and the wonderful winter spawning runs of large rainbow trout. In June, July and August every year, when the cold heavy rain falls, it swells the tiny tributaries, that flow into the main river down to the river mouth, where the chrome bodied torpedos, ripe with milt and eggs await arrival of water that carries the irresistible scent each trout’s birthplace. With each wave of rain, pods of these magnificent sort fish head to their home tributary to spawn the next generation.

However, the spawning runs are not contained just to the winter months, but continue into Spring, with a constant trickle of late runner right up to late October.  With early spring, the nymphs are starting to move, bringing mayfly hatches of an evening.  This makes for more varied and interesting fishing than just upstream nymphing with glo-bugs and heavy nymphs.  So when my kiwi mate Perry, suggested I come over in late September, I jumped at the chance.

A few days later he picked me up from Rotorua airport and after easy drive , we arrived late morning at to Turangi, on the shores of Lake Taupo.  Crossing the highway bridge, I glanced downstream, and as always there was a picket fence of anglers trying their luck.  Since there had been no rain for at least a week, and with none on the horizon, the river was low and clear.   I glanced above the bridge, and an angler was hooked up to a leaping silver fish.

Wanting to avoid the crowds, we headed up river to check out some of the pools at the top end of the relatively short stretch of the Tongariro that is open to winter fishing.  Every few hundred metres, we passed yellow signs pointing to the river, each bearing the name of the famous pools on this iconic river:  Birches, Hatchery, Major Jones, Stag and Blue.   We had decided to explore and fish a variety of pools to see if we could locate a trout or two.

Typically, without rain, the Tongariro can be a hard mistress.  It is not uncommon to be faced with a blank session or two.  We came away fishless from our first foray so we headed back down stream.   When we crossed the bridge, there were no anglers on the true right bank so we decided to try our luck.  Perry was into his first fish before long, landing a 1.5kg rainbow, I missed a chance before hooking a decent fish briefly; the hook pulling after some angry head shakes.  An hour or so later with no further action we moved upstream to rest the pool. Perry hooked his second rainbow on the tail end of his first drift, but I was still fishless.  After a further hour or so, we decided to drop back down below the bridge, where I finally opened my account.

By this time, the light was starting to dim , and we were treated to a brief hatch.  The trout appeared to be taking something on and in the surface, but we could not tell what. They were moving around a lot,  but with only one dry fly between us, an ugly looking Caddis emerger, we were only able to get one missed take on the swing.

Up early the next morning we decided to head to the middle reaches to try to pick up a fish or two at first light.  This time I was first up and managed my first within a few casts.  We worked the pool for an hour or so to no avail, so headed further downstream.  A good decision as we both hooked some good fish in this pool.  After a quiet spell, the passing of some white water rafters seemed to stir the fish up, and we had a short spell where we caught a few more.

Heading back to town we grabbed some lunch and then headed to the lower reaches.  By this time it was Friday afternoon and the weekend anglers were arriving, so it was now difficult to find vacant water let alone unfished water.  Unsurprisingly we weren’t successful and headed back to the Bridge pool for the last few hours of fishing. The Bridge pool was crowded, yet the odd angler had success, and before the light started to fade numbers thinned out.  Armed with some dry flies, I hoped to catch one or two , if we were lucky enough to get a hatch. Finally I saw a couple of large Mayflies come off the water.  I persisted with a small Adams emerger, and a small nymph, but could not raise any interest.  I finally changed to a large Royal Wulff , which was good enough to fool a fesity fish of about 1.5kg before the hatch died.

The next morning we were up early again and headed to the middle reaches for some peaceful fishing, and we managed to land half a dozen fish between us.  Before we left for an early lunch, we were rewarded with a rare treat. A pair of blue ducks , normally shy creatures that avoid humans, were so engrossed in chasing of an over amorous male, they circled us a number of times, coming closer than a rod length, and even flying under the arch of my bent rod, whilst I was trying to play a fish.

In the afternoon we shifted to a broad expanse of river, and had glorious fishing in the early spring sunshine.

We lost count of the number of prime conditioned rainbows we caught between us, most in the 1.5 to 2 Kg range, all caught on natural nymphs.  It was a great finish to a short but superb adventure.  I am pretty sure come next spring I’ll be heading across the ditch again.

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How to Cast in Fly Fishing

Fishing flies generally don’t weigh much, usually they aren’t much more than a piece of fluff, so how can we cast this far enough and accurately enough to catch a fish ? Casting in fly fishing can seem a lot harder than it looks. But if you can understand the basic dynamics of what makes a good cast and how to spot a bad one, you are well on your way to learning this art.

Fly Casting

The aim of fly-casting is to cast a very light weight fly far enough and accurately enough to catch a fish. If you would like to learn about this fine art, read on and then why not book a lesson or two, or join us on one of introductory courses.

How does it work?

