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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Six flies: all you need for small streams.

Six flies is all you need for small stream fishing. However, there must be a million of flies you could choose from, and most fly fishers have vests bursting with boxes and boxes of them. However, ask any angler which flies they use regularly, they will probably name six flies or less. Those six will differ between anglers, due to personal preference, and local insect life, but it will be no more than six. They’ll also tell you that sometimes (<2%) , they need something special: hence the extra boxes.

This post is aimed at answering a question posed to me by one of the attendees at a recent introductory course. They wanted to know more about fly selection.  How many flies did they need ? Which ones ? When to use them?

How many flies?

Six flies is all you need for small stream fishing. However, there must be a million of flies you could choose from, and most fly fishers have vests bursting with boxes and boxes of them. However, ask any angler which flies they use regularly, they will probably name six flies or less. Those six will differ between anglers, due to personal preference, and local insect life, but it will be no more than six. They’ll also tell you that sometimes (<2%) , they need something special: hence the extra boxes.

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Which six?

The six you need will vary depending on which water you fish and the food that is available there.  The six I selected are ideal for our small streams in Victoria Australia, and they cover the majority of common insects found in trout streams.  They are not the only possible selection, just my current favourites; I could easily swap each one for another fly, and still cover most situations.

Size and Colour

Trout in small streams trout are ambush predators, they sit in a slow current where they can watch what drifts towards them on the current.  If something takes their fancy, they will swing out and suck it in as it goes past.  Trout brains aren’t too complicated, they make a food/not food decision, which they base on the size, colour and behaviour of the passing morsel.  If the trout brain says food, it will take the fly, and we have a good chance of hooking it.

Now all we need to know now is what are the trout eating, when are they eating it, and which fly matches size and colour. (How to make the fly behave correctly is a big topic that deserves its own post.)

What do trout eat?

In small streams, trout are opportunistic feeders and mostly eat insects that live in, or fall on, the water. Some float, some sink, some swim.  The following insects form the major part of a trout’s diet in and around the streams of Victoria.

  • Mayflies – adults and larvae (Emphemeroptera),
  • Caddis flies – adults and Larvae (Trichoptera),
  • Beetles (Coleoptera)
  • Termites (Isoptera Termitoidae)
  • Grasshoppers (Orthoptera)

Mayflies and Caddis are available all year round, especially the larvae (often called nymphs) that live under rocks in the stream bed.  Some estimates suggest that these nymphs form 70-80% of a trout’s diet.  At certain times of the year, the larvae undergo a mass metamorphosis, leaving the water to become flying adults to mate and continue the cycle of life.  During this mass metamorphosis (often called a hatch), the trout become keyed into these insects and will eat them to the exclusion of all others.

Grasshoppers  live in grasslands and paddocks and in the summer months, are in abundance. It is not uncommon for the trout to sit under overhanging grassy banks  waiting for the plop of a hapless fallen hopper to signal meal time.

Termites usually appear on mass on thundery evenings, with swarms of them flying low overhead.  You will see many trout devouring these nutritious morsels, if you wait by a slow pool on a humid evening.

Beetles inhabit the forests and pastures surrounding our streams, and appear in numbers in Summer, especially in December.  Many fall accidentally in the stream, to be come a meal for a waiting trout.

When?

The table below outlines which months the various insects are on the menu for our finny friends.

Month Insects (sub-surface) Insects (surface)
September N c, m
October N b, C, M
November b, N b, C, M
December B, n B, C, h, M, T
January B, n B, C, H, M, T
February b, n b, C, H, M, t
March  N b, C, M
April N b, c, M
May  N c, m
June  N

Letter legend (lower case = insect available, upper case = insect abundant) 

Letter Insect Class
n, N Nymphs (caddis and mayfly)
b, B Beetles
c, C Caddis moths(adult)
h, H Hoppers (grass)
m, M Mayfly (adults)
t, T Termites

The following table lists some common flies that match these insects, some of which appear in the slideshow images:

Insect Flies (Wet) Flies (Dry)
Beetle Brown nymph, Wet beetle, Black and Peacock Humpy, Royal Wulff, Stimulator, Foam Beetle
Caddis Hare and Copper, Stick Caddis, Brown nymph Deer/Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulator, Yellow Sally.
Hopper N/A Foam Hopper, Dave’s Hopper, Knobby Hopper, Stimulator, Madame X.
Mayfly Brown nymph, Black Nymph, Olive Nymph, Copper John, Soft hackle flies (var), Wee Wet flies (var) Shaving Brush, Grey Wulff, Adams, Orange Spinner, Black Spinner, Klinkhamer, Parachute Emerger, Monkey Bum, March Brown.
Termite Brown Nymph, Black Nymph Black Ant, Termite, Parachute Spinner (black, brown, grey),

Conclusion:

Mostly you need to match size and colour. Most things trout eat are small and brown or small and black.

The six flies I recommend for our local streams are :

  • a brown nymph,
  • a bead head brown nymph,
  • a Royal Wulff,
  • a Stimulator,
  • a parachute black spinner, and
  • a small deer hair caddis.

With these flies I can be confident I’ll be able to fool any feeding trout on my favourite small streams. As for the other 999,995 flies we all need, you can work that out on your own!

Feel free to leave your six favourite flies in the comments section.

Opening Day 2017

Opening day: some people avoid it, some embrace it. I have been in both camps.  When I first started fly fishing some twenty-five years ago, I couldn’t wait for the rivers to be open to get out fishing again.  Some ten years later, I assiduously avoided opening, waiting a few weeks, for other anglers’ leave passes to be used up in the frenzy of the first weekends.  By which time the angler numbers diminished and I could fish in peace and solitude.

This year I was invited, by a good friend and accomplished guide Scott McPherson’s to spend opening day with a few anglers at his place (Indulgence Fly Fishing) in Eskdale. As a bonus we would meet up at the RISE fly fishing festival in Albury on the Friday evening.  I met Scott and Rob at the pub, and it was pumping, the fly fishers were bursting with the joy at the expectation of hitting the rivers the next day.  It was easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm.

The next morning we gathered in Scottie’s kitchen to discuss the day’s plans, whilst he cooked up a bacon and egg sandwich to get the day started. Delicious.

After breakfast, Dave and I headed to one of the local streams, where, in spite of it being opening day,  we only had to venture a short way before we found a section to ourselves.  On checking the conditions in the river,  we found the sub-aquatic insect life a little sparse; just some tiny black nymphs under the upturned rocks.  The day was cold, and the water even colder (-4.5C), so not surprising.

Despite this after some diligent work, Dave soon had his first of the season in the net. A typical nicely marked small-stream wild brown trout.

… and a rainbow trout.

If you ventured out, I hope you had as much fun as we did. If not I hope you get out their soon.  Feel free to contact us if we can help.

Twig & Stream Fly Fishing

PS Here is a short video to enjoy:  Indulgence Fly Fishing