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.
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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.
A nice trout to get on the board
The big rainbows fight hard
A super silver fresh rainbow trout run, sucker for an egg pattern at low light
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.
Long Casts are often required
Rainbow trout in full spawning colours.
A big bright Jack rainbow trout in Full Colours
Hooked up on a strong fish
Globug and a Bright Jack Rainbow trout
A fine fresh run rain bow trout
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.
Blue ducks make a return
Blue Duck Project
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.