In regular fishing, you rely on the lure or sinker having some weight to enable you to cast far enough, and the more weight there is the further you can cast. In fly-casting, however, we have a virtually weightless fly and no sinker to cast with. So how do fly fishers cast so far?

Casting is achieved because of the special Fly Line that is used. In fly fishing we tie the fly to some thin nylon (leader), which in turn is tied to a special thick fly fishing line (Fly Line). The Fly Line actually has enough weight of its own to help us cast. The weight of the fly line is distributed along its length, and the more fly line we have out the more weight we have to work with, however there is some skill and timing required to cast it successfully. If the line is stretched in a straight line, it is easy to cast, but if the line is not fully straight, it is very difficult. More on this important topic later.

How far do you need to cast?

Current world record for fly-casting your typical stream rod is now around 40m (130ft) or more. Most anglers cannot consistently cast further than about 20m, yet they have no trouble catching fish. More than 95% of trout are caught within 10m, and in small streams even closer. So all this should be good news to the new fly angler; an accurate cast within 5 metres is all that is required on a stream, and on a lake 10 -15m is more than enough.

Getting started

We start with the line laid out in front of us in a nice straight line, holding the line in our other hand, or trapping it against the rod with our finger. We use the rod to pull the line and speed it up, and then when we have the line moving at maximum speed, we need to stop the rod in a short space.  When the rod slows and stops, the line keeps going, passes the rod tip, and forms a loop. This loop keeps travelling and straightens out behind us. When the line has straightened out (and before it falls to the ground), we reverse the process and pull the line in the other direction, speeding it up, then stop the rod to make the line go forward.

The loop is the shape the line makes as it moves through the air. As the curved front of the loop moves through the air, it leaves behind line attached to the rod (rod leg) and pulls the line attached to the fly (fly leg) through the air. As the loop unrolls, the rod leg gets longer and fly leg gets shorter, until the line straightens out completely. This is when we need to cast the line in the opposite direction. We can make many different shaped loops, however some loops are more effective than others are.

This casting forwards and backwards in the air is called false casting. False casting is used to lengthen how much line we have in the air, in preparation for the presentation cast. To false cast, we must have enough speed in the loop, so that we can let some loose line slip through our fingers and shoot out as the loop is travelling away from us.

The presentation cast is the final cast where we place the fly on the water. For the basic presentation cast we let the line straighten out above the water, and then land gently. This means that we do not disturb the water too much or scare the fish.

Basic casting Dynamics.

We use the rod to move the line, and we need to get it moving fast enough so it will carry the fly to our target. There are two main ways we can use the rod to move the line: like a giant lever (rotation) using our wrist or elbow, or moving it back and forth without rotation(translation).

Rotation: This is the natural way most people start to cast by using the wrist or elbow.  In doing so the rod rotates through an angle and the length of the rod multiples the movement of our hand. So much so that the rod tip (and hence the line) can be moved ten times faster than by our hand alone. This is the easiest way to speed up the line, except the rod tip will follow a convex curve (see diagram), which in turn creates wide-open inefficient loops, sometimes they are so wide that they are not really loops.

Bigloop

Translation: If we cast by moving our hand back and forth in a straight line, without flexing our wrist or elbow and rotating the rod (this is quite an unnatural movement), we can move the line only as fast as we can move our hands. This moves the rod tip in a straight line, and helps create narrower loops; however, it is requires a lot of effort to obtain enough speed for any respectable distance.

To make a great cast, you need to combine both movements.  If you look at videos (try YouTube) of great casters, you will see they use both rotation and translation in their casting stroke.  However, the amount and timing of each may vary between casters according to their unique style. You will also see that the wrist flex is generally kept to a minimum and the rotation occurs late in the stroke. If you watch in slow motion, you will see that their hands generally move in a straight line and manage to keep the rod tip moving in a straight line. This is helped in part by the fact a rod bends as force is applied to it, and unbends at the end of the rotation near the end of the stroke.

Loop shapes and casting efficiency

Our aim is to make smooth efficient loops that do not tangle. A good loop has smooth straight rod and fly legs parallel to each other. By keeping the legs of the loop parallel, we prevent tangles and knots forming in the leader. Knots (wind knots) in the leader are not caused by wind, but are caused by tailing loops. A tailing loop occurs when the loop legs cross over, which usually creates a knot in the leader.

tailingloop

We refer to the distance between the fly legs as the width of the loop. If the rod legs are close together, we call this a narrow loop and far apart, we call it a wide loop.

An efficient loop will be relatively narrow, with both the rod and fly legs smooth, straight and parallel to each other.

Narrowloop

Why is a narrow loop more efficient? Imagine you have a ping-pong ball and a small stone that weigh exactly the same. Which one can you throw further? The stone of course, but why?.

Air resistance: the stone will go further because it has much less air resistance than a ping pong ball. The air resistance will slow the ping-pong ball more than the stone; as the ping-pong ball moves forward it needs to push more air out of the way than the stone, so slows down much more quickly. It is the same with loops. A narrow loop has to push less air out of the way than a wide loop, so is more efficient.

How to cast efficient loops?

Some simple principles govern casting and making smooth straight narrow loops.
1. Smooth acceleration of the rod tip will keep the loops smooth.
2. For straight loops, we need to accelerate the line in a straight line. The rod tip pulls the line to speed it up, and the line will follow in the direction that the rod tip pulls. If the rod tip travels in a straight line, the line will travel in a straight line.
3. To form the loop, there needs to be a defined deceleration, a defined stop of the rod at the end of each stroke will achieve this.
4. Keep the line under tension and wait until the line is straight. The line needs to be straight and tight before a cast in the other direction is made. This means waiting for the loop to unroll and straighten between each false cast. The longer the line you are casting, the longer you must wait.

Common mistakes to avoid:

1. Too much rotation at wrist or elbow: leading to big wide loops and non-loops. Catching the ground behind or in front. (Rod tip following a concave curve)
2. Waving the rod. No acceleration or deceleration, just moving the rod at the same speed. Leads to lack of distance and open loops.
3. Too much force for a short stroke. If you try to use too much force, or hurry up a rod over a too-short stroke, the rod will bend too much and the rod tip will dip too much in the middle of the stroke leading to a concave rod tip path (see tailing loop diagram above). This always results in a tailing loop and knots in the leader.  This usually happens when we try to go for a bit more distance, especially on the presentation cast,
4. Weak back cast. If the back cast is weak, the line will not straighten out behind, leading to a loss of tension, and an ineffective forward cast.  This is because a lot of the forward cast is used to straighten out the line behind, and there is no weight to pull on.

If you would like to learn this fine art, why not book a lesson or two, or join us on one of Introductory Courses.

Autumn treat. A fishing report.

With Easter falling quite early this year, we planned a trip to the mountains for a short break. Autumn arrives in March and it can be a tricky time of year. As summer wanes the terrestrial numbers diminish, but the Autumn mayflies often are yet to appear. The water is low and clear and the trout cautious and less numerous and are not actively feeding in numbers. We were expecting typical cool Autumn days, but we were fortunate to catch a some un-seasonal almost summer-like weather.

Arriving early Friday morning our plan was to enjoy at least one day’s fishing on a small mountain stream, before the regular Easter campers arrived late that day.  As we checked in to our accommodation, we discovered, according to our host Graham, the stream had recently seen quite a lot of traffic.  Apparently it had been fishing well and good sized fish caught.

As we geared up, hoping that the angler numbers had been exaggerated, but the size of the fish had not.  The sun was already beginning to warm up as walked along the bank and there were hoppers aplenty leaping left and right to avoid being crunched by our wading boots. We hoped this augured well, as we had already tied on hopper patterns.

We took it in turns to fish a short stretch at a time.  The first few looked promising, but yielded nothing.  As I rounded the third bend, I saw a rise in a back eddy beneath a low hanging branch against the far bank.  I snuck into position staying low, measured out some line, and watched and waited.  There was another swirl.  I flicked out a back cast  and snagged the tip of a bush behind me.  Cursing I crawled back and retrieved my fly. I returned and anxiously waited, another swirl. Phew! I made my cast.  The hopper sailed beneath the branch and plopped down on the edge of the back eddy.  It drifted deliciously along the seam, right by the fading ring of the rise, untouched.  Then,  just as the fly was about to drag and I about to recast, the water shimmered unnaturally and in a shaft of light a spotted flank gleamed below the surface.  It followed, then was lost in a shadow, and the fly dragged and sank.  But before I could move there was a spotted flash again as the trout turned where the fly had disappeared, so I lifted and the line came tight. My 3wt bent deeply, and water erupted as the trout felt the pull of the hook. The brief tug of war ended a few minutes later with a “good sized” trout resting in my submerged net.

We found a few more of these stunning browns, but none made it to the net , and they did provide some excitement: like plopping my hopper heavily on a long grass lined glide and seeing a bow wave rise on the glassy surface, and accelerate towards it from 15 feet up stream.  A big head surfacing and engulfing the hopper,  waiting for the tell-tale swirl to signal the fish turning away.  Lifting and feeling the weight of a good fish put a deep bend in my rod only to have the hook pull on the first heavy head shake.

We fished on to early afternoon, and while the catching proved a little slower than hoped, it was nonetheless rewarding with a handful of healthy browns making it back to the stream after a brief rest in the net.  We returned to camp to reflect on the day and enjoy the sunset across the valley.

The next day we tried our luck on nearby streams, dodging the Easter campers. Unfortunately all places we fished bore the fresh boot marks of yesterday’s anglers, but whilst there were no greedy smash and grabs, with persistent well placed casts we still managed to coax the odd trout to reluctantly take the dry fly.  Of those few takes we  felt the weight of fewer than half, and landed perhaps half of those again, nonetheless we really enjoyed messing about on the river surrounded by the amber clad landscape that seems to glow in the Autumn light.